Big Brand 1080px Design
In the past couple of years many web designers have experimented with wider-than-960px layouts, mostly for personal projects and experimental cases, but few have employed them for clients. This is especially true when working with large, popular brands …and there’s usually good reason for this, but there are exceptions. Here we’ll examine our case of taking Woot.com—a $165MM/yr. family of retail websites with around 1 million visitors/day—from approximately 810px layout to 1080px layout width. Unlike as with most cases, the project constraints required this change.
Woot has 4 websites: woot.com, shirt.woot, wine.woot, and sellout.woot (their collaboration with Yahoo! Shopping). In 2008, they were listed in Inc. Magazine as the #1 fastest growing retail company in the nation. What’s more, they were also listed as the 25th fastest growing company of any kind in the US, with almost 5000% growth year-over-year. These guys had been doing things right long before they contacted us about redesigning their websites.
Woot does not have any brick and mortar stores that augment their sales. These websites are their business, so a significant mistake on these sites would directly affect their profitability. That being said, things were going very well when they decided to consider a redesign. The project was not a response to lagging sales or troubling indicators, it was just a daring move to continue doing what Woot does well: progress. So it was with careful attention that we engaged in our discovery and redesign process with them.
Woot had a few specific goals for this redesign; for how it should affect their brand, their advertising, and their user base. There were also goals for how it needed to affect Woot’s secondary and community features. Additionally, Woot wanted us to simply present a fresh/different interpretation of their sites and their brand, but with the requirement that it all had to maintain the brand’s clearly established Wootness and clearly maintain the primary mechanism of offering one great deal each day on each of their sites.
Lastly, we were given license to go non-standard, to expand on the brand’s visual lexicon, to present something daring. We were offered this license for two reasons: 1), because Woot is a rather fearless company (perhaps you’ve seen some of their Google ads or read some of their daily product write-ups), and 2), because this entire relationship between Woot and our agency began as something of an experiment. They wanted to see what an outside, more objective group might do with their brand—with the caveat that the results might serve as little more than a thought piece; something used only to fuel Woot’s internal discussion. We were keen to take up that challenge, though, and as it turned out they were pleased with our initial work such that the results went directly into a daring re-launch of all of their websites.
Woot’s previous website design was done in July of 2005. The company, the community, and the scope of Woot’s activities had grown considerably since then. Given the specifics of the constraints and Woot’s needs and desires, we determined that a width beyond 960px would be required. In discussing this issue and likely consequences with Woot’s creative director, Dave Rutledge, he was already prepared for that possibility and had no fears about going there. And this was a little surprising to us, for when you spring a new convention on a large customer base, consequences can be “interesting.” Woot is a family of websites that gets more than 1 million visitors a day and the company has to derive its profit from those visitors, which means that in some measure Woot has to keep those folks happy.
Woot.com is not the only site we’ve launched with a wider format. For instance, our own website is 1096px wide (actually launched after the Woot redesign), and we’ve done a few smaller brand’s website redesigns, before and since, that are 970px to 1000px wide. Woot took a chance, though, with this decision. As mentioned before, the constraints made this move somewhat necessary, but the decision to go wide was not so difficult because it was not out of character for their brand. Woot has always been on the forefront of trends. They have a history of showing people what they want before they know that they want it, and being very successful doing so. While the success of this particular step was no sure bet, it was in keeping with their brand’s fearless and innovative character.
As Dave Rutledge pointed out in our discussions, “…our audience is among the most technologically advanced and web-savvy store crowds out there.” And he has statistics to back that up. Technologically advanced and web-savvy site visitors are well equipped to adapt to changes, even drastic ones. But statistics indicate that Woot’s users would not likely have to adapt very much. One of the more telling stats shows how Woot’s users’ trend toward greater-than-960 browser resolution is way ahead of the curve, as illustrated here (image below):
(Click the image above for detail)
Clearly, Woot’s user base is unusually predisposed to respond more favorably to a wider format than that of most websites; this is certainly true of retail website users. But of course browser resolution is not the end-all-be-all of the viewing experience. Despite browser resolution settings, different users have different habits for whether they’ll maximize the browser or limit the browser size on their monitor. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that this behavior is in no way inflexible. Responding to it as though it were is silly and unnecessarily limiting.
Browser width, like browser resolution, is a response to typical dimensional characteristics of web page layouts. All of us arrive at our individual choices for resolution and browser width on the screen according to preference, based on typically encountered constraints (and other things). When those typical constraints change, so do behaviors. It has always been so and it always will be so.
So yes, it is something of a risky experiment to break with widely held conventions, but nothing worthwhile is accomplished without risk. Woot and Dave Rutledge understand this fact and are comfortable with their response to it. Conventions don’t change unless there are compelling reasons for them to. When constraints would seem to require it, Woot, and we, are happy to explore those reasons and take those risks. As it is, Woot’s sales continue to grow strongly since the re-launch.
As to the specific consequences of our wide redesign of Woot’s sites, we’ll examine those in an upcoming article. Stay tuned.