Let's talk about themes with Pixel Union (#ama recap)

On April 28th, Theme Developers PixelUnion joined us for a great AMA (ask my anything).

We are now doing #AMA sessions every week or two that feature top Shopify Experts, store owners and more. If you'd like to participate in the chat, join now or if you would be a great guest email me at tj[at]talkshopify.com.

Here is the transcript from the latest Talk Shopify #AMA Session.

tjmapes We are excited to have a few of the folks from Pixel Union here to answer questions! Thanks guys and gals. I’ll turn this over to them now and start it off with a question I have. Tell us about how you began and what platform did you work and develop for first?

jody Hey everyone! Thanks for the warm welcome :simple_smile: We're Pixel Union, a team of designers, developers, and creatives who want to help people make their online businesses successful. We do that by building Shopify themes and apps, and we recently started our own theme customization services. We're here to talk about every aspect of themes and running a succesful theming company! A few of us are available for questions today:

@jody – Development @jesswinters - Development @corygibbons – Design @calvincoles – Customer Support @benjaminwil - Social Media & Marketing @emmapalm - Art Direction @chantel - Project Management

So go ahead, Ask M̶e̶ Us Anything.

tej_zapstitch Awesome. Welcome ya'all

chantel We began with developing for Tumblr back in 2011 but quickly recognize the need to expand to another platform. There was only 4 of us in the beginning so it was action packed everyday

jody @tej_zapstitch: thanks!

rickydazla Do you find that Tumblr and Shopify can jam really well together?

dlazar Do you follow a pattern when it comes to decided how to layer in your Javascript, and externals? Some themes butcher the concept, and I am curious how your company does it.

tej_zapstitch When you decide to work on new themes, what's the 4-5 things you consider. In other words how does a theme concept take shape

tjmapes Can you explain how to get a theme into the Shopify theme Store?

jody @dlazar: Great question. PXU has somewhat of a boilerplate for each platform we build on, and for the majority of our themes we usually work with Coffeescript, and with Backbone as our framework.

emmapalm @rickydazla I guess we started with the some of the same aesthetics - wanting to keep things clean, minimal, and tastefully restrained. Shopify challenges us on so many other levels though, and the number of themes hitting the marketplace has meant we've had to stretch ourselves and try to keep bringing something new to the table.

chantel @tej_zapstitch: We try to get a sense of what gaps or problems exist with current themes (ours or others). Designers solicit feedback from our devs, qa and support team since they hear from customers first hand.

rickydazla @emmapalm: do you have any Shopify/Tumblr themes that are “equivalent” / made to be used in conjunction with each other / pull elements or widgets across?

rickydazla ( and / or wordpress : )

tej_zapstitch When you do customization how do you judge whether the effort and time or investment needed will give returns. Do you have any pointers to identify a shopify merchant with awesome potential? How do you prioritise builds?

chantel @tjmapes: Once we get a design somewhat fleshed out, we send some of the design files over to Shopify to review. From there, we get some feedback as to whether it's hitting the marks from their design/aesthetic standards. If we're given the green light, we continue with development

emmapalm @rickydazla Not so much. We've found that our audience in each marketplace is quite different. Though we've definitely used some of the same inspiration across platforms when it comes to layout and design.

tjmapes Wow interesting, I never knew Shopify was that handson

chantel I think the main thing that Shopify is looking for is something unique that sets your theme apart from the others in the Theme Store

tjmapes Sounds like the theme worlds of wordpress and shopify are much different

tjmapes Large images are used as a trendy web design element recently... how do you accommodate that new modern look and still make sure pages to load quickly?

jody @tjmapes it all comes down to the overall performance of the page — we implement a few techniques (namely HTML5 srcset where possible) for responsive imagery, and in addition to that Shopify provides us with a handy image caching tool.

rickydazla @jody: you have some of the best-selling themes in the Theme Store - Jitensha and Vanity must be right up there. How do you handle version upgrades for your customers?

tej_zapstitch Love the personality your twitter handle has. Saw you interact one on one with prospects, inbound queries and issues. 1. What went into building the loving community on Twitter and 2. What has been the most awesome twitter engagement or relationship you have ever built? @benjaminwil

jesswinters @tej_zapstitch We'd like to think that all of the merchants who use our themes are full of potential. We prioritise builds on a first come, first serve basis. The hardest part is communicating with customers who don’t understand the design and development process, and making sure they understand the time and effort their project requires. It’s important to us to build and customize Storefronts that we would want to buy from and stand behind ourselves.

jody @rickydazla I’ll let @calvincoles have this one! He knows best :simple_smile:

dlazar ever since day one of Theme store.. pricing has always been something < $200 for themes. Does that continue to make sense? How did you come around to accepting that kind of pricing?

calvincoles @rickydazla: we try our best, when releasing new versions of a theme, to implement non-breaking features, and functionality that won’t break any customizations a store’s theme might have 😄 In addition, our support staff does a fantastic job at providing assistance when a merchant is having troubles updating to the latest version. We also offer updates as one of our paid customization services as well.

benjaminwil @tej_zapstitch: Yay, validation! 1. It comes natural to me to want to give people the most information they can on first contact. And often that just means asking the right question or sending them a link that might have the info they need or help them understand how they could ask a better question to me. I think that kind of interaction is inherently loving. 2. Hm, that’s tough. I don’t know if I could put my finger on the best Twitter interactions I’ve had, but I definitely like it when someone responds with a thank you. (It’s good to know when you’ve actually helped someone!)

tej_zapstitch Well said @benjaminwil thanks

chantel @dlazar: I think it does. We try to think of it from the small business owner's perspective ... it needs to be a reasonable investment for them. Our themes, along with the Shopify platform, have all of the features and functionality that they need to get started. Once they are ready to invest more, they can always reach out to ask us to further enhance their storefront

tjmapes Do you develop for all platforms about the same these days or do favor one more than the other?

jody While we still build and maintain products in the Wordpress and Tumblr space, Shopify is our main focus currently. Eccommerce is a really exciting place to be...things are changing quickly and the marketplace is growing. (edited)

tjmapes Where do you get all the photography in your themes?

tej_zapstitch @benjaminwil: other than shopify referrals and direct traffic what channels of marketing have helped you acquire customers. How do you find channels that can scale with your growing business?

emmapalm @tjmapes Over the course of the last year we've started sourcing content from some of our favourite artists, makers, and shop owners. It's a real pleasure to showcase their work, and forces us to keep tabs on who's really using the platform. Once in awhile we'll supplement with some Stocksy imagery (happily supporting another Victoria-based company).

tjmapes awesome, glad to hear that and I like your approach

emmapalm Instagram is a really rich platform for these small business owners and makers to share their work. Keeping track of them has been really eye opening, in terms of highlighting the shift in people's buying and selling habits. It's nice to see so many small, well-curated, niche-shops popping up and making a go of it.

tjmapes What does the future look like for PU?

benjaminwil @tej_zapstitch: Being able to sell on other marketplaces (like Tumblr, the Shopify Theme Store, WordPress.com, and Creative Market gets lots of different sets of eyes on us. And now that we’ve started theme customizations, we get lots of emails via our Shopify Experts page (and from existing customers who need support).

benjaminwil @tej_zapstitch: Jody’s Sketch plugins have also done well on Designer News. 😉https://github.com/jodyheavener/Swatches https://github.com/jodyheavener/CSS-Buddy (edited)

jody @tjmapes We’re constantly growing! We currently have team members across North America, and are always in search of more. If that’s you, we’d love to have you. PXU is always looking to push boundaries in the theming and ecommerce space, so we’re going to keep at it and see where it takes us.

tej_zapstitch Bloody nice :)

kevinfinlayson joined #ama

calvincoles oh hey @kevinfinlayson :simple_smile:

jody hi @kevinfinlayson :simple_smile:

tjmapes How many (shopify) businesses would you say are currently using your themes? If you can tell us that

kevinfinlayson hey guys!

chantel @tjmapes: It's hard to give an exact number as merchants come and go each day, but we can estimate it's about 10K

fredryk What’s the biggest challenge you face as a growing agency?

jody @fredryk keeping up with the coffee supply, of course

fredryk Good call :simple_smile:

chantel I think it's important that we don't lose focus on what makes us great. We want to continue to make amazing themes without sacrificing quality and attention to detail. We need to ensure that everyone on the team doesn't lose sight of that

tjmapes If anyone has anymore questions ask them now as we approach the 1 hour mark. Thanks again to everyone at Pixel Union for being here.

jody ahahaha

fredryk Thanks for taking the time PXU team!

daneveleigh BIG thanks to @tjmapes for hosting, and to Pixel Union for giving so much of their knowledge to us;)