Creating a new digital platform strategy around design and brand. Utilizing responsive design, user experience design, and partnering with REI brand and marketing efforts to build a better digital experience across all devices.

The challenge


REI desired to upgrade and improve their entire digital platform to work across all devices and focus on developing a strategic digital brand for the platform.

For a brand that has been around for 78 years, the online market is something that has not been a focus for the majority of the co-op’s history. A major shift in the approach to Digital Retail was needed to increase revenue and maintain the level of excellence REI customers have known for the in-store experience.

REI wanted to begin providing that same level of loyalty, excitement and passion for the outdoors within their stores and translate the experience to online platforms. These platforms needed to serve all screen and devices while simultaneously telling the brand story and inspiring people to get outdoors.

The outcome


I served as the senior creative leader within REI Digital Retail. My role included designing, art directing, consulting executive leadership, leading the IxD team of designers, creating the REI Stewardship Council for Digital Standards, increasing digital sales and revenue through redesigns, and designing all multi-screen responsive design initiatives. Throughout these areas I provided design, art direction and creative insight/feedback across the entire REI organization.

I contributed and led major digital initiatives for the digital design team. On a daily basis I would reach out to designers, provide feedback, consult and hold meetings to advocate for the value of design and our team’s work across the organization. I led creative processes for new ideas and improving our digital products. I led digital standard meetings across the organization and developed a Style Guide for digital design to communicate the value of design within Digital Retail.

On a weekly basis, I led design team meetings, creative efforts, strategic planning, collaboration and design process. I served as a design consultant to all Agile teams across REI Digital Retail. As a consultant, I provided insight, recommendations, art direction and feedback for performance driven design through my knowledge of design, front-end development and engineering.

Scope of work / Personal contribution


  • Art Direction
  • Design
  • Interaction Design
  • Prototype Design
  • Strategy

Introduction


Recreational Equipment, Inc. is an outdoor co-op retailer based in Seattle Washington. Founded in 1938, REI is the leading retailer with 130 nationwide stores selling premium outdoor equipment.

I was brought into the Digital Retail team of 100 employees to lead through art direction, strategy, creative direction, and design.

My time was served leading a team of designers, working with executive leadership, collaborating with developers and user experience professionals and forming the foundations, strategy, efforts and design around a fully responsive digital platform.

As senior creative of digital, I led a team of designers in a responsive multi-screen initiative, I served as art director across multiple projects and worked closely with brand and marketing efforts to ensure a cohesive digital brand strategy for future REI creative efforts.

My role helped to streamline communication with design, UX and development efforts. I functioned as a creative liaison between leadership, management, creative and development. Through these efforts, I helped to increase online revenue in a very short time, define creative digital brand guidelines and design a responsive approach to the REI website while simultaneously designing the new REI.com.

I served as the senior digital designer and senior most creative leader within REI Digital Retail. My role included designing, art directing, consulting executive leadership, leading the IxD team of designers, creating the REI Stewardship Council for Digital Standards, increasing digital sales and revenue through redesigns, and designing all multi-screen responsive design initiatives. Throughout these areas I provided design, art direction and creative insight/feedback across the entire REI organization.

I contributed and led major digital initiatives for the digital design team. On a daily basis I would reach out to designers, provide feedback, consult and hold meetings to advocate for the value of design and our team’s work across the organization. I led creative processes for new ideas and improving our digital products. I led digital standard meetings across the organization and developed a Style Guide for digital design to communicate the value of design within Digital Retail.

On a weekly basis, I led design team meetings, creative efforts, strategic planning, collaboration and design process. I served as a design consultant to all Agile teams across REI Digital Retail. As a consultant, I provided insight, recommendations, art direction and feedback for performance driven design through my knowledge of design, front-end development and engineering.

Defining the brand


Identifying and understanding the REI customer was the first step to defining a solution. We recognized multiple demographics. By understanding their needs and how they shop, we could create a better experience for current REI customers while also attracting new customers to our digital platforms. We did this through extensive research, interviews, surveys, journey maps and looking at data and analytics of the current website, mobile app and in-store purchase activity.

Brand attributes defined

Understanding the audience


Before solving any problem, identifying pains for guests is a key factor to discovering a solution. This initial step is meant to explore at high levels the pains that customers experience when visiting rei.com or using our mobile app. Examples of pains for customers are not being able to find a specific product, too many options, not sure where to start, not educated enough on a specific category to make an informed purchase decision and unable to navigate throughout the current site design.

After we explored the pains a customer might encounter, the next step is to identify the gains or wins that a customer experiences. What are the things that make a customer delighted and happy? They want to make informed purchase decisions, they want to be educated, they want to buy the right gear for their specific needs, they want to upgrade old gear, and they want to get as much out of the digital engagement without needing to physically travel to a local store (saving time).

Customers carry out various jobs while visiting rei.com and while in-store. From browsing the newest products, finding gear on sale, reading product specifics and comparing different items. Customers get a much different experience in-store with helpful customer service and the ability to physically compare products - we set out to build this in a digital experience.

Brand Archetypes Defined

Returning customer

New customer

REI Employee

Positioning


Through research, analytics, focus groups, journey maps, user persona's, understanding the audience and defining the brand - we can use this information to develop a strategic positioning statement. This statement serves as a way to align all stakeholders to the creative direction that will anchor business, design and technology to move forward together. Each company and project has a different positioning statement. This statement was created to build alignment as we moved into the design phases of the platform.

Competitor research


Evaluating competitors gives us insight into our own instincts about how to tackle certain parts of our own desires to create a better platform. We can look to our competitors to evaluate where they are, decisions they have made within business, technology and design compared to our own approach. We can identify gains and pains and use these findings to raise our own standards of design, execution and building a large and complicated e-commerce system that creates a singular experience to serve all demographics of people who visit rei.com

We spent a large amount of time researching, taking notes, and evaluating our own approach with competitors. We used this research and created data, analytics, charts and mapping how we will fit our brand into the digital space to differentiate our platform from our competitor in a way that serves our customers and builds a strong REI brand moving into the future.

Digital platform audit


Before we could move forward on the design process, we needed to understand where we are as a platform from a visual, experience, ux and ui perspective. To understand where we currently exist and determine where we needed to move in the direction of reaching business and brand goals. To do this, it was imperative to conduct an audit of the current digital website, mobile site, and mobile apps.

Through extensive research, we identified where we needed to focus, improve and address issues while moving ahead on design initiatives. This was a collaborative effort between all disciplines within Digital Retail.

This provided a clear directional path for my team to begin thinking about design in tangible ways and how to execute on each area of the site.

This manifested itself through an extensive reorganization of standards to begin creating a digital brand style guide. This improved communication, efficiency, ROI, collaborations, innovation and design processes across visual, ux, and development.

Brand Identity


There was a significant lack of design direction within the digital retail space. Teams would go off and create work and projects and launch without having design reviews or any kind of approval. This dissonance creates brand confusion and breaks trust through a lack of visual consistency and design strategy.

Moving forward, there needed to be a solid approach to design, storytelling, and interactions that instinctively built the digital brand reputation and ultimately increased online sales. Having a solid design foundation is where all platforms, applications, and digital products become familiar with customers.

Having a consistent and cohesive design and user experience on any platform is important to build a brand while increasing revenue.

The ease of use for all users was a major concern with customers. Multiple reports and feedback proved that interactions and designs where inconsistent and confusing, especially with the older demographic of REI customers.

The digital brand reputation lacked any form of consistency or strategy. Without a clear direction and design reviews in place, the digital brand lacked trust and loyalty from customers. To rebuild this trust, we needed to maintain consistency across all visual designs, create a of visual language for the digital brand.

As the leading creative and designer for REI Digital, I lead the organization in auditing, testing and redefining the digital brand. Through this process, I created a digital counsel to work together and find the best design solutions based on user experience, development, digital standards and best practices.

Each element in our digital library was audited and evaluated. Everything from the grid, buttons, link colors, responsive design, photography, etc was carefully inspected and either approved or redesigned.

After implementing design changes, each new design was carefully analyzed and measured for success or failure vs. the old design. I was very vocal about the importance that design is not just meant to look beautiful, but it needed to have proven results. Using data and analysis to measure the success of a design is crucial to any e-commerce platform. Design is holistic and needs to look beyond how it makes customers feel.

This process helped to provide efficiency, cohesiveness and provide a streamlined approach for developers and designers to work together and create a mobile-first human centered design philosophy within the organization.

I served as the principle lead designer and lead a team of 15 people across the entire REI organization in this process.

User Experience Design


The approach for the user experience design was done by combining research, analytics, data, feedback, user persona's, brand attributes and business requirements. Through this scaffolding approach in the process, we worked to iterate upon each piece to build a better user experience that will serve as the foundation of the design and development by the combined research from our previous work until this phase.

To move this process forward, the focus was to translate all business, technology and brand research into parts of the digital platform that will work with each pillar of the business and advocating for a better customer experience. We did this by approaching the design from a holistic perspective and then getting very granular on the experience within each page, navigation, product, and task a customer wants to do while on a mobile, tablet and desktop screen.

Wireframing and prototyping ideas was the first step. Fast and dirty was the approach to get as many ideas out after we had consumed all of our data, research, and understanding the business and brand goals. Quickly distilling these ideas to as many versions, variations and approaches as possible. Nothing was out of the question.

We then revisited these and narrowed down the most likely scenarios that capture all of the pillars of the business and brand experience. From here, we began mapping the user journey and highlighting the hierarchy of visual needs within each page of a flow. This was the beginning of our initial prototypes to be used for testing.

We continued this process across every flow within the rei.com experience. From homepage, profiles, search, product, checkout, educational, etc. Each process needed to be identified and then met with a consistent holistic design approach.

Paper prototypes


Paper prototyping is a widely used method in the user-centered design process, a process that helps developers to create software that meets the user's expectations and needs—in this case, especially for designing and testing user interfaces. It is throwaway prototyping and involves creating rough, even hand-sketched, drawings of an interface to use as prototypes, or models, of a design. While paper prototyping seems simple, this method of usability testing can provide a great deal of useful feedback which will result in the design of better products.

Responsive design


As online sales continue to rise and the percentage of shoppers purchasing goods from mobile and tablet devices, REI recognized a need to provide their outdoor gear across every screen. Their goal was launch a multi-screen initiative, which would change the workflow, process and design strategy of the company. I was hired based on my past experience to lead a team of designers and the digital organization into a multi-screen environment.

REI recognized the need to build all digital platforms for mobile and desktop devices. The goal was to build visually engaging and dynamic digital approaches to the growing popularity of smart phones and tablets being used and accessed of all REI web sites.

As a designer with a background in responsive design by creating innovative approaches for other clients, REI hired me to lead the entire digital organization in design efforts for progressing the e-commerce platform across all screens and devices.

I served as the designer and art director for entire REI responsive multi-screen design initiative. I worked across entire organization with leadership, project managers, developers, engineers and interactive designers to implement a consistent digital brand experience.

Mobile first performance driven design.

The goal was to increase revenue by providing a quality experience on mobile and tablets – this means that fast loading times, intuitive user experience practices and a focus on content and readability determined our design decisions.

I worked with entire Digital Retail department to provide art direction, digital brand strategy, and ensure standards are being met across all design and development teams.

My background in design and front-end development allowed me to effectively communicate the value of design and make decisions based on business, executive, design, developer and engineering needs.

Evolution


This initial process and work manifested as the first version of the redesign of rei.com. Today, it sets a foundation and precedent for combining efforts between brand, digital, marketing and business to quickly move on new ideas, iterate on successful campaigns and support a better eco-system for brand engagement across physical retail stores on online digital experiences. Since launch, the redesign and design thinking in this process has garnered an ROI of $300 million (and growing) for REI.

Credits


Client

Recreational Equipment, Inc.

Creative Direction

Jordan W Lee

Art Direction

Jordan W Lee

Other contributors

Clair Turner
Jason Tabert
Sarah Swenson

Interactive & Visual Design

Jordan W Lee
Jay Smith
Michael Grace
Catherine Connoley
Courtney Comfort
Nici Bisonette
James Schneider

UX Design

Stephanie Lorenz
David Ballentine

Development

Ryan Maas
Carleigh Felker
Michael Hewson

Technology

Responsive bootstrap framework
HTML/CSS
Adobe Photoshop
Sketch
Prototype.io
InVision
Old fashioned paper and pencil