When the founders of Beautylish came to me in 2012 they were in the process of a crucial pivot. The site started in 2010 as a community for beauty-lovers but by late 2011, they decided to sell products. Adding commerce completely changed the game and they needed to step up their visual identity.
In the early days of Beautylish, the site was pink. Very very pink. Not only was it pink, but it was impossible to tell it apart from any other beauty site. I found the passion and intelligence of the founders and their team exciting, but that glimmer of specialness was buried under gobs of pink and rounded corners.
To win the trust of beauty brands and attract customers, Beautylish needed to set themselves apart—both with a clearly defined brand and a strong, elevated look and feel. There had to be something unique and defensible about Beautylish, otherwise, they would just be another e-commerce site with mediocre products and few customers.
In 2012, I joined the Beautylish team, and together we set about to solve these problems.
First, the pink lobster claw logo had to go. The new design had to work in a range of contexts and look comfortable next to the biggest brands in the world. It had to communicate beauty without hitting beauty clichés. To help design the logo, I assembled a team of my favorite designers, and we got to work.
Before creating the logo, it was important to define everything from brand voice, to what brands we wanted to sell, to who our customer would be. I felt strongly that Beautylish should take a contemporary, gender-neutral approach to beauty, and should promote beauty as a means for creativity and self-expression.
Based on that initial exploration, we looked at a wide range of inspirations and discussed design elements that fit with that vision. The team generated tons of great logo ideas, but in the end, one stood out to me above the rest. It was my role to present the logo designs to the founders, make a case for my preference, and build consensus among them.
The final choice is the logo you see today—a clean, modern font with two hand-drawn letters that echo the tactile nature of beauty.
Page & navigation designs
Great websites are built by teams, and Beautylish is no exception. As Creative Director, I worked across teams to bring about the collective vision for the site. My role was to work with all stakeholders—the CEO, merchandising, marketing, UX/UI, and development teams to create templates that would hit sales goals, tell our brand story, and communicate the value of the products being sold.
I was responsible for taking information from each team and translating it into elevated design that had a clear message and was consistent with our brand. Whether I rolled up my sleeves to do the design myself, or if I worked with my team members, it had to look consistent, every time.
Let's start with the navigation. Our early iterations had some problems:
It went through many iterations—working together with UX/UI, we determined that the final version should prioritize shopping while still making the community easy to find. Community is where Beautylish began and it's still an important part of the brand, but we determined that it should live in service of commerce, and not compete for attention.
Each page on the Beautylish site is the result of an iterative process, designed to bring the critical information to the top and focus the user into the purchase funnel, while providing social proof and tutorials to build trust for each product.
Page designs were created in collaboration with the Beautylish development team and UX/UI. Mobile-responsive design, page load times and a clear hierarchy of messaging were all crucial factors to creating a great shopping experience.
Beauty is a tough category to sell online. Will a color look right on my skin tone? Is it sheer or opaque? Super sparkly or just shimmery? It's often hard to tell. Many products look different in the package than they do on the skin.
It was important to me that Beautylish take our own product photos, to control the way products are seen and experienced. I wanted the images to be large, natural-looking, and to speak to every instinct a user might have when interacting with a product in the store. I also felt strongly that products be shown on light and dark skin tones, something rarely seen in 2012.
I assembled a core team to execute the photography. Together we developed a lightweight process that has worked amazingly well. Over three years, we've shot several thousand products, with 3-5 images each.
Here are some of my favorites—beautiful products with tricky, highly reflective surfaces.
In addition to high-volume product photography, we also focused on creative photography to help tell our brands' stories, teach customers how to use their products, and create excitement around upcoming launches.
Early on, I realized that just taking glamour shots wasn't enough. The images had to provide value by bridging some kind of knowledge gap if people were going to really seek them out. We focused heavily on tutorials, product reviews, and technical information as the core of our visual content strategy.
Once the look and feel of the site was on it's way, it was time to dive deep into phase II of the Beautylish brand. It was time to take this company that grew organically and tease out the parts that told a clear story.
Beautylish Brand Characteristics
I worked together with the CEO and the Product Manager to explore the deeper workings of the brand. It was important to me to understand the WHY behind what we were doing. We also defined our positioning, points of differentiation, brand qualities, and a business model that took it all into consideration. The breakthrough came when we honed in on our Brand Characteristics, which were the result of much thought, discussion, testing, and tweaking.
This list became the backbone of the company identity. It enabled every team member to make their own decisions, and stay within the Beautylish brand.
Beautylish brings new, first.
We are globally minded.
Our approach is creative and unexpected. We constantly push ourselves to innovate and go farther.
We have a highly personal approach and want every one of our customers to know they are special to us.
We only align ourselves with quality brands and products that are truly special.
We see beauty through a lens of makeup artistry and speak to an audience inspired by that artistry.
Telling brand stories
Just putting product up on the site was never an option. With each brand sold on Beautylish, we designed a story to draw people in. Often I created the stories, or worked together with the CEO. We found the hook that attracted us to the brand, then shared that with our customers.
My role as Creative Director was to determine the best way to bring those stories to life. I created storyboards to draft out the plan, then together we'd create the assets and iterate to bring it to life.
This was applied to everything from emails, landing pages, articles, lookbooks, social media posts, and tutorials.
Here are launch elements created for makeup artist Rae Morris and her eponymous brush line. The article established Rae as a legendary makeup artist and gave insight into her struggles to become a working professional—something everyone can relate to.
The brush lookbook gave customers an easy way to understand a complex range of brushes, provided information about their unique features and reinforced Rae's expertise.
The email campaign helped Beautylish spread the word that Rae's brushes were coming and ensured that customers had a chance to view each piece of the launch content to understand the line.
Email marketing was a big driver for sales, so it was an area of primary focus for me. I worked with merchandising to schedule the 3 emails we sent out each week. I then researched and wrote the creative briefs, gave live feedback on photography until the image was correct, wrote copy, created the final layout, uploaded the assets, and wrote multiple subject lines (for A/B testing) and the teaser.
After each email went out, I reviewed it's performance in Google Analytics. Over time, patterns emerged that enabled us to create more effective emails with higher conversion rates.
Beautylish was designed to be a full living, breathing brand, not just an e-commerce brand, stuck inside a device. Events were a crucial part of the brand DNA. They gave us an opportunity to create something exciting and to interact with our customers. We designed each event on a case-by-case basis, and made experiences that were fully immersive.
For the makeup trade show IMATS NY 2014, we worked with our exclusive brush brand, Wayne Goss. The show itself is a cacophony of sights and sounds.
Beautylish wanted to make something that would block out the visual noise and enable us to control the feel of our environment. We chose to work with NY architects, The Principals, to design a brush pavilion that would be totally unique.
In the brief we prepared for them, I chose interlocking geometric shapes as a jumping off point:
They came back to us with this:
And several weeks later, we were at the show in our pavilion:
We put care and consideration into every aspect of the presentation—from brush displays, to card handouts to shopping bags. We even had staff hand shopping bags to our customers with two hands, similar to what is customary in Japan.
Right from the start we understood the importance of delivering an exceptional shopping experience. It was crucial that we wrap every order beautifully, with great care so nothing would break, and we always included a hand-written note. Our shipping had to be lightning fast as well as accurate—something our amazing fulfillment team has accomplished on every single order since we opened our doors.
The thought put into the packaging design, hand-written notes, and deluxe samples has paid off. Our customers know we care and tell their friends that Beautylish gives them the best experience. Through this genuine love for the brand, we created a solid, exponentially growing customer base that returns time and again to shop with Beautylish.
It's impossible to catalog everything we accomplished in the 3 and a half years I was with Beautylish. We worked together as a small but incredibly ambitious team and achieved many high water marks. A favorite was the time Britney Spears came to our office:
And then invited us to shoot behind-the-scenes on the set of her Fantasy Twist commercial:
And when I interviewed the legendary makeup artist Billy B—the man responsible for all of Gaga's early iconic looks as well as makeup for every famous face from Beyoncé to Dolly to Cindy Crawford and beyond.
During my time at Beautylish, I worked tirelessly to create a more intelligent, interesting and unexpected approach to beauty than the typical girly, pink style that is so often the norm. I pushed for a gender-neutral approach that embraced all the wonderful things beauty can accomplish—self-expression, confidence, creativity, and power.
One of the very first videos I shot with Beautylish expresses it best: