Interview with Emil Ahdrian - Why we believe in E-commerce design

We had a chat with Emil Ahdrian, co-founder, partner and Creative Director at Grebban about the change of mindset within the world of e-commerce and why an e-commerce design focused agency will bring the best return of investment.

Hi Emil! You are a co-founder, partner and Creative Director at Grebban. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your history?

As a son of a teacher in furniture carpeting and a family councilor, our home was filled with a lot of craft, form and function compared with a lot of compassion and emotional awareness towards each-other. I believe that environment formed my creative and ponder personality, where I always seem to strive for some type of order emotionally and practically. It’s not because Im a structured person, it’s more a compensation for the contrary. Today this is what I love the most with my job, to find solutions to any type of challenge. To come up with (or help other people come up with) that single idea that instantly feels like the perfect direction. I think that is my way to break my somewhat confused mind, and add some alignment and structure to the world, or at least for me. Design is an emotional roller coaster, when its in place, I feel calm, when its up in the air, I’m more mentally in-stable. I remember when I studied Graphic Design and got the chance to meet Domenic Lippa at the Pentagram London HQ. After that I knew that design is something that I will work with for the rest of my life. It’s just a language I understand, and if I don’t, Im willing to work for it, its worth the fight!

You have been creating e-commerce design for over ten years now, what has changed since you started?

I think the biggest change can be paralleled with what happened to the advertising industry 30 years ago. Companies gave all their money to agencies for pure advertising. But somewhere on the road people understood the value of mixing commerce with brand. And that's where all the design agencies blew up. When I started my career 15 years ago, all I wanted was to run a classic design agency, focusing on branding. But when I came in contact with people from “the other side”, entrepreneurs, developers and experts on running business I was forced to shift my mentality. Back then, the brand experience and the e-com experience where separated. Today, they are the same experience. Brands come to us because we are the number one e-commerce agency for companies wanting to add instant value to their business today, AND for the long run. Back then e-commerce was all about UX, UI and to design a shop. Today e-com is all about CX, the full circle customer experience and all that comes with it. We have gone from designing shops to flagships. E-commerce has become the number one investment ahead of advertising and one stop branding, and we love to create that universe for our clients! From the small innovative functionality that draws people closer to the product, to building a community for fans and customers all over the world.

Grebban has become the no1 agency for e-commerce design (yay!) under your design leadership. What are some of the offerings around it we do, that you think many people don't know or understand yet?

When I listen to people from other agencies talk about their clients I feel that we are on another level when it comes to client commitment, and that means us being committed to them. We put our client on a pedestal. And what I mean by that is that we see design as a tool for great business, and to understand great business and how to add value to it, you must stay truly humble to other peoples knowledge. At Grebban we are not self-centered, we believe in our expertise in modern e-commerce and brand experiences, but we thrive through listening, learning and doing in that order. I also think the mix of disciplines under one roof is making us better e-commerce designers. The harmony between business, development, strategy and design at Grebban is an inspirational force.

We talk a lot about "Brand and Conversion in Harmony", why? And what does it mean?

When a classic design agency take long term decisions for their clients, and a traditional e-commerce agency focusing everything on the decisions in the present. We are experts in balancing those two in every decision we take. Our product is designed to raise the conversion AND the customer loyalty. When they align we believe we have given our clients the best return of investment they can get from a design focused agency today. We truly believe the two sides thrive on each-other, great business need both to become excellent.

"Our product is designed to raise the conversion AND the customer loyalty. When they align we believe we have given our clients the best return of investment they can get from a design focused agency today"


How does it work when our clients work with us as an e-commerce design agency and have another agency for tech, strategy etc.? What are the benefits, and how do we set up the projects for success?

Well, the benefits from my perspective is that we have the possibility to help the client much faster if our teams are choked. Pace is an important part of our offer, so that makes us more adaptable and easy to work with. We look at ourselves as partners to our clients but also to their existing partnerships with other agencies, platforms or third part solutions. Sometimes it’s just a better business fit to add Grebban for E-commerce Design rather than to start mixing with the whole setup that actually already works. We like to look beyond competitiveness that way, which makes it easier to find great timing to start up a project. We strive to be easy, not complex.

Give us some examples of e-commerce sites we have designed you're proud of!

It’s an interesting question, we have the privilege to work with some of Scandinavias most popular brands. Which makes every site unique. But I think the ones that I felt most proud of are the ones where we truly made positive impact for the client. When I see the numbers go through the roof for our Norwegian client Active Brands, or when we created such a beautiful on brand experience for Apohem I’m very proud. But of course it is an amazing feeling to have launched J.Linderbergs new Digital Identity at their new E-commerce Flagship Store. There are so many brand-related functional details on that site. Our team made an excellent job and the JL-team has been an amazing collaborator during the process. Many exciting things will continue to come from that partnership!

There are a lot of talks around design systems these days. What do you think about these and how does it compare to for example a digital identity, brand platform etc? What differs and why?

A brand manual is often a more brief way of presenting guidelines. And it’s a product that was invented in the print era. It’s a great thing, we do it a lot. But when it comes to the digital world. It’s is more often lacking than full-filling the need for guidance. What a Design System does is that it goes much deeper in the actual usage of the brand elements. And it is based on modern responsive module design. In that way we can deliver a waterproofed guide that is paralleled with the headless e-commerce product. Which helps the client keeping their brand tight during a long period of time, even if they make bigger e-commerce changes in the future. A Design System is not just laws, it's about accelerating the brand experience. It’s a tool to make your brand come to life.

Sometimes when we do e-commerce design, we also do a more extensive visual identity and updated customer journey online and offline. Why do we believe "e-commerce first branding" is a great idea and can you give us a few examples?

This is such a fun detail in our success story at Grebban. In the beginning, our offer more or less was designed by people with two different passions. E-commerce and Visual Identity. And now 10 years later we experience the combination as one of the hottest offers on the market. Our clients have to prioritize what’s important. And when they approach us they need the best tools possible for their number one sales platform. But almost every time their brand lack consistency or simply gone outdated. And that's where we give them an offer that is hard to find elsewhere. An example we just went live with is Teknikmagasinet, where the objective was a clean cut digital go live product, focusing on E-commerce, Digital Marketing and Social Media. It’s time to start focusing the brand experience on touch-points that is relevant. And that’s why we strongly recommend “E-commerce first branding”.

What (non-fiction) book or article do you recommend Grebban's followers to read?

As a parent of two little kids I struggle to find read time. But I would really recommend Rick Rubins book ‘The Creative Act: A Way of Being’. I believe Rubins voice is important in our hectic landscape. He touches some truly soulful insights. Pod-wise I would recommend ‘The BoF Podcast’ and ‘Real Creative Leadership


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