DX Award :: Neiman Marcus


The Neiman Marcus website is a perfect example of how to market a department store online. For this fine piece of work, you can thank the design team at CircumStance Design, and their parent agency, Big Hand. CircumStance is a San Francisco-based shop and is one of the best you’ll find on the West Coast. Their work has evolved to the point where they are now a trendsetter in the industry and looking through their portfolio, you’ll find everything from Coca-Cola to Virgin Records.


ARCHIVED DESIGN AWARD PAGE :: 1998 DX AWARDS

This page is republished for historical and archival reasons, highlighting the history of online design and the work of some of the many talented individuals who were instrumental in the early days of online media.


We are honored to select Neiman Marcus as this week’s recipient of the IPPA’s Award for Design Excellence.


The Neiman Marcus website is a perfect example of how to market a department store online. For this fine piece of work, you can thank the design team at CircumStance Design, and their parent agency, Big Hand. CircumStance is a San Francisco-based shop and is one of the best you’ll find on the West Coast. Their work has evolved to the point where they are now a trendsetter in the industry and looking through their portfolio, you’ll find everything from Coca-Cola to Virgin Records.

At Neiman Marcus, they created the perfect mix of electronic magazine and brand-based shopping. Unlike others who are testing order forms, e-commerce back-end inventory systems, etc., Neiman Marcus is going the other way — shopping online is more like browsing through the store. You come and shop, maybe you buy something, maybe you don’t, but the key is that you come and shop.

Ultimately, all this raises an interesting question about e-commerce. In some instances, is it wise to encourage online buying? For instance, looking at Neiman Marcus, would a shopper buy more if they were at the store or online? Probably the former — when you shop in the store, things “catch your eye”. If a website purchase keeps a person away from the store, the company’s bottom line could suffer even if they have record sales through the Internet. This is a very real and very critical issue for discussion.

Returning to the design of the site itself, what has evolved from the FRAMEs revolution looks more and more like what Neiman Marcus did: a) a splash opening page featuring a great image that sets the tone and makes the brand; b) a top and left FRAME filled with imagery and spice with a center content FRAME that mixes image with type; and c) left side links and descriptive links combine at the outset to provide easy and direct access to the core content. What makes Neiman Marcus different is that they simply did it better than the rest.

In the mix, you will find an extraordinary collection of links is in the offing. You’ll find everything from horoscopes to a style column. All of this is based on tie-in marketing and is used to keep the user’s attention, foster the brand, and keep them coming back for more. As a professional shopper and interactive designer, however, you will probably find yourself heading straight into the catalog — the place where “the rubber meets the road” in design. If the product selections and presentation don’t work, it won’t matter how much tie-in marketing you build into the site, it will still fail to meet the client’s goals.

Start with N. Emily and her “Must Haves”. This illustrated fashion character (artwork by Vanity Fair’s Hillary Knight) tries on the clothes you select. Pratt-educated designers, arguably some of the elite of today’s design talent, may get a kick out of this one page in the Winter ’99 catalog: “N. Emily molds young minds when she substitutes at the posh Pratt School. Today’s lesson: The importance of the longer skirt.” Check out the cross-FRAME image swap to try on the different skirts — simply marvelous and a great use of a common web JavaScript trick.

Throughout NM’s site, typography, illustration, and photo image are beautifully intertwined, as you would commonly see in a print media catalog. In fact, the Neiman Marcus website is viewed as the perfect counterpart to the Neiman Marcus book, a quarterly catalog sent to their favored buyers. Even better, though, is the fact that you can look over some of the highlights of previous features (don’t miss these or you’ll miss some simply astounding design work).

This core strategy, merging and coordinating the print campaign with the New Media campaign, is a rare thing to behold and yet is so obvious that it is shocking that few do it. One of the StudioONE agencies, Digital Minute, once noted, “The website you build for your client cannot be some sort of ‘fire and forget’ marketing missile on the web — it has to be a coordinated component of the overall marketing strategy. Otherwise, you can just mark it off as another lost opportunity for your client — and you can blame it on yourself for not educating them. As designers, we owe it to our clients to focus on their bottom line and to be sure that they maximize the impact of their advertising dollars spent.”

Neiman Marcus got it right. Whether you look at the print catalog or the online presentation, you are shopping a fully coherent environment. Visuals, offerings, and strategies play off of one another perfectly.

Just like the Neiman Marcus print catalog, website content is updated — no, that is not the proper term — content is changed completely every month. A new cover, new images, new catalog items, etc., are all wrapped in a similar FRAME structure and launched continually, twelve times a year. This approach of constantly refreshing content is welcome and highly effective and ideally suited to the fast-changing fashion industry. Others could and should learn from it — it keeps visitors coming back, time and again.

Graphically, the site is colorful, very well attuned to their target audience, and exudes an elite feeling. This is brand shopping at its best. You may not buy individual items through an electronic form, but you sure get an understanding of the latest fashions down at the store. In the end it is a very worthwhile surf and one that leaves the competing department store sites in the dust.

Hats off to CircumStance! Another “wow” in your corner.

   Scoring (10 is Maximum):

   Graphics Design…….. 8.5
Programming…………. 7.6
Content and Copy….. 8.4