As I’m wrapping up the straggling loose ends of our 2012 UI refresh, I think it’s time once for another of those retrospectives I’m so fond of. But, hey, I think it’s impressive seeing just how far we’ve come since this “internet” thing came along and redefined how the whole world does its shopping. Combined with our wonderful mail-order department, our website has helped move us from being the best little shop in Indianapolis to one of the best shops you can order from anywhere in the US. And, while my time at the helm so far doesn’t yet account for even half of our online history, I’ve spent some time trying to keep a record of our progress along the line, from a simple, custom-built web solution to the massive 14,000+ product site we are today. So, to bore you to tears this post-holiday Tuesday, here’s a brief history for my amusement.
I was only able to partially recover this from the WayBack machine, and honestly, I’m impressed it had this much left to show. But here you can see the earliest online face of Roberts left recorded anywhere. Anyone have any idea what camera that was before it got the black badges of anonymity treatment?
2006 & 2007
Skipping ahead a half decade, I was able to coax the WayBack Machine into showing me what the site looked like the day I hired in. Oh memories. We still had a Bloomington store! (Fun fact: our current url, Robertscamera.com was originally used for the Bloomington store, while Robertsimaging.com indicated the primary trio of downtown, Carmel, and mail-order). We still had the classic Roberts “pillow” logo, with the “Since 1957″ above and the bullets in the R’s foot. Things were in our traditional red, gold, and gray motif. A year later, things didn’t look much different except I was still working on a style for the homepage ads. Most of my first year here was spent doing data entry and cleaning up our product information (a torch which has been passed twice now, but which still takes up hours and hours of time every week).
2007-2008 Redesign Concept
Finally, around 2007 and early 2008 I got tired of the broken tables in the long-standing design and how hard they made it to update the site and not have it look… er, broken, I began mocking up what Roberts might look like in the future, the results of which were this sketch. Note the first appearance of our “glass” logo, and the introduction of the tab-and-scoop header (a theme that we would stick with for many years.) You can also see the category icons, which had always been inside the actual store pages, finally brought out front to the main page.
By the time that sketch became a reality, it had received considerably more visual gloss. And user accounts! I also like the faint “51″ behind the logo, with the curve of the 5 forming the scoop for the upper menu tier.
The 2009 update was little more than a refresh, visually. But, the second menu tier has finally been devoted to product category drop menus, which is true still today. And, the homepage finally sports a featured banner rotator, and a grid of highlighted products (which was originally updated manually. We’ve since gotten smarter and automated the grid.) You can also see the ill-fated and short-lived “Need Help?” button in the top right, as we first experimented with bringing our famous in-store help to the web via a series of informative articles. This feature would eventually be replaced by more inline, as-it-is-needed advice, and by this here blog, which we brought in-house in 2009 as well, originally looking like this:
The beginning 3/4 of 2010 saw once more just a very superficial design refresh, with a double-rounded top header and darker background under the implied page. Our Free UPS Ground Shipping promotion had become a mainstay, and got its own box underneath the account box. The featured box has been cleaned up greatly as well, and the scoop has finally been replaced with our featured department buttons.
Last quarter 2010 marked the biggest change in our site’s history, as we migrated everything from our custom solution to a more modern, robust, PHP-based solution. Above you can see a sketch for the new start, which broke free of the long-standing tab-and-scoop interface in favor of a more browser-filling site with full-width horizontal headers and footers. I was becoming more and more influenced by the design language no-longer called Metro, and was trying to embrace flatter graphics and more focus on content and less on chrome. It also made use of an implied search bar, utilizing the existing white bar trapped between a search button and the featured section buttons. I loved it, but a significant amount of users didn’t recognize it as a search area, and so I admitted it was unsuccessful design and fairly shortly restored a more traditional search box in that area.
2011 saw only light updates to the main site, which had turned out surprisingly close to the original proposal. But, we do have record of the 2010-2012 Raw redesign to match the relaunched site.
In addition to the social icons, the Raw redesign featured the new sidebar modules, including the very visual “What’s Hot” section to help infrequent visitors see something new and interesting on their visits.
Oh, yeah, and we launched our first mobile site. But, really, how big a deal could that have been?
And that finally catches us up to 2012, where the big thing to see is we’ve finally embraced the ever-increasingly “flat” look of our new identity, and gone back to a version of the traditional logo and calmed all our gradients way down. And, of course, Raw and the mobile site got bumps to reflect it.
New features of note include our recently-launched Used Photo Pro service (and the added search toggle for only used items to match), and the new Product Finder to help you make sense of the mess of modern cameras by filtering down based on the most important aspects, plus your budget.
So, there’s 12 years of (abridged) web history there. It’s also 55 years of Roberts history now. Where will we go next? I dunno. That’s half the fun, really. But, what I do know is, where we go will be where you need us to. We’re always listening to the feedback we get, and trying to tailor our online experience to make it as easy as can be for you to find what you need. Yup, all your feedback. Yes, even the search. We’re currently working on some new methods to help improve our search, which has been increasingly sketchy under the weight of the thousands and thousands more (badly, engineer-named) products we’ve been adding during my time here. It’s harder than it sounds, and it’s taking us a while to get it right, but, rest assured, we won’t stop until we do. That’s just how Roberts works.