Creating premium digital shopping experiences with Aino Agency
An interview with David Hellsing, founder and CEO at the digital design agency Aino, talking about Aino's approach to building sites, the meaning of frictionless e-commerce and next generation consumer behaviours.
David, thanks for having a chat with us! Could you start by telling us more about your background and what led you to found Aino?
I was born and raised in Gothenburg and started programming already as a child on a Commodore 64. I made games, demos and enjoyed hacking into existing systems after school. In my late teens, I got into graffiti, electronic music, and digital drawing which led me to study graphic design and film in High School. This was the mid‑nineties, and when the internet became a thing I had already been designing and programming on computers for many years.
I worked as a graphic designer for a few years in Oslo, London, and Copenhagen right after high school before turning back to Gothenburg to start my own company around 2005. University was never my thing, I preferred “learning by doing” in the real world.
I made lots of websites from scratch in the following years, both as an internet entrepreneur and for various clients before starting Aino around 2010. After signing clients like Nudie Jeans and Forsman & Bodenfors early on, we set an ambition to become the best special unit for producing premium digital experiences for creative brands and organizations in Sweden.
Aino has taken a quite unique approach to building powerful e‑commerce experiences. Can you tell us a little more about the agency, the team, and your approach to building sites for brands?
E‑commerce quickly became natural for us as we saw great potential for brands to build strong consumer relationships online through a premium digital shopping experience. It is the most natural touchpoint for new customers that only just heard about the brand through retailers, marketplaces, or social media.
Our team puts high emphasis on the perfect shopping experience by combining the very best technology with a design that truly extends the brand into the digital space. We were early adopters of API‑based architecture because of the decoupled visual freedom it gave us, and our e‑commerce sites have been used as industry benchmarks for many years.
What makes a good e‑commerce site stand out? What should a brand invest in?
For us, it’s about all the small things combined into a total experience of a happy consumer state. E‑commerce is not a project that can be finished, it should constantly evolve and improve itself to build loyal long‑term customer relationships. Brands should invest in partners that can help them build these relationships through an impeccable shopping experience that never breaks and always stays fresh.
Tell us a little bit more about the process – how does a typical project look when you take on a new client, from the first meeting to a live website?
We usually start off with a mood meeting to get to know each other better before diving into a typical process, architecture suggestions, timeline, and long‑term budget. When the solution is orchestrated and modules are set we start a visionary creative process of sketching out north‑star blueprints that can hold our hands throughout the project.
We help our clients with just about everything to realize their vision, including things like content strategy, photography direction, and choosing the right technology partners. We are visually driven, with a passion for building future‑proof technology that can present the brand and products in the very best way possible.
How do you measure a successful project? Can you give us an example?
In short, it’s all about our client’s success. Our sites are often copied and used as good examples which I think is pretty cute. Awards and champagne are nice things but we prefer to stay low‑key and let our customers take credit. We are also data‑driven in a sense to create effective traffic for conversion, but we are no analytics experts (fortunately we have partners for that). Testing is done all the time throughout the project, with an intensified period around launch.
Is there a particular project you are extra proud of? Why?
Nudiejeans.com has long been an industry benchmark for what can be done with headless e‑commerce for brands. We have been working with their team for over 10 successful years through various platforms and frameworks. They have always stayed true to their values and never stops investing in new technology, design, and great content.
Image description: Aino has built nudiejeans.com from the ground up
We know that Aino are experts at “frictionless e‑commerce”. Can you tell us a little bit more about what frictionless e‑commerce means and your approach to that?
Friction is what stands in the way for consumers to reach a happy state. It can be compared to disturbance when trying to concentrate. On a website, it could be almost anything annoying, like slow speed, bugs, poor design, or bad UX. Our approach is to eliminate friction in all its forms to unlock useful heuristics that subconsciously inspire the user emotionally without having to think. We want to bring back the beauty of perfection where everything just “feels right” — eliminating friction is our way of reaching that goal.
What are your plans for Aino as an agency in the future? You’ve made some recent recruitments to the team, are you planning on growing the team more or will you keep it tight‑knit?
We want to be the best — not the biggest, so definitely tight‑knit in the foreseeable future. It is true that we have grown from 3‑4 people to around 10 in a couple of years, but we are not one of those companies that counts people as trophies. We have been blessed with some of the best talents in the industry to our team and everyone is equally valuable to us. As a company, we are driven by values and a strong, generous family‑like culture where we stand up for each other and what is right, no matter what.
Image description: Aino's office is located at Victoriagatan 2A in Gothenburg
Finally, the e‑commerce industry is moving faster than ever. What are your predictions for the future? What do brands need to do to keep a competitive edge?
E‑commerce is still young and new DTC brands can still make a good short‑term profit by doing standard templates and aggressive growth strategies. But we believe that next‑ generation consumers will demand more from an online brand. They seek belonging, trust, and want to be a part of something bigger. So it will be even more important for brands to not only make sure their products are sustainable and smart, but the brand itself also needs to have honest, strong values and beliefs.
It is easy to forget these days, but branding is not just about growth, it is about making fans. And you can only do that by making some enemies on the way. For e‑commerce, we believe in building online communities around the shopping experience and having a real voice as a brand in that space. We also believe that members‑only clubs might be the only way to collect quality data from customers in the future.