Commerce Solutions and the Creative Process

During commerce implementations, technology companies and technology teams often focus only on just that: technology. The emphasis is on the platform, the code, and its development and testing. While these are critical elements of all commerce projects, it is important to not overlook the creative process. This vital track of work consists of team members across multiple disciplines, including visual design, user experience and front end development.

Why is the Creative Process So Important?

The output of the creative process defines the look, the feel and the interaction that users will have with the finished product. Ultimately this will be as big of a factor in the success of the project as the technology itself. As a result, the quality of this work is just as critical as the quality of the code. If consumers are frustrated with how they interact with the site, or are just not impressed with how the site presents itself, the underlying technical solution may not get a fair evaluation either. In fact, it may not get evaluated at all if the consumers abandon a technically sound solution because the experience is not a pleasant one.

Another important element of the creative process is that it enables business stakeholders to provide buy-in to the project and its design. Even though technology projects and commerce implementations are ultimately IT delivered, having the input of the business not only in the requirements but in the overall design and experience allows for every part of the organization to feel ownership of the finished product.

Common Pitfalls

There are a number of things that can and do go wrong when it comes to commerce implementations as they relate to the creative process:

  • The creative process isn’t given enough importance. This is the most basic failing of all, when the overall team doesn’t understand the value of the creative process and doesn’t treat it like an integral part of the project. As mentioned above, the first step of empowering the creative process for success is understanding its importance so that all stakeholders give it the proper level of attention and emphasis. Often times the creative process is in direct conflict with short project timelines and is the first thing to be trimmed or omitted when looking for ways to decrease time-to-market. Also, many new platforms offer baseline experiences that stakeholders may interpret as an excuse to jump past critical user experience and wire-framing exercises.
  • Technical teams and creative teams work in a disconnected manner. As more and more commerce implementations are completed within the context of a given platform or a pre-determined technical solution, creative teams must understand that these building blocks offer not only a starting point for the design but also provide some limitations on what can be done. When these limitations are not taken into account because the teams are not working together, the result is often significant rework or altogether abandoning certain elements of the design during the implementation phase. Conversely, these limits can stifle innovative creative design if the technical team is not willing to work closely with the creative team and explore items that may seem initially challenging. The end result of this scenario is often implementations that can lack personality or uniqueness and leave consumers feeling unimpressed.
  • Lack of details in the Creative Process deliverables. When it comes time to turn wireframes, visual designs and style guides into site functionality and page elements, not having enough details can lead to a final product that is very different than what was originally intended. If wireframes do not contain proper annotations or do not take into account limitations of platform functionality, business analysts are put in the position of having to interpret how these designs meet the requirements and ultimately may deviate from the intended user experience. Similarly, if visual designs or style guides are incomplete and do not cover all scenarios, at the time of implementation developers are forced to guess at how pages and visual elements appear in different states and use cases, often deviating from what the designers originally intended.
  • Front End development happens in a vacuum. The thought process that Front End development is a separate track of work from overall platform development is often one that results in a disconnected code delivery, a bad design handoff and even a poor customer experience. The delivered front end code may not be compatible with the platform being leveraged or may not take into account the manner in which the development team is implementing the functionality. This may cause multiple rounds of rework as the front end code is integrated with the back end code, and even maintaining the two sets of code as this rework is completed typically proves challenging.

So How Do We Make the Creative Process Work on our Project?

While overcoming the issues above seems challenging, there are a few key things that can be done to avoid the common pitfalls:

  • Highlight the value of the creative process. First and foremost, project teams can ensure that the creative process is given the proper attention and importance by demonstrating the business value it adds to the overall solution. By highlighting the value of having good user experience and cohesive design, such as increased conversion rates and overall positive engagement, project teams can ensure that the creative process is not overlooked or devalued during the course of the implementation.
  • Integrate the teams early and often. Getting the technical team involved in creative reviews and the creative team involved in requirements reviews can go a long way towards making sure everyone is operating on the same page. There tends to be a common desire to protect the valuable time of resources by keeping them removed from tracks of work that seem peripheral, but in the end this can do more harm than good. As long as the teams are closely integrated and respect each other’s time, they’ll begin to understand the right situations to get each other involved. The more up front that the teams are integrated in both design and review, the less chance for any disconnect down the road.
  • Business analysts should ensure continuity. The business analysts on the creative and technical teams are there to represent the same interests, capturing and confirming business requirements. Whether specific to either team, or better yet shared across both teams, they are the key resources that know the business needs and ensure continuity between the two tracks of work. Their review of wireframes, buy-in to creative designs, and understanding of technical solutions is critical because just a few weeks into a project, they’ll likely know the requirements as well as anyone else within the business or project team. By making sure the business analysts are closely involved in vetting all designs, features and functionality, there will be a higher likelihood that everything that needs to get captured is accounted for, and nothing extraneous is included. For more on what makes a good Business Analyst, see this post by John Vurdelja on Elite Business Analysts.
  • Front End development is still development. By integrating the front end development team directly into the larger development team, projects see a much higher rate of success implementing front end code. When back end and front end developers are working together, there is often less finger pointing or guessing at what was intended, rather the work is done collaboratively and with a common purpose. While it may seem trivial, the impact made by treating both types of developers as one team has immeasurable impact on the success of a project.

Understanding the Creative Process is Vital for a Successful Commerce Solution

No matter the technical success, a project will be evaluated internally and externally on the look, feel and ease of use that it enables. To the end consumer, these factors will inspire positive emotions during their interaction and in turn will lead to higher conversion, better retention, and even advocacy for the brand.  These factors are the true indicators of a project’s success and aren’t attainable if teams are not seamlessly integrated and working towards the same goal.

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