Something to snack on

Nick Levesque
Zendesk Design
Published in
4 min readFeb 5, 2019

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Designing a metaphor for self-service

At Zendesk, we have a lot of products. Like, this many:

It could potentially be overwhelming for some people coming to our website to understand which product is best for them. To remedy this, we have a series of solutions pages that address how to provide a better customer experience at a high level. We then offer specific products as their solution.

For example, our omnichannel solution page pitches our product The Zendesk Suite. Omnichannel already had a strong metaphor: a television flipping through channels. Our self-service solution page, however, was lacking a story. So we took the opportunity to give it an extreme makeover: webpage edition.

Metaphor your entertainment

The first step in coming up with the art direction for the page was to consider a good metaphor for self-service. The page is about helping companies’ customers help themselves through Zendesk Guide, our help center software. An initial idea was a store self-checkout, but we felt it was too close to retail and wanted to be more generic. The idea evolved into a vending machine, which felt like the perfect self-service metaphor.

Taking shape

I wanted to keep the items in the vending machine fairly abstract. Since our product logos are made up of geometric shapes, I decided to create paper shapes made from these six designs and colors. Because the page is ultimately about selling our product Guide, I included the pink and black triangles from the logo.

How I created the paper shapes could be a whole blog in itself. So for now, just appreciate these three-dimensional beauties. A paper-cutting machine definitely would have made this easier. Instead, I used a pencil, ruler, X-Acto knife, math, and dedication. Cutting shapes out like the toxic people in my life. #newyearnewme

With the shapes ready for vending, then came the consideration for the machine. I toyed around with the idea of photographing our actual vending machine at work, but I wanted an image that was more minimal, staged, and branded. I ordered vending machine parts from my favorite online store, eBay, and began to assemble what I was picturing in my head.

Teamwork makes the machine work

What I love about working at Zendesk is having the opportunity to collaborate with many talented people. Our video team’s Creative Director, Kevin, helped us with the stop motion of one of the coils. Our photographer Marta lended her shooting, lighting, and editing skills.

Stop motion by Kevin Cline

Beyond the vending machine, we created a couple more images to complete the narrative of the page: someone pressing buttons to select an item and a pile of shapes collected from the machine. Fun fact: most of the hand models you see on our website are people on the creative team.

Hand model: Terry Tucker | Photographer: Marta Dymek

Stop, drop, and scroll

Here’s a look at the final images and design of zendesk.com/self-service.

Photo by Marta Dymek
Webpage design by Adam Ho

Once at the bottom of the page, it’s revealed that the shape selected from the vending machine is the pink triangle in the Guide logo. It was a fun opportunity to tell a story through a series of photographs. We told our narrative of self-service while simultaneously offering a solution and selling our product (got to keep the vending machine lights on somehow).

Photo by Marta Dymek

Check out design.zendesk.com for more thought leadership, design process, and other creative musings.

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