How do you design a responsive sofa configurator? 

Whatever the nature or product of your configurator – it will exist to either inspire customers or so that they can explore your product in detail. It’s a component of your site where both types of customers are mixed, the undecided customers and those who have already committed to making their purchase. 

Now, Sit Down need their site to both inspire and suit their target market – therefore, their sofa needs to be personalised. But how deep do they want to go in terms of options? What would be the entry point for the product? Is the configurator a standalone tool or an integrated part of the sales process? The answers depend on the needs of the business, their vision and their customer. A configurator won’t automatically improve sales, but a well-designed configurator might make decision-making slightly easier and prevent choice-paralysis, hence making it easier to commit to a sale in a saturated sofa market.

Initially, when we think of sofa configurator, the customer should be able to adjust colours, fabrics, frames and perhaps accessories — on small and large screens. For Now, Sit Down, the choice has been stripped away to reduce the steps and complexity of sofa sales. After all, how often do configurators feel like a series of tedious steps in a never-ending process? How often do customers end up with their perfect configuration in a single session? We overwhelm customers with too many trivial options, which has qualified the need, for Now, Sit Down to do something like this. 

Now, Sit Down customers are city dwellers, often tied into 48-month, unfurnished tenancies. A customer, for example, may struggle to commit to a sofa when their space changes routinely. There’s a gap for a product which they can unbox time and time again when they move.  

Once landing on the website, customers want to be sure that they can trust the manufacturer. They discover the reason behind the modular unit and align their needs with what’s displayed to them. At this point they buy into the ‘big picture’ configurator, displaying different combinations of seat/ottoman and are inspired to play with different presets and formats which would suit their space and they engage with the product. Understanding a narrative is much more purposeful for a brand than browsing product pages upon product pages of endless accessories or cushions.

Now, Sit Down are tasked with designing an engaging experience which helps the customer to customise the product meaningfully, without getting stuck or annoyed at the interface or its speed at any point. However, configurators are multi-faceted and complex. For a customer, getting the combination right is a process they may need to come back to time and time again, which is why the responsive element of the design is so important, as it’s the ‘in-between times’ when a customer is curious, that they browse. 

‘In-between times’ occur on the train, in queues, on the loo. It’s not very often that customers will pull out a laptop in these instances, which is why responsive design is beneficial as it doesn’t require as much effort from the customer. An inspiring mobile configurator can, slowly but surely, drive the customer towards a commitment and sale. 

The decision to purchase will need time to mature, as a sofa may be the first large item people ever buys. A configurator for that product, with clear visuals that the customer can play with, will get the customer excited about their purchase and purchasing experience, but they may toy with the idea for weeks. Now, unless the experience is perfectly smooth, the customer might drop off merely due to a loss of trust in the interface. Of course, they might leave due to a loss of interest at any point, too, but if the interest is there, that’s a value proposition, and so the interface should be there to support and attend to that interest, rather than fail.

Should the interface not respond to the users’ needs, they will abandon the process because the interface is annoying. Should the interface not give guidance, the customer won’t progress as they won’t resolve a decision. It’s for this reason that configurators rarely come empty-handed. For Now, Sit Down, we started with a selection of a predefined presets for the product, be it the best selling combination of ottoman/seats, low or high bolsters or think/thick arms. It was worth thoroughly considering these presets because the more well rounded and convenient they are, the better the interface will lift potentially complex decisions off customers’ shoulders.

Customers also shop with their eyes, so not all components are received equally. The main focus of the configurator will always be the visual of the configured product, and the navigation will just be a tool to continue the interaction. At Now, Sit Down we prioritised the visual components over everything else but made the option buttons as visual as possible by making them radio cards with an icon. This way they were as recognisable as possible to select on/off and defined by a minimum size threshold, which updated live in the image. The visual takes a leading role, complimented with the radio card format for configuration options. The more space you can dedicate to the product’s visual while keeping the customisation controls easy to tap and access, the better. It’s a good sign if the product is clearly visible and its parts accessible without the user having to zoom in or requiring a separate full-screen view. 

In the Now, Sit Down configurator we also broke the configurator down into steps, smaller, manageable chunks that customers can tick off one after another. With it in place, customers can see their progress within a progress bar and have an awareness of the simplicity of the process. Without these steps, many customers would jump back and forth to double-check that they haven’t missed anything. The “prev/next” pattern is easy to deal with, and the interaction is significantly faster with interfaces that contain it.

Finally, if the customer gets through the ins and outs of the configurator, the final build looks good, the manufacturer seems trustworthy and the price is reasonable, they might purchase the item spontaneously that evening, or the next day, or a week later.