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Project: ArchDaily Materials

2014 was a year of great progress for Archdaily (the most popular architecture website in the world). After a successful redesign, the company launched their most ambitious project in terms of monetizing its traffic. This project was an Architecture Materials platform, designed to connect Architects with Manufacturers during the Architects decision-making process. ArchDaily Materials was released in early 2015 to more than 5 million active users worldwide.

To comply with my non-disclosure agreement, I have omitted confidential information in this case study.

The Opportunity

ArchDaily’s success is based on how it disrupted the printed editorial architecture industry. Before ArchDaily, architecture magazines were the only channel for Architects to showcase their projects with the world and also for manufacturers to talk to the architects and showcase their products. As we successfully disrupted the first one, we were failing to disrupt the second one.
After a few workshops, we defined a series of assumptions that we needed to validate, all of them leading towards one big question: How might we improve the relationship between architects and manufacturers by using our product?
That question became our problem statement.

My Role

I led the user research and design of ArchDaily Materials. This was an ambitious effort to monetize ArchDaily’s traffic across multiple markets such as Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. During this process I managed and mentor a junior visual designer, and reported directly to the CEO, validating the vision and business goals.

Customer Insights & Ideation
I worked closely with our partners and relevant user groups to uncover insights and translate those insights into design artifacts that could be shared back to the company to finally turn them into features that would improve our users’ workflow and satisfaction while using ArchDaily.

Experience Strategy & Vision
I created a series of design deliverables to document our journey, keeping the team informed about the process frameworks and sharing the vision. I developed a Design brief document, a User journey map, User archetype (Personas) profiles, a design system and finally prototypes to test workflows with users and communicate with the Development team. These artifacts were great getting the team excited and aligned.

Planning & Scope Definition
I defined the product scope and vision along with the CEO. After validating prototypes with users we defined an MVP that would help unlock the financial potential of the project. Working along with the CEO was a great deal of balancing user goals, business needs, and our Development capacity. I prioritized and negotiated features for the MVP and further iterations.

Design Oversight & Coordination
I focused on the interaction design while I managed and mentored a junior designer on the visual design. I developed the design brief to inform the business and design specs to inform the Development team. During the development process I supported the team for any questions or queries.

Leadership
I was in charge of presenting the product vision to executives, partners and potential clients during the project lifecycle.

ArchDaily Materials responsive design.

Ideation & User Research

Internal Research
Since the two founders and a big part of the editorial team of ArchDaily are architects, I organized a series of internal workshops to understand better how architects work. The most common themes found during these workshops were Inspiration and Materials.

Digging deeper into these themes, it became clear that big part of ArchDaily’s value was the vast amount of architectural projects carefully organized (Inspiration) and the detailed information about the materials and techniques used on each project (Materials)

Whiteboard from one of the value proposition sessions with the team.

External Research
Now with a better understanding of how architects work, it was time to visit architects in their context. I visited 15 different architecture firms in Chile, and also I had a couple of calls with firms in some of our key markets. 

User persona workshop.

The main goal from all these interviews was to map how the entire journey around materials purchasing process, from choosing materials to the ordering process.

I quickly validated one of our main assumptions: thanks to ArchDaily, the inspiration side was already covered, architects around the world were using ArchDaily on a daily basis to look for inspiration and references both on design and approaches to problem-solving.

The materials purchasing process was another story, this part of their process was still pretty much offline, with most of the architects dealing with heavy catalogs, thousands of SKU’s numbers, calls with sales representatives, specification sheets, with different formats, values, and units. We also found plenty of physical samples scattered around their offices.

That was the process we needed to disrupt. We understood that we needed to build a specification tool that connected our already massive user base with the manufacturers in a smooth and compelling way, creating a virtuous circle inside ArchDaily.

Physical samples of Materials, this is what we were competing against.

“That was the process we needed to disrupt. We understood that we needed to build a specification tool that connected our already massive user base with the manufacturers in a smooth and compelling way, creating a virtuous circle inside ArchDaily.”

(I like disruption, for me it’s the most straightforward way to deliver value)

Prototyping and Testing

We didn’t have a Product Manager at that time, so that role was shared between the CEO and me, which worked really well in terms of him holding both the vision and the domain expertise, and me applying User-Centered methods to the process.

We run a one-week sprint to craft requirements and workflows. We had a great Front End Developer in the team (Cheers Livercake!), so we started building prototypes based on our WordPress theme, which was chaotic, but relatively quick to do. We used an XML file as a test database which was easy to edit by anyone in the team. That infrastructure was enough to validate our idea.

I wrote a series of Test Scripts to run a mix of Usability and User Testing sessions with users. I chose a very broarange ofof test subjects in the architecture field. Apart from getting great feedback around Architecture Information and Copywriting, I saw an opportunity on creating a visual link of what are the materials used on each project so the inspiration experience would BLEND with the materials purchasing experience.

ArchDaily Materials Homepage.

Architecture Porn

After sharing my findings with the team, especially the one about blending the inspiration with the purchasing experience, David B. came up with the concept of Materials Porn, alluding the increasing usage of the word Porn in hashtags of different types, like #foodporn #cyclingporn #architectureporn. Using #materialsporn as our visual northern star helped us to make visual design decisions faster and get everyone on the same page. And it was fun, I never used the word porn so many times in a work environment.

Home Page
The entry point to the Materials Catalog, categorised by type, use cases and manufacturers.
Open mockup in a new tab.

Product Page
Designed to provide a complete understanding of the product showing the product in use, providing highly detailed technical specification and a real time quoting platform.
Open mockup in a new tab.

Development

Having confidence that we were on the right track, the Dev team started building the product using the same prototypes we build for testing as a reference. Simultaneously I led the project of refining the concept of blending the inspiration and purchasing experience.

Running usability testing sessions with architecture students.
Running usability testing sessions with architecture students.

Release and further iterations

So far I have focused on my impact on the product development part of the process, but I was also heavily involved in the commercial side of the project. Working with the Marketing and Sales teams in terms of onboarding, training and communication channels.

We created a beta program of 3 months with our current customers who were buying banner ads to try to boost the communication between architects and manufacturers. The result was a success, having our clients – The Manufacturers – getting up to 4x more online inquiries than before.

ZMOT framework from Google adapted to ArchDaily Materials.

Now ArchDaily serves 9 countries using the same model. The formula has been a proven success by delivering value to both architects and manufacturers.

You can see the current version here. A couple of years ago they decided to change the name to “Products”.

Final version of the product along with training material for customers.

My takeaways from this project

  • To launch this project on time, we had to compromise a big part of the project. This part was the experience on the Manufacturer side. We released Materials with a great amount of product debt on the Manufacturer workflow. We had a good idea of what were the business metrics they were looking for, but we had to deliver an MVP of our vision. We had to pay it back really quickly. That project was as big as this one, so for the sake of keeping this case study short, I left it out.
  • Materials became a pivotal point in ArchDaily’s history, we finally managed to create a virtuous circle between Architects and Manufacturers. This platform provided the company with the financial confidence to keep moving forward and scale the business.
  • Not having a Product Manager made a big impact for me, having to deal with stakeholders, requirements and business constraints. This helped me to balance user needs with business goals.
  • After Materials, we grew the Design team from two to five team members. The Development team from three to seven members. And we hired a Product Manager!

This is the end of the case study, thanks for reading.