Lightweight customization for Hem.com
In August 2014, Hem, a new European spin-out from Fab, neared its public launch with a small collection of stocked products and customizable shelves with a standalone online configurator. Hem had recently acquired a small furniture studio, One Nordic, and their product catalog. Hem looked to add value (price-point and availability) and flexibility to this assortment by positioning the products within the custom context.
We gathered a small strategic team to build an online furniture-customization experience that would expose existing modularity in One Nordic products — Verso shelves, Levels lamps, and Lift shelves — through simple configurations accessed directly from product detail pages.
Expanding the Kitting Tool
The solution would be powered on the back-end by a merchandising product called “Kitting” we had built earlier that year for Fab. The tool displays a single customized product with configurable options to customers, while calculating inventory and fulfillment time on-the-fly from a large set of component SKUs. Kitting helped our editorial (content management), merchandising (planning), and orders (supply chain) teams manage a complex product line of private label sofas.
I begin almost every new product sketching by hand. Whether a product is well-defined or wide open, I find that working in a low fidelity forces me to produce a strict hierarchy of information and desired behaviors. I ask myself simple questions in writing, such as “Are all components visible at once?” and “Progressive disclosure only?” Posing core experience questions helps me consider how my designs — and as importantly, the artifacts describing those designs — will guide our team through my process.
And I’m most at home designing for mobile and tablet experiences, I quickly thumbnailed a small-format page during a longer sketching process. This serves as a way to bookmark the intricacies of displaying a complex tool on all screen sizes, while allowing me to first focus on order of operations.
Through interviews with our custom design service representatives (a sales group staffed by interior architects who individually design projects for customers one-on-one) and business stakeholders, I developed the first set of user stories. I diagrammed basic user journeys for a redesign of this technology. Following my initial design proposal, I delivered a three-month market and user research plan. The plan outlined a deeper dive into the motivations and needs of Hem’s perceived target market and the competitive landscape:
- research on completed and abandoned purchases via sales team: interviews with sales reps & primary research of customer data in CRM
- identify key customers needs (technical and experiential) that could be addressed through service design
- usability studies to prioritize a retrofit of our "Full Customization" tools rounded out the plan
The basic Kitting experience for Hem advanced product-by-product. At this time, I took a step back to consider how our initial build out of the simple custom offering could influence the “Full Customization” offering. To date the configurator had been designed around technical capabilities, instead of taking a user-centered approach. As a result, it served more as a lead-gen mechanism than an interface customers used to customize their orders.
As the concept progressed, I produced a more refined and more formal overview of my recommendations for a Kitting experience with Hem merchandise. A proposed a high-level flow from a browse page to detail page and into the kitting interface, four linear flows describing customization decisions made by a customer for each product, and simplified wireframe walkthroughs for two of the interfaces in situ on a product detail page.
I performed every aspect of design for this product: user experience research, assessing the technical and business requirements, design and specification of the delivered experience. I had also served as design lead for both the merchandising tools and and user-facing experience of Kitting, which this product built on.