Tell us a little about your business and how you got involved with commerce…
I started designing websites when I was in high school. I would take small jobs and do it for fun. Thought of design as a hobby until I was in college and realized that designing software was something I found really interesting. I switched into a major that combined cognitive psychology and computer science to learn the inns and outs of controlled studies, programming, and systems design. I got involved in a research lab and started taking a more analytical approach to design. After college I spent a few years doing product design and user studies for startups. I have always enjoyed the process of designing and testing websites to sell more effectively, and this translated really well into designing sites for the Shopify theme store.
Why Shopify? What are the advantages and disadvantages you see when working with Shopify?
I started designing Shopify stores in 2010 I have watched the trends evolve over the last six years. It’s clear that Shopify has been ahead of the curve for a long time. Releasing Liquid as an open source project enabled the shift to static site generators and set a lot of the tech trends we are still following today. Their approach shows that they understand the developer mindset. We want to pick our own tools and stay on the cutting edge of what’s possible. Shopify handles what needs to be done without limiting what can be done. I think that’s a really strong approach.
Tell us about the creative process that you go through with each of your new clients..
Usually it’s more about defining what the brand is about and how they want to represent themselves. I don’t have a set process that I go through with every client. Most of the clients I work with are friends or people that I have worked with before so the process has to fit each client. One thing I stick by is having a session to learn the brand and where they want to improve. Once we’re caught up we can figure out what the budget is and see what’s possible with that budget. Everything follows from the brand, the goals, and the budget.
What makes a great e-commerce theme?
The think a great e-commerce theme is one that helps a merchant sell more effectively. I think a theme needs to be modern, interactive, appealing and fluid but at the end of the day none of those factors define the success of a theme. The success of a theme is determined by how much it helps a merchant sell their product. Themes that load quickly help customers browse more and ultimately buy more. Themes that work seamlessly on older mobile phones will allow merchants to sell to more customers. An ecommerce website has one primary goal and a theme should be focused on that goal.
What are some of the challenges in Shopify design that clients may not be aware of?
I think the hidden challenge with making a great theme is building something that everyone can m-ake their own. You need enough character to stand out, but you can’t overwhelm the brand with your own style. Finding that balance is really challenging. It’s hard to build a website that can represent a gritty motorcycle brand and posh clothing store with the same codebase. Sometimes you don’t know where it is until you see merchants using a theme. I usually make a few adjustments after seeing the theme used in a few different styles, to tame down elements that can’t blend into different brands.
When should a client choose a custom design over a pre-made template or theme?
The only time to build something custom is when none of the existing themes represent your brand. It doesn’t matter how big your brand is, having a budget for a website doesn’t mean you should spend it all on a custom design. Even when a site needs a custom design I would still recommend building off a theme as your codebase. Most custom designs only consider major pages like the home page and product pages and gloss over the rest. Good themes really consider the minor pages — like a search results page, a login page or an order archive page. In a polished theme all of these pages have been designed and thoroughly tested. Even if you build an entirely custom homepage, product page, collection page and cart — you still have a dozen more pages to design build and test. Usually there’s diminishing returns for optimizing those minor pages, and building off a theme allows you to focus effort where it counts.
What is your best advice for a company looking for a Shopify theme provider?
Everything in the Shopify Theme Store has been heavily tested. There’s no trick to finding the best theme – they are all great themes. The bust advice is to pick a theme that works for your brand and test-drive it to make sure it has all the customization options you want.