Fashion: Get to my point

Butterfly wings

I am beginning to think that websites of emerging fashion designers sites suffer from a confluence of 3 delusions/fallacies:

  1. That their website is their atelier and the front door and entrance to that virtual atelier is at a different location to where everyone else thinks it is
  2. That people are going to visit their website for every other reason except to find a particular piece of  clothing and where they can buy it from
  3. That established design houses know what they are doing in terms of an online presence and website experience

This sort of discussion does work best with examples, so today I am going to critique with love 3 Australian designers/design duos who have probably gone from the point of being emerging designers to being whatever is either one or two steps up after emerging designers: Richard Nicoll, Dion Lee and Romance Was Born.

1) Your website is your atelier and you think the front door to that virtual atelier is at a different location to where someone like me knows it is

If you are living in a world where your website is a virtual expression of your creative and design ethos, then you probably think that the front door to your website would be here, in your URL:

You’d be wrong – you may know your URL from a bar of soap but the average potential purchaser who is salivating over some of your clothes in Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue is about to go looking for you.

They are most likely going to hit a search engine to find you, a search engine like google. If we consider that the results the search engine spits back as your street, then the result that leads to your site is the front door to your atelier.

So let’s have a look at some front doors:

Google search results for Richard Nicoll

Looking for Richard Nicoll - google search results accessed 11 July 2011

You will note that, unlike the net-a-porter result which appears second and has a meaningful summary, while what I have said is basically the designers front door contains some meaningless garbage.

Segue: what is this meaningless garbage?

Google generally uses metadata from the page itself to populate alot of the content in search results. Metadata is, basically, invisible code on the page, that doesn’t have alot to do with what you see on the page, but does have alot to do with what your search results look like.

The meta field in question is called the description, if it is not populated by your designer/developer/SEO expert/Online Marketing staffer then google will try to populate with content – what you are seeing is some of the commands to do with the page controls 😦

Back on track…

Dion Lee’s site goes one better in polluting its search results – the meta data description tag is again unpopulated but somewhere on the page is the note that it is under construction.

If you go into the site, you will have a hard time finding sense to that message – there is content. Although his collections are not online, the stockists are listed…which is important right?

Google search results for Richard Nicoll

Looking for Dion Lee - google search results accessed 11 July 2011

So…it’s not really under construction, right? Can I go through the door…is that ok? Should I come back later? Should I go away, fall in love with someone else’s RAFW collection, someone whose front door is a little more welcoming?

Romance was Born get it a little more right in terms of search results:

Google search results for romance was born

Looking for Romance Was born - google search results accessed 11 July 2011

But then I had to spend time waaaaaaaiting…

Screenshot Romance Was Born

I had to wait ~15 seconds for the enter site screen (Accessed 11 July 2011)

Only to realise all I was waiting for was a picture:

Screenshot of Romance Was Born splash screen

A nice picture, but of no use to me nonetheless (Access date 11 July 2011)

So I took the unneccessary step of “Entering the site”.

When I say “unneccessary”, consider this: didn’t I already do that by clicking on your search result or typing your URL into my browser?

Why do I have to enter something I have already elected to enter? Your front door was at the search results or when I typed your URL into my browser, so what functional purpose does this airlock serve except to test my skills of patience and persistence? Uhuh – unneccessary.

So, entering the site, haven’t we been here before, not two screen shots ago? Yup – it’s ol’ Loady the loading screen, he hangs out at all the best places, including Lanvin, Chanel and Galliano, so we must be in good company, right?

Screenshot of loading screen after clicking on enter the site

Another 15/so seconds of my time (Accessed 10 July 2011)

Finally, 2 clicks after I found you in the search results and 30 seconds of my time chewed up, I am at the point where I have some content to choose from, even if I have yet to really see an item of clothing (a picture of models with sunglasses, baubles, bits of clothing and 30’s style hair does not count):

Romance was Born - main screen shot

Journey almost over (Accessed 11 July 2011)

Consider this:

If this was a store, would you make it this difficult for me to get to a rack of clothes? If this was your actual atelier where you wanted to show me clothes, would you put impediment after impediment in my way to prevent me to getting to the core of your business, i.e. your clothes/designs?

2) People are going to visit your website for every other reason except to find a particular piece of  clothing and where they can buy it from?

Let’s face it, at the point where you went from being someone who has a high level set of design and garment construction skills and an inherent artistic vision, to someone who is/has a label where you hope to sell clothes to customers; was a key milestone where one of your core objectives became (or should have become) a commercial one: to sell clothes to purchasers.

Whether you convert your online connections into customers directly (via an online shop) or indirectly (via a set of online/offline stockists), is beside the point.

The fundament is that it is in your best interests that you facilitate that conversion, however it occurs. No matter if you don’t want to soil your precious little hands with dirty ol’ moolah.

This means not putting up unnecessary impediments in the form of an online presence/websites that is so bloated and bulked up with excess/surplus material that is unnecessary or intrusive to that conversion process in order to avoid ever appear like you are selling something.

Particularly when that excess gumph and nice to have sometimes (and when I say sometimes I mean mostly) bulks up your site to the point it is completely unwieldy almost to the point of being unusable.

Remember johngalliano.com’s and chanel.com’s initial choice of language screens from Crimes against Flashion? Something similar pops up on Richard Nicolls site – but rather than choosing between English and French, I have to choose whether I want a full screen mode (no I don’t need to spend time trying to escape from that unneccessity that only claims about 20 pixels more of my screen real-estate than the other option) or to open it within my browser:

Screen shot: Choose full screen or to open in browser

Screen shot of http://www.richardnicoll.com (Accessed 11 July 2011)

Once I have decided how intrusive or immersive (tohmahto, toemayto) I want my experience to be, some teensy little menus surreptitiously sneak onto the page in the hopes that I might not notice they were there:

Screen shot of Richard Nicolls website

Screen shot of http://www.richardnicoll.com (Accessed 11 July 2011)

Given that eyetracking research indicates that  people’s eyes are more likely to travel to the following places on a web page:

Eye Tracking patterns from Jakob Neilsen's Alertbox site

Eye Tracking patterns from Jakob Neilsen's Alertbox site (Accessed 11 July 2011)

Putting the collectoion menu at the top right and the the stockists and other important information at bottom of the page were therefore pretty poor choices since they are not in the locations where your clients’/customers’/future purchasers’ eyes are most likely to hit.

Dion Lee’s site may still be apparently under construction, but at least the primary menu items are right where people are most likely to see them:

Dion Lee Main Screen

Screenshot of http://www.dionlee.com (Accessed 11 July 2011)

And if I choose the slideshow option (above) as opposed to the video option, I get to see clothes instead of the beautiful but grainy set up of a fashion show inside the opera house.
(Yes it’s beautiful, yes the director is talented but why was it included in the site in such a way that it impeded and/or intrudes onto the actual primary reasons for being on the site?)

3) Established design houses know what they are doing in terms of an online presence and experiences?

I would suggest not. I have already suggested a couple of areas where design houses are committing crimes against their online audience and where they are behind the 8-ball in terms of their Facebook presence alone. Sadly, those aren’t the only critiques and case studies I have up my sleeve.

Unfortunately it does appear that from both the butterfly end of the chrysalis process (i.e. the design house end) down to the newborn caterpillar end (the emerging designer), that there are some monumental misconceptions about their online presence which can directly affect their clients/audience/potential purchasers and lessen the effectiveness of their core objectives.

Let’s talk of butterflies and caterpillars

The problem for the caterpillars (designers) who are attempting to learn how to fly based on what the butterflies (design houses) are doing is that the butterflies are at the point where they have the resources and the diversified income streams to absorb failure.

The butterflies are in the position where they have the potential to succeed in spite of the fact that their online channels are not as effective as they could be in terms of converting will-to-connect into an actual purchase. So when a butterfly (design house) does it wrong, barring a few calamitous outcomes, they can still succeed.

Let’s not forget that big design houses:

  • are established brands
  • have access to significant funds and resources which enable them to access, either internally/exterally, a range of online and offline marketing expertise
  • they have a significant depth to their pool of potential purchasers, so can afford to let some fall back into the pool
  • have usually establish a licensing spectrum to take advantage, to ameliorate profits and losses and to experiment

These are things that a start up designer does not have.

Remember johngalliano.com‘s pretty background video I listed in Crimes against Flashion? It appears as if Dion Lee’s probably not actually under construction site appears to be suffering from the same disease:

Dion Lee site screen shot

Screen shot of http://www.dionlee.com (Accessed 11 July 2011)

Unlike emerging designers and designers one or two steps up the ladder, design houses:

  • have the luxury/slack/resources to be able to afford get some things wrong, or not quite right
  • can afford to only take the easy pickings from their purchasing pool
  • have a large p0ol to start with, so their presences do not need to be as effective – they have concessions, stockists, a range of purchase options thanks to licensing deals and a barrage of other ways to facilitate purchases

To you as a start up designer, that potentially can be the difference between success and failure.

So it is important that whatever methods your identify to recruit customers, to convert them into purchasers and facilitate purchases either directly or indirectly via stockists; need to be efficient and effective. Your online presence should enable you to facilitate the conversion of as much of your potential purchasing pool into purchases as is realistically possible.

At the end of the day, consider why someone is coming to your site? It’s likely not to see what music you were listening to and which artists inspire you (hello Bianca Spender, I am talking to you).

It is more likely they have come to your site to:

  • Find out where the amazing shoes used in your collection were from
  • Check your stockists locations and who might stock that amazing skirt they just saw in a Harper’s shoot
  • See a history of your collections and how they have changed
  • Learn a little bit more about your creative process (not the music you listened to), e.g. interviews/lookbooks/commentary from you on your collection(s) and design processes you wouldn’t find elsewhere
  • Get some value added/ cultural cachet by accessing whatever extras you provide, e.g. if pattern or graphics is your thing, what about wallpapers for desktops and mobiles?
  • See where else they can connect with you (hello Facebook).
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  1. […] possibly more comprehensive, litmus test of luxury brands online presences (ad hoc tests here: [1][2] [3]). Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. […] helpfully explains the ethos behind the site. I have already stated at some length my opinion on splash screens as part of a design meme for fashion websites…no need to repeat the […]

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