Aesop — The Salon
Democratizing fine arts culture through the gathering of like-minded people and the celebration of local artists
MICROSITE + BROWSER EXTENSIOn
The Salon is a web browser extension accompanied by a microsite designed to encourage art discovery and facilitate Aesop-hosted gatherings, with the aim of bringing people together to take in the unique sensorial experience Aesop stores have to offer. By engaging customers in this way, we hope to extend Aesop's community to a wider circle and create a digital experience that impacts the user in a subtle, yet meaningful way.
Phoebe Joy Lim
Proposed client: Aesop
Description: Senior Academic Project
Project timeframe: 5 weeks
Role: Research, Strategy, Brand Identity, Visual Design
My role in this project was in the content strategy, framing the business problem, and translating Aesop's branding elements into a fresh visual identity.
Oct - Nov 2017
A gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held to amuse, refine the taste,
and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.
Since its inception, Aesop has integrated the importance of arts and culture into its brand. Through product label design, art-centric digital publications, and meticulously constructed retail locations, Aesop encourages their customers to “use [Aesop] formulations as part of a balanced lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, sensible exercise, a moderate intake of red wine and a regular dose of stimulating literature.”
ART IN CONTEXT
Through the exclusivity of events, Aesop limits the opportunity to foster greater brand loyalty from customers who want to engage with the brand.
Currently, Aesop stores host a variety of events which celebrate local art and culture. However, these gatherings are rarely publicized, invitations are only extended to frequent customers, and the method to RSVP to these events is unclear and inconsistent from store to store.
Therefore, Aesop limits the opportunity to foster greater brand loyalty from occasional customers who want to engage with the brand, but do not necessarily frequent the stores.
How might we use events to extend Aesop's values into the digital realm in order to foster greater brand loyalty?
BRAND LOYALTY AS REVENUE
I was responsible for shifting the conversation from growing sales over to using brand loyalty as a source of revenue. Using brand loyalty makes sense in the context of Aesop because its brand sees the importance of culture and arts literacy at an equal level of the quality of their products.
We saw an opportunity to bring more customers into Aesop stores by leveraging events and showcasing local artists. In this way, we hoped to reinforce Aesop's brand and highlight its proactive relationship within the arts community.
“Our customers replenish stocks online but go into the stores because of the relationships. It is not just about the product and experience of design; it also extends to service with a human touch. Digital will become the connector between all of this.”
— Michael O'Keeffe, CEO of Aesop
Using Aesop stores as a platform for exposure for local artists and cultivating the local community
To inform our business problem, we conducted several user research interviews and looked into marketing reports and articles on brands who fall under the same luxury sector (e.g. fragrance company Le Labo, skincare company L:a Bruket). We also approached Aesop store consultants to have an idea of the type of customers who frequent the stores.
We identified three types of Aesop users:
- Occasional Aesop customers who have shopped at Aesop before and own a few products
- People who were aware of the brand, but do not necessarily own their own Aesop products
- Aesop store consultants, who are well-versed in Aesop's brand culture and accustomed to providing personalized skincare regimens under Aesop's brand guidelines.
These first-hand encounters with store consultants played a big part in informing who we were designing for, and we structured our findings into a comprehensive, high-level persona:
Early in our ideation process, we ran a week-long design sprint to identify assumptions we had about our target audience, work out possible user flows, and ultimately determine the final form of our digital product: a web browser extension coupled with a microsite.
WHY A BROWSER EXTENSION
We chose a browser extension because of its ability to permeate within the personal universe of the user. We wanted to make use of a medium which was already ingrained into their daily routines, but also offered the opportunity to engage with the brand in a way that did not impede on their regular lifestyles.
We reasoned that the habitual nature of using skincare products is reflected in the way that opening a new tab has become such a simple, yet important aspect of our daily digital routine.
A browser extension was a simple, yet meaningful touchpoint for introducing content in the least-obtrusive manner for the user.
By the end of the sprint, we came up with a medium-fidelity prototype of a web browser extension which revealed new Aesop content with each new tab, which we were then able to test on users. The content was pulled from Aesop's newsletters, blog posts, and website. Responses ranged from indifferent to negative, with a couple comments suggesting it felt too much like an advertisement.
To overcome the initial negative response to the web browser extension, we looked at two precedents to aid in the conceptual development of our intervention. This helped us realize that making a browser extension alone meant limiting our intervention to desktop, along with restricting functionality based on the browser.
We decided to implement a microsite for more flexibility and allow the information to be accessed on other platforms besides desktop. Creating a microsite for Aesop made sense, as they already had existing microsites for exhibiting different aspects of their brand (e.g. Taxonomy of Design)
Kinfolk is a publication built on the concept of "slow living". Using events, Kinfolk cultivates their community by designing tool kits to allow their readership to host their own gatherings in their community. We were inspired by the way Kinfolk was able to utilize events as a tangible, accessible means to demonstrate their brand values.
GOOGLE ARTS + CULTURE
Google Arts + Culture gathers art from around the world and showcases it through a web browser coupled with an immersive microsite. The microsite gives users a Google Streetview peak inside some of the most recognized art galleries. The way in which the microsite was able to complement the web browser was our main takeaway.
To get a better understanding of where our intervention will fit in our users' daily lifestyle, we created a storyboard to outline the process:
We designed a web browser extension supported by a microsite, which reveals daily pieces of art, music, or literature within the new tab of a browser window.
Each piece of art corresponds with an event held at one of Aesop's locations, giving customers the opportunity to meet the artist, engage with with like-minded people within the local arts scene, and take in the unique sensorial experience offered in Aesop stores. The microsite provides customers with an overview of art that's been featured by Aesop stores all over the globe, offering artist profiles, art analyses, and event discovery.
EXPLORATION THROUGH INTERACTION
We wanted to encourage exploration through our microinteractions, by allowing users to interact with card shuffling elements found on the microsite and browser extension. Here, the user can discover the artist, the location where the event is being held, and view an image or video teaser without needing to click on the page itself.
MOMENTS OF CLARITY
We wanted to keep the style of the event invitations reminiscent of paper invitation cards. This would provide users with a clear invitation to Aesop events with the intent of discovering new fine art.
SUBDUED COLOUR PALETTE
Our palette is based on Aesop’s current website, and we added additional colours in order to emphasize particular sections. Choosing more muted tones helped reflect Aesop’s quiet, reserved nature.
The content would stem from the artists themselves, the stories they want to tell about their work and their personal background and relationship to art. Keeping the content simple from the outset, but still allowing for interactivity within the browser extension would provide subtle moments of delight within an ordinarily mundane, passive experience.
Each time an event is scheduled at any of the Aesop stores, this would be added to the database that exists on The Salon microsite, which will then be cycled through the browser extension depending on the user's location. The user will be presented with local artists from all over the world, but have the opportunity to filter through events on the microsite filter options (by location, type of work, etc.).
The most challenging aspect of this project was understanding and communicating the brand in a way which demonstrated the need for our intervention to a lay audience. When first presenting our client to the class, we were faced with the issue that Aesop users were regarded as pretentious, with more than enough money to spend on high quality skincare. It was important for myself and the team to regard the brand from a more critical, nuanced level, emphasizing the brand's value on culture and dedication to fostering the arts in addition to high quality skincare regimens.
From a more personal standpoint, I realized the importance of establishing a regular work schedule, and solidifying daily and weekly goals early on in the design process.
Early on in the project, the team and I struggled with beginning team meetings with fresh ideas. For the first two weeks, we would begin the day writing out goals but with no set end-time. As the day progressed, we would exhaust ourselves with long (often fruitless) discussions that would put us back where started. As a result, we would come back the next day without the adequate time and space to let our minds rest and take a step back from the problem we were solving.
Halfway through, I led a necessary debrief session with the team to talk about how we felt about the process and took a look into how we could make steps to make our meetings more productive. We succeeded in doing so, and were able to break through into the final stretch of the project.