1. Web Design
  2. Workflow

Magento Project Guidelines for Designers

Read Time:18 minsLanguages:

Welcome to this, a collection of guidelines on designing for Magento. We're going to get to know the platform, by walking through each of the aspects you'll need to consider in your designs.

The purpose of this guide is to raise awareness of designing for a specific purpose and technology (Magento), while implementing general best practices for e-commerce design.


Who should read this? Well, everyone involved in creating Magento e-commerce experiences, meaning: The designer, web-developer and finally the client. Educating everyone about the process, platform and the approach is essential.

It's Magento

Magento as a framework is now three years old and even at the beginning it had one huge advantage over the competition (besides being the powerhouse it is and its marketing): a well designed default theme which exposed its possibilities loud and clear. In fact, the Modern theme alone made me take a better look into the whole framework making it my profession today.

The point is that just by installing Magento you get years of experience, testing and best practices in e-commerce. Whether you take a look at the product page, catalog page, or the whole checkout process, good foundations are already laid out for you. It's not all appropriate for every shop of course, and that's where you come in.

In this guide I'll go through all of the important page views in Magento

It's necessary to go through the whole shopping experience to get the feel for the platform you're designing for. The best way to do that would be to visit the demo store after reading this guide and to go through the process of shopping for products, searching for a specific product, reviewing the process of checking out as a registered or unregistered customer.

The next step would be really putting yourself in the position of the store owner by going into the administration panel to get a perspective of how settings and inputs from the administration panel affect the front-end.

In this guide I'll cover important aspects of designing the user experience by going through all of the important page views in Magento. By doing so, you'll have a complete outlook on the store, making it easy to keep track of project progress, and it will help you present your design decisions/propositions to the client.

Let's begin...

Main Parts of the Store

There are several major sections that need to be covered with each Magento design:

  • CMS pages
  • Category product listing page
  • Product view page
  • User login/register page - (logged or guest view)
  • User account page
  • Checkout process

In order to fully grasp the sections mentioned above it's advisable to go over to the Magento demo store and take some time to explore both the front-end and the back-end. At the bottom of the demo page there are three choices for Front-end, back-end and then the multi-store demo for the Magento Community Edition.

Home page

Home Page screenshotHome Page screenshotHome Page screenshot

Home page is the store front and should always address both newcomers and regular customers, registered or unregistered, with your store to keep them informed and engaged.

One of the best practices is to display featured and new products for loyal customers, besides displaying main product categories for newcomers. Presenting users with clearly defined options that engage instantly is the key, although finding the balance is actually hard work that involves real data testing. Luckily, you can always use different layouts and content variations while doing A/B testing and see what works.

This is also an excellent place to state the not so obvious: Shipping availability, Secure shopping, Info about the shopping process, links to store policies and so on. Everything that can resolve doubts, answer questions is welcome. In return, it ensures a good relationship from the start.

I won't go into detail about this particular page since there are a lot of articles addressing this challenge already.

Category Page

Demo URL: Category page

Category pageCategory pageCategory page

The belly of your store needs extra attention. This is where your catalog has to shine from both an architectural and front-end standpoint. You can't afford to have to go back and re-design the whole thing just because your shop inventory wasn't set properly, attributes, categories, prices etc. I'll address this either as "Catalog design" or "Catalog Architecture"

Assuming you've set your product catalogue with care and attention you'll now have these important aspects of the page to care of next:

Product Filtering

  • Grid view
  • List view

Presume you'll need both down the road, it's important to design both these views.

Product Sorting

This is a feature which reflects how well the "Catalog Design" has been carried out, and you'll need to pay extra attention to the needs of your customers if you intend to empower them to find what they're looking for.

By default in Magento, sorting the products in a category and its respective subcategories is done by way of a drop-down containing the list of attributes you've set to be sortable in the admin panel.

From a usability point of view, you should consider customizing this one by removing the need for that "arrow" which is used for ascending and descending the values.

Tip: It's only a few hours of extra work but it pays of to have the options of "A-Z" and "Z-A" listed one below the other than using an extra unintuitive click for that.


Sooner or later you'll have to deal with: "Special prices", "Tier prices", "From-to" display of prices, "Price as configured", so it's better to have those planned already in wireframes. Prices have their own section later on in this article.


Besides all of the data for a single product listing on the category page here, ratings are another aspect that needs to be planned ahead early in the wireframes, or at least at the design stage.

They are particularly interesting since their visibility can be set on a permission level so that only registered users can actually review. This creates different versions of the page based on viewing permissions.

Category page is also the perfect place to tag products that are "On Sale", "Hand Picked" or perhaps "Coming Soon" with some nice looking informative graphics.

Product Page

With Magento you have 6+3 product types at your disposal, where those +3 are placed across the store as "Up-Sell", "Cross-Sell" or "Related" products.

You need to know the platform you're designing for

It is essential to discuss what types of products will be used in the store, so that you can effectively design for the particular ones.

At this stage, designing the product page, this is the moment you'll really need to get yourself acquainted with the layout and template structure if you haven't already. Alternatively, consult with Magento experts about what implications your design will have on developing the actual page.

Simple Product

Demo URL: Nokia 2610 Phone - Product page

The following elements of the "Simple Product" are, in general, common to all product types:

Tip:Use "Firebug" or "Web inspector" to take a look at the elements on the actual demo page for yourself.

  • Product essential box
  • Product collateral box

Product essential box

  • Product image box
    • Product image
    • Image Zoom slider
    • More views - image thumbnails
  • Product shop
    • Ratings box
    • Availability box
    • Price box
    • Add to box - holding add to cart button and "Add to wishlist" and "Add to compare"
    • Quick Overview box

Product collateral box

This section of the product page is dedicated for the "Details", "Up sell products", "Reviews", "Tags" etc.

One Magento quirk here is the "Reviews" which was is shown to the user after a page reloads, replacing all other content in the collateral box. Bear this one in mind while designing, or check out these articles on how to make it work for you out of the "default" template content flow.

Simple Product with Custom Options

Demo URL: Simple Product with options

Simple product with custom options adds an options section with "Add to Cart" box placed inside, since the product's acquisition depends on both required and non required options. This must be kept in mind since this page has to be updated in the design for the simple product.

Price can be set as "Special price" or "Regular price" in which case both need to be addressed in the design. Also, there is an option of Tier pricing which is explained in the Magento knowledge base.

Bundle Product

Demo URL: Bundle Product

The Bundle product page has a similar layout to the simple product, with the exception of the price that can be displayed as "From/To" and "As low as", and with the addition of "The price as configured.

In Bundled product types, there are also differences in the General and Prices pages, as follows:

Bundle Items: Bundled Items appear in the store as a list of available options. For each option you can configure the title, input type (single and multiple selection fields are available), whether the field is mandatory (for example: it can be True for a computer processor and False for an additional battery of a laptop computer) and its position on the page.

Price View: Specifies whether the product's price is shown as a range, from the least expensive component to the most expensive (Price Range), or is only the least expensive shown (As Low As).

Grouped Product

Demo URL: Grouped Product

The only significant difference when compared to the "Simple Product" page view is that all the products of a group are presented inside a table.

Configurable product

Demo URL: Configurable product

This product type page has the configurable product options in form of a drop down similar to the ones seen on the "Bundle product".

Downloadable Product

Demo URL: Downloadable Product

The layout is very similar to the layout of the "Simple Product" and has the "Sample" feature that provides a link to the downloadable portion of the actual "Downloadable product".

After the purchase, customers can download the product from the checkout page.

If you haven't already, you should get to know all the products inside-out by going through the Magento documentation and exploring the inner workings of the layouts and templates.

The main point of listing each and every "Product Type" page view is that you'll need to pay attention to where you place the actual "Buy button" in your designs. As a logical rule of thumb, it should always be positioned after all the choices and options are listed. Common mistakes like placing an extra "Buy button" both on top and the bottom of the product page are usability and technical nightmares, yet I've seen such examples backed by the "The button is way below the fold" reasoning or worse.

This example is an extreme one but it illustrates well what happens if the design strays from the path of usability or just breaks the function of the page.

One other common case is when the product is out of stock, yet is still visible in the store. In that case the "Add to cart" section is not displayed. This needs to be addressed in the design as well.

Up Sell, Cross Sell and Related Products

As mentioned at the beginning of this "Product types" section, they are not special by type, but by placement on the page or the site section.

Up Sell products

Demo URL: Up Sell Product

Up sell products are displayed on the product page in the product description. This example presents a more expensive keyboard and other products as up-sells to the less expensive keyboard.

Cross sell products

Demo URL: (Add something to Cart first) Cart Page

Cross-sell products appear next to the shopping cart by default. When a customer navigates to the shopping cart page (whether automatically after adding a product or otherwise), these products are displayed as cross-sells to the items already in the shopping cart.

Cross-sell products can be seen as impulse purchases, like magazines and candy at the cash registers in grocery stores.

It's advisable to use this space in situations when there's no cross sell product (not available, out of stock and so on) for a store banner, message to the customer and the like.

Product types and Price(s)

This is the point where I'll need to make a recap of the product types and various price options. Please refer to Magento documentation afterwards.

Types of products:

  • Simple product and Simple product with options
  • Grouped product
  • Bundle product and "Bundle" with options
  • Configurable product and "Configurable" with options
  • Downloadable product and "Downloadable" with options
  • Virtual product and "Virtual" with options

Types of prices:

  • Regular price
  • Special price
  • From/to price
  • Price as configured
  • Tier prices

Every product can have a special price in addition to the regular price. Also, a special price can be set to start and expire on a desired date.

"From/to" and "Price as configured" are displayed on a bundle product where the price is ranged from the item with the lowest price up to the item with the highest price in the bundle. On the category page there will be only a "From/to" price displayed for the same product.

Tier pricing is a promotional tool that lets you price items differently for higher quantities. This is an effective way to move more merchandise.

For example: you sell office supplies and you want to create a promotion where customers who buy three boxes of printer paper save money compared to buying just one box.

Next we'll go through the "Cart page" thus getting one step closer to the actual Checkout process.

Shopping Cart

Demo URL: (Add something to Cart first) Cart

Obviously, there are two states of the Cart : Empty and Populated.

Populated Cart

Here we have the page laid out in two rows. The first being the table displaying all the products waiting to be purchased. Below them we'll usually have the "Cross Sell" products (see "Cross Sell" products), Discount codes, Shipping and Tax and finally the checkout section with subtotals, grand totals and the "Proceed to checkout" button.

In brief:

  • Shopping cart
  • Cross sell box
  • Discount & shipping & checkout button

The shopping cart is a table displaying the cart items with class names for alternating the styles of each table row. This helps distinguish products from each other when there are more then 4 products in the cart.

Cross sell box appears only if the product has an cross sell product or products are assigned from the store admin panel. Please see the Cross Sell page.

Shipping & Discount codes with the Checkout button are placed inside a div (.cart-collateral-block) and since they contain input fields which are displaying error messages those need to be designed too.

Empty Cart

The empty cart page is displayed when there are no products in the cart, so it's a great opportunity to make it valuable to the user by designing it with some call to action content. You can place a category listing, Advanced search box and/or provide the link back to the last Catalog page visited.

Checkout (One page)

Demo URL: (Add something to Cart first) One page Checkout

There are two main sections in the "One checkout page":

  • "Your checkout progress" - displays checkout progress
  • "Main content" - Checkout steps in tabs
    • Checkout Method
    • Billing Information
    • Shipping Information
    • Shipping Method
    • Payment Information
    • Order Review

The purpose of the "One page" checkout is to avoid the "many steps" feeling you would get if every part of the checkout process from the "Main Content" was on a separate page. Therefore, here we have all the steps combined on one page and the data is passed back and forth to the server via AJAX.

Unless you're challenged with creating a fully customized checkout it's strongly advisable to just "skin" this part.

By doing so you'll get fewer headaches with development and it will be easily upgradable in the future (something to advise the client for sure).

One possible change in behavior of "tabs" is to make them visible one at a time and use CSS3 or JavaScript animation for sliding for the next or previous step. Of course, you'll still need the "Progress indicator" which can be set on top of the checkout steps indicating all the steps in the process and highlighting the current one.

Finally, once the order has been placed, Magento will display the "Success Page" and that's a great candidate for adding extra information about the purchase, product shipment date, order summary and maybe some incentives to continue shopping which are more engaging than the plain old "Continue Shopping" button.

If things don't go as planned with the checkout, well, then the user gets an error message which we'll go through next.

Message Boxes

In Magento all of the contextual interaction between the user and the store is handled by message boxes. Message boxes can have "Error Messages" or "Success Messages" presented to the user.

Since these interactions are an essential part of the user experience their design and placement should be considered as a priority and not as an after thought.

Error message example in context:

Success Message example after submitting valid data:

Error Message example after submitting non-acceptable data:

Notice Message example after submitting data:

Primary consideration should be the placement of message boxes minding layout and context.

Design should be pretty straightforward, since they only need to fit into the look and feel of the site.


Demo URL: Search result

Magento's built-in search function on the frontend has three ways of searching for products:

  • Regular search - using the search box
  • Catalog Advanced search - using a separate page with options for the search settings
  • Search with Autocomplete - search with automatically suggested results

It should definitely be a key factor in every online store strategy. That's why you'll need to pay special attention when designing the page for the following:

No Results page

What will the user get to see besides the default "Message box" informing that nothing was found?

Will you provide them with suggestions in case of a misspelled word, and/or an advanced search page where your regular informed or savvy users can search by SKU among other criteria?

Advanced Search

Advanced search form

Advanced search results

Search Autocomplete

404 page

Demo URL: There's nothing to see...

The 404 page comes as default with Magento but, just like the favicon, it can slip through the cracks and not get the attention it deserves. Being a CMS page you can plan for the "Oh No!" user scenario by making it less stressful and provide emergency strategy for the user.

Sidebar Blocks

I'm using the "Sidebar blocks" term for everything that appears outside of the main content, for example, in two or three column layout templates.

  • Layer navigation
  • Currency selector
  • Newsletter
  • Popular Tags
  • Poll
  • Product Comparison
  • Related Products
  • My Cart

There's no need to go into detailed description for each, I rather just listed them for everyone to serve as a reminder.

My Account and Transactional Emails

My Account

Woohoo! We finally got to the part that in the end matters the most.

The My Account area of the site is what users will regard as their own place to get all they need concerning the status of their orders, shipment and any other feature that you have in store for them.

It's a great place to establish trust between the customer and the store, avoiding unnecessary communication by informing registered users about each and every aspect of their shopping experience.

Designing the "My Account" area without any real data about customer needs is tricky, but try to search for inspiration on other sites by becoming their customers or pinpoint what's good and the bad about the stores you're already registered to.

Transactional Emails

These are the PR and Customer Relations' right hand. For every order that's been placed, shipment or general inquiry being sent to the customer each of these represents the store and determines how well it's perceived.

You should have the designs for these emails ready before the launch since they need to blend in with the rest of the brand's visual identity.

Luckily, Magento allows you to have complete control over them. You can find answers in one of my older posts.


I realize this one was a bit of a long read so I'm listing some of the highlights and important stuff at the end.

You should come back as often as you can and refer to this article as a sort of general guide or a reminder when discussing projects and during design.

General guidelines

  • Get to know the platform - you'll need that for your designs to work
  • Shopping experience - It's invaluable. Get one.
  • Consult Magento experts - Prompt feedback when in doubt
  • Think - Back and forth: As a customer, store owner and developer

Design deliverables

These are recommendations regarding your PSDs delivered to a developer or a client. It would also be great to use some kind of a "Cloud Service" like "Dropbox" for sharing.

  • One PSD - Organize in Layer Comps or Layer Groups
  • Add notes - Describe What, Where, How and Why when needed
  • Define Colors - This one is extremely helpful when coding CSS
  • Define hover, visited, active and normal states for links

This is it. You've come to the end of the article and will hopefully use these guidelines in your project. Be aware that you can always come back and reference it when you need to.

Remember, nobody notices what you do until you don't do it.

Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.