3 Practical Tips for Out of Box E-commerce Design

By Krithika Nelson|3rd Nov 2011
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Nature Hand

By Krithika NelsonSo a year back, my co-founder Theyagarajan and I had this idea - for a marketplace for everything with an Indian heart, over an auto ride from a bustling market street in Chennai. Over the next few weeks, we visited more exhibitions and street markets than we had ever done in our lives.. And at the end of it all, we knew that this was our calling.

And then, very casually, Taggy (That’s how the world calls him!) tells me, “So why don’t you give me a design mockup? Lets start working on this!”

My jaw dropped. “You are joking! I have never done web designing in my entire life. I am going to ruin the whole thing!”

“Dude!” he says, casually! “You are a graphic designer right? You can do this! At least I know you can! Just open photoshop and start working man.”

Well, that was definitely easier said than done.

I started where any newbie will start. I spent a good week looking for references and reading up making the best web page designs… Trust me when I tell you a few google searches do give you a lot of gyaan and references on the topic. There are a few good tutorial and template sites out there too, which could even take the pains of designing from the scratch out.

However, at the end of the week, I was still confused about the direction I should be taking on the design. My brief was to design a website for an Indian Marketplace - an e-commerce portal that had an Indian essence to it. Somehow, the usual white background and minimalistic design did not feel right to me.

That is when I realised that all the references, all the write-ups that I had read came from designers abroad. Almost every piece of advice that I had read up on came from the west. Even the few Indian designers who had given any gyaan on the matter were NRIs who came from the minimalistic school of thought.

Don’t get me wrong here! I am a huge fan of minimalistic designs. And practically, it is light, fast and clean, which works like a charm for web.

But in my mind, an Indian marketplace brings the visuals of a bustling street market, full of colours, a million motifs and a large space full of intricate designs. It is just that for the brief I was designing for and minimalistic did not belong together. As much as I tried, there was absolutely no reference to do the kind of design I was looking at doing, online.

After 6 rounds of unsatisfactory designs and two self-rejected directions, the graphic designer in me took over. 2 days later, I had the complete mockup for Shopo. This whole process left me with 3 learnings, and the most practical way of thinking out of the box!

1. Think out of context.

Most of Shopo’s design was inspired, not from web design, but Package Design.

Yes you read that right! Well, do this for me. Pick any well designed package off the shelf and simply assume that it is a web page! You will start seeing completely new styles of web page layouts. The logo in the package becomes the header, the description text, the content, the product image/window images for the site.

The best part of this is that the colours used in package design are completely different from those used in web design. Somehow, it does lead to designs that you will never come up with when you are looking at web designs for reference!

This is a rule that holds good for general reference too! Stop looking at similar things for reference, and start looking at things at a completely different direction.

2. There are no rules!

Atleast, not to start with. A groundbreaking product can come only when you break the grounds. Forget the theories, the best practices and everything you thought you knew about the subject! For example, why put the header on the top? Why not on a Las Vegas style hanging board on the right side? Why a key pad on the phone? Lets do a touch pad! (That ring a bell?)

Trust me, the developers will make sure they tone this design down quite a bit! But unless you start up there, there is no way you get past your developers with a fairly different product :)

3. The most important feedback is the Customer’s!

Yup! I am serious. I do want you to let out the product even before its ready.

Show your product to the people who ideally would become your customers. In fact, if you are making a specific product for a specific purpose, talk to them even before you start working on the product. Pick their brains and see what they are looking for, what they need and what they would like as an add on. Trust me. This will save you a couple of iterations.

I am sure you have your learning taken away from your big challenges! Why don’t you share that with me?

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