Artfully Aging Faces Challenges but Sees Opportunity

Artfully Aging provided watercolor painting programs for retirement and assisted living communities in the St. Louis area. For years, they would lead in-person painting classes. The benefits to these senior participants are enormous. Residents improve their memory and fine-motor skills, and the classes foster a since of community. But when COVID-19 hit, and they were no longer able to teach in-person, they had to quickly pivot its business. Knowing how effective their programs were, Artfully Aging believed that an online platform could reach residents across the country. With the help of Alliance Systems, Artfully Aging come up with a new marketplace model based around an e-commerce store.

A New Business for a New World

Finding the right business model is always a critical component of any startup. Using Design Thinking, Alliance Systems helped Artfully Aging refine their business model, focusing on the needs of the customer.

When we engaged with Artfully Aging, the original business model was to provide paid access to media in the form of training videos, which would serve to train the activity directors at nursing homes and retirement communities.

However, in our discovery sessions it became apparent that the true value proposition of Artfully Aging was the painting experience of the nursing home residents. The best way to provide that great experience was to provide watercolor sheets with pre-printed themes and designs.

This business model shifted the focus from the training videos to the watercolor sheet consumables which was a key component to a much more successful and sustainable model.

Artfully Aging Process

Finding the Right E-Commerce Path: Custom vs Platform

E-Commerce projects usually have a unique set of requirements. When selling online, many businesses have specific pricing and shipping rules with the need for a few advanced features to accommodate customizations. It’s important to document these requirements up front if possible. Platforms like Shopify or Big Commerce have a lot of features but can be limiting and require a lot of third-party apps to support custom flows. These apps cost money so a site’s monthly cost can increase quickly. On the other side, custom e-commerce applications can be tailored 100% to the business' needs, but it usually has a large up-front development cost.

For Artfully Aging, we documented the major requirements and evaluated them against the leading E-Commerce Platforms. Considering budget, our goal was to find a solution that would meet the needs of Artfully Aging and allow them to grow within the platform. The Shopify platform was chosen as it provided all the necessary features with the ability to add in future features. With built in product management, order processing and beautiful themes, Shopify provides a great advantage over building all those base features from the ground up.


  • Updates are part of the subscription

  • Security is managed by the platform

  • Low cost of entry that scales as you grow

  • Base e-commerce features include product management, order processing and reporting

Designing within a Platform

With Shopify, a site design is based around a purchased theme approach. A purchase theme has several advantages and drawbacks that we needed to consider. A theme gives a site a great base for customzations, makes it easy to visualize the final product, and already has many of the site elements looking polished. However, if not designed correctly, a premade theme can begin to degrade quickly and not have all the needed features that need to be integrated in later.

Our design process helps overcome any hurdles encountered with a pre-made theme. Our discovery process identifies the needed requirements that we check against when doing an evaluate of possible themes. We then selected the top themes that match the requirements and presented the options to Artfully Aging. After reviewing, a theme was chosen based on it meeting all the requirements for Artfully Aging and giving the design team a terrific starting point.

Our design team then created a set of design compositions showing the theme with Artfully Aging design elements. Because Artfully Aging is in a creative and visual space, it was important that the site design reflect the high-quality and unique standards of its brand. The Artfully Aging logo was also updated to integrate in a dynamic watercolor texture. The core site design brought in warm, fall tones along with watercolor accents throughout. The end result gave Artfully Aging an engaging and professional theme for the store.

Customizing The Platform

Shopify has so much built into its platform, but like many e-commerce projects, several requirements fall outside of the core functionality. For those requirements, we look for installed apps to add onto Shopify or even consider writing a custom app. Apps within Shopify are often paid so we always consider how the cost of the app affects the business model.

For Artfully Aging, the biggest custom requirement was the instructional video for each project. To go along with each project, customers receive access to an instruction video that guides the participants in painting. It was important to keep them secure and have a seamless experience on purchasing. Using a set of Shopify apps, we were able to build out a custom video library right into Shopify. Avoiding using an outside system was key to ensuring the customer experience was fluid.

The Launch

The new Artfully Aging e-commerce website launched on-time and on-budget. The site offers customers an easy ordering path and a dynamic video library. With the help of Alliance Systems, Artfully Aging has turned a challenge into an opportunity and hopes to expand to senior assisted living communities across the country.

Working through the Discovery Phase with Alliance Sytems made ALL the difference in moving from simply an idea for a new business model with an e-commerce website to actually having one! Cesar Keller and his team worked to meticulously map out the phases of development and define a new “pivoted” business model. They guided me through the process of laying out a blueprint from which to build my new business.