Case Study: ‘Etsy Unique’ — A micro-site for requesting one-off, handmade products

“Allowing customers to post a request for one-off products and receive quotes from designers easily”

Our client was Etsy, an online marketplace that brings together customers and sellers of specifically handmade products. Although Etsy is our client, this project is part of the General Assembly User Experience Design Immersive course.

If you are a user, it can be problematic to request quotes for one-off unique items from designers and makers of handmade products.

Create new platform for Etsy will help break down the barriers between designer and customers — allowing customers to post a product request and receive quotes for unique items.

Me, Mike and Fiona (L-R)

2 weeks / Group Project with Fiona McDougall and Mike Butkiewicz (or Team OMFP).

Surveys, user interviews, persona creation, competitor analysis, feature prioritisation, task analysis, user flows, design studio, site maps, paper prototypes, digital wireframes, high-fidelity mockups, interactive prototypes, user testing and last but not least — teamwork!

Omnigraffle, Sketch, Marvel.

My process
For this project me and my team had to create personas from which we could design the solution so there were three phases:

  • Personas — Using interviews, surveys and online research, we were able to create personas of which the site would be applicable to.
  • Features — Combining competitor research and user research, a list of features could be created to include in the site.
  • Design — Bringing all the information together to create the site design so testing can begin. From those tests, changes and improvements are made to create the final interactive mockup.


From the brief, it was clear to see that we needed to create multiple personas but to define exactly how many we needed, we needed to collect data on Etsy users… fast! So Mike, Fiona and I created a survey to gather as much information as we could users online. During the survey creation, we also did our initial user interviews with classmates who were Etsy users which really helped us in formulating the correct questions for the survey.

We gathered users from Etsy forums, Etsy user groups on Facebook, Twitter and also through our closer network of friends and family. Working hard on getting the survey out into the wider world certainly bore fruit as within a couple of days, we totalled 162 responses from Etsy users — both buyers and sellers. The findings from this were really interesting and helped guide us in the right direction when initially thinking about our personas.

User Interviews
As mentioned previously, we started our user interviews early to aid us in asking the right survey questions but this was just the start. To help us formulate our persona’s characteristics and habits we felt it important to speak to buyers and sellers of handmade products.

I was very keen to get speaking to people as soon as possible but first we had to work out where to go. Large stores that sold handmade products seemed to be few-and-far-between as handmade items don’t lend themselves to mass-market chain stores. Therefore we had to look at more direct sources of selling — which is where markets and pop-up boutiques came in.

Luckily, London has many many markets that host a large amount of people but after much discussion, we decided that we would visit Spitalfield’s market in East London. We expected to be able to find buyers of handmade items online and also find the opportunity of speaking to sellers/designers who were manning stalls. The results were surprising… We found that none of the buying public at Spitalfields bought handmade items online siting that they would want to see and touch items of this sort before buying. The personal interaction between them and the sellers/designers was also paramount in their mind. However, the biggest turn-off to buying handmade items online was the quality of the products…

“There’s so much rubbish out there — there’s not enough curation” 

Leaving slightly despondent from our Spitalfields visit, we decided to visit Hatton Garden to try and find more buyers to interview. Although Hatton Garden is London’s jewellery quarter and deals with very expensive items, we hoped that it would be a place where people would go to buy and commission one-off items. This would tap directly into the brief’s requirements regarding one-off items and give us more insight on buyer’s habits.

We found that the information was all quality, but definitely not quantity. I was able to speak to one couple and they were very helpful with explaining their process of recently buying a one-off £8000 sculpture. But we felt that the difference between their idea of ‘bespoke’ and ‘customisation’ was blurred. This was a fact that we decided to keep in the back of our minds just in case we needed it later in the project.

Jewellery designers, Laura Vanderslot and Elsa Tierney (L-R)

Designers, or sellers, were far easier to locate and interview. Fortunately, our first week of the project coincided with the lead up to Valentines day and so we were able to discover a few small pop-up boutiques that were happening in Clerkenwell. We visited these pop-up shops and interviewed the designers for an overall idea of their online-selling habits and production process. Elsa and Laura, both jewellery designers (with very different price-points), were great sports and helped immeasurably with insight into the everyday online-life of a designer.

However, it was clear that the designer’s side of things was much more complex than the buyers so we felt it important to delve deeper into this process as it could end up being so intrinsically linked to our feature on Etsy….

Designer Task Analysis
Anna D’Cruz is a jewellery designer who works full-time in Hatton Garden but also gets personal commisions for wedding/engagement rings that she completes in her spare time. This was a perfect person to take a task analysis from as our interviews and survey had shown that a large number of sellers/designers on Etsy worked part time on their handmade items.

As we thought, the process of selling one-off items was very specific to each item but the basic steps remained:

  • Initial contact with buyer
  • Honing down the requirements
  • Design
  • Confirmation/review of designs with buyer
  • Production
  • Payment
  • Delivery

It appeared that the main pain-points for Anna all came down to the communication with the buyer. The issues for a designer could be:

  • Getting a good idea of what the customer wants
  • Getting paid quickly
  • Customers changing their mind

If communication between a designer and buyer was regular and clear, Anna agreed that these issues wouldn’t exist.

Persona Creation
Combining all the above findings, we were able to create our personas and the scenarios that would help us create the right feature for them. We created two — one for a buyer and one for a designer. These were:

Buyer: Molly Acacia Rose

Molly’s scenario: Molly’s oldest friend, Amy, now lives in Paris and they only see each other occasionally. It was approaching Amy’s 30th birthday and to mark the occasion, she was visiting Molly in London to celebrate and catch up.

Two weeks before the visit, Molly decided to look for a unique gift for Amy but realised that she was running out of time. While hurriedly visiting Soho in her lunch hour, Molly noticed a beautiful screen print. However, the print wasn’t quite right — Molly wanted something utterly unique — as special as their relationship. After taking a picture of the print and rushing back to work, Molly determined to find a designer that could create a similar but totally unique print.

Molly investigated online for products that were advertised as ‘handmade’ and ‘bespoke’. She looked on Amazon, Ebay and also through Pinterest but found there to be a lot of customisable, not unique, pieces. This left her annoyed and confused as to how sellers could get away with calling themselves ‘designers’. After finding a designers that could help she felt extremely frustrated at having to email each designer individually with the same email. She couldn’t post her predicament on her social media because Amy would find out and it would ruin the surprise.

Designer: Jane Huangdi

Jane’s Scenario: Jane walks into her job everyday with a dream of working for herself instead of other people. She enjoys her team and working in PR has it’s perks that she enjoys. However, ever since studying art at University, Jane has had a passion for screen printing.

At weekends (if not working), Jane will hide away in the shed-cum-workshop at the back of her garden and create short-runs of prints to sell. The designs completely depend on her mood but Jane’s favourite pieces are when they’ve been requested by people. In fact, one of her prints hang in the reception at work which she appreciated at the time but now acts as a bitter reminder of where her passion really lies.

Jane has sold some of her prints on the internet. However, she was underwhelmed by the experience — mainly because she found it difficult to find the commissions she’s happy to quote for. Jane’s customers have always come away happy from a purchase the experience has left Jane dispirited about finding further business through existing websites.


Throughout the survey and interviews phase we asked questions that pointed us towards the kind of features that Molly and Jane would use. Ease of communication and quick turnaround of quotes was something that was important to both personas but we wanted to see what other sites were doing to help Molly and Jane.

Starting with Etsy themselves and their direct competitors, Ebay and Folksy, we could see that there was nothing that would solve our persona’s problems. Ebay was mentioned a lot in user interviews from both buyers and sellers — not surprising as it’s the internet’s most popular marketplace — but because of this popularity it suffers from a buyer pain-point, no quality control/curation. Folksy, a solely UK-based competitor to Etsy, had less features to Etsy and we found there wasn’t anything we could take from them to help us further.

It was when we discovered indirect competitors that we found functionality that would be perfect for our personas. 99designs is a contest-based website that allows web/graphic designers to quote for jobs based on client’s briefs that had been input the site. This was an excellent template from which to start working from.

Etsy Visit
With users and competitors covered, we were very lucky to be able to meet with Etsy representatives at their London HQ. It was a great visit and my team-mates gathered some extremely interesting points from Etsy. It was extremely gratifying as we were able to confirm with them that our personas had characteristics that tallied with their own market research.

Our main two points from the visit were that;

“Buyers enjoy the connection with the designer”


“For a lot of designers, it’s an additional income”

By this point, it was nearing the end of an extremely busy first week but we were able to focus in on these specific features for our micro-site:

  • Item requests for buyers
  • Complete customisation for items
  • Contest for the best idea/quote
  • Easy and quick to use for both designers and buyers


Design Hypothesis
Having come to the end of the research period of the project we could create our design hypothesis…

The process of designing and buying custom-made products online should be quick, simple and enjoyable for both buyers and designers

Design Studio
To kick-start the design process and to get all our various ideas down — Mike, Fiona and I came together for a design studio.

The aim was to sketch a bunch of ideas individually and then come together to formulate a collaborative design. We gave ourselves two hours to create as many screen designs as possible — in the first hour we concentrated on the buyer’s flow through the site, and in the second hour the designer’s.

To say that this exercise was fruitful would be an understatement — we created seven separate screen designs and the initial sitemap of the micro-site. This gave us the licence to tidy up the designs and get them ready for…

As our design studio had been so successful — we were all feeling pretty happy with ourselves! However, all three of us knew that we couldn’t be precious of designs — now we had to see what users would react and interact with them.

Our first step for testing was to create paper prototypes which is the quickest and most cost-effective way of testing the basics of our screen designs. Testing these paper prototypes with both buyers and designers gave us a LOT of insight and many changes needed to be made. The main issue was clearly the confusion that arose from trying to cater for bother buyers and designers.

For example:

  • Both buyers couldn’t understand the ‘Browse Categories’ section at the bottom of the homepage. Not being 100% sure of the site’s concept, they ended up going into the categories section. This was problematic because we’d designed that section for sellers to be able to find requests to quote for, not for buyers to find items to purchase. For the next design, we changed this section to ‘Recent requests’, showcasing examples of how the site has helped buyers.
  • Following the confusion between buyer’s and designer’s user flows, it was clear the one CTA button for placing product requests was inadequate. In the next design, we decided upon a Buyers and Seller’s button.
  • Finally, the hero image that would appear as a generic branding image on the homepage meant nothing and users, wanting to know how to use the site, were more interested in the ‘See How It Works’ video. Therefore we replaced the image with the video.
  • One major success was the flow for designers worked excellently. Users found it easy to user and very intuitive.

Iteration 1
For the above mentioned changed, we decided up put more detail in the prototypes and create a digital wireframe. This would give a view more visual clues to the users without giving the entire game away. For this round of testing, we concentrated on the flow for buyers as the team was satisfied that the designer’s path through the site worked great.

The results of testing were as follows:

  • Buyers found it hard to grasp the concept of the site — they thought it was more of an advanced search to find specific designers. Even then, they didn’t really formulate that conclusion until they got to the end of the process. The step-by-step graphic on the homepage was ignored so work was definitely needed to make it clear to users the purpose of the site. Consequently, we felt that adding the steps-by-step guide into the main video would get the point across clearer right at the beginning.
  • Users were still getting confused with the meaning of Bespoke. Most users just assumed this meant general customisation instead of one-0ff items. Therefore, we started using the word Unique for the name of the site.
  • Sellers told us that they expected to get to the list product requests open for quotes via their profile. With this in mind, we made the button on the front page into a text link underneath the main CTA. This would then cover non-Etsy sellers and hopefully encourage them to sign up and get involved.
  • The ‘Recent requests’ section wasn’t clear enough to users as a place to see how the micro-site could be used. We changed the name of this section to the more friendly sounding ‘See others use Etsy Unique’.

Iteration 2
With the above changes made and implemented, we transferred the new digital wireframes into an interactive prototype (using Marvel) for a final round of user testing. There were no major changes to be made from our testing however we did change the video on the homepage to animated images — this would cut down the loading time for the front page.

Iteration 3
With the structure, features and flow of Etsy Unique finalised, it was time to make our high fidelity mockup in Sketch. I was tasked with getting the styling from the Etsy website and applying to our wireframes. Personally, I enjoyed creating these mockups immensely — it was very gratifying seeing Etsy Unique coming to life.

The interactive mockup of Etsy Unique is available for you to check out… Please have a look around and let me know what you think — all comments are welcome.

Click here to check it out!

Next steps

Throughout the project, there were a few features that could’ve taken us onto a different route but we felt it was best to leave for the next sprint.

  • Time-restricted contest: During the design studio, we realised that we could use the contest aspect of Etsy Unique to help bring more designers to Etsy and to help buyers get quality quotes quicker. In a nutshell, for the first 48 hours, only registered Etsy sellers would be able to quote and then, after that period, it would open to a public contest so even non-Etsy designers would be able to get in on the action.
  • Testing the homepage further: We were very aware of the problems that arose from users not understanding the concept of the micro-site. We believe that further testing of our solution is needed to make sure that it is a watertight solution.
  • Helping buyers meet with designer: During our interviews with users at Spitalfields Market, it was clear that buyers are much more willing to part with their money if they can see the product and speak face-to-face with the designer that had produced it. If Etsy Unique could help facilitate meetings between buyers and sellers, users would feel trust towards the micro-site, and Etsy as a whole — encouraging regular use of the platform.