Out Of The Sandbox
1. Tell us a little about your business and how you got involved with ecommerce…
Out of the Sandbox is the brainchild of Brad Miller, who wrote his first Shopify theme on the side, in 2011, while working full-time in software development. The “Responsive” theme was the first ecommerce theme based on responsive design, so it was definitely ahead of its time, adapting beautifully to different screen sizes. Brad then developed the “Retina” theme for the Whipping Post’s shop, which went on to win the Shopify Design Awards in 2013. Along the way, Brad decided to do Shopify theme development full time and beefed up support by adding other front-end developers to the team. OOTS became well known not only for their robust and groundbreaking themes, but for their fantastic customer support too!
2. Why Shopify? What are the advantages and disadvantages you see when working with Shopify…
The WordPress and Tumblr theme space was already crowded, and Shopify was an up-and-coming local startup based in Ottawa, where OOTS is also based. The Shopify platform showed a ton of potential and mastering Liquid (Shopify’s open-source templating language based on Ruby) was a new and interesting challenge for a seasoned developer like Brad. When you work with Shopify, you get to be a part of a tremendous ecosystem of very talented leaders and creators, and are exposed to the latest and greatest trends and technology in ecommerce. As a Shopify Partner, you really do feel like you’re a vital part of Shopify’s success on the whole. On the flip side, Shopify is very particular and often strict in its requirements in terms of theme development, so it can mean a lot more work on our end if they decide to change or add things that we then need to adapt to.
3.Tell us about the creative process that you go through with each of your new clients…
Because we’re primarily theme designers (rather than an agency dealing directly with clients), our processes are largely those related to software dev. When we’re creating new themes, we start with research: looking for gaps in the market, identifying any new merchant needs and pain points, assessing new relevant technologies, and looking at customer feedback on our current themes. Then we do a lot of brainstorming, wire-framing, HiFi mocks and iterating to nail down an overarching concept, key features and some style guidelines! Once development starts, we initiate a Git repo and divvy up various tasks, and do a whole lot of QA, debugging and cross-browser testing along the way to a final release!
4. What makes a great ecommerce theme?
A great ecomm theme needs to be able to balance flexibility with usability, in the sense that you want to be able to give the merchant a lot of options and freedom to configure various elements of their theme and achieve the look they’re going for, without overwhelming them with too many theme settings or adding so many variables that the styling starts to lose consistency. The theme code also needs to be robust and as optimized for performance as possible.
5. What are some of the challenges in Shopify design that clients may not be aware of…
When you design a product that is exclusively linked to – and wholly dependent on – someone else’s product, you’re a bit vulnerable in that you are necessarily affected by any changes they make, for better or for worse. So for example if Shopify adds a new feature or capability that makes their platform even more appealing and they get more business as a result, that can translate into more sales for us as well (yay!). But if they add or change something that affects how a theme interacts with the platform, then we are required to make any necessary changes to our themes to meet their new requirements, and that can be a lot of work (boo). We’re also limited by what we can affect with the theme files alone; for example, the checkout page is completely under Shopify’s control, and there is no way to change up the design of that through the theme.
6.When should a client choose a custom design over a pre-made template or theme?
If a merchant already has something in mind for their shop in terms of styling or functionality, the first step should be to look for a theme that already most closely matches their vision. Quite often this means looking beyond the free themes and looking to the premium themes that offer a lot more options, features and flexibility. If they can find a premium theme that is pretty darn close to what they’re looking for, then I’d definitely recommend starting with that, because it’s a much more affordable option than a full-blown custom design; new entrepreneurs and fledgling shops are usually on a pretty tight budget. But if after working with a theme for some time they still find they’re constantly trying to customize it, it may be a sign that it’s time to pay for a custom build. We’ve written more on this topic here.
7. What is your best advice for a company looking for a Shopify theme provider?
Theme shopping can definitely be a challenge, but there are a few things to keep in mind that should help guide the purchase: First, you generally get what you pay for. A higher priced theme, particularly those in the official Shopify theme store or from a developer who sells there already, are much more likely to have undergone quality control and had much more careful attention paid to its design and code during development. Then consider the theme developer’s reputation for both design and support. Pay attention to reviews and testimonials and have a look other shops that are currently using that developer’s themes. Post-purchase support is hugely important, so check first to see if they offer complete and comprehensive documentation and FAQs, and what their email response times and response quality are like. The support aspect is not as obvious when comparing theme designs, but it may turn out to be extremely helpful for a new merchant setting up their first theme on the Shopify platform, so it should definitely be taken into account. Needless to say, we feel that Out of the Sandbox hits all of these marks and then some; so I’d say start by checking out our themes and you’ll see that we set the bar pretty high! 😉
Check out their website here – https://outofthesandbox.com/