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An In-Depth Look Into Designing a Shopify Theme

An In-Depth Look Into Designing a Shopify Theme

Label Theme HeroCommitting to build a Shopify Theme is quite the endeavor. It can quickly become a long-term project that demands hard work, dedication, and an openness to change. And with thousands of merchants visiting the Shopify Theme Store each month to discover the perfect look for their store, it can be a lucrative avenue for any designer or developer to pursue. The challenge is how to stand out in a crowd.

To give you an idea of what it takes to design, develop, and publish a Shopify Theme, we sat down with Giraffic Themes to chat about their experience building the newest addition to the Shopify Theme Store: Label.

You might also like: 10 Top Questions About Developing Shopify Themes Answered

Who is Giraffic Themes?                              

Label Theme Giraffic Based out of Melbourne, Australia, Giraffic Themes is the brainchild of front-end developer and designer William Rainbird.

Rainbird started Giraffic Themes five years ago, when the majority of his work was focused on template design for Tumblr.

“Theme design really just started as a side project,” he says. “I was already doing front-end work for a software company but wanted to start earning some passive income.” His side project really started to see success when he concentrated his efforts on building templates for an oft-overlooked audience: creators.  

When Will was still working with Tumblr, he noticed there weren’t many templates catering to specific professions like musicians, photographers, chefs, and publishers. Most offered little to no additional functionality outside of the core template pages, which wouldn’t suffice for his niche audience who often needed unique technical requirements embedded into their websites. Thus he began designing templates with built-in integrations for music players, social media feeds, and calendar capabilities.

Despite the success Rainbird has seen on Tumblr over the past few years, he became hungry for a project that would challenge his technical skill. He began working for the cosmetic brand, and 2014-2015 Ecommerce Design Awards winner, Frank Body as their lead developer where he was first exposed to Shopify. This new role allowed him to quickly become familiar with the platform and that was when the idea for the Label Shopify Theme was born.

Label: A minimal Shopify Theme for creators

Label Theme 2Label is a Shopify Theme designed for musicians, publishers, and creators of all shapes and sizes. Its focus on simplicity makes it a great solution for merchants who offer a small number of products, but it can also be adapted for those with larger product lines and collections.

But despite its smooth appearance, Rainbird admits there’s more to the theme than meets the eye.

“Even though it looks simple, it definitely took me a few weeks and plenty of late evenings to get things perfect,” he says. “I was working full-time at Frank Body, and Label was something that I was doing outside of my 9 to 5.”

That dedication to perfection is apparent in Label’s design. The theme’s minimalistic layout not only establishes an elegant and clean interface, but also helps drive user focus towards products and calls-to-action.

“I noticed that most templates targeting musicians and creators on other platforms were overloaded with information,” says Rainbird. “I decided to strip Label down to focus on the core ecommerce elements, which I think resulted in a much more refined user experience.”

At its core, Label is all about the homepage, which features up to nine customizable modules. Merchants have the ability to include a Single Product Feature to highlight their best-selling or newest product for customers who arrive onsite. It also incorporates a few unique functionalities typically used by creative merchants, including an embedded Instagram integration as well as a calendar feature to showcase tour dates or events.

Label’s simple structure also translates exceptionally well to mobile. The stacked layout and prominent product imagery feels seamless on a mobile device, and customers can easily add products to their cart straight from the homepage with only two taps. This eliminates the hassle of navigating too deeply into the website for users who shop on phones or tablets.Label Mobile ScreensLike most Shopify Themes, Label comes in three distinct styles: Rainbird has named his Record, Create, and Publish. Each style features a unique style and tone that makes Label extremely functional for a variety of brands.

“Development was a lot more complicated than design since each style is so different from one another,” he explained, “but by keeping things simple I was able to circumvent a lot of those challenges early on, and the styles really stand on their own.” 

Let’s take a look at Label’s three distinct styles.


Label Theme RecordRecord was the first style Rainbird designed for Label. The look and feel was largely inspired by his previous work on Tumblr, but without all the bells and whistles. By focusing the design around one core product and a few secondary pieces of information, Record was built for a specific audience: musicians and record labels.


Label Theme CreateRainbird found inspiration for Create from his friend’s cap business. With its emphasis on multiple products, the design is reminiscent of the typical apparel brand site. In its original state, Create is designed for low inventory or single product stores, but it can be adapted to accommodate stores with much larger product collections.


Label-Theme-PublishThe initial idea for the Publish style was to build something that catered to the needs of small publishers or digital good retailers — a segment Rainbird noticed was underserved in the Shopify Theme Store. Its minimal style features a prominent Product Feature Image as well as a video integration functionality.

You might also like: An Introduction to Theme Options

Giraffic Themes’ advice for first-time theme developers

A unique set of challenges emerged when Giraffic Themes transitioned from Tumblr to Shopify theme development. Designing for ecommerce requires an increased focus on technical functionality and usability when compared to content-based sites alone.

There were many lessons learned when building out Label. Here are Giraffic Themes’ top three pieces of advice for first-time Shopify Theme developers.

1. Discover market gaps

When Giraffic Themes launched, Rainbird knew that his success would be tied to his ability to identify and solve problems.

“Before you even start prototyping an idea, you should look at the market and identify clear gaps,” he says. “Research is a major part of my design process.”

If you’re thinking of designing a new theme for Shopify, start by conducting some preliminary research into the current Theme Store offerings. Try to identify what’s already listed and what’s missing — this could be a specific niche audience or industry, a certain product type or inventory size, or just a cutting-edge design layout. Then use that inspiration to build something that looks, feels, and functions differently than anything else currently available.

We’ve put together a Theme Brief Template to help ensure you’ve identified an appropriate market gap before beginning your design work.

2. Build for flexibility and adaptability

It’s rare to find a merchant who purchases a theme and uses it as-is. Most want to tweak some parts, remove others, and ultimately make it their own.

“Building for flexibility within a template is a tough problem to tackle,” says Rainbird, “You need to consider that people are going to want to alter what you’ve built once they’ve installed it.”

For ecommerce templates, Rainbird suggests focusing on product presentation and accessibility over other more niche features. Try to keep things simple by reducing theme settings and limiting options. Not only will this reduce the potential for performance issues, but it can help you build a theme that is flexible and user-friendly.

He also suggests designing and developing your theme concurrently. This may allow you to identify usability issues in your theme during the design process, rather than after. Adopting an iterative approach ensures you know that what you’re building will work smoothly for merchants wanting to alter or remove anything when applying the theme to their store.

3. Design for the user and the merchant

Rainbird’s biggest piece of advice is to ensure your design is as accessible for the merchant as it is for their customers.

“At first I kind of focused on Label’s design solely from the user’s perspective,” he says. “But I quickly learned that it’s just as important, if not more, for a theme to be easily used by the store owner, and that meant keeping things simple.”

This insight radically shaped the direction of Label, which was originally conceived with nearly 400 theme options. The developer was faced with a lot of hard decisions about what to include and what to remove, but by stripping out most of the additional functionality, Label ended up becoming much cleaner and easier to use for both the user and the merchant.

When you’re working on your own theme, try to put yourself in the merchant’s shoes. Think about how they are going to use the theme and identify what’s going to make their life easier or more difficult. Remember: creative and unique features are only useful when they don’t get in the way, so try to cut out the clutter from your theme design.

Looking to build your first Shopify Theme?

Are you thinking about building a Shopify Theme for the Theme Store? Check out our list of Essential Tips for Building Your First Shopify Theme and get started on the right track!

What have you learned building Shopify Themes? Share your insights below!

You might also like: 4 Theme Features Every Client Will Ask For

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Announcing Shopify’s Build a BIGGER Business Competition

Announcing Shopify’s Build a BIGGER Business Competition

Shopify's Build a BIGGER Business Competition - Tony Robbins

Shopify’s Building a Business competition began as a way to encourage people around the world to pursue their entrepreneurial passion and start the business of their dreams.

This year, we decided to try something new. We’ve partnered with renowned Life and Business Strategist Tony Robbins to launch our first-ever Build a BIGGER Business competition — an entrepreneurial challenge for ready-to-scale online businesses.


Learn everything you need to know about the competition and how you can support your clients who decided to enter.

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Announcing the New Shopify Plus Partner Program

Announcing the New Shopify Plus Partner Program

Plus Partner Program: Email

The high-volume merchants who use Shopify Plus are faced with a unique set of challenges, and their success often relies upon strategic partnerships that help drive their online business to the next level.

That's why we’re proud to announce the new Shopify Plus Partner Program — a way to connect directly with our high-volume Shopify Plus merchants. 

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Announcing Unite: Shopify's Partner and Developer Conference

Announcing Unite: Shopify's Partner and Developer Conference

Unite: A Conference for Shopify Partners and App Developers

Shopify Unite 2018

Tickets for Unite 2018 are sold out! In the coming weeks, we’ll have more information on how you can take part virtually in Shopify’s third annual Partner and Developer Conference, running May 7-9. In the meantime, join our ticket waitlist or relive the magic of last year’s conference.

Watch last year's keynotes

Over the past year, our team has been quietly working away on one of the biggest and most ambitious initiatives ever conceived for our partner and app developer community.

After weeks of blood, sweat, and tears, we're finally ready and proud to announce: Unite — Shopify's first ever Partner and Developer Conference.

What is Unite?

Unite is Shopify's inaugural Partner and Developer Conference, dedicated entirely to those who build amazing things on the Shopify platform.

It's a chance for app developers, theme designers, and web designers to come together with our team on March 22 - 23 for two days of learning and collaborating at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California.

Even though the conference doesn't start until the morning of the 22nd, we encourage you to come in to town by Monday evening to have dinner with other members of the Shopify community. That way, we can all enjoy some extra fun before Unite begins.

What can you expect at Unite?

Unite will be an exploration of Shopify and where the future of commerce is going — a future we're building together.

This opportunity will allow you to network directly with core members of the Shopify team, meet and collaborate with other Shopify Partners, and be the first to hear exclusive details about the future of our platform. Each day of Unite will be loaded with keynotes and panels featuring Shopify executives including CEO and Founder Tobias Lükte. There will also be several interactive workshops designed to help you build and grow your business with Shopify and our merchant community.

More details around the Unite programming will be released in the coming weeks. To stay up to date, be sure to keep an eye on the Shopify Unite website and follow the conversation on Twitter with #ShopifyUnite.

Register for Unite today

The registration for Unite tickets is now open and you can submit your application on the Unite website. Since there are only a limited amount of tickets available for Unite, be sure to register for yours soon so you don't miss out.

We hope you'll join us at Unite, where we can share a drink, have a chat, and strategize on how we can continue to make commerce better for everyone, together.

Announcing Unite 2018

We're excited to announce that tickets for Unite 2018 are on sale! Join us in the heart of Toronto, Canada, on May 7-9 for Shopify's third-annual Partner and Developer Conference. This is one event you won't want to miss.

Secure your tickets

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Developing Shopify Themes with Accessibility in Mind

Developing Shopify Themes with Accessibility in Mind

Shopify Themes and Web Accessibility - Email

Accessibility is all about using design and code strategically to make the content of your websites or online stores consumable for all users, whether they live with an impairment or not.

If you're not already designing with accessibility in mind, you’re missing out on a major opportunity to increase the usability of your site (and the size of your client's ecommerce audience).

In this blog post, we'll help you:

  • Understand why web accessibility is becoming a mandated part of the web
  • Identify ways to integrate accessibility testing into your existing workflow
  • Find implementation strategies to make your Shopify themes more accessible

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Enhancing the Ecommerce Experience: Recent Updates to Shopify’s Online Store and Liquid

Enhancing the Ecommerce Experience: Recent Updates to Shopify’s Online Store and Liquid

Updates to shopify online store and liquid

Yesterday at Unite, we spoke on stage about several recently added updates to our online store channel that many partners and developers will find useful. Some of these features have already been released but haven’t been formally introduced, while others are entirely new and exciting updates to our platform.

We hope that they will help you simplify the code in your themes, while also creating better overall experiences for your clients and their customers.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How to create better browsing experiences with responsive images.
  • How to get more out of your image assets with new Liquid updates.
  • How to access more variant information with product.options_with_values.

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Enhancing the Merchant Handoff Experience

Enhancing the Merchant Handoff Experience

Enhancing merchant handoff 2017

Last month, we introduced a new Shopify Partner Dashboard that offers a slew of new features designed to improve the way you design, develop, and build with Shopify. Today, we’re excited to share another new feature that will further augment your dashboard experience: an enhanced merchant handoff process.

In this article you'll find:

  • How the enhanced merchant handoff experience works.
  • A demonstration of the new handoff flow.
  • Updated documentation on our streamlined store management and transfer process.

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Growing Your Agency’s Revenue: 3 Metrics to Help You Plan for the Future

Growing Your Agency’s Revenue: 3 Metrics to Help You Plan for the Future

Growing Your Agency's Revenue: 2017

Whether you’re starting your journey into digital consulting, or you’re ready to scale your operations, it can be challenging to dedicate time to goal setting. However, it’s surprisingly quick and easy to develop a process for establishing strategic and concrete goals for your business — you just need to know how.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Why strategic goal setting is important to your business.
  • 3 metrics to help you understand your sales process.
  • How to use these metrics to forecast sales.

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Holiday Reading List: The Top 10 Stories of 2015 from Shopify Partners

Holiday Reading List: The Top 10 Stories of 2015 from Shopify Partners

Shopify Partners Holiday List

The end of the year is often a time for reflection as many of us look back on our experiences and achievements from the previous 12 months. The web design and ecommerce industries have witnessed some major evolutions over the past year, and 2016 is already shaping up to be a monumental time for all of us.

But before we shift our focus to the future, the content team at the Shopify Web Design and Development Blog is still reflecting on the incredible journey we’ve been on with you throughout the past year. And in our haze of nostalgia, we’ve decided to share the top stories of 2015 from Shopify Partners for you to enjoy over the holidays one last time.

Why You Should Specialize in Ecommerce

why you should specialize in ecommerce

Over the past few years, the web design market has evolved and has become increasingly saturated. It’s becoming more difficult than ever to thrive as the owner of a web design firm. Luckily, there is a solution: specialization. This 2015 favourite gives an eloquent overview of why any web designer should consider specializing in ecommerce.

10 Things I Learned About UX by Being Drunk

UX Drunk

Designing an effective user experience is a tricky thing, especially if your user is under the influence. Website auditor Richard Littauer shares his advice about user experience design from his role at The User is Drunk. 

The Ultimate List of Color Palette Generators for Web Design

color palette generators

With the beautiful array of tones, hues, and shades, colour is one of our greatest assets for creative expression as designers. Experimenting with new and bold colours can liberate our minds and drive us towards innovation. Here’s our list of the best and free-to-use online color palette generators to inspire you to move outside of your colour comfort zone for the remainder of 2015 and beyond.

How to Optimize Themes for Performance

Optimize Shopify themes

As web designers. we often focus our optimization efforts on one main metric: conversions. But the reality is that we have the power to provide major impact for our clients by optimizing site performance as well. This simple tutorial by Gavin Ballard provides a few techniques for ensuring every Shopify theme you build performs as well as it looks.

10 Outstanding Ecommerce Website Designs for Creative Inspiration

ecommerce website design

Sometimes you need a little bit of inspiration to sink your teeth into a new project. We want to help you with that process, so we shared some of our favourite ecommerce websites designed by Shopify Partners in this inspirational roundup. Feast your eyes!

Using JavaScript to Super Power Your Client’s Shopify Store

Using javascript for shopify

JavaScript is a powerful language that seems to evolve nearly every week. It can help add countless functionalities to an ecommerce website that cannot be achieved with HTML, CSS, and Liquid alone. This tutorial shows you some actionable techniques to use JavaScript for super powering your client’s Shopify store.

How to Create a Compelling Web Design Portfolio

Web Design Portfolio

A web design portfolio website is a must-have for anyone working in the creative industry. Not only will it help you share your work with the world, but it also allows you to build a personal brand that you can be proud of. Last month, we shared a few tips to help you design a portfolio that is both effective and compelling to prospective clients.

5 of the Best Prototyping Tools for Your Web and Mobile Designs

Prototyping tools

In 2015, prototyping and mockups became a hot topic across the web design industry. For good reason too — prototyping is an integral part of the design process that lets you and your team review concepts and share feedback in the early stages of a project. But with new prototyping tools being released every few weeks, we curated a list of our favourites to help you find the perfect one for your workflow.

Using Git to Simplify Shopify Theme Deployment

Using Git for Shopify

Earlier this year, a few Shopify developers wanted to make theme deployment and version control easier for our partners. The results were sophisticated integrations with Git, Beanstalk and Deploybot. If you haven’t tested any of these out, it’s never too late to learn.

10 Web Design Tools to Discover Beautiful Fonts for Your Next Project

Web design tools for fonts

Your choice of typography can make or break a design. The fact that it can help you convey themes, emotions, and the personality of a brand, makes font choice an incredibly important part of your design process. That’s why earlier this fall, we shared some of our favourite typography tools to help you discover beautiful fonts for any project.

Cheers to an amazing year, and to the next one we’ll share together in 2016. Happy holidays, and have a great New Year everyone!

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How A/B Testing Will Make You a Better Web Designer

How A/B Testing Will Make You a Better Web Designer

A/B Testing Web Designs

Designing a website is a massive undertaking for designers and business owners alike. But whether you are building a new website or redesigning an existing one, it’s crucial to base your decisions on data, rather than intuition. The decisions you make during the design process can determine creative and financial prosperity or failure — for both the client and the designer.

To avoid any potential pitfalls in your next build, you should start including A/B testing as a standardized service in your design packages. Conducting simple A/B tests on your clients’ websites will allow you to work out any shortcomings with regards to design, navigation, and functionality before handing over the reins. That way you’ll be able to offer them a final product that is not only visually stunning, but also optimized for conversion — and they’ll love you for it.

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Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

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