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Adobe Summit Recap: Designing a One-of-a-Kind PWA Experience With Melissa and Doug

20 Min Read
Morgan Hipps

In case you missed Corra’s Adobe Summit sessions this year, we put together a recap for you. In this session, we walk through the creative journey of building LifeLines.com with our lovely clients, Mellisa and Doug. Click here for our recap of PWA Technology Meets Prestige Skincare, a discussion with Elemis’ Senior Digital Experience Director, and Corra’s Chief Strategy Officer. 

ABOUT THIS SESSION

How do you design a digital experience inspired by the uniquely personal journey of one extraordinary individual? Certainly not with a handbook or templated theme. Melissa and Doug, the creators of their namesake toy empire, are onto their next venture: LifeLines.com, a digital ecosystem born from Melissa’s experience with existential depression and anxiety. Their mission? To guide a community of “Seekers” on their own path to self-acceptance. Hear Melissa passionately recall how her vision came to life with the help of Corra’s innovative team and Magento’s headless technology/PWA framework.

WE WILL COVER:

  • Advice from Doug on building something that’s never been done before
  • How Melissa reimagined content, commerce, and community in an entirely new way
  • How the LifeLines team quickly built the brand, business model, and user experience strategy from the ground up

 SNEAK PREVIEW (Watch the full video here)

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Duke:

Hi, everybody. Welcome to Designing a One-of-a-Kind PWA with Melissa and Doug. My name is Duke Marr, I am SVP of Digital Experience and Strategy at Corra and Adobe partner in a leading digital marketing agency. I would like to introduce you all to my clients and dear friends Melissa and Doug Bernstein.

Melissa:

Hello everyone. I’m Melissa.

Doug:

And I’m the lucky one Melissa married, Doug.

Duke:

Nice to meet you guys. So to get us started and ground our audience, I thought we could talk a little bit about that small little toy company that you guys built (I believe in a kitchen and a basement over 30 years). Doug, maybe you want to tell us a little bit about the history of Melissa and Doug.

Doug:

Well, we appreciate you calling it small little because that’s how we like to view it. Melissa and I have always said that the larger anything ever becomes or the larger we become, the smaller we want to act. And for Melissa and myself we tend to like to disrupt categories, we tend to like to be inventive and to re-imagine things and to do things differently than they’ve ever been done before. And that’s what we’ve done with Melissa and Doug. We really went into an industry that hadn’t seen products like ours, hadn’t seen things re-imagined the way we like to reimagine things, haven’t seen business models, distribution models and we’ve enjoyed every single second of it and we love it today. We’re still very active with Melissa and Doug both on the board and Melissa as Chief Creative Officer and we absolutely love everything we do with Melissa and Doug.

Duke:

Fantastic. Thank you for that. So in the 30 years you guys were building Melissa & Doug, Melissa can you speak a little bit about what else was going on with you both in that period of your life and before that got everything related to that when you started.

Melissa:

Yes. That’s a slightly darker story than making toys and a longer story but I’ll try to make it succinct. I just realized recently that I was born with a condition called existential anguish and depression. And basically that means from my very earliest sense I had a meaning crisis. I truly didn’t understand what the meaning of life was, why I was here and what I was meant to do while I was here. And even though I couldn’t voice those questions because they were so big and so difficult to even come to terms with myself of course, I never received those answers and really lived with this sense of unease with the sense of not rightness and not being at home in my body that plagued my every minute.

Melissa:

So what I did throughout my life, because I never felt that I could share this, I always felt odd that I’d never fit in but no one would understand me in this deep dark pain I was in. I really disassociated from feeling. And being a creative, I went into my imagination where I really lived most of my life with imaginary friends and anchored to perfectionism. I mean, really putting on this face that I was perfect. Things only started to change when I met Doug and even by accident we founded this toy company, Melissa & Doug.

Melissa:

Because that was the first time in my mid 20s that something very unique changed. For the first 25 years I did create, I always channeled this anguish into creativity and the problem though, was that it was dark creativity and it wasn’t anything that could be shared. So what I was doing was channeling darkness into more darkness. It never touched anyone and never brought me a sense of meaning. But when I started creating toys and realized actually that I could take this darkness, this terrible deep darkness and actually channel it into something as light and bright as toys, I felt truly this breathing tube had been jammed into my trachea and I knew what it meant to breathe fresh air for the very first time.

Duke:

So creativity was your salvation, your lifeline as would say. How did you go from designing these brilliant toys and getting sustenance and value from that to writing this big book?

Melissa:

So I think creating toys has been such a salvation and I’ve done it for 32 years and it gave me such a profound sense of joy. But even though I felt that incredible joy and was absolutely channeling the darkness into light there was still something really deep missing. And I realized it was the fact that I was still living a lie. That I wasn’t sharing the fact that beneath those happy, playful exuberant toys there was this deep, dark anguish that really fester and I had never shared with anyone. And I put on this facade that I was fine and I was perfect.

Melissa:

So that drum beat of my own soul to be seen authentically started to grow louder and louder. And I think as I neared middle age, a few dots started connecting that showed me that I was actually afflicted with this existential depression and along with it a lot of other characteristics, very common of highly creative people. And I think that knowledge that I actually had these characteristics that gave me the ability to create from white space really made me see that I didn’t want to hide in the shadows any longer.

Duke:

So you wrote the book and you decided to do something more with it. Can you tell us just a little bit about the first time you started to really share your story with the world.

Melissa:

So I had been listening to one of my favorite podcasts, the Good Life Project by this guy, Jonathan Fields. And I loved his guests. They were so deep and soulful. And he always talked about this book he loved called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. And I actually had this book in my bookshelf because I had read it in my 20s and I decided because he mentioned it so many times to read it again. And that’s really when the dots started connecting Viktor Frankl at the end of his concentration camp ordeal talks about getting into logotherapy, a form of existential analysis. And that made me stop in my tracks because when I looked up those words which I had never heard before they described me to a tee. So I decided right then and there that I had to be on this podcast and I had to expose my truth on this very podcast that had made me read Viktor Frankl.

Melissa:

So I went on the podcast basically for the first time ever, exposed the fact that I am afflicted with existential despair and these hypersensitivities very common in creative folks. And I received hundreds and hundreds of the most profound letters you can ever imagine. They were like drops of gold raining from the heavens because each one was so deep and powerful and meaningful. And I proceeded to contact every single one of them because I wanted them to know that they weren’t alone and we shared really clear feelings. The only difference in us really fascinatingly was that I found a way to channel my darkness into light and they were still in darkness. Many of them wondering if they should go on another day. So it was then after having these hundreds of conversations that I knew that I wanted to do something more and I wanted to spend the rest of my life really helping those who feel unheard, unseen, stigmatized, alone and show them that I too have suffered from these same feelings.

Duke:

So would it be fair to say that the Genesis of LifeLines, the ecosystem was about number one, a place to sell this book you’ve written but also to build a community. Can you talk a little bit about the community and little bit about what it means to be a Seeker.

Melissa:

Yes. So I think that the LifeLines ecosystem which is well beyond the book, the book is really just my story and showing my vulnerability so hopefully others can have the courage to show theirs as well. But the ecosystem is really based on three core tenets. The first is, you are not alone because having grown up thinking as a child that I was so alone, that no one would ever understand me or accept me in my eccentricities, I now know that is untrue, that was a fallacy in so many of us believe we’re alone and need to feel we’re not.

Melissa:

The second tenet is we all have the ability to turn our darkness into light. I never believed that. For 25 years I thought I was only darkness and I could only take this horrible darkness and channel it into more darkness which never brought any kinship or meaning but actually we all can take darkness. It can be the darkest of darkness and it can transform into light. And we want to show folks the pathway to do that. And then three is that we will not ever find true fulfillment or be at peace until we make the journey inward and accept ourselves in totality.

Duke:

Fantastic. So knowing the importance of community and the importance of really helping people like yourself, you guys came to Corra in September of 2020, I believe. And I think the brief basically was there’s a commerce component, there’s a huge content component and there’s a community, go. Did I miss anything Doug, was that basically where we started?

Doug:

Yes, but I don’t think we said go, I think we said are you finished yet?

Duke:

Yes, you did. So, let’s just walk through the site experience a little bit and talk about some of the individual components of what we worked on together the last several months. Let’s talk about the first time experience—somebody lands on lifeines.com for the first time. What do you guys want them to feel, what do you want them to take away, what is it about?

Melissa:

So one of the main differences between LifeLines and other wellness brands is we only have one promise and we really wanted to get that across. We wanted to get across that we are not a quick fix scheme. We’re not, do this and get better, 30 days to a new you. We wanted to be the antithesis of that. We wanted to promise our Seekers one thing: you are not alone. And that’s really the only thing we can promise but the thing we feel most equipped to offer them because we are all Seekers ourselves and we’ve all been there, we’ve been to these deep dark places and we know how it feels to feel that no one understands you.

Duke:

Absolutely. So in terms of our work together, Doug, I know we designed this home page a couple of times and I can still hear you’re saying to me that when we took our first crack it’s like you did that in Squarespace, no knock against Squarespace. And it took us a while to come back to the concept we had here with the cinemagraphs and the falling leaf. What was that process like for you guys?

Doug:

For us, it’s interesting because when you hear Melissa sharing her story, I can’t help but laugh as I recall coming to you and saying, yes, I know you do a lot of Ecom but this is really going to be something that’s going to tell a story and it’s going to get across the point that you are not alone and you could turn darkness to light and you’d go on a journey. And so we knew from the beginning, and as I mentioned with Melissa and Doug, we knew from the beginning that everything we do, we approach very non conventionally. So we knew that in selecting a partner it was going to help us bring this to life. It had to be the ultimate, the ultimate in terms of a place that could imagine with us, that is full of creativity, that has creativity oozing out, that isn’t afraid to step out to try something different to go with us.

Doug:

Who’s great listeners, who really hear what we want to do, because after all we weren’t walking in and saying, we have to sell more blue widgets because we’re blue widgets today. But we weren’t walking in and saying that, we were saying, we want to tell a really important story. So for us from that very first moment when we met and we met with so many amazing people at Corra, we knew right away, these people really get it. They really want this, they really want to make a difference, they really want to think about things creatively. And Duke when you followed up after that first meeting that we had and you said how much this means to you personally and how you want to be involved every single step of the way and Rachel chimed in and she said the exact same thing. Like we knew that this was going to be the right partnership.

Duke:

It was a wonderful moment, it truly was. And I think I speak on behalf of everyone at Corra who’s just been so delighted to be involved with this initiative because it’s truly mission-based. I mean, I know LifeLines is going to sell many things, not necessarily blue widgets but that’s not what’s core to what it’s about, that’s almost secondary and it’s been a great joy so far. Melissa, let’s talk a little bit about the hike and about the hike as I see it almost an educational journey of self-help and to really trying to understand yourself and,

Duke:

Yes, exactly. I mean, Melissa can you talk to us a little about it, because this is really the heart and soul of the digital experience right here. What should people who hear this broadcast and are curious about LifeLines, if they go to start the hike, what should they expect? 

Melissa:

Well, first let me say how magical it is every single time I see this on the screen because, Hey, I’m a product designer so I imagine things in my head and bring them to reality every day. But I don’t think anything in my entire career of making close to 10,000 products has ever been as emotional as seeing this journey come to life. Because this journey was a journey I metaphorically took myself. I mean, this is the journey I took to self-acceptance and self-awareness and I found it so meaningful and so profound and it changed my life to such an extent that we wanted to recreate it for Seekers on the website. So to see it actually come to life is nothing short of extraordinary.

Melissa:

So I think we envisioned this journey as really the acronym of the word space because for me, my personal journey involved creating this vast space between my head and my heart. My head was a prison and really always controlled my heart. And that’s why I was in such anguish my whole life but when I was able to create that space between the two, I was much more able to look at my head objectively and say, no, no, no, no, no, you are not going to tell me those lies, I know the truth. So that’s what we’re really trying to get our secrets to do through stopping their movement and becoming present in their hearts. They are able through a whole series of exercises that we are taking them through on this journey, they are able to gain that perspective that allows them to see their heads much more non reactively and objectively.

Duke:

So there’s a lot of rich content within the site, some of that is to be absorbed, some of it’s to be interacted with, there’s meditation videos and trail teachings that are encouraging you to go off in the real world and do things. It’s a journey that we think is probably going to take Seekers probably quite a while to get through or at least a few visits. It’s not a one and done kind of thing, right?

Melissa:

It’s not, I mean, honestly I’ve used the journey as lifelong and I continue to take the journey over and over and over again because as you become more and more conscious and more and more aware the view changes. I write a verse, you could walk a path 100 times and see it differently every single time. So I think it’s a contiguous trail, S connects to P connects to A connects to C connects to E. But then once you’re finished you end up right back where you started back at the trail head of that. And you can choose to leave the trail and go on and ignite your sparks and live your life or you can decide to go back through again and again and again. And I think these exercises that we’ve created are open-ended enough that every time you do them they will be different.

Doug:

I think one of the things that’s really amazing about this is, and you mentioned it even with the homepage and re-imagining that and making that even more immersive and coming back with more thoughts and more ideas. But I think the amazing thing about this is that it’s the nuances, the details, the thought that goes into is what really makes this so special because this is not something that you can just piece together. We said from the beginning and you’ve agreed so fully with us that like most websites, we are going to have a currency that we trade in. And we said that the currency that’s going to be meaningful to us here it’s not going to be the traditional currency it’s going to be the number of letters we generate, the number of emails, the number of live chats, the number of phone calls from people who are benefiting from this ecosystem. And that’s a really challenging currency to achieve.

Duke:

That’s a great point. And I think it gets back to the bedrock. This is about building a community more than anything else. While we’re on the hike, Melissa, as Seekers are going down each of the betrayals, they have a backpack which is the way I see it as their workspace to organize the things that they encounter and then the tools and the lesson that they learn. Can you speak a little bit about the backpack and maybe talk about both sides of the backpack.

Melissa:

Yes. I love the fact that this became a rich world for our community members, our Seekers to really exist within. And within that world were actual products that you would take with you on your hike. And the first really is the backpack. And the backpack we actually have a name for we call it the inward and onward backpack because the journey at LifeLines is all inward; it’s to stop racing out there and go inward. And then they’re two sides of our metaphorical backpack. One side is meaning and the other side is practice because meaning plus practice equal fulfillment. So we even created little things along the way that you will put in your backpack or take out of your backpack. So the meaning side of the backpack starts with all these leaves, and these leaves are the burdens that you’ve put on your entire life.

Melissa:

They’re your coping mechanisms, they are defense mechanisms, they are compensations. And we actually have the ability on the hike to take these leaves and drag them into our backpack and even create our own leaves. One of my biggest ones is mistrust, and I can even personalize a leaf on this hike and put it in my backpack and then along the hike, as you do these teachings you will be able to leave these leaves on the trail which is crazy. You will also be able to pick up what we have as acorns. They’re actual acorns that are these pearls of insight and wisdom that you gained through the trail teachings.

Melissa:

That you’ll be able to drag into your backpack and keep them in the meaning section of your backpack. And then the last piece of the backpack is pine cones. And we have these pine cones which are the trail teachings and become part of the practice side. If there’s a trail teaching that you really enjoyed and you want to make it part of your ongoing practice at the end of the journey, you can drag that into your practice side of the backpack and that can become a teaching that you use again and again and again. So it’s pretty incredible and we do intend to make this an actual product at some point that younger people can even use to really help illustrate this journey that they’re on.

 

Duke:

Fantastic. Let’s talk quickly about my favorite part of the whole ecosystem which is the moon complex. What is this about?

Melissa:

Yes. So I think you know the journey really involves accepting ourselves in totality which means accepting that we are a full emotional spectrum of feeling. And I think we spoke very early on about feelings and how important they are. And how many of us are so disassociated from feeling that we can’t even understand what we’re feeling and where we’re feeling it. So we agreed that this would be the most incredible tool if we can have a compass because of course a compass is your guide along a journey. And this compass could actually become fixed to the front of your backpack so that on the journey we could actually use a cursor and mark where we are on this emotional spectrum. And if we think of the midpoint in this circle as equanimity, we could really begin to track our emotions and feelings and moods over time and begin to see, which was so profound for me to begin to see that I’m actually not only dark.

Melissa:

If you would have asked me as a child, I would have said I’m at the very bottom. I’m at the low bottom because I am pure darkness, there is no light in my being. It was really my mind that made me believe that. But if I actually tracked my emotions over a period of time I will see quite differently that I’m actually very much up and down and when I look at it the shock is I’m actually overtime if you average it out really right in the middle. And I think for many of us who were afflicted to see that we’re not as low as we believe we are is really profound or even more importantly, when we go to a low that we inevitably rise back up is also profound because then we are not as terrified when we go there and we don’t feel that need to wallow in.

Duke:

I mean, we love to say here at Corra, it’s one of our, we probably say it too often. You cannot change what you do not measure and we cannot understand what you do not measure so that the intent, I think it’s going to be so phenomenal here with the mood compass. It’s just the ability for Seekers to understand their patterns and to understand what was happening in their lives when they were particularly up or down or in the middle of our economos as we like to say as well. I think it’s going to be a really profound tool.

Melissa:

I do, too.

Duke:

So Doug, let’s talk about what’s next. What is the future of LifeLines? What can we expect to see from this very different wellness brand?

Doug:

I wish we knew. This was truly just the beginning. This is Melissa’s 8th birth. Now have six amazing children and Melissa & Doug was our wonderful birth number seven, and this is our wonderful birth number eight, our final.

Duke:

You say that now…

Doug:

And we do view this very much as the beginning. Up from here there are so many ideas we have, so many places that we want to go and it’s all driven by one thing which is how many people can we help, how many people can we touch. And I think the beauty of this and the reason why we’re so happy with where it’s come already and we’re so happy to continue and to continue various iterations with you, Duke, and with the Corra team, is because throughout this whole process and every single session we’ve had, there has not been a single time when we’ve had a meeting or we’ve had a review session, we’ve done anything where it felt to us like it was business or it felt to us like there was something transactional about it.

Doug:

We’ve always known that every single person from Corra has really felt the importance of what we’re doing and has really helped write this story with us, and has wanted to bring this to life with every bit of the passion that we have. And that is what’s enabled us to get to where we are now, because if our partner viewed this as just business, it never could have happened. These elements can only come together if there’s an incredible marriage and an incredible partnership, where we’re waking up with that same excitement.

Every single person from Corra has felt the importance of what we’re doing, and really helped write this story with us. They have wanted to bring this to life with every bit of the passion that we have.

DOUG BERNSTEIN, COFOUNDER, LIFELINES

Doug:

We’re excited to continue this partnership and take this many places. We’ve laid some foundation. You’ve advised us to work with the gold standard in terms of technology, right out of the starting gate by suggesting that we work with Adobe. There are many ways that we could have done this but we’re so happy that we’ve gone with the gold standard because that’s what’s going to enable us to take this in many new directions without slowing down.

Duke:

I think for everyone at Corra your story is so inspiring. I think of you both as iconic in a lot of ways and you’re individuals who really want to approach the world differently. And I think everyone at Corra has felt very inspired by that, to be honest. Speaking of the technology, since we are here at Adobe Summit, I do want to speak just a moment about the technology we’re using, Lifelines.com is being built as a Progressive Web App (PWA) with a headless architecture.

Duke:

So that means we’re going to get fast load times, app like experiences, we’ll be able to add the website to your home screen on phones, all sorts of great things. But I think what inspires me the most about the decision to go this way is, because it is a headless architecture, we can then apply that back end and Adobe Commerce to other instances and other usages in certain circumstances, such as a physical space where LifeLines might have a retreat of some sort, or I think the mood compass, in particular, lends itself to being a smartwatch device very well. Do you guys share that vision in going into directions like that in the future as well?

Doug:

Those are just the beginning. Those are all on the list of things that will come, and many more. And I think that you’re right, that was the importance of building it the way that we built it. It’s built not for today, but for tomorrow.

LifeLines.com is built on a headless architecture so that it’s future-proof. It’s built not for today, but for tomorrow. 

DOUG BERNSTEIN, COFOUNDER, LIFELINES

Duke:

So let’s close today. I would just love to open this up to you both to talk about what advice you have for other creatives and other entrepreneurs as well as especially creative entrepreneurs who may want to build a business out of an idea that most people would think couldn’t be a business. What advice would you have for other people like yourselves. Imagine yourselves back in your early 20s when you’re in that kitchen and you’re like, you know, what would you say to your young self, if you could go back.

Doug:

Well, there wasn’t any technology when, so this is hard to do. Well, we would tell everyone, pursue your passions and really believe in something, if you really believe in it, it makes it a lot more fun and a lot easier to do. Choose your partners well because that’s who you’re going to spend a lot of time with whether it be my primary partner in life which is Melissa. We’ve been together ever since right out of school. And we started our first venture together, Melissa and Doug while dating. And whether it be your business partners you choose. And I think that one of the reasons why we’re so happy with our choice of Corra is because we couldn’t possibly have had better partners. And we view it as we’ve also created a lot of new friendships and people that we know we’re going to be friends with for a very long time.

Doug:

And we share our excitement together for what we’re about to accomplish together and the people we are about to touch. So, I would say it has been most important throughout our business career to choose our partners very thoughtfully. Because that’s what really determines the outcome more than anything. I should say that even in this process we did meet with a lot of people. We do a lot of homework, and honestly, once we narrowed down the field, we met with 10 or 15 agencies. And every single one of them had terrific technical capabilities and absolutely could have done what we needed to do on a technical basis. For us, what the difference was though, we wanted to find the people behind the technology, we wanted to find what was the heart and soul of the team, and that was most important to us.

I would say it has been most important throughout our business career to choose our partners very thoughtfully. Because that’s what has really determined the outcomes of our companies more than anything.

DOUG BERNSTEIN, COFOUNDER, LIFELINES

Duke:

Well, thank you for that. Thank you, Melissa. This has been wonderful to spend this time together and we’re all really looking forward to continuing this journey together and seeing how the digital ecosystem of LifeLines progresses.

Read more about the new site in our blog post, Corra’s Most Innovative Launch yet: Announcing LifeLines, Melissa and Doug’s New Venture. Or visit LifeLines.com to view the site and sign up to enjoy the full suite of free features and functionalities that Corra brought to life.

Corra’s Most Innovative Launch yet: Announcing LifeLines, Melissa and Doug’s New Venture

Morgan Hipps

Morgan is the Content Associate at Corra. She enjoys bringing tech-speak to life through storytelling and content strategy. Her favorite topics to write about are the innovative customer experiences of leading fashion and lifestyle brands.

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Corra is the global digital agency that leading brands and B2B organizations trust to accelerate their growth. Working at the intersection of commerce technology and customer experience strategy, we deliver comprehensive digital solutions that convert and retain customers in the long term.

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