April 2, 2004, 12:00 AM

Creativity offers low-tech solution to complex site problems, says designer

While advanced imaging technologies can rev up online product display, it’s not the only way to get the job done – sometimes, a simpler approach works too.


Technology developers keep coming up with new and better software and applications to sell merchandise online, but while they can dazzle, their cost can also add up. In improving e-commerce site design and function, site operators should take care not to overlook one resource that’s available for free: brain power, advises Jason Fried, president of Chicago-based web design company 37signals.

One of the biggest issues in e-commerce is how sites present products online, and creativity can provide improved function for marketers not looking to invest in more technology, Fried contends. “Advanced imaging technologies can help, but sometimes they are a complex solution to a simpler problem. There can be better and cheaper ways,” he says.

Many sites show product pages that are fed by a central database. “It gives you all the statistics on product; the digital camera is 3.3 inches x 1inch x .8 inches. But people don’t think in terms of a ruler. There needs to be context and perspective,” he says.

For example, sites that offer multiple types of cell phones may display all the cell phone images at the same size so they’ll fit into a product comparison grid. Yet they are not all the same size, and the size of the phone is one of the top concerns of cell phone buyers. To let shoppers make that determination instantly instead of by having to compare the specs, Fried suggests, site operators’ web designers could themselves look at the specs of different models and size the photos up or down accordingly after figuring it out with a calculator, to show relative size.

“That wouldn’t have to be the default view, but could be offered as an optional view labeled Show by Size,” Fried says. Such low-tech fixes don’t solve all the problems of product presentation, but “The point is that there are still plenty of simple solutions to the complex question of how do I help people buy things online,” Fried says.


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