There’s a lot to love about working with Shopify. Of all the ecommerce platforms out there, it does the best job of allowing designers and developers to show off their creativity, really fine-tune the user experience, and create robust, flexible stores.

Perhaps best of all, as the world’s fastest-growing ecommerce platform, it gives us a chance to make a difference in the lives of thousands of business owners.

Since we started working with Shopify in 2011, our store designs have played a foundational role in the success of merchants all over the world, from first-time store owners to Fortune 500 companies. We love hearing from our clients and customers about how we’ve helped them increase their sales and elevate their brand.

As a full-service design agency, every project we take on is unique, whether it’s an app, interface or custom store. But when it comes to designing for Shopify, there are a few key ingredients that we consider vital to our (and our clients’) success.

“Pixel Union builds some of the richest, most beautiful ecommerce experiences available on any device. If you’re looking for a custom solution, Pixel Union’s team of experts will build an online experience your customers will love.” Harley Finkelstein, COO, Shopify

Best Practices

At the core of everything we do is a deep understanding and application of best practices. To design great digital experiences, it’s important to build trust with users: that means fulfilling their expectations. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that it’s possible to be creative without reinventing the wheel.

When it comes to store design, we can take some of what we’ve learned developing for platforms like Tumblr and WordPress, but working in ecommerce has its own set of best practices. Calls to action should be even clearer and more prominently displayed. Navigation should make sense to both merchants and customers. Visually, an online store’s layout should be as familiar as if it were a brick-and-mortar store.

Our designers are always evolving, filling their toolboxes with knowledge. With every store we design, we’re building on what we learned the last time around. But no matter how creative we get with a store design, we don’t lose sight of best practices.

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Responsive Design

In 2016, responsive design goes beyond best practices. It’s table stakes. The desktop experience will always be critical to a store’s success, but the majority of today’s online shoppers are coming to stores first on their mobile devices—if not always to buy then at least to discover and do some research before checking out on their computer at home.

We’ve responded by bringing mobile into the early stages of our design and development process. Gone are the days when we would design a store and then retrofit it to look good on phones and tablets. Now we incorporate mobile-only interactions like swiping and long-press into our preliminary designs, and look for new ways to enhance the mobile experience to drive interest and, most importantly, conversions.

Our developers are also always making little optimizations behind the scenes—serving retina images, for example—to ensure that every store performs perfectly on mobile.

“Pixel Union helped us bring our website to the next level. Their work was consistently high-quality and their customer service was stellar. They genuinely cared about the project and were willing to put in the extra effort to help us reach our goals.” Nolan Walsh, ThursdayBoots.com

Merchant Focus

When we begin a new store design, we don’t start by simply playing around in Sketch and trying to come up with the most beautiful site imaginable. First we need to think about the merchant who’s going to be using the design, whether it’s a theme we sell in the Shopify theme marketplace or a fully custom store.

If a store is designed for merchants with large catalogues, we might start with a detailed sidebar menu or mega-navigation. For stores with smaller catalogues, there may be room for more opinionated features, like a masonry-style product grid or even a long-scroll “storytelling” page (ideal for single-product stores).

The same goes for verticals and the types of products a merchant sells. We serve a lot of fashion brands who naturally want to showcase large, full-width imagery, and whose products suit hero sections. But what about stores whose photos aren’t as sexy? For those stores, we need to find other ways of helping them showcase their products.

The point is, it’s easy to sit down and design a so-called “nice” store. But without first considering the merchant who’s going to be using it, it’s a waste of time.

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Art Matters

We’ve been praised for the visual content we use in our off-the-shelf products—and for good reason. Unlike many agencies, we have a dedicated art team that works closely with our designers to not only furnish store demos, but in many cases to provide visual assets that ultimately guide the direction of a store’s design. That same team is leveraged on our custom ecommerce solutions for clients, lending invaluable guidance to the aesthetic of promotions, products, and long-term marketing strategies.

One of the first things we try to help every merchant understand is the importance of having great content. Nothing causes potential customers to bounce faster than bad product photography, poorly written copy, or unappealing promotional material. The greatest designs in the world can easily be undone by not following through with those, so we go the extra mile to make sure our work stands up even after we’ve handed it off.

“We have nothing but excellent things to say about Pixel Union. Their work helped us gain record sales and great feedback from our customers. I highly recommend Pixel Union to any Shopify merchant looking to enhance their website.” Jonathan Yarish, Airsoft-Innovations.com

Flexibility (Within Constraints)

Let’s start with the constraints. Part of our job as designers is to give store owners a framework within which to sell their products. It’s up to those store owners to trust us as designers and ecommerce experts, and to not stray too far outside the bounds of what we’ve provided. We’ve seen some less-than-stellar implementations of our designs over the years, and frankly, it’s always a little heartbreaking.

That said, we want merchants to have the flexibility to tailor their storefront to fit their needs, especially as their brand and business evolves. When we hand over a design project, both sides understand that our work is (for the most part) done, but done in such a way that future small changes, adding and removing content, and iterative improvements to the storefronts style are painless. That puts the controls squarely in the hands of our clients, letting them adapt quickly so their business can grow.

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Iteration

We know that one of the biggest reasons for our success has been our willingness to iterate on our designs. We’re always listening to merchants’ feedback, watching how our store designs perform after they’ve been delivered to clients or entered the marketplace, and keeping a close eye on all design trends.

Sometimes iteration takes the form of new or updated features. We may find that a feature works really well in a new store we’ve designed, and decide to incorporate it into a past release. Other times, iteration means identifying something that isn’t working so well, or a feature that’s become outdated, and finding a better way of serving that functionality or altogether replacing it.

We consider everything we design to be part of a larger bank of experience. When we start any new Shopify design, what we bring to the drawing board is a breadth of product knowledge and experience. We’re constantly iterating on the work that brought us to where we are today, and that’s a big part of how we’ve helped thousands of Shopify merchants build better online stores.

More case studies

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We helped Nest Bedding remake their online store into a dream experience for customers.

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