Ecommerce is the first project I worked on when I joined Webflow in 2017. It involved a series of smaller projects that ultimately shaped up the first release of our digital commerce offering. Later in 2018, I kept working on Ecommerce after the official launch while I was slowly transitioning to another team.
Ecommerce is the only sub segment of the web that grows faster then the whole web itself. I probably won’t forget this factoid for the rest of my life: it left a strong imprint on me.
Webflow is an all-in-one design platform that is pretty special. If we could visualize a scale where 0 is Paint and 10 is Photoshop, Webflow is quite up there in relation to other web design tools. Unlike Squarespace, Wix, etc., Webflow let’s designers create from a blank canvas using HTML-ish primitives and native CSS styling that follows the logic behind actual CSS, to the point where inspector labels always use their names from real CSS.
It’s natural we wanted to enable Webflow designers to ship working Ecommerce stores. This segment is so big and people have had to integrate 3rd party solutions to create stores on Webflow. Because of the open nature of the tool, using custom code and external capabilities is easy, but a native solution would obviously provide a much smoother experience while allowing us to expose new users who hadn’t even considered building stores to the idea.
Capturing the market of plugins was definitely part of the goal, but, as it ultimately happened, Webflow Ecommerce became much bigger than that, but especially after we transitioned to the new rules of COVID.
Design comes first
My team’s goal, while multi-faceted, was simple. We needed to:
- discover and outline the missing parts of the picture: what is missing right now so people can start selling?
- design the missing set of primitives in a way that works and feels like Webflow: full design control
- figure out a fine balance between configuration and composition so a complex experience like Ecommerce can function and be set up quickly
The first sub-project I joined as the only designer is the email configurator.
Initially, I had the idea of enabling email design on the main canvas, just like a normal page. A fully feature-paired experience to the rest of the app. Given the smaller team back in 2017 and our timelines, we quickly figured out building a whole version of our rendering engine that caters to emails is a whole lot more complex that what we could allow for I terms of time-budgeting back then. Emails use online-styles exclusively and making sure everything works well in different email clients is sometimes even more tricky than supporting different browsers.
Looking at the problems we had to solve:
- allow designers to change copy in their emails for localization and general copywriting reasons: no one wants to send the same emails for every site they build
- establish a simple set of visual customization controls for branding purposes