2014 – The Year of Ecommerce Design?

Over the last 18 months I have met hundreds of amazing designers and front-end developers, working independently as freelancers, as part of a collective or as a member of a small company, who are profiting from the rise in the popularity of ecommerce.

This sector is experiencing large and rapid growth. If you haven’t added “designing for ecommerce” to your services portfolio yet then perhaps 2014 is the time to start? It’s a great opportunity, especially for freelancers, to increase revenues.

Hosted Ecommerce

In line with the global increase of online selling software platforms catering to this market have also experienced high growth.

One such example is Shopify, a hosted ecommerce platform launched in 2006 which currently powers over 80,000 online stores and the number of new merchants joining each month is circa 3,000.

Shopify is very designer friendly with a very low barrier to entry – if you have basic HTML and CSS knowledge you are well on your way to building your first theme.

Shopify: A powerful designer friendly hosted ecommerce platform

The Shopify website

Designers who are familiar with the Shopify platform are finding themselves in very high demand and many are building very profitable businesses by focusing on Shopify theme design and development.

Helping Designers

Shopify also run a free Partner programme especially for designers using the platform. Signing up to the programme will give you access to unlimited, and non time restricted, development shops allowing you to get your head into your first theme and really learn the how the platform works.

You can also use development shops to showcase your work to clients. Once they are ready to launch you can simply promote the site to a paid plan at no cost to you the designer.

Shopify also rewards designers for each merchant (a client subscribing to a monthly plan) they bring on to the platform. For each customer referred to Shopify partners receive 20% of their monthly Shopify bill, including transaction fees – for as long as they are a Shopify customer.

In addition to the partner programme Shopify runs “Experts”, a free to join curated directory of skilled Shopify designers and developers. Over the last 18 months over $18m USD worth of contracts have been generated through the system.

Lucid Design

One company benefitting from both the rise in ecommerce and Shopify is Lucid Design. The agency was founded by Galen King if 2000 and is based in Nelson, New Zealand.

Galen and his team of five have been working with the Shopify since 2006. Having started the company fresh out of University it has steadily grown over the last 13 years and Galen now acts as Creative Director and Project Manager for the studio.

Earlier this year Galen kindly took a few minutes out to share his experiences of working with Shopify and in particular how the Experts programme has helped him develop and grow Lucid Design.

What first attracted you to using Shopify?

We’ve been using Shopify since 2006 — in those early days my emails were answered by Tobi (Shopify co-founder)! Looking back what attracted us at the time was the simplicity, minimalism and elegance of the platform. The fact that Shopify is also built on Ruby on Rails was a big factor back then as we were just getting into Rails ourselves.

Lucid One | Bootstrap-based responsive Shopify theme

Lucid One – a Bootstrap-based responsive Shopify theme

As a designer what do you love about designing for and working with the Shopify?

The best thing about Shopify from a designer’s perspective is that we don’t have to worry about building the platform. Instead we can focus on the visual interfaces and the usability – Shopify takes care of the rest.

We used to build CMS’s and ecommerce sites from scratch in PHP or Rails and, honestly, it’s a nightmare when dealing with small budgets and big expectations.

Shopify enables us to deliver and meet (and often exceed) expectations with lower budgets. Mainly we can focus on the cool stuff and forget about the really technical things.

Puckles-Pies, pasties and cakes

Puckles Shopify Theme by Lucid Design

Why do you as a designer/theme builder love Shopify?

I love that, despite Shopify having some limitations as a hosted SaaS (Software as a Service) product, we can literally do almost anything we want.

We have been building Shopify sites for long enough now that we are pretty good at bending it to our needs and doing some pretty cool and interesting things.

Why do your clients love Shopify?

Put simply it makes everything about selling online so much easier. It also looks great both for the customers buying products as well as those managing the store via the admin area.

Shopify Admin

The Shopify administration area

How does building for Shopify differ from your previous experiences of ecommerce systems?

Like I mentioned earlier, we have done many many bespoke builds with numerous iterations of our own systems and a bunch of other open-source solutions.

Managing the entire code-base, while giving total flexibility, is a nightmare in the long-run when budgets are generally not sufficient to do everything really well.

You are part of the Shopify Experts programme, how long have you been a member?

Since early 2012. Probably more than half our work is Shopify-related and over 90% of our new job requests would come directly from Shopify Experts – it’s a pretty big part of what we do these days!

How were you sourcing Shopify work before joining Experts?

Mainly through people stumbling across our website in the search engines and from postings on the Shopify Forums. We got nothing like the number of enquires we get now since becoming an Expert.

In what ways has being part of the Experts programme changed your business?

A big part of our focus is now on Shopify development including bespoke designs, tweaks and our own theme development.

It’s hard to say exactly but I estimate we generate more than one person’s weekly salary every week from our Shopify theme sales – which is pretty cool.

What’s in your Shopify toolbox?

I’ve got a pretty neat workflow going now. I use the Shopify Theme Gem so I can work with the themes locally using TextMate and CodeKit (for LESS or SASS rendering).

I actually posted a little writeup on my local dev structure earlier this year.

This means I can manage my themes in GitHub which gives great peace-of-mind, especially when multiple people are working on a theme and it’s a larger site.

Whisky Galore custom Shopify theme

Whisky Galore custom Shopify theme by Lucid Design

Can you share your one top theme related tip with us?

I’ve come up with a pretty cool way to build localisation into our themes. It’s kind of hard to explain in a nutshell but I have written about it on my blog.


There’s a wealth of great online resources available to help you get started with your first Shopify theme. As well as an extensive documentation site there are a number of short screencasts available catering to all aspects of theme building.

2014 is set to be a bumper year for online sales, there’s never been a better time to get started – join the Shopify Partner programme today.