Selling Happiness: Interview With Kandace Brigleb of Needmore Designs
Kandace Brigleb really likes her coffee… and I mean really.
I counted 26 mentions of the word in the transcript of our interview.
That’s probably for the best, because Kandace and the rest of the seven person team at Needmore Designs are carving themselves a tasty little niche out of websites for specialty food and beverage businesses—many of which are coffee roasters.
Kandace believes in anthropological approaches to web design, including a technique called Participant Observation. Participant Observation involves engaging with your clients and their products deeply and in various different settings. That means eating the food, wearing the suit, and yes, drinking the coffee.
As Kandace explained during her excellent presentation at WooConf:
At the end of the day, our clients hire us to create websites that will help them to sell their products. However, we are often not actually selling what our customers think we are selling (the product). Rather, we are selling the experience of interacting with that product. We’re selling experiences, states of being. Happiness.
By getting out and participating in your clients’ products, in their world, you gain a deeper personal understanding of who they are, what their motivation is and what makes them unique. This allows you to design a website that tells their unique story.
As a professional storyteller, I totally dig this approach. That’s why I was thrilled to meet Kandace at WooConf, and then follow that up with a delightful telephone interview, where Kandace shared her thoughts on a range of topics.
Starting Needmore Designs
Kandace and her husband Ray started Needmore Designs over ten years ago.
She was teaching at the time, and would stay up all night to prepare a lesson plan. But she’d go in to teach, and after all that hard work, there would only be 12 people in the class. Once it was over, Kandace’s work would disappear.
Kandace said at the time she would watch Ray (who “has been working in web design since the web was born”), who would make something and people would keep finding and seeing it.
It was this amazingly powerful tool to me, to hone in a message and get it out to a bunch of people… it’s just that perfect marriage of art and information.
So they began working together. Needmore’s first client was Stumptown Coffee Roasters, where Ray was working at the time. Kandace says the pitch for web-design companies was different back then:
In those days you had to convince people still that websites were useful… because they were so new, you know? So it was still kind of a pitch, like “there’s this thing called the internet, and you want a website, they’re great.”
Needmore went on from there and was lucky to get “some really good breaks” in the early days. For example, one of the first websites they made was for an artist who then got a show in New York. Kandace explained:
So her work was all over New York. People would go to her site, and see our name, and that would lead to another artist in that area having us do a site have her art on some really good places around the web. So it was kind of word-of-mouth.
Kandace thinks another big factor in Needmore’s success has been the exceptionally talented people they’ve been able to work with:
We tend to work with some pretty amazing clients, and then they go out and they do big things. And then their website gets passed around, and we made their website. And it just grows from there.
We’re proud to hear that it was our product—WooCommerce Subscriptions—that first got Kandace into WooCommerce:
Yeah, the first thing that definitely caught our eye was the subscriptions system. And then we started looking at everything else and realising that all-in-all it’s a great system.
Needmore already loved WordPress, and she describes the fact that WooCommerce integrates with WordPress as “kind of a bonus.”
We already loved WordPress, like we already knew that WordPress made it easy for our clients to update their sites. And you can do so much in design with WordPress. And it’s flexible and all that. So we were already sort of sold there.
Subscriptions Business Models
Kandace recommends her clients—especially those in the specialty food and beverage industries where you can have a “coffee of the month” or “sake of the month” offering—consider subscription models:
I end up pitching subscription models to clients a lot. Because I think it’s good for business.
One great example of a subscription based site that Needmore has built is Picky Bars, a power bar company. (Go check out the design and user interface Needmore have built for the Picky Club, it’s pretty sweet).
Kandace says Picky have had a lot of success with their subscription model.
Well yeah I mean, I know at Picky Club there’s been a really big spike. I think it was something like 150%—a spike in their club membership—from the time before they launched the site to probably like three to four months out.
Thoughts on Omnichannel Commerce
Many of Needmore’s clients are combining an offline and online presence. I asked Kandace what she thinks about the future for omnichannel commerce. She explained that in her view, the physical store is where many of a business’s clients fall in love with the product:
A lot of times, the physical [store provides] sort of a proof of concept or testing space. …
Not all coffee shops are hugely profitable say—but there’s this roasting facility in the back and people are coming into the coffee shop and they are tasting the coffee and they are becoming fans. And then they’re buying bags in stores, and online. But all of that is supported by the coffee shop. Which is where you walk in and you fall in love with it.
To combat trends like showrooming—where a customer browses a bookstore to figure out which books they want and then goes and buys them on Amazon—Kandace suggests businesses need to own both their online and offline presences.
So I think that is where retailer can own both of those. Like “sure, come into our physical location and you know what? If you actually would rather, just pop online real quick and order it, it’s going to be delivered easily to your door. We’re still the ones selling it to you.”
I think that’s genius. You know, you want to kind of own both of them.
Inspiration for eCommerce Design
Needmore’s approach to design first and foremost involves getting to know a client’s brand and story.
But other techniques they use include separating design from production. Kandace says this makes the mock up phase easier:
We do a lot of wire framing and site mapping and content analysis—completely separate from design. And that is extremely helpful for us to hone in on message, and how people are going to find their way around.
All of this preparatory work—setting up the production and developing an intimate understanding of the client’s business—is done so that when Needmore get to the mockup phase, the client is never surprised. Kandace explains:
If you’ve gotten all the way to mockups and you send something to a client and they’re like “I don’t even know where that came from!”, then something’s gone really awry. Like the mock ups at that point feel almost obvious.
They also strongly believe in stripping everything away until it starts to hurt. Kandace explains:
You know in the beginning of the web, there was this feeling like if a technology could do something, you were really proud of it so you wanted everything on the page. Like, every single option and every possibility. And I think we’re kind of at an opposite place now, where people sort of have fatigue about all the options and possibilities. At this point, what we want to show is just like exactly what you need to be doing. If it’s not important, just don’t put it on the site.
According to Kandace, the folks at Needmore look everywhere for aesthetic inspiration.
This includes keeping up with design trends, flipping through magazines, assigning movies to their designers to watch, seeing art shows, and looking at the ocean.
One other place Needmore gets the inspiration for their amazing design work is their office record collection:
We have a record collection in the studio. We’re actually only allowed to play records in the studio. And I think that really helps us, because every day we’re pulling records out and opening them up, and just looking at the inside covers. And that has been a huge inspiration for us. I’d say a lot of ideas that we have come from looking at old records.
Hopes for the Future – Kon’nichiwa?
Kandace is looking forward to doing more of the kinds of the projects they love at Needmore—designing sites for unique and special food and beverage businesses. She’s especially interested in looking at how they can use WooCommerce and Subscriptions for wine sales.
Kandace also mentioned that Needmore have a project coming up where, for the first time, they are acting in more of a partnership role. This is something she’s really excited about:
So, that’s very exciting for me. Where I think that we’re going to have a little bit more input into large marketing strategy over time… I’m interested in models like that, where we can help further business over time.
Otherwise, Kandace is trying to find an excuse to open a Tokyo outpost of Needmore Designs:
I am wracking my brain to try to figure out why we might need a Tokyo outpost. I’m not saying that I’ve figured it out yet—at all—but it’s in my mind to start thinking about. I was born in Japan and I absolutely love the culture and I love Tokyo and I’m just putting it out there because I can’t figure it out yet. But if there’s some way that someone knows in the universe why Needmore would have to spend more time in Tokyo, I would like to make it happen.
So if you’re out there and reading this—and can think of a reason that Needmore Designs needs to go to Tokyo—you know what to do.
I know I’d love to see a new round of beautiful Needmore sites in the mochi niche!