Ecommerce Design Mindset: Cosmetic vs. Conversion


Design is not art, it’s function and form. Solving problems visually. When you design a website your aim is to serve the user, this is where the term user experience comes from. If you have been keeping an eye on the design job titles for the past few years you will see a rise in the popularity of the title “UX/UI Designer”. This belongs to designers that are looking to showcase their focus on user experience.

Ecommerce Design is a little different. While Ecommerce websites have to serve the user they also have to be engineered for conversion. Having a website that is highly tuned to sell well is a massive asset for any business. Ecommerce Design is focused on streamlining the process for customers to allow them to quickly and easily add to the basket and complete a transaction.

It is as much about removing distractions and stumbling blocks as it is about adding functionality and design to convey trust.


Great Looking Website vs. Highly Usable Website

Every designer and agency loves to win awards, who wouldn’t, but awards don’t pay the clients bills, and they certainly shouldn’t be the focus within a project. Ultimately beautiful design should be a by product of a highly usable website.

Designing for look and feel leads to following popular trends which can look fancy to the user, but ultimately won’t drive return for a client. An ecommerce website needs to convey that it is indeed what it is. Pricing, products, basket, and ecommerce banners should be clearly visible to establish with the visitor that you are a store.


Inside-out Design: Getting Ecommerce Right

Each designer will have their own approach and thoughts on how to achieve the best design and functionality for the clients they work with. Over the past eight years I have been tightening and adjusting our workflow, resulting in my approaching projects inside out.

The problem

Traditionally many of us attempt to get sign off from as few mock ups as possible. After all design time is an expensive part of the process. The web is also full to the brim with advice on trying to get sign off on a basic style guide rather than a full design, or don’t discuss the design and block the client out of that side of the process and talk exclusively about their requirements.

Each approach may have it’s benefits, but what’s most important is that your client and your team get a five star quality design. We all want to leave the process feeling happy about the result. Your designers have produced great work that your clients can be proud of. The key to all of this is facilitating a quality design and getting sign off.

Inside out design

When you are trying to get a sign off on a design you need to smooth out all of the contention points. You are not trying to bully your client or desperately fight for control over them. You could be forgiven for thinking that’s your goal after reading many of the mainstream articles on process. Personally it baffles me how some designers/agencies can work like that.

You are a professional and this is your profession. You should know your process and what works best well before taking the client forward. The inside out approach started as something of an experiment and ended up quickly becoming the cornerstone of how approach the design process.

Sidestepping the home page

Rather than trying to control your client, control your process. It is for you to outline how your agency or you as a freelancer are going to work. It will come as no surprise to a client that you have a firm handle on delivering quality work when you do this.

The first step is to look for all the sticking points in your process. For web designers one of the biggest sticking points is the homepage. In many ways it’s a secondary page when coming from a search engine and even more so for an online shop.

Despite this we go round the houses trying to get sign off on this one page above all others. Sounds counter productive? very.

Where to start?

  • Ecommerce Design – When tasked with designing an Ecommerce site we advise to start with a category page, or even the top half of the product page (providing there is not a lot of bespoke functionality/UI to be designed).
  • Business Design – With a business site start with an inner content page (don’t pick the about page, like the home page this can also be a snagging point – it is after all your clients business).

“Isn’t that a bit of a dull page to start with?”

In most cases it will be one of the least design heavy pages. A page that won’t be bursting with interesting interactions or large sliding banners with video. That’s the exact reason why we are picking it, a client won’t have a huge investment on these pages when you start fleshing out the designs.

Having a more efficient discussion with your clients in doing this is only one of the advantages. Now that you are on an inner page you can quickly get focus and sign off of navigation, typography, use of images.

By the end of your first mock up you should have header, footer, sidebar (if you have one), font, heading sizes and general use of images – all locked in and signed off. That’s the best news you can have with any site, for we know the middle space of the design is easier to confirm that a full mock up.

Remember, Only move forward with another page after this is signed off. Don’t run multiple designs in tandem, focus all energy and effort in getting the best inner page you can for the client.

Advantages to inside out design

  • Faster/more efficient/less draining process
  • Clear direction on how you work
  • Stronger overall design by focusing on the quality of the inner pages
  • Side steps contention points
  • Not bullying the client into your view, but letting the design flesh out itself naturally.
  • Your development team get the most important pages first