How Crate and Barrel designs for passion

4 min read
Kaysie Garza,
Will Fanguy
  •  Jun 7, 2018
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Crate and Barrel began with a vision that centered around being simple, beautiful, and practical. That mindset has carried over from their storefronts into their digital design products and projects.

Likewise, from their humble beginnings in an old elevator factory to today’s mix of online and in-store goods, Crate and Barrel’s offerings reflect a strong and dedicated connection to their customers.

Jason Harvey, Director of Site Design and UX, highlights the differences between Crate and Barrel and other furniture retailers: “Crate and Barrel isn’t Wayfair or Amazon… We aren’t an online marketplace. We have a point of view on the design of our products and compete by being a brand customers are passionate about.”

“Our job is to focus on the customer.”

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Customer advocacy changes everything for the team. They’re a company that puts their audience first in all they do. This didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not easy, but the company has seen their investment in the customer pay off.

The benefits of focusing on research

Crate and Barrel has a rich heritage built on a shared passion for the customer experience. Customer engagement and feedback shape the selection of curated products from artisans around the world. Time spent talking to customers about a product’s story or design has helped keep quality craftsmanship at the heart of their offerings. Today, this carries into Crate and Barrel’s digital offerings too.

The design process at Crate and Barrel always starts with the same thing: information gathering. They talk to parties on all sides (customer, buyers, suppliers, etc.) to get the best understanding possible. The next step is creating a UX strategy that focuses on not just the brand and the app but also an associate-facing in-store app called Crate Browser.

“We have to maintain a balance between what’s feasible from a development standpoint, what has the most value to the business, and what’s best for our customers,” says Harvey. Again, there’s more research and workshopping both internally and externally before a project is launched. Designers, developers, and customers all weigh in on projects throughout the creation and iteration process.

“If a design doesn’t work the first time, we take it back and try again.”

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How to design like Crate and Barrel

If you’re interested in modeling your design process after the customer-focused methods used by Crate and Barrel, give these tips a try:

  • Condense your code. Crate and Barrel uses a single codebase when it launches projects and experience. This makes it easier to make quick changes (like the inevitable typo) without digging deep into different stacks.
  • Launch does not mean the work is done.A/B testing is just built into our process. We have a great analytics team we partner with closely. I love getting their perspective on why something is or isn’t working. If a design doesn’t work the first time, we take it back and try again,” says Harvey.
  • Customer focus above all else. Period.Twitter Logo “Customer focus is central to Crate’s culture—so much so that cross-functional teams can work fluidly between different reporting structures. Our job is really to focus on the customer and design for what makes this brand great,” says Harvey.

The Design Genome Project, which explores the DNA of the world’s best design teams, gives you concrete examples of what drives the success of the companies you admire and helps you build a body of evidence for investing in design. Check it out!

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