Product Personification: An experiment in design

Who is your product anyway? — What we learned from bringing the fastest growing beauty brand’s ecommerce platform to life.

She’s trendy, fun, trustworthy, and friendly. Like a fashionable older sister, she stays on top of all the hottest trends in beauty and skincare and keeps you updated with the latest news and advice. She’s not a real person, though. She’s our product, a cutting-edge ecommerce platform for the fastest growing beauty brand in the world, and we call her Unni.

Unni (언니, pronounced uhn-knee) is a word in the Korean language that younger girls use to call their big sisters. We believe a modern beauty ecommerce platform should remind you of a big sister: someone to rely on for solid advice, but also someone you can have tons of fun with. Unni is the personification of our product and her personality guides our design, embodying the emotional needs of our users and our company business goals.

Why personification?

Let’s say a friend asks you what characteristics would make for a great beauty ecommerce platform. There are a lot of things that might come to mind. It should highly encourage product discovery, have convenient item filters, be scalable and easy to navigate… The list can go on with totally valid points, but you are likely to restrict yourself thinking in the framework of how existing ecommerce platforms work.

Now, how would you describe the first person you’d talk to if you wanted to buy a new skincare item? I think of one of my closest friends, Irene. She’s the trendiest girl I know so I can trust her product recommendations, and I always have fun talking to her about anything beauty. Her passion for skincare is so genuine that it’s practically contagious!

Irene’s skincare routine is kind of like this, but times five.

Notice how the second question opens up so much room for extended discussion and creativity? Starting your ideation by thinking about the product as a service can feel uninspiring as you list obvious, pre-existing traits like “easy navigation” or “simple checkout”. By using personification, we’re able to bring our platform to life with a human touch. It gives us a stronger framework of thought because we naturally find it easier to design when thinking about other people rather than products or services. It’s the same reason why we create personas for our users: the key to great design lies in empathy, and people empathize best with, well, other people.

At Memebox (pronounced me-me-box), we’re redesigning our entire product from the ground-up. The catch is that our product is an ecommerce platform which has been done hundreds of times before by Amazon, Jet, Magento, Shopify, Instacart, Storenvy, and many more. We wanted to make sure our product stays fresh and relatable by making it more human than machine for our persona and stakeholders. So, what could we do to design an ecommerce platform that isn’t just “a place to shop and sell online”? What is it about our brand and values that we could utilize to make the online shopping experience one-of-a-kind and, more importantly, the best for our users?

The process of identifying Unni

We started by asking ourselves the four fundamental questions that are at the heart of our design process (more on this in another article later 😉):

  1. Who are we designing for?
  2. Why are we designing this?
  3. What should we design?
  4. How could we design this?

The first question is the most important for us in our discussion today. Who is this for?

  • Our users (our persona named Kayla)
  • Our stakeholders (teams within our company)

The challenge for us was that in an ecommerce platform, there are two different sides to the product: the customer-facing shopping site and the admin-facing management system. We wanted to design a product that bridges Kayla’s pursuit of beauty and the Memebox teams’ business goals without sacrificing the personal connection in the shopping experience. So, we began to ask who our product is. That’s where Unni comes in.

While asking ourselves the what, why, and how about our product identity and business motivations, patterns emerged in our answers. Certain traits were desired by all teams, such as flexibility. When showcasing new campaigns or brands, for example, stakeholders expressed the want for modular views that could adapt to marketing requirements. Everyone also wanted our product to be attractive so that newly acquired users wouldn’t bounce off the first page they viewed. We expanded on these descriptors more and more until we formed a definitive picture of who Unni is: fun, fast, trendy, easy, flexible, attractive, sincere, personable, trustworthy, and empowering.

FUMA was the old name for our ecommerce platform, which we renamed and personified as Unni.

Memebox is a hub of the latest Korean beauty news and trends, but it can be intimidating for Kayla to navigate all the information and products we provide. Unni is there to save the day as someone who knows how to take vast amounts of data and translate it into digestible, relevant advice for Kayla in a matter of milliseconds. She’ll give her a heads up on the latest deals and recommend an item or two that she knows Kayla will love. She’s like an older sister who’s always looking out and wants to bring the best of the beauty world to your life. She’s trendy, attractive, and sincere for Kayla’s sake, but also flexible, available, and fast for all our stakeholders’ needs.

How personification has helped us

Throughout our redesign, there have been several key moments when this approach has strongly influenced our decisions. For example, one of the most important flows in an ecommerce system is the checkout process (the flow from cart addition to purchase completion). We wanted to make sure this flow was not only familiar, but also felt sincere and trustworthy to Kayla. These personality traits of Unni prompted us to overcommunicate all fees, prices, and possible deterrents early on in cart rather than using any dark patterns to lure customers into clicking checkout.

Another time personification proved helpful was in designing our product page (the view Kayla sees after clicking on a certain item). Many of our users reach this page by clicking on a video link from Facebook or Google ads, so we made sure every element on the page was personable, easy, and attractive. This page is often Kayla’s very first impression of Memebox, so we focused on how people form judgments when meeting someone for the first time. Are they warm and friendly? Do they seem like a person I can relate with? Are they fun to talk to? And, voilà, we were able to use these principles of Unni to create a delightful experience that focused on prioritizing relatable content and friendly copy.

When should you use product personification?

Product personification is a great way to maintain balance between your user needs and business goals, while still keeping your product personable. This approach has kept us aligned to these core product values throughout our redesign. We also see potential in translating Unni’s personality in future copywriting and branding. However, it’s important to consider context — different methods may be better suited for different tasks. After all, we’ve hit some of our own roadblocks along the way in thinking about Unni (e.g., there are things people shouldn’t do that products can, like remembering your credit card details at checkout). We’re still experimenting with the idea, and it’s a work in progress at Memebox Design. What are your thoughts on product personification?

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Changing the face of the beauty industry, one smile at a time.