Giving users flexibility where its needed most

A research and design project


Nike's global merchandising was a time consuming complex process trapped in spreadsheets and slide decks, and prone to errors and misunderstanding. A solution was required that made the sorting of products a "visual" activity; a more intuitive and collaborative.

Nike merchandisers work across multiple geographies, colors, styles, and markets. How to manage this overlapping data? When I joined the project, the team was stuck. What does the UI look like, and how are the products to be managed?


The solution would be a web-based system which allowed for multiple levels of ownership and reporting, and flexible sharing. In terms of UI, I delivered two significant strategies that would fuel our ultimate solution:

  • Tagging

  • Narratives

Process for this project
Screen capture of a low fidelity desktop wireframe, grey-scale, with punchy orange buttons, and simple animations indicated.

During user interviews, a low-fidelity model was used to understand work flow and prioritize features


I began the research process with low-fidelity sketches and blocky wireframes based on a review of existing research. Using the "Presumptive" interview method, these sketches were used to understand how Nike merchandisers and marketers work, and what features this "AV Sort" should include.

In our interviews we learned:

  • Merchandisers have stories to support their decisions, but those stories aren't captured

  • Products can be organized a myriad of ways - how might we retain work flexibility, but maintain the data rigor required?

  • Users make slide decks, including colors and product images to explain their strategy. How might we get more value out of that work?

  • How might we help merchandisers work faster, more efficiently, and more collaboratively?

Screen capture of a strategy diagram showing a hybrid of a site wireframe with overlayed annotations about features and animations

Strategy docs captured feature designs to answer user needs


User research revealed that there were two major features that might enable users to truly work "the way they want to."

  1. Tagging - Nike's global merchandising is multi-layered data task, where products can have rules, regions, and variations data that must be tracked. In spreadsheet form, this data loses it's character and marketing relevance through lack of color, style, or marketing strategy. I introduced a tagging structure that allowed for customizations, visual support, but retained the complex data structure underneath.

  2. Narratives - Before making final merchandising decisions there are ritualized discussions and strategy meetings. The introduction of a "narrative" allowed merchandisers to share their strategy, ask questions, and receive feedback in a more casual and visual environment.

Creating data through a custom UI


By adding narratives and tagging, the prototype system became the dynamic, visual, drag-and-drop tool that the merchandisers desired; allowing them to work more creatively while maintaining ownership. These wireframes would detail interactions and click-paths, and serve as inspiration for final high-resolution visual designs incorporating photography.


Though I left the project before launch, once deployed, the new AV Sort system should be saving Nike merchandisers time and effort by taking their work out of spreadsheets, and into a more visual and more 'creative' interface. Strict data integrity is maintained, meaning subsequent data systems down the line are not impacted.

The biggest hurdle to the project was access. Merchandisers are working on multiple seasons in collaboration with marketing, factories overseas, etc. Getting an hour of time to observe their work flow, ask process questions, and review their deliverables was not immediately embraced.

To get around this, I put together a workshop with a kick-off activity that required 20 participants to both draw and build a puzzle, (not unlike coordinating a season). This warm-up lead to building a mock season (a year's work in about an hour). Both exercises combined had participants agreeing:

  • Better collaboration was needed through an interface that was more flexible

  • Individual merchandisers had work-arounds that could be incorporated into AV

  • The "process" was not as clear and similar to all

  • Trust - Everyone agreed and now wanted the user research I was pitching. Getting time with merchandisers was now easy, with several volunteers