The Container Store Custom Design Center

September 2013 (2 weeks)

Simplifying designers’ tools.

The Container Store is famous for its high-end organization systems — Elfa in particular. For years, space designers at the Container Store have been using a Windows thick client to design spaces. It is a very complex-looking and CAD-like environment, and it certainly produces nothing stunning for customers to look at.

With the thick client still in play, the team at The Container Store had been coming up a simpler application they anticipated could handle the majority of customers’ layout scenarios. The team’s vision was to create a beautiful, simple, and fast design interface for both customers and designers that could incrementally take over the thick client. A beta web app had already been built with Bootstrap and feedback was coming in from the space designers, which led to improvements with each iteration.

With a user flow mostly in place, I was asked to come on board for 2 weeks to refine the experience and produce the interaction & visual design aspects of the app. While the app would mostly be used on Windows desktops, the company had been testing the viability of tablets throughout the stores. My design approach had to assume that one possible input method could be touch-only.

I started by sketching out most of the screens in Photoshop and then making multiple passes over each screen to refine the UI. The styling was informed by the recent redesign of other products. There were a couple of official checkpoints, but many interstitial conversations with the team. In the end, I’m super pleased with how the design work shook out, and it’s fun to see the app being used in stores.

The App

The user flow is very straightforward, and begins with the designer selecting information about usage and materials:

Toward the end of the process, the information needed gets a little more detailed, defining doorways and dimensions. Note the breadcrumbs across the top of the screen that allow the designer to return to previous steps.

I wanted both the consumer and the designer to feel like there was some complexity to producing the space organization plan. In reality, the app could immediately pump out the plan, but I felt like adding a quick transitional screen made the app feel more intelligent and considered. Sometimes waiting is a good thing.

And there’s the planned space. The designer can rotate the space, change the space allocation (if the space is shared), define obstructions, and finesse other details. It’s pretty cool, and much faster than the thick client!

In addition, there’s an tray that can be brought down to fiddle with certain order details. The view below re-renders these changes in real time.

Not bad for an 2-week project. It was challenging, and I had a great time working with the client team.