Shopify 04/24/2008

Designer Interview: CouldBe Studios

This is the second interview in our Talking To Designers feature. 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.

Today’s interview is with Matt Beck of Portland’s CouldBe Studios.

Q: What is the vision behind CouldBe Studios?

Our mission statement is ‘Everyone should have access to good design.’

We like to help companies get a new start or a fresh start. Our focus is the truly small business, people working out of their homes or just starting out in the retail scene. It’s a market with a lot of financial constraints, and one we feel has been left behind by much of the design community. Traditionally, getting good design work has meant spending a lot of money – more than is in the budget for a lot of small or bootstrapping businesses. Good design doesn’t happen overnight and designers work hard for what they earn – nobody’s arguing that! But the result is that people on a very tight budget are faced with a tough choice: go with something sub-par but affordable, or spend more than they can really afford to do it right.

Fairly recently several tools (like Shopify) have made it possible for us to streamline the development cycle so we can focus our energy where it belongs: on the design aspects of a project. This way we are able to offer pricing that is accessible to our target audience and still offer them a quality of service that would otherwise be out of their reach. We offer photography, print, branding and identity services as well as web design.

Q: How did you come up with the name?

We bounced around a lot of ideas before we settled on CouldBe Studios, but when we hit on that we knew we’d found the right name for our company. We wanted to find something that related to what we were doing, which really is helping people fulfill their dreams. We wanted something evocative, and also somewhat whimsical, while at the same time professional. We’ve reinforced this idea with the paper airplane in our logo, where we’ve got a little bit of sun peeking out from behind a fluffy little cloud. The cloud serves as a bit of a nod to our location in the Pacific Northwest as well.

Q: How did you find out about Shopify?

We are information junkies, especially when it comes to cool web projects. Our feed-readers are kept very busy. I’m not sure where we first heard about Shopify, but when we started looking at ecommerce platforms it seemed like a natural fit for a lot of our clients.

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

Shopify knocks down so many of the barriers that traditional ecommerce systems put in the way. Theme building with Liquid may be limited in some respects, but we can knock out solid, standards-compliant code pretty quickly and easily for Shopify sites. For most of our clients, the user admin pages are easy to understand and use, while still providing all of the functionality they need. With some ecommerce packages, the learning curve on the client end is nearly as high as it is for designers or developers. We can walk our clients through the Shopify back end pretty painlessly.

And since Shopify is a hosted app, we don’t have to worry about set-up, backups, upgrades, security patches, etc. Shopify’s team takes care of a lot of the fussy stuff, and has a strong track record with regard to uptime.

Matt and Jessica of CouldBe Studios

Q: What have been your favorite projects to work on and why?

Our favorite project is always whatever we are working on now. We love all our clients! We’ve been really lucky so far, we’ve worked with a lot of very cool people and had a lot of fun doing it.

We’re constantly experimenting and learning. As the tools that we use to build these sites evolve, so does our bag of tricks. We keep very close watch on the evolution of the Liquid templating language, popular javascript libraries, etc.

Q: What have been the biggest advances in ecommerce since you’ve started building sites for clients?

I think the biggest thing is that there are more options out there. Ecommerce solutions that work well for small to medium-sized businesses are much more available now. There was a huge gap between the powerful, but difficult to set up and use, self-hosted ecommerce platforms and the more readily available tools (e-bay seller account, paypal buttons, etc) that is starting to be filled in all sorts of interesting ways. I think Shopify is a good example of where the trends have been going here.

Q: Do you feel there is any kind of overriding “theme” behind your work? What is it?

Although we try not to get locked down into a specific look, I’d say our designs are all approachable. We want the sites to be truly representative of our clients, so they are designed to fit. We get to work with fun, hip small businesses, so we want the sites to reflect that.

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

Shopify keeps things simple most of the time. It’s easy to use from the designer’s perspective and the client’s perspective. It has a lot going for it. The Jaded Pixel staff are knowledgeable and friendly. The wiki-based documentation and user forums encourage community involvement.

That said, I think there are a couple of areas where Shopify lacks just a bit.

Inventory Management: Until Shopify works out bulk uploads and imports it’s going to be difficult for people who already maintain a Point-of-Sale inventory to integrate with their online store. It also makes things like across the board pricing changes more difficult than they could be. Hosting Features: One of the nice things about building a Shopify site is that it’s a hosted solution that takes care of most basic things you need from a simple CMS in addition to the ecommerce specific stuff. You can add informational pages, maintain a blog there, etc. But there is room for improvement on this end. It would be nice if additional hosting wasn’t required quite so often to get basic things like contact forms integrated into the sites.