Williams-Sonoma had long been using Icovia, a 2D vector-based application, to design home makeovers for its customers. When the retailer acquired Outward in December 2017, a chance to upgrade materialized.
We set out to create a photo-real space planner for Design Crew (Williams-Sonoma’s professional designers) and consumers of Williams-Sonoma’s family of brands: west elm, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, Pottery Barn Teen, and Williams Sonoma Home.
Responsive Web App
UX & Product Design, Design Direction, Marketing, Product Management, Customer Support
January 2018 — Present
The premise was simple: by leveraging our 3D-imaging technology, we can take the guesswork out of home design and eliminate uncertainties with buying furniture. The result is uncompromised image quality and dimensional precision in multi-brand assortment at scale. Beginners and experts alike can build a portfolio of single room or full house plans with custom measurements. The searchable product catalog hosts over 400,000 SKUs (and counting). Products are shown in exact dimensions, so pieces fit to specific room sizes and wall lengths, and in exact colors and textures so that shades and styles can be paired with confidence. The app automatically generates high-quality PDFs with organized shopping lists, with a built-in email feature for sharing with family and friends.
Room Planner is my labor of love, first as Outward’s only UX designer, and then as lead designer as my team grew. Two-and-a-half years in, the product is still an unfolding story in the making, and it’s taught me 3 invaluable lessons along the way.
It was a delicate balancing act to introduce a new tool for interior designers with years of service under their belts, already accustomed to existing workflows, and wary of having to learn something new. At first, it was easy to validate our mission by just focusing on the beautiful; the difference in image quality alone was undoubtedly an improvement, and my manager trusted that I’d design a modern UI for a much-needed facelift to win users over.
But we very quickly learned that it wasn’t about what was beautiful that made Icovia interesting to designers. It was about what was interesting that made Icovia beautiful.
After we launched the pilot in mid-2018, I attended Williams-Sonoma’s annual leadership conference where I gave a keynote address on Room Planner. I also traveled to different Williams-Sonoma stores to conduct interviews with home stylists, store managers, and trade specialists. From these conversations, I learned that many designers were still using Icovia for some of the simplest of reasons: they loved adding cats and dogs to make plans feel alive; they didn’t have time to practice a new tool; their clients were less concerned with top-down plans and more interested in inspirational mood boards. Yes, they agreed that Room Planner was more beautiful, but we had more work to do to convince our diverse customer demographic that it was the most interesting.
I made it my personal mission to never lose sight of customer feedback. Even as our feature set grew to incorporate perspective image rendering and mood board capabilities (currently released to enterprise users only), my design approach has remained constant: first, inspire confidence through clarity: users should recognize what elements are, why they would use it, predict what will happen when they use it, then successfully interact with it. Second, consistently use progressive disclosure: avoid over-explaining or showing everything all at once to keep interactions more clear. Whether it was opting to use words over icons for buttons, or opting to add more instructive copy over adding less, these were intentional decisions based on real conversations with real users, whom I’ll deeply appreciate for years to come.
For this project, I’ve been an individual contributor, a design manager, both at the same time, and other roles entirely. Our company runs fairly lean to begin with, and I operate under the mindset of extreme ownership: being responsible for not just those tasks which you directly control, but for all those that affect whether or not your mission is successful.
Make no mistake: I loved doing the design work. But it was just as important to me, as one of the original product owners, to help design the operational system -- the network of people, information, and tools associated with developing Room Planner as a living consumer product. Some days, it was tough to juggle it all, but tackling numerous responsibilities opened my eyes to the necessity of each one:
• UX research, including drafting a competitive audit, storyboarding, engaging with program/product managers on feature definition and prioritization, conducting stakeholder interviews, and performing usability testing.
• Product design, including diagramming task flows and information architecture, creating mood boards and paper prototypes, drawing wireframes, preparing mockups and clickable prototypes, creating icons and illustrations, and building a design system from scratch.
• Marketing and media, including editing press releases, copywriting, creating/editing product teaser videos, performing product demos, and giving two product keynotes at Williams-Sonoma’s 2018 Leadership Conference.
• Customer support, including managing support channels, responding to customer inquiries and feedback, drafting and distributing release notes, technical copywriting for product manuals/guides, and creating instructional videos.
• Product management, including organizing and running standup meetings, interfacing and troubleshooting customer issues with cross-functional teams, coordinating and participating in releases, and reporting progress to senior leadership.
Take a look at some of my sketches, task flows, and other work product ⇲
Designing for Room Planner goes beyond being able to create a mockup: it requires understanding the backend's data sources and product feeds, the frontend server and existing architecture's constraints on functionality, the content render pipeline and merchant influences on product needs, and the responsibility of design to balance all of these inputs and build towards something revolutionary. I've continuously pushed myself and my designers to speak the language of other teams; because learning about others' problems is vital to our craft of generating inspirational designs rooted in reality.
We celebrated the official launch of Room Planner in October 2018 during one of our company all-hands. As I sat in the cafeteria with my peers and colleagues, looking at Room Planner screenshots fading in and out of the slides, I saw so clearly how each individual in the company had contributed or touched an aspect of Room Planner is some way: our production org generated product data and images; our creative org compiled work orders and conducted quality checks; our design team transformed feature ideas into visualized mockups; and our engineering org coded the application, tested functionality, and coordinated each release.
I'll never forget that, for just one Design Crew member to create one room plan, it took our entire organization, working side by side, towards a common goal.
Room Planner Pro has generated an all around increase in orders of magnitude for average order value, revenue per visit, and browse to cart across furniture categories when comparing visitors who arrived at the tool and moved to purchase, and those who did not get to Room Planner at all. Two-and-a-half years into the project, with steady usage stats and proven ROI, I’m proud to have given it my all.
Want to take our Room Planner for consumers for a spin? You’ll need a Williams-Sonoma account to sign in. Try Room Planner ↗