Fuigo (Japanese: 鞴 "the box bellows that forge samurai swords") is a software company that builds digital tools to empower interior designers.
Our challenge: build a two-sided e-commerce platform for professional interior designers to source products from merchants and vendors.
Head of Design
PM, Art Director, 2 Front-End and 1 Back-End Engineer, freelance design resources
Discovery & Research
Understanding relationships between our users
"Why bother building this?" An important question to ask early on! We knew of a few companies that already had marketplaces for interior designers - why should we compete with them?
Early research with both designers and merchants revealed fundamental issues our competitors simply weren't solving for.
We interviewed over 13 interior designers (the buyers) and vendors (the sellers) over the course of 2 weeks. We drew insight into just how unique their needs are and what makes their relationship work. Here are a few that came up often:
Customization means everything
The ability to deliver custom items for clients is fundamental to the interior designer. Many expressed their frustration with our competitors in communicating on customizations.
Pricing and lead times are fluid
With customization comes updated pricing. For example, a sofa may be listed at $2,000 USD and ready to ship – but that changes when you request custom fabric, sizing, trim, etc. Our competitors weren't tracking these changes adequately enough, according to some designers.
Relationships over selection
General consumers crave optionality in products: the more the better. Conversely, interior designers work within specific styles and are focused more on build relationships with a few key merchants (or what one designer called their "merchant tribe").
"If it's not easy, we're out!"
Every merchant we spoke to had their products featured on different sites. It's tedious and time-consuming to upload images and descriptions of their items. This has prevented many of them from expanding their reach and getting more sales.
"Managing inventory across a number of sites is a full-time job. I know it's a necessary part of what we do, but a lot of sites make it hard for us."
Almost all merchants spoke to the issue of tracking the status of items across various marketplaces. Many admitted they simply use lo-fi solutions like paper, but all expressed frustration in having to communicate status to different designers across different platforms.
Definition & Brainstorming
The process of crafting a solution
Armed with these insights, it was time to brainstorm and craft solutions for these two different user types.
We spent 1-2 weeks after research collaborating on ideas and drawing up flows - ruthlessly prioritizing the issues that came up often, and deciding on features that worked for an MVP built by a product team of 5-6 people.
Request custom quotes
Let's create touchpoints for the designer to be able to request customizations. This also includes specifications for delivery.
A messaging platform would allow designers a way to manage communications and keep the conversation going - all in one place.
The power to accept and reject
Designers had a challenging time tracking approvals/rejections of quotes. We set out to integrate this feature in the workflow.
Easy upload process
We had to create the simplest and most intuitive upload wizard to allow vendors to add all their inventory with ease.
Content management system (CMS)
Once uploaded, the vendor should be able to quickly manage their products - including images, copy, and all attributes.
Vendors should be able to reference the status of any product at all times. This sets them up for success by giving them visibility.
Testing & Validation
Putting our ideas in front of users
Testing & Validation
Putting our ideas in front of users
Once we felt comfortable defining the main features to exist in Fuigo Market, it was time to test our assumptions. My team divided and built various click through Invision prototypes.
We met once more with our designers and vendors in the course of a few weeks to administer task-based scripts.
Our testing helped reveal many gaps in our research and UX (which is why I advocate for it way before design and development).
Building a product on brand (and on time)
Armed with our results, we took 2-3 weeks to implement changes across our work to address what we learned during usability testing. Engineering was looped in to provide feasibility checks and have a runway to implement backend changes.
It's important to note: the remainder of our design work followed e-commerce best practices. This meant we looked to what worked as it related to searching for products, adding to cart, and checking out for purchase. We wanted to adhere to our user's mental models for ease of use.
The design system I created (Fuigo Tapestry) was beginning to take shape and started to manifest itself across our work:
REQUEST A CUSTOM QUOTE
In their cart, a designer is now able to request a custom quote, with specifications the vendor needs to provide one with accuracy.
A NEW WAY TO CHAT
We built a message center that allows both designers and vendors a way to manage their conversations, communicate directly, and reference products.
APPROVE QUOTES INSTANTLY
What used to be a lengthy and tenuous process over phone or email has now been simplified to a single click.
SIMPLE UPLOAD AND MANAGEMENT
We listened to our vendors and built them an inventory workflow that met their needs.
Post-usability testing, we iterated until we built the simplest and most efficient process:
Results and Metrics
How our ideas performed in the wild
After 2 months, we used Google Analytics to see how we performed against a few early KPIs.
While our chief metric was transaction volume, we also wanted to be realistic in trying to determine the validity of an early marketplace - knowing that solid Marketing would drive the traffic we needed.
These numbers stood out:
Transactions in the first 8 weeks
Transactions over $5,000 USD
New vendors uploaded to Fuigo Market
Though we fell short of our projected numbers — we built an MVP that was more robust and efficient than I could have imagined on this timeline.
Qualitatively, folks were excited. We received a few emails praising Fuigo for building what "we have needed for years in this industry".
“Fuigo’s marketplace gives us the freedom to be designers. As a design studio, we wear a lot of hats, but Fuigo has made our lives that much easier, allowing us to source for our craft and our clients.”
DESIGNER, CURRENT INTERIORS
“Fuigo Market is revolutionizing the way interior designers do business; this next generation trade marketplace allows designers to do what they do best: create interiors that inpsire.”
CEO, DESIGN WITHIN REACH
“Fuigo Market is protecting the art form of interior design and ushering it into the next generation by merging an understanding of business and technology with a deep respect for exceptional craftsmanship.”
DIRECTOR, CHRISTIAN LIAIGRE
Conclusion and Next Steps
Reviewing our work and thinking ahead
I'm incredibly proud of what my team built in a short amount of time. I credit their grit and passion — working long hours to make Fuigo Market a reality.
For the next iteration, I would love to see:
While I made sure we did our due diligence in research, testing and iterating, I felt the frustration from our team from working long hours and falling short of build exactly what we planned.
Proper design QA
Due to our time crunch, we didn't follow a dedicated design QA and a number of things got into our build that were not to spec.
Earlier marketing efforts
Targeting interior designers for top-of-funnel campaigns could have gained us more traffic. If Marketing and Product stay more in sync, we can work to enable better results for each other.