Compelling Design Takes More Than “Making It Like Stripe”
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Eleken’s clients are very, very different. We’ve designed for all SaaS industries you can imagine, from agriculture to data analytics. And even though the companies are very different, their design references are often the same. Our clients want their apps and websites to mimic Intercom, Apple, and, most frequently — Stripe.
When someone asks us to “make it like Stripe,” we explain to our clients why mirroring even the best design is a trap. But if you browse Dribbble for a couple of minutes, you’ll see how many companies walk straight into this trap.
In this article, we’ll figure out:
- Why we all like Stripe’s design so much;
- Why imitation is the sincerest form of failure;
- What really makes Stripe’s design so attractive;
- And how to learn from Stripe in a healthy way.
Why do we all like Stripe’s design so much
Stripe has built a cult around a piece of code. It has turned its users into fans. It has made gradients that look so good you want to lick them. Stripe is the rock star in the world of SaaS, so you’d hardly find a startup owner who has never thought “I want my startup to be like Stripe when it grows up.”
Pretty understandable. You just look at Stripe’s website next to its competitor, Braintree.
Both websites offer a suite of payment APIs for online companies of all sizes. Is it anything more boring to sell than fintech rails for online commerce? Yet Stripe’s site manages to push its boring rails in a very clear, very professional, and somehow even inspiring way.
As designers, we confirm that Stripe’s website is an example of good design.
Our UI/UX designer Maksym compliments Stripe for its clarity. Even though the company offers dozens of products, you can always find what you need. All options are conveniently grouped in a dropdown list and differentiated thanks to their unique icons and color schemes.
Stripe’s copy is sharp and clear, illustrated by telling animations. Animations tell so much that you don’t even need to read the copy to understand how the product works.
Dasha, another designer at Eleken, notes that Stripe presents a unique case when a website is restrained, with no irritating frills, yet it feels fresh and playful.
As you can tell, we at Eleken don’t mind when startups choose Stripe design as a reference. Problems start when inspiration turns into imitation, and clients say something like “make my startup’s website look like Stripe’s.”
Why imitation is the sincerest form of failure
Making your website look like Stripe’s would work if UI/UX design was about making things pretty. But it’s a bit more difficult than that.
Design is a relationship between form and content, so as soon as you separate the form (Stripe’s design) from its content (Stripe itself) to put this form on top of your product, Stripe’s magic turns into a pumpkin.
Think of content as candy and design as its wrapper. The wrapper makes eating candies a better experience — it prevents the sugar from melting in our hands. It also draws customers’ attention.
But if we rip the cover off the best-selling chocolates and pull it on our lollypop, we won’t get a best-selling lollypop. Because it’s not the wrapping that makes candies popular, but a mix of the product and the wrapping. Not to mention the packaging simply won’t fit.
To learn from Stripe’s success it’s not enough to imitate its web design. We need to figure out what’s behind colorful gradients and dynamic diagonals.
What really makes Stripe’s design so attractive?
That’s a good question to ask yourself right after you’ve chosen Stripe as your role model. We believe Stripe’s success is based on three pillars: a valuable product, a human-centered approach to design, and a hard-working approach to the business.
Let’s break them down one by one.
Stripe made a product that relieved users’ pain better than any competitor
Payment processing is complex as hell. Before Stripe, businesses needed to sort things out on their own building compliant payment systems for their sites. That was a risky, expensive and unbearable process. For small businesses, it was often impossible.
Stripe recognized the window of opportunity and enabled people to process payments by copying and pasting seven lines of code. What a delight it was for developers!
Stripe made users’ lives better and earned their love.
Stripe is obsessed with their customers
Customer obsession is like good posture. Everyone knows it’s important but only a few stick with it. Stripe belongs to the minority that builds the business around their customers.
When Stripe had just launched, its CEO, Patrick Collison, went to customers’ houses to see how they installed Stripe. And ten years later, he’s still interested in listening to peoples’ preferences.
Stripe uses gathered insights to constantly improve user experience.
For example, many API products suffer from poor and confusing documentation. Stripe’s documentation, by contrast, is so clear and well-written that it’s easy for developers to get things up and running. What is more, if developers are digging through documents while being logged into their Stripe accounts, they can see personalized code snippets.
Such a user-centered approach earns more love for Stripe.
Stripe always runs an extra mile
If you ask somebody from Stripe’s design team about how they make amazing products and sites, they’d reply they simply spend 20x more time on this than anyone else would. And refuse to cut corners along the way.
Here’s a telling example of this from one of Stripe’s designers. Once he was working on a website animation that showed a payment form being filled and submitted. To fake the typing, he made a new character appear every 100 milliseconds and called it a day.
But the CEO didn’t like the result because typing felt too automatic. He not only suggested making the delay before each new character random but also wrote the needed code by himself. Such serious attention to the smallest detail makes an impression. It inspires all the team to push until the result is not just good or great, but exceptional.
For little details that show that Stripe really cares, users love the company even more.
How to learn from Stripe in a healthy way
The wise lorry from the picture below formulates the moral of our story beautifully: on the road to success, there are no shortcuts.
Maksym from Eleken extends the moral a bit: “People visit Stripe’s site not to enjoy its gradients, but to get their job done. Thus, not an appearance makes a good site, but its ability to give people what they came for in a comfortable and cozy way.”
You can imitate gradients, but that comfortable and cozy assistance is inimitable. To replicate it, you need to figure out who your users are, what their goals are, and how they interact with your product. The deeper you understand it all, the better.
Learning your customers is a great deal of work. If you are ready to get started, our UX maturity article will come in handy. It provides a 6-step algorithm of how an organization can improve their UX processes.
And by the way, did you know that ten years ago Stripe’s CEO wanted his little startup to be like Amazon? He researched things like, what Amazon was doing in 1999, and how they thought about their software and services. That’s a nice little twist of fate, isn’t it?
So if in ten years you’ll be a new SaaS star, recall this article and send some kudos to Eleken design agency.
How to Win Over Your Customer: 9 SaaS Email Templates to Break the Ice
What is the secret of SaaS marketing emails that are opened regularly? Is it a catchy subject line? The well-crafted copy? The length, the design?
I would say all of the above. But as soon as we’re rapidly moving towards the visual domination era, I’d argue who is the King - Content or Design. The one thing that remains undoubtful - selling SaaS requires many efforts you would never want to be ruined by ugly, weird, and obtrusive emails. In this article, I put together SaaS email templates that may help you get creative inspiration and better understand how to make your email marketing campaigns more effective.
Wait, before we move forward, just a few more words about...
Why should you try hard to polish your emails
According to analysts, more than 290 billion emails are sent daily and will reach 347 billion emails by the end of 2023. For SaaS businesses email marketing remains one of the most effective tools to acquire new leads and move them through the sales funnel. But how many of them do we eventually open? Not many, right?
Most of these emails go to our spam folders or we delete them ourselves. But, there's an exception. When you see an exciting subject line, an appealing offer, or an attractive image or video you will definitely be interested to open this letter.
The SaaS email marketing strategy’s top priority is to enhance subscriber engagement by connecting a company with its customers and building long-lasting relationships. If you can increase customer engagement with every email you send, then you will increase sales, average revenue per customer, and company profits.
Ok, and now let’s move on to the SaaS email marketing templates you can learn from and improve your own.
1. Welcome email
You don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression. Welcome emails are your first touch to the potential customers after they signed up for your service. According to the Experian study, users open welcome emails more often than other types of marketing emails with an open rate of around 50%, so make sure your first hello to customers is engaging, useful, and worth their attention. Welcome emails copy should be friendly, short, and sweet, yet pretty informative.
Here are the welcome email components:
- Company’s branding and tone of voice
- Declaration of mission and values embedded into the brand’s story
- Educational materials about the products and services you deliver
Hubspot’s SaaS welcome email example is not only transparent and consistent but also packed with useful resources and tools you can use for free.
What you can steal from this SaaS welcome email template:
- Personalize your email
- Tell about your company’s mission and values
- Mention your product benefits
- Offer free tools or resources to boost customer engagement
2. Onboarding email
This email type can sometimes be a part of the welcome email. However, it would be great to send a separate email with a quick guide on how a customer can seamlessly use your service.
It should be a no-brainer for them to find out how the product works. The better experience users will have, the more chances they decide to stay with you longer or even advise their friends and family.
The onboarding email from Toggle came soon after I installed their time tracking app on my phone and started to learn how to use it. The concise tutorial relieved me from the headache of clicking random buttons to see what action they perform.
What you can steal from this SaaS onboarding email template:
- Short and to the point tutorial
- Unobtrusive offer to try other service options (like web or desktop apps)
- Closing note, saying about the next emails coming over the next few weeks
3. Free trial email
These emails are usually sent to the leads you intend to move to the next sales funnel stage. Offering a free trial is a great way to let your product speak instead of you. If a credit card is required to sign up for the free trial, you probably will get fewer leads, as people may feel pressure with submitting their credit card details. However, the chances are high that these very leads will convert to the paid users after their free trial ends.
As the information in the free trial email is usually pretty straightforward and aimed to push users to take action, it is crucial to:
- Communicate the message clearly
- Keep minimalistic design not to distract users’ attention from the CTA button
- Make the CTA button visually appealing
As a piece of free trial email templates, take a look at Evernote.
What you can steal from this SaaS free trial email template:
- Attractive self-explanatory image
- Clear value proposition with an accent on time-limited offer
- Big button with a comprehensive CTA message
4. Promotional Email
Promotional emails are one of the most critical email types. They have to be strong and appealing enough to attract customers and make them accept your offer. Also, they should clearly articulate your product value proposition while being sweet and not pushy.
The graphics should be consistent with your brand guidelines, but it is acceptable to play with brighter colors or use catchy elements, making the email stand out. In a word, it should give your customers a “wow” feeling. And it is up to your creativity how to achieve this effect.
By the way, if you want to breathe more life into your current product design or create something brand new, our talented designers here at Eleken are always at your disposal.
Here are two examples of promotion emails I received recently and that instantly had my attention.They are totally different, so you can choose which idea may work for your brand.
The first one is Bolt promotion. They use simple, minimalistic flat-style illustrations giving the feeling of the air and let the email breathe. The promo itself offers to try an additional scooter service and unlock it for free.
The second template from SkillShare is bright and eye-catching. They’re offering a fat 40% membership discount, backing it up with the happy members’ comments. The comments are placed on the vivid blocks that attract attention and make the offer even more appealing.
What you can steal from this SaaS promotional email template:
- Concise copy that clearly states promotion values
- Professional-looking design
- Customer testimonials to reinforce the offering
5. Product & features updates
Don’t forget to communicate to your customers any updates you release to keep them in the loop and take the most value from your product.
Below is the feature update email from Adobe, inviting me to try new Photoshop features for free. The brief copy and bright image made me open this email and quickly got the point.
What I find really smart, Adobe combined product updates with promotional elements - “Open today’s gift” encourages the users to click and move to the next stage of the marketing funnel.
What you can steal from this SaaS product & features updates template:
- Combine product updates with promo offering to engage the users
- Use bright and vibrant image colors
- Articulate clearly new features benefits
6. Service email
Let’s come back to Toggl again. I’m genuinely fascinated with the way they communicate with the customers. When I forgot to stop my time tracking, and it was on for 8 hours in a row, Toggl suspected my sudden increase in productivity might be a bit strange, so they sent me the note to check the log.
What you can steal from this SaaS service email template:
- Automated warning notes can be pretty helpful
- A simple and clear message with the inbuilt link to the service help your customers to investigate other product usage options
Regular communication with your customers is a way to long-lasting relationships. Newsletters work great to keep the users engaged with your brand. They also build loyalty. The newsletters can cover different topics - a worth-to-read industry content, company news, or product-related materials.
In the template below, Paysend’s year-end newsletter is a personalized Founder’s address to the customers with a 2020 recap and 2021 expectations.
What you can steal from this SaaS newsletter template:
- Personalized and trusting approach to build a human touch
- Clear and simple design
- CTA button, leading to the company’s website to learn more about their plans
8. Educational email
Educational emails serve to provide a strong reason why customers should stay with your product or service. They play an essential role in customer retention and early churn reduction. Also, with the help of educational emails, companies can upsell low-tier users to the premium plan.
Well, this was exactly what happened with Grammarly and me. I loved the features they offer within Grammarly Premium, and it didn’t take long for me to upgrade.
What you can steal from this SaaS educational template:
- Use .gif format to demonstrate a product’s features in a visually appealing way
- Describe clearly the value proposition
- Send educational emails to the targeted users who will be more likely to get interested in the information you provide
9. Customer experience survey email
Customer experience surveys are valuable tools you can use to gather user feedback and improve your retention rate. These emails shouldn’t be too fancy, yet they have to evoke the desire to push the button and pass the survey. The main secret is to sound friendly and show sincere interest in customers' opinion.
What you can steal from this SaaS customer experience survey template:
- Use a friendly tone of voice
- Create a simple message with a comprehensive call to action
- Make design clear and unobtrusive
Email marketing strategy is all about building long-lasting relationships with customers. Don’t be upset if some of your emails won’t work. Keep testing your emails, learning more about your customers and what can work best for them. Also, as we’re living in the era of visuals, pay attention not only to the content but to the design as well. Check web design examples of high-converting websites to get valuable insights, which will help your business grow.
Don’t be shy to share this article on your social media if you find it useful!
14 UI/UX Books That Are Worth Their Weight In Gold
So many books, so little time — the problem of Choice arises when you want to become better in product design by soaking in some wisdom books.
Blurbs are useless. They are written to make you buy every book, not to help you choose one. Listicles are better, but most of them are written by people who’ve read only blurbs. Some other book-choosing strategies are way too… exotic.
There even was an article that offered me to shape a summer reading list based on the colors of my bikini.
Now while you're struggling to unsee the picture above, it’s high time to introduce the book curation principle I’ve used for this article to recommend you best UI/UX design books.
I reached out to product designers I know personally (kudos to the Eleken tribe), and also product designers I don’t know personally (kudos to you, kind people). All my experts named the book that brightens their career path with its vivid vision, its practical tips, or its fire gags.
Thus, we have a living breathing list of best books to learn UI/UX design, no way ultimate, but 100% worth your attention. It’s broken into four categories:
- UI/UX design books for beginners
- Best books on design fundamentals
- Practical guides for designers
- Best books for UX research
And here we go.
UI/UX design books for beginners
Going to drill into design? Here we got a stack of books for you to test waters before jumping in.
The Design of Everyday Things
There are many iconic design books, but Aleksandra, the UI/UX designer from Eleken, says all of them pale to utter insignificance in light of The Design of Everyday Things — it has a superpower to change people. Everyone who’s read it learns to love design. Sometimes a feeling is so intense that people become designers themselves.
Instead of splashing a thousand words, I’ll put here the story one Redditor shared with me:
The Design of Everyday Things is what got my cousin into the design, who is now in that career, and I’m in the middle of reading it. It’s given me a new perspective on how designers think and basic fundamentals, definitely something worth reading!
UX for Beginners: a crash course in 100 short lessons
This one started as an email newsletter, grew into a blog, and became viral. And now you have it as a book, organized into small bite-sized lessons packed with actionable advice.
Really great starter UX book is “UX for beginners” (with the duck). It’s really digestible and I still use it as a quick reference or to jog ideas.
Mekkie Bansil, Founder & CEO at leadbound studio
Designing Products People Love: how great designers create successful products
Now when you believe design is your thing, it'd be helpful to shadow experienced designers at work to gain some practical insights. Designing Products People Love was written just for this.
The author interviews dozens of product leaders from Twitter, Medium, Squarespace, and similar to get their secrets. Then, he shares all the secrets with you and teaches you to implement what you read into your own process.
This book can replace an intensive workshop with an actual product designer.
Maya, UI/UX designer at Eleken
Inspired: how to create tech products customers love
Product design is in no way a lonely ranger story. It’s rather a story of a string section in an orchestra. Besides designers, every great product team consists of a project manager, developers, testers, marketers, researchers, analysts, and delivery managers. You can’t play your string section well without understanding how it cooperates with all the other people and processes inside of the product team.
Chapter 11! Go read chapter 11 to grasp what product designers do!
Ilya, Founder & CEO of Eleken
Best books on design fundamentals
There are certain books that taught generations of folks to be product designers.
Those little designers have grown up into big professionals and today they reached their old textbooks from top shelves for you. They blow the dust off and figure out that even if the books are outdated sometimes when it comes to the visual component, the principal component is now more relevant than ever before.
Please welcome the nomination for top UI/UX books that have been proven by time — best books on design fundamentals.
Designing Interfaces: patterns for effective interaction design
Designing Interfaces is holding its ground even sixteen years after the original edition. This thick book with a lovely mandarin duck is a stalwart design guide for all the possible interfaces.
A very fundamental book, chock-full with clear examples. It structures your knowledge and offers a new, more comprehensive, way of looking at interface design.
Maksym, UI/UX designer at Eleken
The Art of Color
Johannes Itten was one of the main teachers of Bauhaus — the avant-garde school of design, architecture, and applied arts. Sixty years ago he published The art of color, which is still considered the bible of color for artists and designers.
Don’t trust its plain and playful cover, the book is in no way an easy read. Dasha, who nominated this book in our list, recommends approaching it as strength training in the gym:
Read it in small portions and make pauses between each repetition.
Dasha, UI/UX designer at Eleken
Don't Make Me Think: a common sense approach to web usability
To all the people — from all parts of the world — who have been so nice about this book for fourteen years.
Especially the woman who said it made her laugh so hard that milk came out of her nose.
From Steve Krug’s preface to the third edition
Do you need any other reason to read what’s under the cover? Dasha, who recommended this book, has one for you. She says it offers the simplest (and, probably, funniest) way to figure out how usability works.
Practical guides for designers
Sooner or later, seeing how things could go wrong in practice, you start looking for some sets of recommendations towards good practice in design. Such guidelines we have here, in our practical books category.
A Project Guide to UX Design: for user experience designers in the field or in the making
Whether you are overwhelmed by your first UX job or get stressed just looking at your new design project, this book will help. Use A project guide to UX design as a mind-calming meditation.
[It is the book] I read so many times and still refer back quite a lot.
Tokiko Miyazato, Principal UX Designer
Change by Design: how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation
[This book is] really good for understanding what is design thinking and the process behind it… and when done well, you really can uncover gems (i.e. get into your customers’ mind/perspective)
Daniela Marquez, VP of Product & Growth at Lovingly
Evil by Design: interaction design to lead us into temptation
With the previous book, we learned how to ease the users’ lives. Now, welcome to the dark side of UX, following the path succinctly indicated by JD, a guy I’ve met in one Slack community for designers:
Evil by Design.
Learning to understand people, designers get tremendous power to create interfaces that are not just easy to use but encourage you to do things that you didn't mean to. I am not pointing fingers, but you just look at those addictive social media interfaces or video platforms that automatically play the next video in a sequence.
Any knowledge or tool can be used for good or bad. It's really the ethics of the professional using it.
Best books for UX research
Asking designers about the most important books in their careers, I’ve heard the word “research” more often than any other word, and even participated in one UX survey.
So, we have indirect evidence that product design is not about “making it pop”, but about discovering great data that yields great insights, and then turning great insights into novel ideas. Where does great data come from? Right, from research.
To celebrate this finding, we have a special nomination for the best books on UI/UX research.
Just enough research
Erika Hall in her book says research is a periscope offering you a better view of your surroundings. I'll tell you, she created a perfect manual to adjust your periscope. In simple and vivid language, the book tells what is research and what research is not, when you need to gather more information, and when it’s just enough.
This book helped me survive in the wild wild web of unstructured controversial content when I was writing a series of articles about UX research. So I nominate it by myself, and highly recommend it to everyone who wants to break into the UX research field with no prior experience.
UX Research: practical techniques for designing better products
It’s a basic practical research book that explains everything about questions, methods and analysis in research. Here's what says Alicja Głowicka, the designer who recommended O'reilly’s UX research:
[This book] is practical, has templates, and takes you through organizing research step by step.
The Mom Test: how to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you
People say you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea — she’ll lie to you because she loves you. The author of the book argues that you shouldn’t ask anyone whether your business is a good idea, just because it’s a bad question.
If you want to validate your ideas by asking good questions, go read The Mom Test.
Maksym, UI/UX designer at Eleken
Measuring the User Experience: collecting, analyzing, and presenting usability metrics
That's the ultimate research manual for non-researchers. Not really the one you 'read', more useful to go over it all so that you can reference it later when you must decide what types of tests to run, when to run them, how to crunch the numbers.
Can say this book is one of my bibles — very useful for any research/data-oriented designer like myself.
Tokiko Miyazato, Principal UX Designer
All useful stuff goes better in groups. Like, lockdown helped me to figure out that I’m fatally incapable of doing sports by myself. And I know I’m not alone.
So if you want to read more books to raise your competence level and want some company, I've found a proper corner of the web for you. Here’s a UX/UI book club in Slack, where designers come together every month to read and discuss a suggested book.
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