Process Creative Digital Agency Interview
We had the pleasure to interview Andy from Process Creative, this is an awesome interview, where Andy reveals very important insights of the creative and design process that takes place in his Agency when dealing with Shopify Projects.
Agency: Process Creative.
Tell us a little about your business and how you got involved with ecommerce…
Process is a full service digital agency based in Surry Hills, Sydney. We’ve been in business now for ten years — which has flown by! We offer a wide range of services including strategy, branding, design, development, digital marketing (SEO, SEM and social), photography, content strategy and copywriting. We’ve worked with large financial institutions—redesigning Aussie Home loans’ website—to smaller bespoke retailers—such as Andrew McDonald Shoemaker—and that’s the way we like it.
In those ten years we’ve seen huge changes in the digital landscape. Initially ecommerce made up only a fraction of the sites we’d build but that changed around 2010 and I can’t even recall the last time we built a site that didn’t have kind of transactional component.
Back then Shopify was in it’s infancy and we focused on other platforms—particularly ExpressionEngine. Shopify’s capabilities have grown immensely in that time and it’s now our primary platform. But it’s not the right option for all projects and we still work with a number of other platforms.
Why Shopify? What are the advantages and disadvantages you see when working with Shopify…
That’s a great question and there’s almost too much ground to cover. I think the most important factor to consider when assessing any given platform is the team behind it:
• Are they going to be around for the long haul?
• What’s their marketshare and are they growing?
• Are they responsive and rapidly iterating?
• What’s the community like?
But there are also some other important considerations:
• What are it’s technical capabilities?
• Is it affordable?
• Is it easy to use?
• Most importantly, can it meet our client’s needs?
We decided that Shopify got most of those factors right. It’s also great being able to offload the hosting infrastructure. We host a lot of sites, more as a convenience for our clients that anything else. If something goes wrong they only need make one call. Hosting can be cumbersome though and it takes time away from our primary focus.
I always invoke the Pareto principle—aka the 80:20 rule—when discussing Shopify’s limitations with clients. Shopify’s great at delivering the features and functionality that most small to medium size businesses require to transact online. There will always be clients with specific requirements that place them in that 20% bracket and in those cases Shopify may not be the best fit.
I always explain to new clients that they need to buy into the idea that they mightn’t have absolute full control over every aspect of their store—after all we’re working with a hosted, proprietary platform. I also explain that Shopify is a terrific Product Management System (PMS), though it’s currently not a great Content Management System (CMS).
If their primary focus is on editorial content then perhaps Shopify might not be an ideal fit. Then there’s more complex, programatic limitations. As flexible as Liquid—Shopify’s templating language—is, it’s no substitute for the flexibility of a proper programming language.
Last but not least there’s the inability to truly customise the checkout process—unless you’re using Shopify Plus. All Shopify sites essentially have the same checkout templates. While you can change the colours, logo and a few other elements there’s not a great deal of flexibility
Tell us about the creative process that you go through with each of your new clients..
Everything always starts off with a lengthy discussion—preferably face-to-face or via Skype for overseas/interstate clients. A client will always have a far better understanding of their business model, market vertical and customer base than us.
We use the first couple of meetings to simply listen. Design, at it’s heart, is problem solving and we need to ask the right questions if we’re to have any hope of delivering an optimal outcome.
While a client may know their business inside out it’s surprising to see how often they’re trying to solve the wrong problems. They may be looking at an issue from an industry or internal perspective losing sight of the customer’s needs and thought processes.
Once we’ve an understanding of the problems or constraints we can begin to workshop solutions which will form the basis of the project requirements. We generally advocate minimising the initial scope and delivering a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This allows us to remain laser focused on the requirements wile expediting the product launch and minimising risk.
We generally take a mobile first approach to the design process as this again forces us to remain focused on the core requirements. We’ve found that when staring at a larger desktop compositions there’s a tendency to want to “fill up” all that empty space.
Importantly we only ever offer one finished design solution. Offering multiple designs is a terrible use of a client’s budget. Again, design is problem solving — you’re trying to find the best solution to a given problem. That’s not to say we don’t explore multiple creative options they all just lead to the one outcome—kind of like a pyramid or triangle getting more focused towards the top. We involve the client at every stage of the creative process so as to ensure we never stray too far off course.
This is clearly preferable to working in isolation for a few weeks, splitting up the design budget so as to produce three completely different options and hoping that the client happens to like the look of one.
Once launched we’ll have access to real customer data, that often yield unexpected insights, which are then used to inform the next round of revisions.
What makes a great ecommerce design..?
Principally, it needs to have an optimal conversion rate. That’s the end goal and it’s important to never lose sight of that.
People need to be able to get from A to B as quickly and with as little friction as possible. A good ecommerce design will demonstrate an intimate understanding of the end user, will empathise with them and help them achieve their goals with minimal effort. A great one will be able to do so while delighting or exciting or invoking some other emotional response.
What are some of the challenges in Shopify design that clients may not be aware of…
Shopify can be a bit of a challenge if you want to create highly configurable or complex layouts. This is a difficult and complex topic but it comes back to the fact that Shopify’s not a great content management system.
For instance when defining the information that is attached to a particular product, Shopify has a certain number of fields we can define such as title, description, price, SKU, weight etc. While that’s enough for most sites many clients need to add other information such as videos, specifications, forms, tables etc. We can dump a lot of this content into the description and add clever hacks, or metafields, to try seperate it out it’s far from optimal.
Having all the content contained within the one product description or body field can make it difficult to single out specific pieces of content such as a nutritional table or ingredients lis and apply certain styling to it or move it around the page due to it’s source order. It also means that content is less portable—a concern if the client later wants to repurpose that content in say, a mobile app.
When should a client choose a custom design over a pre-made template or theme..
That’s a tough question as it’s contingent on a number of factors involving:
• The client’s budget
• Launch date
• Business goals (may just want to be testing market sentiment)
• Complexity of the site
• Importance of branding
If you are going to go with an existing theme it’s also important not to end up in a situation where you’re modifying so much that you’d have been better off with a custom theme. That said you can often drastically alter the look and feel of a theme with relatively minor adjustments such as the fonts, colours and small layout tweaks.
Generally speaking, if you can afford to go for a custom solution you’ll be able to better meet your requirements while delivering a unique branded experience.
However sometimes it’s just not possible within a given budget or a client may have fallen in love with an existing theme. In those cases ideally you’d want to have a professional audit that theme for you. Unfortunately not all themes are created equal—particularly those not available on Shopify’s theme store— and some we’ve inherited are pretty terrible. The quality of themes as a whole however is getting much better over time.
What is your best advice for a company looking for a web design for their Shopify store?…
I don’t think it’s terribly dissimilar to how you’d evaluate any other business relationship. Meet with them, face-to-face if possible and make sure you get along. Be upfront about your expectations and the level of service you expect. Here are a few other suggestions:
• Look for experience; How long have they been around? How long have they worked with Shopify specifically?
• Their portfolio is going to hugely important. Do you like their work? Is it recent? How much of it is Shopify work? Don’t just view the thumbnails, visit the sites—are they still online? How do they work on mobile?
• Ask to see stats on how they’ve specifically improved a businesses bottom line over a period of time.
• Ask to see their contract. If they don’t have one—run. A solid contact should be there to protect you as much as them. Who owns the copyright? What browsers will be supported? Is there a warranty period? If so for how long?
• Do they offer all of the services you require? If not how willing are they to work with other agencies/contractors.
• Finally, Read their reviews and even consider contacting some of their clients and asking them what their experience was like.