Offline vs. Online Design for Xobni

by Brian Kobashikawa

Xobni has “gone retro” and is now officially in the boxed software business. As such, our product and marketing teams were thrust into the world of package design: a world inhabited by point-of-service displays, office store lighting, bleeds, crops, process colors, and really really large graphics. Our group sits comfortably in the land of desktop software and web applications, so we reoriented ourselves and began to think about Xobni from a new perspective. We grounded ourselves in our core design principles and got out the pens and paper.


1. Define (and redefine) your target audience. Visitors to the Xobni website probably learned about Xobni  from a friend or a co-worker, an article they read or they may have searched “outlook plugin” into their friendly web search engine. By the time these customers get to us, they already have a bit of backstory – not to mention, validation. However, the prospective customer in one of the big box stores may be  in an entirely different mindset. They may have decided to purchase Microsoft Outlook 2010, and start browsing for other software that may be relevant. Or, maybe they’re just making the store rounds after buying their fancy Twilight DVD. Either way, we had to assume that the audience knew nothing about Xobni. So, the first priority was to explicitly call out the connection between Xobni and Outlook, and cultivate our message from there.


2. Distill the message down to the core. On a website, we could (at least in theory) wax rhapsodic about Xobni’s features across multiple pages, product videos, and case studies. With a box, we had limited physical real estate: specifically, four 5×7” rectangles. This led to an extensive exercise with our marketing group to reduce, pare down, and focus the copy on the bare minimum. It also led us to question how we should present ourselves: should we visually communicate our product with symbols and concepts, or through concrete product shots? For the box cover, we opted for the former approach, as it helped us communicate the core message more effectively.

3. Rethink progressive disclosure in the physical world. With those four 5×7” rectangles, we needed to establish a simple visual hierarchy. Presumably, customers will see the front cover first. If they picked up the box, they might turn it around. And if they were really interested, they may open the box flap to see more inside.

So, we decided to have the front cover focus more on the “why and how” – why this product exists, and how it works for you (“Take control of your inbox” is front and center). The inner flap, in the meantime, focused on the “what” – what does the product look like, and what does it do for you. As such, the inner flap reveals screenshots of the product (mostly placed on the far right side, ensuring that they’ll be seen by the customer with minimal “unfolding” on their part.)

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4. Help the customer with the product research. In a giant office supplies store, with a Xobni box in hand, the customer has little immediate access to review websites (such as Lifehacker or CNET) to help offer recommendations or guidance for their purchase. They can’t easily talk to their friends or co-workers who might have used Xobni before. The customer is largely alone.

So, as a newer company with an esoteric product name, we wanted to quickly establish credibility. We bubbled up  reviews and ratings we had received (from such publications as The Wall Street Journal and CNET) on the front and back covers. And as Fortune Magazine points out, we’re very likely “the first to have testimonial “tweets” printed on the outside (of the box) from customers.

5. You can only publish once. Make sure to review, review, review. The great thing about downloadable software is that it’s highly iterative, and relatively easy to correct little mistakes. With a physical box and CD-ROM disc, we had to be much more diligent in checking every detail. The extra time required for all these details was essential: to review trademarks and typos, quotes, system requirements, legal, and all the other minutiae.

Getting a proof from the printer not only helps check for accurate colors, bleeds, and typography, but also follows up on all the points above. Even before that, we printed out and folded some “paper prototypes” of earlier mockups  to solicit feedback from senior management – as well as randoms on the street. Holding the physical (albeit fake) product in ones hand can help reveal more insights and spur more conversations.

All in all, “the box project” resurfaced some really important, yet fundamental, design principles for us here at Xobni – and gave our designers a new fun way to think about our world – even if just for a little while. It was fun while it lasted, but we’re happy to be back to our iterative, fast-paced work online!


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About Xobni

Xobni’s contact management products offer lightning fast email search and organization of your inbox, as well as an innovative and comprehensive address book for the mobile device.


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