Making Etsy Studio

Designing a human-centered business

DIY Business Design

Design is for all. I hope this list of ingredients and anecdotes will help you get busy on your next business. You’ll find links to where you can learn more about the basics of each stage of business design. Reach out if you want to learn more about each stage! I’m happy to keep the conversation alive. This is just one method in one context. Think of it as a recipe to write on!








What you’ll make

One brand

One product

One service

(Which all add up to one experience.)

Step 1 — Make for love.

Before you get started, ask yourself: What comes natural?

If you’re going to make something meaningful, I recommend loving the problems you’ll solve and the people you’ll serve.

For me, Etsy Studio is a work/life layup. My office is bursting with scraps and supplies, and my basement acts as a graveyard for #pinterestfails. But I’m just one human. We needed a lot of humans, including our customers, to inspire us to believe Etsy Studio should exist.

Fortunately, my co-workers at Etsy surround themselves with craft everyday. In fact, the history of our company was founded on the very ideals of DIY: Empowering creative entrepreneurs and makers to run their own businesses.

Supplies have always played a role in our offering. But we came to realize that this community of DIY buyers and supplies sellers had distinct needs. We were curious how we could tease out this category in a way that would complement, not confuse, the finished goods we were known for around the world.

Step 2 — Why make?

What’s the problem you want to solve, or opportunity you see?

We started, as we always do, by talking to our sellers. Designers at Etsy are trained to observe attitudes and actions, so we can hear not just the words, but understand the intent behind our customers’ behaviors and emotions.

Our supplies sellers were eager to let us know where we could improve. Some common things we heard:

  • We feel hidden in the experience.
  • Our goal is to serve more customers.
  • Etsy feels like it’s for finished goods. Especially the marketing. I don’t have the tools or voice to properly service my customers.
  • I want more opportunities to reach people with the creative things I sell, find, and make.

Sellers also gave us significant inspiration through good ol’ raw (quantitative) data that told us promising attributes about these sellers:

  • On average, sold higher quantities of inventory
  • Delivered faster-than-average shipping speeds and customer response rates
  • Received more repeat purchases comparatively

We hypothesized this was likely because they often sell ready-to-ship, larger-quantity items.

Still, with all the entrepreneurial badassery supplies sellers had going as a collective, we knew we could create value for them: We could honor their dedication and determination by introducing them to new customers. We could also build tools that would save them time and help them work smarter.

Tip: When you’re just getting started need-finding, review the double diamond of design. Here’s one modified by Floris Dekker, Design Director at Etsy. Prepare for the exciting journey ahead! #shinebrightlikeadiamond

Step 3 — Make for others.

Before you jump into solving the how, it’s critical to know the why, and for whom.

While we were inspired to serve our sellers, Etsy Studio is, first and foremost, a consumer brand. The whole experience is tailor-made for DIYers.

We knew the key to competing in the market depended on creating a unique position for our brand. To accomplish this we had to know why people make things, and what struggles they face.

So we interviewed thousands of people, in person, focus groups and surveys. These people make for the pure joy of it, for their homes, for life’s special occasions, for themselves, for their mental health, for their self confidence, for their innate sense of human creativity.

Ten years of designing shopping apps taught us a lot, but we knew biases learned from a decade of experience could also create blind spots. Making design choices specifically for our target audience was paramount to building a new experience.

At Etsy we practice human-centered design. We believe design flourishes when we share a deep empathy for a customer, embraced across any function in a company or community.

Step 4 — Craft stories.

Research can be a powerful design tool, but it’s also all too easy to ignore. Unless absorbed by the hundreds or even thousands of individuals who make a business come to life, the most insightful research findings can amount to very little. Research works best when it’s a team sport.

I took every chance to empower my business partner, Tim Holley, and PMM partner Brittany Williams, to promote our customers through solid communication design. This time I spent creating decks, prototypes and packets, which may have otherwise been spent designing product, coding, or running in the trees (rather than seeing the forest), was time absolutely well spent.

To build a new business with true accountability and fierce loyalty to the livelihoods of the customers we serve — clear and consistent internal storytelling about our customers helped rally our team and partners as one creative force.

TIP: This course by IDEO teaches you how to create influence with storytelling.

Step 5 — Find your white space.

Analyze research. Study at the competitive landscape. Observe culture. Find a place to make our own.

You can think of brand positioning as the space you occupy in the worldview of your customer.

For Etsy Studio, we were inspired to occupy a space that would truly champion the joy of making: Offering unique supplies and personal touches. Empowering people to feel guided and supported throughout their DIYs. Making meaningful projects. Highlighting supplies with transparency: origin, recycled material, handmade, vintage — all these actions authentically align with our values.

Once we landed on our positioning, it guided everything. We started to craft a voice and visual identity to reflect the making process.

TIP: Just starting to learn about branding? Check out this framework for brand strategy. I also recommend this post about developing brands for Airbnb, Dropbox and more.

Step 6 — DIYdentity yourself.

Time to get out all your creative supplies.

Before building an identity, remember to revisit who you’re branding for (not just what’s in style). Our lead Art Director Lyanne Dubon influenced our design expression by listening to our customers, and internalizing our positioning, and creating a cohesive identity that allowed us the big picture and the constraints to make visual, written and interaction design decisions.

They pulled from Etsy, Inc’s. brand foundation, and layered in unique elements, like photographic, motion and illustration styles that heightened the joyful feeling of making. Our writers produced guidelines and glossaries for ourselves and our translators. We could now truly bring words into our design process with bold style and consistent voice.

Our product designers and art directors worked side-by-side to build out interface patterns with considerations like accessibility, progressive web best-practices, and legibility. The result was something that felt independent but familiar to the Etsy brand.

As we started to build out our UIs in code, we felt a sense of calm — a clean container for our customers to find and make anything they might imagine. A place for us to be inspired and get messy. A cozy, open Studio.

Tip: Think systematically. While we made a conscious decision to depart in some instances with the UI in order to birth this new brand, we also retained many underlying components that our Design Systems team had created. This gave us speed with style. Remember, not all design is visual.

Step 7 — Remold, make again.

Remember the famed double diamond of design from earlier? Gig is up: the process of making doesn’t always look like a perfect diamond. In real life things can be quite a bit messy within those lovely quadrangles.

We, as a collective — product designers, art directors, writers, researchers — played consistently with the product and brand execution, keeping an open dialogue with our customers along the way. We wanted the product experience to weave delightfully with all our editorial, social media, and other experience touch points.

Down to photographing real materials for our color and material search filters, we found real creative force in collaborating to make experiences that serve and reflect the desires and joyfulness of the making process for the community for whom we design.

We also involved our customers and colleagues for ideas and feedback, through workshops, springs, and diary studies. This way, we were able to hear hard truths early. We also have a better idea of where we need to invest in the future, and what’s glaringly holding us back. It may not always be pretty, but brutal honesty can be your greatest muse.

Tip: Read this article about designing for brand interaction.

Step 8 — Real artists ship.

One of the DIYers that we interviewed in user research said, “I might not think it’s done, but no one else will notice.” She was talking about a flower arrangement she had made. The same goes for your business.

Make early and mold often. By sharing what you’ve created even before you deem it perfect, you will learn more and adjust without having over-invested without a real sense for how your customers perceive your new business.

Whether it’s a small side project, or a venture-backed business, if you make something that resonates with your customer at an emotional level at the onset, that’s enough value to keep making.

Aside: Consumer brands have emerged with real gravity on the internet — and they’re outpacing tech startups in terms of how they launch brands that go beyond human-computer interaction, into our everyday lives, thoughts, fears and joys. This inspires me.

Step 9 — Keep making.

Everything new you put out there is a bet. But it’s also something more than that. It’s a work in progress. This is why so many companies, including Etsy, are inspired by lean methods, failing faster, and turning learnings into future value.

I‘ve learned along the way to align our actions with our customers and our brand vision, and enjoy the journey. What may feel like a pothole in the road could be the next rabbit hole into a discovery.

Taking another look at the famed double diamond of design, notice that it’s missing that big loop around it. That’s the world, and how you, a designer, and your team, empathize with it, react to it, and provide it with something perhaps it didn’t know it even wanted. So get ready for the long road, the loop of making. The best businesses thrive long after their launches. They are built by real people who learn to DIY as they go.

Join. Let me know what you think.

Thank you to the skilled makers who rolled up their sleeves and brought Etsy Studio to life. #keepmaking @etsystudio.

Etsy’s mission is to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world. Come join Etsy Inc’s design team. We’re hiring product designers and UX researchers.