Designer Interview: Propeller Global


This is the first in a new feature on the Shopify blog: Talking to Designers. While we've worked hard at making Shopify easy to use and quick to set up for everyone with or without technical know-how, we also built it to be easy to modify the interface and make it look unique and slick. Many shops choose to customize their interfaces either themselves or by engaging with a web designer. We've built relationships with many of these design folk and all of them have incredible creativity, insight and wisdom on web design concepts and life in general. We're undertaking a series of interviews with these interesting folk in order to add to the collective knowledge of the Shopify community, to find out what makes some of our designers tick and how they approach Shopify projects and design.

The first Designer Interview is with Damien Buckley of Propeller Global.

What is the vision behind Propeller Global?

When we set up Propeller our aim was to service the small to medium enterprise sector with all manner of marketing collateral. We provide everything from designing a logo, a business card or brochure to domain registration, hosting, web development and email marketing. We're pretty much a one stop shop and we focus strongly on service. Our clients appreciate the convenience and consistency of being able to use one agency for all their marketing requirements and the knowledge that we've got their back covered. Whether we're designing for print or the web, we really work on finding the best possible solutions for our clients in terms of marketing power, usability and cost effectiveness.

How did you come up with the name?

Our previous business was Recognition P.R. & Marketing but we were coming away from offering Public Relations as a service and wanted a change, something with a little more zing. We like to think we 'Propel' our clients forward. Our actual business name is Propeller Graphic Design & Marketing but we shorten it to 'PropellerGlobal' for our main site and then we have 'PropellerMail' for our email marketing solutions.

How did you find out about Shopify?

Just about the time Shopify was launched we were undergoing a fairly extensive investigation of the various ways of building ecommerce sites and were quickly coming to the conclusion that at the time the whole area was a bit of a schamozzle, particularly for standards aware developers such as ourselves. Over time, we've worked with the Freshview team and unofficially adopted Dave Greiner as a very poorly paid mentor. He'd just seen Shopify and suggested we check it out.

What makes you choose or recommend Shopify over other ecommerce systems?

There are probably more reasons than we can list here. Initially we got excited about the open framework for design and the already standards-focused way in which Shopify and its stores were built. Put simply, we could build a Shopify store in much the same way as we build our other sites, validating to XHTML Strict and using pure CSS for layout and styling - not a table in sight! Secondly, Shopify was really easy to use and administer and since most of our clients are non-technical people, this is a basic requirement of every system we use and recommend. Once you add to this the fact that Shopify is hosted, backed-up and secured by JP, there's not much to consider really.

Damien & Renee Buckley with their McFarlane Prize 2007 Finalist Award

What have been your favourite projects to work on and why?

I can't say I have a particular favourite project as they're all pretty different and have their own appealing features. If I was going to single something out it as an example it would have to be Productive Gardens. Productive Gardens is a company we've worked with and seen grow (pardon the pun) from very early beginnings. David Borthwick (PG's proprietor) is a very savvy business man, with extensive knowledge of his product and market, yet he is able to maintain a really down to earth, cottage industry feel to the business.

We were initially hired to design their logo, along with business cards and brochures in February 2006 and shortly after put together the Productive Gardens website design you see today - albeit at the time it was a single page site! David approached us early last year to transform his site to an online store and as we'd just launched Elephant Rose we had no hesitation in suggesting we move PG's design to Shopify.

The timing was great as JP had just released the 'Showroom' theme demonstrating what could be done with the Shopify API and some slick AJAX effects so we decided to employ some of this functionality. We also made use of Shopify's blogging feature for the News section. We integrated a subscribe form for David's email newsletter and a display script, so visitors could read archived newsletters - proving that integrating external services with Shopify was very straightforward. The result is fantastic and PG has been kept very busy indeed since launching the site. Tantamount to Shopify's ease of use and in-tune with our 'no ongoing costs' ethos, David recently introduced a second blog featuring his clients' gardens, with no assistance from ourselves.

The theme was so well received that we were contacted by Philippe Causse of Maitre Philippe fame who wanted to know if he could use the 'Productive Gardens Theme' for his Shopify site. Once we'd explained that all of our sites are custom designed and built and discussed the request with David, we agreed to re-skin the template for him and thus our first foreign language site was born. We've since built a store for a company in Madrid (Spain) and are currently working on a really interesting project for a client in Boston (US). Watch this spaceā€¦

How do you think ecommerce in Australia differs from ecommerce in Europe or America?

I'm not sure that ecommerce as a whole is that different though for sure there are far less facilities available to us here than the users in the US or Europe have at their disposal. We don't operate any stores of our own, though from our clients' experiences, we get to pay more for the services which are available so I think running an online store can be more expensive for Australian users. There was previously much less competition and availability of payment gateways though in recent months many more have arrived and been added to Shopify. Services such as Paypal Payments Pro and Google Checkout are not available for use in Australia either so things are limited but gradually improving.

Do you feel there is any kind of overriding "theme" behind your work? What is it?

It's a bit of a contradiction in light of the question but it would have to be individuality - you won't see any common themes or templates in our portfolio. We pride ourselves on creating custom solutions for each business. Beyond this, we try as far as is possible on the web to do things the right way - we're very much a standards-based developer. We were finalists in the 2007 McFarlane Prize and having only been involved in web design for 4 years, being recognised for the standard of our work by our peers was a major milestone for us.

What do you like about Shopify and what would you improve if you could?

I think this is the most difficult question as I guess part of Shopify's success is its simplicity yet there are instances where we are asked for features which prevent us from being able to use Shopify. We have a client currently who needs to have users login and have access to wholesale pricing as well as a retail offering. We really hate this situation as it means we've got to look at other, in our opinion, lesser applications for the sake of being short of this one thing. Otherwise I think Shopify has most things covered and with JP receptive to most requests I think the system has gradually and continually improved. Integrating site statistics was genious - easier to access for our users and bypassing the need to integrate Google Analytics. Separating general site assets from theme assets was something we asked for and is also a huge improvement - it's another layer of bulletproofing for when we let our clients loose on their site!

And that's all. Thanks to Damien for participating, and check out his work at Propeller Global. Let us know if you have any questions for Shopify or Damien by posting a comment, or you can contact Shannon at shannon [at] jadedpixel [dot] com.