Plano Cycling is the highest-rated bike shop in Texas and one of the first shops to go online. They use SmartEtailing, the most popular CMS in the outdoor industry, to publish content. While boilerplate templates are easy to set up and manage, they require a lot of customization to achieve a unique look and feel. Their site was difficult to interact with on mobile devices and lacked a distinct visual language and voice.
The in-store experience at Plano Cycling is regularly praised for the staff’s exceptional customer service ethic and the shop’s airy, well-organized spaces. We wanted the digital experience to replicate this as closely as possible. Specifically I set out to:
- Deploy a unique and deliberate graphical style
- Make the website mobile-friendly
- Organize information sensibly and feature brick-and-mortar services
- Improve online sales and product discoverability
I chose a template from about two dozen baked-in options, and quickly moved into a design phase that included some Photoshop mockups, lots of content creation, and some custom CSS. The process took about 4 months, and the site was published in March 2013.
After learning how the template functioned, I was able to produce a basic Photoshop mockup highlighting key pages. I had near-complete freedom on the design, but this allowed me to share preliminary ideas with leadership and wrap my head around the task. I also created a primary color palette inspired by the Plano Cycling logo, historical print collateral, and the overall store environment.
My biggest contribution to this project was the addition of a well-organized and standards-compliant CSS file containing the template overrides and brand elements that make the site stylistically unique. I also added a couple plugins to power font icons, sliders, and various other widgets.
Major improvements over previous design
Several months after the desktop site release, SmartEtailing released a mobile-specific template, which we volunteered to beta test. Like the desktop website, the mobile template had a minimal, neutral design. It also focused on product pages alone and didn’t incorporate informational pages. To match the desktop experience, I added some custom CSS and a homepage area to showcase regular features and brick-and-mortar services.
For simplicity, I went with a common font stack for the website HTML, but the slider and hero graphics were open to some experimentation. I favored the Gotham font for a lot of these due to its beauty and flexibility. As a rule, the Plano Cycling primary red color and its variants were always featured in some way.
Is it perfect?
It’s been a while since I did this project, and I’ve grown a lot as a designer. In retrospect I think there are a few things I would do differently.
- Custom web fonts: This didn’t factor into my thinking at the time, but I think web fonts would add readability and character.
- Mobile-friendly, but not responsive: RWD was out of the realm of what I could accomplish at the time, and the CMS structure wouldn’t have been super helpful. I think SmartEtailing may support responsive designs better now.
- Deliverable not optimal: Several pages use raw HTML instead of a WYSIWYG editor, whereas now I would favor maintainability. Fortunately, these pages don’t require much editing and there is knowledgable staff who can assist.