Content first or how to design a designer’s retail shop

Last week Copenhagen hosted the Youth Fashion Summint, and I had the pleasure of talking to Mari Maripuu, a young designer from Estonia.

Our conversation turn into the different trends in our fields: sustainable design for fashion and mobile first for UX.
The discussion lead to the importance of content compare to that of the presentation.
Her opinion on designer’s websites is that they are “too flashy and useless”. There is no easy way to access the content.
She asked questions on how to design a website and if there is “one way” to do it so it always works.
Since she has little idea of how to design a digital solution (application or website), we took it another way. We discussed how should a retail shop be design: the problems, the advantages, trends and goals.
  • The goal of a shop (as with most websites) is to deliver. In this case, to sell the clothes
  • The trends: Here we guessed how shops are displaying the products and what would be nice if they do and stop doing. We talk only about mortar and bricks stores. The difference between a big and small retailers. Malls and street shops.
  • Advantages: Again, this is based on first hand experiences: an advantage designer shops have is that they can break the patterns because people will expect them to, or will accept it with less problems.
  • Problems: for my friend, a shop “too outside the box” will be a problem: showing just for showing and implementing technology just for the sake of it could be problematic. Also, we discussed different problems retailers face everyday: thefts, broken merchandasing, “a messy store”, storage, cues for fitting rooms and tellers.
The goals, trends, advantages and problems are another way of saying “SOWT” to some extent.
My analogy of a website and a retail shop continue with what I consider is a good roadmap on how to design a digital system:
  1. Content
  2. Interface design:
    • Information Architecture
    • Presentation
    • Visual Design
  3. User Experience


This is the heart and soul of any solution, be the solution a website or our little designer’s shop
Having great content is the first step. Now, I am not talking about how to create the content. User research, marketing benchmarks, etc… are outside the scope of this article
The content could be the articles on a blog, the software to sell or the clothes at the shop.
If the content is weak, no matter how good the website or shop looks, people might come once and never return.
The content has to be created thinking on the benefit of the company behind the solution.
That doesn’t mean one should ignore or forget about the users, but instead, create content that benefits the company while satisfying the needs of the users.

Interface Design

Information Architecture
I could call this one “Content and architecture”
How the content will be organized so the user can find it. The way it could (and should) be sort out.
Using card sorting could to define the categories is a good idea in most cases.
Color, type and size are the 3 categories that we find relevant. On a bigger shop with multiple suppliers, sorting by brand could be also a relevant category.
The spacial organization of the shop, the organization of the shelves and the location of the tellers, fitting rooms are part of both the IA and the presentation
Among the many ideas we had the one that we liked the most was a 3 dimensional presentation for the clothes
On the shelves, the clothes will be organized  in columns by color. Horizontally they will be organized by type of clothes (sweaters, shirts, t-shrits, pants, socks…) and in a system of rails, by size
With a system like this, we have the 3 categories that we talked presented to the customers.
Visual Design
Part of the design was already established on one of the categories (color)
How the shelves are going to be presented: Materials and colors.

User Experience

The music played at the shop, the temperature, the lighting, the materials used and even the smell. All this create a unique user experience. British Airwaves has done it with the scent of their business lounges and planes. They are not the only ones. Singapore Airlines has done among many other companies in the world.
How many steps needs to follow the user to buy, change or return the merchandising?
How to get help; number of employees; how to collect the clothes at the fitting room; how to are the items packaged?
All this questions will define the user experience.
But what does this have to do with designing a digital solution?
Both trends (sustainability and mobile first) are valid and interesting, but I think the focus should not be done exclusively on how things are produce or how they are presented. The important part of any solution should always be the content.
Creating content first and then work the way around it to make it sustainable (fashion) or usable/accessible on different platforms(UX) should be the way to start the design process. Design is about solving problems, and if there is no good content, the problem will never be solved with design.
The way the content is organized also plays a critical role. It should be accessible and usable.It is important that the whole process benefits the company and the client.
So, to end this weeks blog, I would like to promote the concept of “Content First” instead of “Mobile First”.
Mobile is just another platform that will fade away as other platforms have in the past. But the content will stay (as long as we preserve it) no matter the medium in which it is presented.

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