Buy a pair of TOMS, and they’ll donate shoes to a child in need. Buy TOMS sunglasses, and you’re helping to restore eyesight for people in developing countries. And in the last couple of years, they’ve added coffee and bags to help provide clean water and safe births, respectively.
For all those reasons and more, the One for One® company is one of my favorite InVision customers. I spoke with Stacy Carpenter, Senior UX Designer; Ron Elizondo, Director of Digital Customer Experience; and Theresa Lavachek, Web Designer, about telling the TOMS story, choosing new products, and designing an ethical and responsible ecommerce experience.
How’s the product design team set up at TOMS?
Ron: We’re a small, highly collaborative team with key competencies in user experience and web design, though we all wear many hats. We work closely with the web development team and creative team on all projects, and we sit within the ecommerce department.“Interact with your customers like they’re humans.”
User experience design takes the lead in everything from research to user testing, to wireframing things out and stakeholder interviews. UI design is much more functional than just making things look pretty—a UI designer makes the desired customer experience come alive.
The goal of our team is to create a rich experience for our customers. We want TOMS.com to not only be a destination for shopping, but for great content.“InVision’s made our lives so much easier when it comes to handoffs.”
I lead the digital customer experience team, which encompasses 4 teams:
- Web design
- Content strategy and management
- Product management
Once you’re in the UX/UI design or product design side, Stacy and Theresa lead the charge. It’s a flat structure with lots of open communication—we work closely together and consider everyone’s idea valid.
What’s the collaboration like between UX design and UI design?
Stacy: Even though I’m UX and Theresa’s UI, our skills apply to both areas—plus we have an in-depth understanding of both of our roles here.
From discovery through UX and UI, all of us collaborate closely and talk through each step.
Ron: Overall, we’re flexible about our process and we try to be as lean as possible. Since we do development using agile practices, we try to subscribe to that methodology on the UX and UI design side.
“Having a working prototype when we’re collaborating is a lifesaver—with InVision, we’re able to communicate exactly what we want to accomplish.”
We’re able to adapt to each project depending on its needs. Sometimes Theresa and Stacy work together as a mini-agency, and other times Theresa leads the charge on something that may not require the UX side. Or Stacy might lead a workshop or meeting without Theresa’s involvement.
What’s the design culture like?
Ron: Very open. It’s been like that from the beginning. Even though we’re a large company now, we still have that startup mindset. We’re scrappy and super entrepreneurial—that’s one of our key values, and it translates well to design.
Theresa: We’re very playful—there’s a lot of experimentation and we play off each other’s ideas. Having a small team allows for open communication. Plus, it’s an open, collaborative environment with a lounge area in each department where teams can discuss projects.
Some of my favorite things about working here:
- Fitness classes (yoga, pilates, TRX) every afternoon
- Ping-pong breaks—we’re serious about ping-pong
- Food trucks come to the office every day for lunch
- There are 2 slides in the office, and some folks make it their goal to balance their coffee while going down the slide without spilling a drop
- Happy Helping Hours happen about twice a month—we might assemble hygiene kits for refugees or create flower bouquets for children at Junior Blind of America
What are some of the challenges you face as a small team in a large organization?
Ron: The amount of work we have to do. Last year, we migrated from one ecommerce platform to another while also doing a full site redesign. We went from a mobile-specific site and a desktop site to a fully responsive one.
While last year involved a focus on building, this year is all about optimizing the site and the site’s experiences.
There are thousands of things we’d like to do, and prioritizing those things—being ruthless about where we spend our time, what we focus on, and which features and ideas we’d like to bring to life—is the biggest challenge.
Another challenge: staying as customer-focused as possible. It’s easy to design for ourselves, but we have to remember that we’re designing for someone else and trying to improve their experience with TOMS.
What’s the process of designing from a new feature idea to when you launch that new feature?
Stacy: We work closely with our analytics team and dive deep into discovery with a lot of market research.
After that comes wireframing. We might start out with Post-it notes and then go into OmniGraffle. Before moving into a design discovery phase that focuses on UI and visual design, we’ll have an internal review of those wireframes and then iterate and perfect them.“A UI designer makes the desired customer experience come alive.”
Prototypes happen next, and for those we use InVision. I actually put all of my wireframes into InVision, and then once something goes to UI or visual, it goes back into InVision—just more fleshed out. That helps us with internal reviews, business reviews, and stakeholder reviews.
The next phase is discovery and questions for development. And after that: development and QA.
How do you hand off designs to developers? Do you have any advice on making handoffs smoother?
Stacy: InVision’s made our lives so much easier when it comes to handoffs. We work closely with the creative team and the dev team, so having a working prototype when we’re collaborating is a lifesaver—we’re able to communicate exactly what we want to accomplish.
Once the handoff happens, we meet with the necessary teams to go over any questions or comments about functionality and goals.
How do you think your design process differs from other ecommerce experiences?
Stacy: Every time we do a project, we think about why we’re at TOMS. We’re here because we believe in improving lives and we believe that business is a way to do that.
So when we redesign the navigation, for example, we’re not just thinking about the basics. We’re thinking about how changes will affect the way people shop and give, and how that affects the real end customer: people in need.
“When we redesign, we think about how changes will affect the way people shop and give, and how that affects the real end customer: people in need.”
What’s a typical day in the life of a TOMS designer?
Stacy: We start out with a lot of caffeine. There’s a barista here that we take full advantage of. They of course serve TOMS coffee.
Then we go into this collaboration/research/discovery meeting mode. Other than that, it’s just a basic work day.
What’s the most powerful part of your design process?
Stacy: As a team, we’re constantly trying to find new, innovative ways to tell the TOMS story and to communicate to the customer what their purchase means.
“We’re always trying to tell the giving message in a way that’s thoughtful, humble, and responsible.”
Ron: Now that we’re expanding into different product lines, we’re not just giving shoes anymore. We’re giving sight to people in countries around the world. With coffee, we’re providing clean water. And with our bag collection, we’re helping provide safer births.
It fosters this inspirational energy within the office—all it takes is a glance around the different walls of the meeting rooms at the photos of people we’ve helped.
What values do you want to see reflected in your design?
Theresa: We’re always trying to tell the giving message in a way that’s thoughtful, humble, and responsible.
When we have all-staff meetings, employees who just returned from a giving trip talk about their experience. For example, one of our front-end developers said that with everything he works on, he thinks about the kids in Nicaragua he gave shoes to.
Every employee thinks about that, though, as well as how we can communicate those memories in a responsible manner.
How does your team keep up with changing web standards and opinions?
Stacy: Theresa and I constantly research what’s out there. Ron, Theresa, and I share different sites with each other every day just to see what people are doing.
What type of metrics do you watch when you’re thinking about designing new pieces or changes?
Stacy: Our analytics team does A/B testing and tagging to see how well a feature is performing and how we can optimize it.
“I put all of my wireframes into InVision. Once something goes to UI or visual, it goes back into InVision—just more fleshed out.”
We also look at social media engagement. Specifically, how our customers are communicating about the company through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other platforms.
Ron: From a more traditional ecommerce perspective, we track conversion, bounce rates, and abandonment rates. We also look at the checkout funnel to see where people drop off.
The purchase funnel is important to us, but we also pay close attention to building content that our supporters want to share with their network of friends and family.
“We build content that our supporters want to share with their network of friends and family.”
TOMS started as a word-of-mouth company, and to this day we haven’t done much advertising. We’ve relied on our supporters telling the story for us. Metrics that show sharing and engagement are important to us.
Can you tell me about your internal review and your stakeholder review processes?
Stacy: With our internal review process, we go through our discovery phase and when we’re ready to present, we share it with our team using prototypes in InVision. When we reach a more finished point, we start setting up smaller meetings with stakeholders to get final approval.
Who’s involved in stakeholder reviews?
Stacy: Depends on the project, but typically it’s the owner, manager, or senior members of that team.
What tools do you use to document and manage projects?
Stacy: We use the following tools:
- Trello for daily task management
- Jira for larger scope development
- Workfront to manage tasks between the creative team, content team, and UX team
- Confluence to gather process and save important points
- InVision for prototyping
How do you keep people accountable to those processes?
Stacy: We expect a lot from each other—it’s a key point of the company that’s ingrained in us from day 1 since the company started off with an entrepreneurial spirit.“At TOMS, we always say ‘thank you.'”
We’re in constant communication, too, which is easy thanks to the casual environment. Starting a conversation is much easier than writing an email, and that builds strong relationships between team members.
We also have a great relationship with our product owners, and they help keep track of that process and keep us on task. Our producers, who are like project managers, help us stay on task as well. Everything falls into place because so many people are keeping an eye on the pace.
Theresa: We always say “thank you.” We’re humbled by everybody’s skills and creativity.
Ron: It’s up to the product owners to keep the process going—they’re the ones who build out a project calendar and set due dates and milestones.
Our team constantly talks not just with each other, but with the development team and the creative team.
Stacy: Everyone’s excited to be here—they’re excited about the mission and they’re full of ideas. That’s helpful in getting a project done because people are actually excited to work.
Where do you get involved in the development of new projects?
Stacy: UX is involved from the very beginning. Most of the time, it’s our own audit and our own creative teamwork to come up with these projects for new site features. We’re heavily involved from the beginning so that we clearly tap out the user flow and audit the project’s purpose. We work with the development team to make sure it can be done, too.
How have you dealt with your growth and popularity?
Stacy: The growth keeps everyone spirited and focused—it means what we’re doing is important. It’s made us work faster, be scrappy, and push things out quickly.
“No matter how many Facebook or Instagram followers we have, it’s all about that moment someone decides to purchase something from us.”
Ron: Over the past 9 years, we’ve given over 45 million pairs of shoes to people in need. Keeping that in mind helps our company culture.
No matter how many Facebook or Instagram followers we have, it’s all about that moment someone decides to purchase something from us.”
How do you choose new products?
Ron: There’s a team of people that looks at needs around the world and what we could have an impact on. For example, there are millions of people without access to clean water, or even just water. So we take that need and build products that will impact that need.
How have your customers and users changed over time?
Stacy: We have a very broad user base, especially since the expansion of the product line. A lot of people think about the shoes, but now that we have coffee, bags, and eyewear in the marketplace, we appeal to a large segment of the population.
Theresa: And because of the giving aspect, we appeal to a broad range of people. When we’re designing, we have to think of a lot of different people who come to TOMS.com.
How do you creatively monetize while staying true to your vision?
Stacy: Though we’re an ecommerce site, we differentiate ourselves by connecting our supporters with their impact on the lives of another.“The goal at TOMS is to use business to help improve lives.”
We try to stay true and humble to that One for One® mission—we always keep our giving partners in mind.
Are there any best practices you can share about designing an ethical and responsible ecommerce experience?
Stacy: The goal at TOMS is to use business to help improve lives. There’s a team that travels around the world and researches issues, and then they ask how we can help to improve those issues as a company. That’s where every product begins.
If you’re an ethical commerce company, you should begin with the need and then focus on what you can do to address that.
Ron: Selling our products is of course our priority, but we try to find the right balance between designing for the product and designing for the giving story as a way to challenge ourselves. So if you’re browsing any of our digital properties, you’re not just shopping for a new pair of sandals—you’re learning about how that pair of sandals will impact someone’s life around the world.
“We try to find the right balance between designing for the product and designing for the giving story.”
Incorporating those messages while adding value to the shopping experience is the goal.“Treat your customers the way you want to be treated.”
Stacy: We always want to be genuine, honest, and human. It’s important to treat your customers the way you want to be treated and to interact with them like they’re humans.“Interact with your customers like they’re humans.”
Photography by Gerald Gonzales.