Hi guys, Mike here from the Theme Partnerships Team.
I wanted to take a few minutes and go over a topic that’s on a lot of partners’ minds these days, specifically: ‘how do I get my theme into the Shopify Theme Store?’
It seems to be fairly common knowledge that only a few theme submissions get accepted, and there’s a (justifiable) sense that the barrier to getting a theme into the Theme Store is extremely high.
So what does the process look like on our end? I’m hoping to shed some light on what Shopify requires from theme submissions, as well as talk about our recently updated and improved theme submission guidelines.
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In early 2016, we updated the theme submission guidelines significantly. Instead of just requesting a few jpg images, we started to ask for both mobile and desktop mockups to be submitted using InVision, as well as for a product brief that outlines what problem the theme will solve for our merchants and/or customers.
However, we didn’t go into much detail beyond that. Since then, the quality of submissions has increased dramatically, but there was still a lot of guesswork involved for theme developers regarding specifics.
Now, in early 2017, we’ve made further improvements to the guideline and concept review process. Instead of requiring theme developers to send us a product brief and all design documents at the same time, we’ve decided it makes more sense to break things down into smaller steps.
Doing so allows us to provide better, and more appropriate feedback at the right time. At a glance, the submission stages now look something like this:
- The product brief is now the only required document for an initial theme submission. We’d also like to see what kind of design ability you have, so including a portfolio, or links to other work you’ve done is a prerequisite.
- Once the product brief has passed our approval process, submitting the mobile designs would be the next step.
- The last stage would be to submit your designs for desktop.
Ok, let’s look at those steps in more detail.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the product brief, and yet this area seems to get the least amount of focus from theme developers.
Think of the product brief as the starting point of your theme; all design and UX decisions should flow from it. The brief should be the first thing you work on when creating your theme submission. Too often, we see cases where a theme developer has tried to shoehorn a product brief onto an existing design. It never works out well, and just ends up looking forced.
I’m often asked by theme developers what kind of problems we want new themes to solve. It’s a good question, but we don't want to be overly involved in a theme developer’s creative process.
In a broad sense, what we need to see is a project brief that consists of both subjective opinions and objective research, that outlines the necessity and validity of a perceived problem, opportunity, and solution.
"In a broad sense, what we need to see is a project brief that consists of both subjective opinions and objective research, that outlines the necessity and validity of a perceived problem, opportunity, and solution."
Some examples currently being worked on are:A solution that opens up a key opportunity for merchants, that other themes in the Theme store are not specifically targeting.
- Example solution: A theme that targets merchants who want to focus on the brand experience and story behind their products.
- Example solution: A theme that focuses on merchants who want to tie in their physical location with their online presence.
Some examples of what we would not want to see in a product brief, would include:The problem and solution stated are overly subjective, and lack any kind of quantitative research. For example:
- Problem: There is a lack of visually engaging and vibrant themes in the Shopify Theme Store.
- Solution: My theme will be striking, and have a very strong visual appeal.
- Problem: There is a lack of themes that sell wedding dresses.
- Solution: My theme will focus on merchants who want to sell wedding dresses.
- Example solution: My theme will include a multi-level navigation, a sticky header, product zoom, advertising banners, etc.
- Example solution: Merchants who choose my theme, can use the ‘x’ app to solve a particular problem.
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Design and UX
Once your brief has been approved, you’re ready to move deeper into the design phase. Design is generally subjective in nature but there are definitely rules and best practices that we take into consideration during our review, such as layout (flow, hierarchy, balance, and contrast), and good use of typography, color, and negative space.
The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the design and layout of a theme need to work seamlessly with the problem and solution outlined in the product brief.
Another important consideration is to avoid making your theme look too similar to other themes in the Theme Store. Designs and layouts that make an effort to look unique, definitely make us sit up and take notice.
In conjunction with design, it’s vital to think about UX in the early stages of theme creation. How the merchant and customer interact with the theme is extremely important. During the theme concept review, we put a lot of consideration into whether or not certain elements of the design will be overly complex for a merchant, when setting up the theme.
Theme designers need to spend time on the Shopify platform in order to really get to know what is, and isn’t, possible for a theme to handle. Think about the complexity involved for a merchant using your theme, who’s brand new to the Shopify platform. Put yourself in their shoes. There's a fine balance between offering just the right amount of options, so as not to overload and confuse merchants, while also allowing them to make their shops look unique.
Same goes for the complexity of those options. Can the merchant set up a certain theme element in one step, or does the process require multiple steps? Offering too many theme settings can lead to merchants making poor design choices and garish storefronts. Offering overly complex options can lead to merchant churn. It's up to the theme settings to properly guide the merchant here.
The customer-facing UX is equally important. UX needs to fit in with, and support, what is expressed in the product brief, and be optimized for the target audience. It’s important to point out that a theme designed from a purely aesthetic point of view, is not what we’re looking for; the UX, design, and product brief all need to work in tandem with each other.
"It’s important to point out that a theme designed from a purely aesthetic point of view, is not what we’re looking for; the UX, design, and product brief all need to work in tandem with each other."
Designing for mobile first
Let’s talk about mobile.
In terms of focus, mobile is the next thing on the list (after the product brief) that often gets overlooked. Designing for mobile is more difficult than for desktop. Oftentimes, something works great on desktop but doesn’t carry over to mobile, and because of this, is conveniently ignored. For this reason, we now want to see your mobile designs before you submit your designs for desktop.
We’re pushing mobile hard in 2017, and are excited to see the problem and solution outlined in your product brief carry over seamlessly to the mobile platform. We’ve all seen the statistics on how ecommerce is happening on mobile more and more, and this will only increase in the future. The Shopify Theme Store needs to better reflect this progression.
Once your mobile concepts have been approved, your ready to move on to Desktop.
From here on, the path should be relatively easy, as you’ve already conquered the tough slopes and made the big decisions. We want to see the concepts you introduced in mobile extended and expanded on, in order to leverage the larger screen space available.
The final stage after your desktop designs have been accepted, is to submit your theme for a code review. For more information, have a look at the requirements in our theme review checklists.
You might also like: Developing Shopify Themes with Accessibility in Mind.
Think about the big picture
To sum up, our goal with the most recent update to the theme submission guidelines is to better streamline the entire process, and provide more focus. We want to help theme developers think about the overall problem more clearly, which in turn will lead to a higher quality of theme submissions, and a higher percentage of theme acceptances.
Some final advice, don't just think about the visual look and style of the theme, think about its purpose, unique features, and the value it’s going to add.
Hopefully, the above provides a better sense of the review process on our end. I also hope you’re as excited about the updated guidelines as I am!