Arianne Foulks is the founder and CEO of Aeolidia, a Seattle web and graphic design studio that has been working with creative businesses since 2004. Aeolidia provides an unparalleled “one stop shop” for people looking to create a remarkable and effective website and offer many branding and content marketing services in-house like: packaging design, copywriting, product photography, email marketing, and more. Arianne is a certified master of Shopify and will be presenting on effective ecommerce marketing April 24th at 1pm EDT in the Textile Design Lab.

Can you tell us about your current business and what sort of projects you are working on? What has been one of your favorite projects?

Everything we do centers around ecommerce sites. I’ve been creating online shops for 20 years this year! One of the things I learned early on is that there is just so much that’s needed for an ecommerce site. There are so many things that are make-or-break. For instance, the best planned website can be ruined by bad photography. That’s why from the start, I incorporated branding into my offerings. Now I have a great team of designers, developers, strategists, and content creators to make everything work together: from brand strategy to website to email marketing.

We enjoy working with creative, design-oriented brands, and at this very moment, we’re creating a custom site for a stationery brand, we’re building a complex yarn site, and we’re working on branding for a cookbook shop – among many other things. We usually have about two dozen projects happening at once, with roughly half of them being ongoing optimization projects for people we work with long-term.

One of my favorite recent projects is a website for Sister Golden, who make flower art. It was a delight to create a perfectly on-brand site for this mother-daughter duo.

Mobile-first website for Sister Golden.
Brand guide for Whispering Willow.
Balanced Bites delivery truck features a fun pattern.
Vintage postage-inspired stamps for Joy Laforme.

How did your path go from UC Santa Cruz photographing thistles and studying biology to founding a web and graphic design business?

My assumption was that, while it was important to have a college degree, it probably didn’t matter what field it was in, so I decided to do something I was really into: marine biology. I didn’t have a dream to become a marine biologist, but I did enjoy studying the subject and hanging out with elephant seals on the beach.

In my free time, though, I was always in the computer lab, learning how to use the scanner, Photoshop, and word processing tools to keep publishing the zine I’d started in high school. The internet was a baby at the time, and I put together a website for my zine. I enjoyed it so much that I redesigned it very regularly – maybe monthly? My band and record label friends found out that I could create websites, so they started trading records and CDs with me to get my help.

Eventually, I helped out a friend with an online shop, and started learning how MySQL databases work, and how to install SSL certificates. This was a year before Etsy existed, and many years before Shopify existed. It wasn’t easy to make a website yourself back then; you had to know how to code, and you often had to mess around directly in the database.

I was learning to be a designer, but I never felt like an artist, so I hired some of my favorite artists to create illustrations that I would then use to create the site design. There weren’t a lot of people creating illustrated websites at the time, so my work really took off. People want things to be more minimalist now, but I love it when we can work with an artist, illustrator, or kids’ brand that really want to create something artistic and quirky.

How did you become a certified expert of Shopify?

We have been Shopify Partners since February, 2012. There was an application and review process. I’ve heard it’s hard to get into the Shopify Partners directory now. Before the pandemic, Shopify flew me and about a dozen other Shopify Experts out to their headquarters to serve as a partner roundtable, and share ideas back and forth, which was a great experience. They also used to host a popular conference for their partners, including agencies, designers, developers and app companies.

We’ve worked with Shopify a few times over the years to create a video course, present at webinars hosted by them, and we have an in-person workshop at Shopify’s space in Manhattan coming up this year.

Brand design for GRDN.
Packaging design for Kate Ryan Skincare.

What is a common mistake artists and designers make with their websites? 

I’d say making the look of the site the priority, while being unaware of how it’s performing. Big picture, it’s easy to find someone to build you a pretty website, or create a pretty website for yourself. It’s much harder to find someone who can make it perform well. It’s a good idea to understand your stats and what the benchmarks are.

My team creates strategies to increase conversion rate, average order value, and customer engagement on every site we work on. We’re one of the few teams with a deep understanding of website performance (we have a full time Ecommerce Strategist on staff) while also being able to create something totally on-brand.

We have a blog post that describes eight smaller mistakes that we see on websites over and over again.

Custom website for Lisa Congdon.

What actions or decisions have made the biggest impact on your design business over the years?

So many big changes around here! We grow slowly but steadily. Still, after twenty years, things really add up. A top few important decisions include:

  • Hiring a team. At first, it was just me and my illustrator buddies. Then, I hired a friend and my husband. The business really took off when I got pregnant with my first child. I wasn’t sure I’d have time to do client work with a baby in the house (I didn’t!). I serendipitously was asked by a designer I admired if I was considering hiring anyone, and I brought her on the team. From there, we added designers and developers, and contracted work out to a copywriter and photographer. My team has grown to be roughly twenty people when we’re at full capacity with all of our freelancers.
  • Hiring a team — again. My team for years consisted of contract workers. In 2021, we had a great year financially, and we were starting to worry about the changes to contractor laws brewing in California. I hired my core team of nine (including me), who are now all salaried and full time. This was a great change for us. It felt hard to develop a company culture when we were a loose band of contractors – people had other clients and were working to grow their own businesses. Now we have more ability to work on internal projects, aim for bigger goals together, and take time out for things like work parties and getting to know each other better.
  • Switching to a four day work week. In 2021, I started noticing more and more articles about the four day week. I read a couple of books and tried to talk my leadership team into it. We work with so many clients and have so many things going at once, that it was hard for them to believe we’d be able to get it all done in less time – we felt like we needed more time.

I kept sharing articles and thinking about the idea, and then in October, 2022, we decided to take the leap. With the help of 4 Day Global, we learned how to be more efficient with our time. We’ve been taking three day weekends ever since, and our work has never been better. Our projects get done in the same number of weeks as before, and our profit has stayed strong. I recently shared some insight into how we switched to a four day week here.

What are the recent tips you can share about creating successful Search Engine Optimization with a website?

The nice thing about Google’s updates over the last few years is that they keep removing artificial ways to boost your ranking on Google. What this means is that the type of content on your site that is helpful and informative to your visitors is also what makes your site perform well in Google.

So, if you think about what people may be searching for when you are the perfect solution, and you explain what you do on your site, Google should start paying attention. We have a guide on our site about this: Learn our “SEO quick wins” strategy for targeting easy-to-improve keywords.

Website design for Worthwhile Paper.
Website design for Meena Patel.

Who are your design heroes? What about them inspires you or influences your work?

I haven’t designed a website in so many years that I don’t consider myself a designer anymore! So I don’t have any graphic design work to influence. Here are a few designers that I personally admire:

  • Heather from Skinny LaMinx! Her patterns are simple, cheerful, and have a midcentury vibe that goes with everything in my home.
  • I don’t know if we can call Lynda Barry a designer, but can we just scream together for a minute about how incredible she is? She taught me a lot about making the best of a difficult upbringing, and doing everything with your own sense of style and pizzazz.

Here are some heroes of our design team; Christine Hughes and Barbara Kowalski:

  • Ray Eames: Her innovative design work beautifully melds utility with aesthetics and seriousness with fun. I find so much inspiration at The Eames House she built with her husband Ray, from its colorful exterior to the collection of found objects inside.
  • Louise Fili: her elegant, classic brand and print design influenced by her Italian heritage makes her an absolute legend to me. Her ability to create brand identities with character that stand the test of time, as well as her decades of experience and golden rules of design work are a big inspiration.
  • Annie Atkins: aside from introducing the industry to the exciting world of graphic design for film, Annie taught me to pull influences from unexpected places and to look back into history for references and ideas. I’m always scouring ephemera and vintage design books for fresh takes on past designs.
  • Adé Hogue: a brilliant lettering designer who shared a lot of his knowledge. His passion for lettering and workshops on using Illustrator were very influential. It was a loss to the design industry when he passed away much too young.

Can you give us a quick preview into the training you will be offering to our Textile Design Lab members? What can people expect to learn?

When it comes to running a successful business on Shopify, your website’s user experience plays a crucial role in influencing visitors to make a purchase. There are dozens of things that go into an effective ecommerce strategy, and most are slightly different for every business. We’ll talk about the most important strategies, cover some low-hanging fruit, and give you some things you can take action on right away on your own to increase sales on your site.

Home page design for 3 Fish Studios.

Find the latest and greatest projects from Aeolidia right here on Instagram. Read more about their team here on their website.

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