It starts with understanding the task.

You are looking for a designer ? You have written up your needs, a fact sheet or a brief and assembled some support documentation ready to send out, but how do you decide whom to go with when there are many choices with similar credentials?

The qualitative difference lies in the type of response to your request for proposal. A designer’s responsibility is to understand what his client really intends. To do that the good design partner will make the extra effort to evaluate both, the context you are coming from and what are you trying to achieve with the project –  in addition to the bare brief.

To really understand the task the designer must reach out to explore with his client who they are and what they do. That is true for individuals as much as for brands. What is the brand culture, who are the people behind it, what style do they promote, what fans do they attract, who is their target customer, what is the product all about and what is their point of differentiation from their competition? It is no different from a tailor taking your measures.

To make this process easier and more fun we typically prepare visual boards with specific questions, which we then answer in collaboration with a prospective client as shown in these examples below from a recent proposal.

omni//form brand story questionnaire

omni//form experience questionnaire

omni//form mood questionnaire

A committed designer would also want to know as much as possible about the context he will be working into such as, location specifics, traffic pattern, geographic orientation, adjacencies (specifically if there are competitors) and any restrictions. He would also want to learn about how the brand sees its product being accessed by its customer in store and other channels, as all of this is key to designing a functional (branded) environment. In the tailor’s analogy this would be discussing the fit, use and style.

This very first collaborative evaluation of the task is an instrumental step in defining a qualitative brief in the partnership between a designer and a client that will help to avoid misconceptions and shortcomings. Without this base work even aesthetically winning results will emerge outside of context and bear the risk to fail to often great surprise.

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Here is an excellent example on how good creative design solutions can make all the difference in retail.

omniform for objet carpet in zurich

Selling carpets is a challenging business. Samples take up a lot of retail space so that retailers are forced to either rent large surfaces or store them in classifier systems such as pull-out frames, drawers, or shelving, which do not exhibit their goods well to their customers. It requires a sales person to pre-select samples and never gives an overview of the entire gamut. This little store, I spotted in Zürich recently, is defined by a long and narrow foot print, which would have made it even harder to fit in traditional large storage/display systems for their carpet samples.

The designers found a stunning solution to the problem:  By rolling up the samples and storing them in a grid of wall slots the designers did not have to take away much of the depth of the already narrow store. It cleverly allows for customers to get a full overview of the product line, while being able to touch and feel the product (a necessity when it comes to carpets).

The ingenious idea though is the decision to keep the entire store front unobstructed, exposing the whole showroom to the outside and turning the sample display walls into window displays. By framing the store front window in addition the designers created a powerful display. Accent lighting sets the product display walls in contrast to a reduced monochromatic black and white interior allowing for the product to be the hero on display.

The designers understood well how to take advantage of the long narrow space, the large vitrine and the location. No coincidence that there is a traffic light not far from the store forcing cars to stop right in front of the vitrine on a red light.

IMG_3148

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roll out strategy

When retailers decide to take their brand abroad they know they must implement  a strategy of brand identity that represents them at best and stays relevant in the very diverse world of global retail. For a while the formula has been to develop a scheme that prescribes a predefined look at point-of-sales and as many standardized guidelines as possible to assure consistency in the brand message wherever they would go to open a new store.

What we realized though after a few years of this practice is that the world of retail started turning into a dull and very uninspiring scenario: everywhere you would go, you would see the exact same carbon copies of store concepts. Merchandising and window displays were the same and consumers could not differentiate any longer if they were in a mall in China, the US, Brazil or the UK. On the other side the local markets felt like they were imposed a retail scheme that, while representing the brand at its best, did often not really click with local consumers.

What was missing was the integration of cultural context.

Today we are looking at international roll-out designs with a different perspective. We like to design retail scenarios that follow a strong brand concept, previously developed at the heart of the brand. However, the declinations throughout the world are developed with cultural relevance to the local markets. These sometimes small variations to the original concept are key elements to hit the love-mark with a customer. Consumers in foreign countries have different shopping habits. We all follow cultural rituals, we have learned from early on, influenced by our heritage and culture. So it is no surprise that things are done differently in Japan or in Saudi Arabia than in the US. It is more likely to create a successful retail environment by learning these behavioral variations and adapting them into the design concept.

When we took Mauboussin, the french jeweler from Place Vendome in Paris, to Casablanca such adaptation seemed necessary. Even though there is a long-lasting affinity between France and Morocco there is a strong difference in the cultural context as well as behavioral patterns. Led by tradition and religion the role of men and women are very different from the western model, hence the shopping rituals, especially for jewelry – often a prestige object to show affection between the two – had to be taken into consideration.

So for this store we made two major adaptations that I list here as example to support my theory above:

1. we included a women only tea salon. The idea was to encourage women to come on their own as we provided a “safe” environment for them. This unit is attached to the retail store, which enables women to meet with their friends and family without male company and combine that with a shopping experience, which otherwise would be less accessible.

2. we removed the cash desk from the sales floor. This creates a decent environment, where money transactions are being conducted in privacy, secluding the sensitive part  from the communal shopping experience. A very important scenario for male customers in this cultural context, who do not want their shopping partners to see what they are spending.

In addition we adopted local materials and construction techniques in some areas into the design to create recognition to traditional crafts and therefore connect to local customers on an emotional level. For example the facade was covered in broken tiles, a technique found in many residences in Morocco, enriched with sparkling pieces here to make it look precious. Interior walls were covered with Tadelakt, a rich plaster and application method unique to this country. Further we created lace covered moldings on the wall reflecting on the rich local culture of embroidery. All of this did not distort the image of the brand but instead gave it a meaningful interpretation. Now, 2 years after the store opened, we can attest that our strategy was successful as the store has become a staple in its hometown.

Exterior facade cladding realized with local broken tiles

Exterior facade cladding realized with local broken tiles

Interiors - Tadelakt and lace molding

Interiors – Tadelakt plaster finish and lace molding

Tea Salon

Tea Salon

Mauboussin, Boulevard Al Massira Al Khadra, Casablanca, Morocco

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Richard Branson on the Importance of Design

No matter what industry you’re working in, if your business sells services, your ultimate goal is making your customers happy. At Virgin, we’ve always found that our front-line employees play a big role in that, with their cheerfulness, patience, resourcefulness, and dedication to listening to customers. But no matter how good they are, your staff will need you to set the stage for a great customer experience with good design — by providing a space that you, your employees and your customers love to be in.

A well-designed space immediately says that you care about the details and that you want to contribute something fun and meaningful to your customers’ lives — it will help them to relax and talk about what they’re looking for. We learned this accidentally, and early on — at our first storefront, in fact.

Our first Virgin Records store in London, which opened in 1971, was essentially a place for us to listen to music and meet new friends. It featured listening stations where customers could play records before buying them and beanbag chairs so that everyone could hang out. From that experience, my friends and I realized how important it was to create inviting, unique spaces that bring people together to discuss what they are passionate about: music, mobile apps, travel, even banking.

Yes, banking! When we launched Virgin Money in Britain, one of our newest businesses, we faced the challenge of making banking both fun and meaningful for customers. Our team’s answer was to offer people the opportunity to integrate banking into their everyday lives by eliminating lines and teller windows: The banks are designed to resemble living rooms, with both comfortable seating and work areas so that customers can use the space to meet friends, colleagues or our representatives. They can set up their laptops and use the space to do some work whenever they like, taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi, power outlets and newspapers we offer.

When you are designing your space, think about the problems that your customers are depending on you to solve. Many of our spaces address specific issues. For example, some people waiting in airports would prefer to spend their time productively, while others just want to relax, so we targeted both groups’ needs when we made our plans for Virgin America’s Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport.

For business travelers, we included Wi-Fi, power outlets and plentiful seating so that they can be as productive on the ground as they are in the air. For people more interested in recreation, we built a yoga room, a lounge with plentiful food and beverage choices, and shops featuring the best of San Francisco’s markets and chefs. We’ve heard from customers that T2 makes the airport an experience to look forward to, rather than just another stop along a tiring journey.

Remember, when it comes to design, it’s rare that one size fits all. Since the types of customers for your services may vary from location to location, you must be flexible. And as always, be sure to ask your front-line staff for ideas and get their thoughts on proposed designs. We have Virgin Active health clubs all over the world, and while they share common values, we encourage franchise owners to customize each club to fit the local community’s needs.

For example, many of our gyms in residential neighborhoods have terrific kid zones where children can be looked after while their parents work out. This allows multitasking moms and dads to get a break so that they can exercise — and relax afterward, too. Virgin Active Soweto, by contrast, serves many business commuters, so it operates a hair salon: After a good workout, people will look as good as they feel.

Even if you are putting everything you’ve got into just getting your startup off the ground, design is not an area where you should stint. The thought, effort and love you put into your business space shows your respect and consideration for your customers — the building blocks of great service. Relaxed, happy customers who know they are valued are more likely to engage with your staff, ask questions and find solutions tailored to their needs.

Have you walked into a store recently that made you feel comfortable, productive, healthy and happy? How did it make you feel about the company? What do such spaces all have in common? Entrepreneurs, tell me about your design challenge on Twitter, @richardbranson.

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225685

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brand upgrade

Following up on my previous post I feel obligated to mention the new Victoria Secret Flagship UK Store on New Bond Street around the corner, which just recently opened up. This strip, which is known for luxury retail, has now been conquered by a “masstige” retailer. Certainly this must be seen as their high-end version to justify this location. The upgrade is done with a chic facade all in black, showcasing theatrical window displays introducing a nightclub/cabaret theme that features the infamous angel models in stage light settings.

To encourage  full accessibility and break down any possible barriers of customer hold back towards expensive looking environments the proven formula of wide open doors leading into a dark mysterious space pumping with music, as seen in their sister brands such as Abercrombie&Fitch or  Hollister,  is also applied here. The customer sees the most glamorous part of the store from the entrance, the fragrance area, boosting crystal glass, mirrors and lots of reflections in the dark.  A grand oversized video wall of beautiful girls literally pulls anyone in, who cannot resist to the sexual undertone of this palace of senses. The cabaret theme carries throughout the store in variations, its darkness allowing to remain unrecognized while giving way to intriguing illusions of perfect beauty and sexual retail fantasies.

Retail theater at its best.

images

Victoria Secret London

Victoria Secret london -video wall

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Brand awareness

Not new but still remarkable: Abercrombie has it figured out as people flock to their store in Savile row, London, that has no sign or logo on the exterior. – A proof of powerful brand awareness that plays on the trend awareness of customers, who are made feel special because they are in the know. Thus creating a strong emotional connection with the brand before they even engage with the store.

20130209-120848.jpg

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attention grabber

How do you make yourself visible with a tiny product on very little assigned real estate in a busy retail environment? When faced with this task for an end cap of a gondola in Sephora to introduce a new product line, we thought we’d turn up the volume on the benefit of the product using the tone of voice of the brand language.

In our case it was a lip puckering product line for a brand that charmingly but a bit provocatively plays on the naughty side of women in a retro esthetic of the past mid century.

This led us to create the theme of a historic figure – the theater candy girl, who offers out her goodies in a front loaded tray. With a little naughty twist this felt right on brand. We developed a retro style visual composition, that focused on the effect of the product with benefit centric call outs and statements, while building the actual product display trays projecting out of the visual to bring her to life. The result was a dynamic attention grabbing display.

endcap design

http://www.omniform.us

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The future of retailing?

I like the beginning of a new year. It is a time of reflection when we look back at what went right or wrong last year and make resolutions for the year to come. It is a time for dreams, setting out new goals and finding opportunity for innovation. What can be more positive than that?

Reviews and predictions are to find everywhere these days and as head of a creative agency who is always confronted with the expectation of bringing innovative solutions to our projects I ask myself:

what is the future of retail?

Here are my own few predictions for 2013:

1. shopping is more than ever becoming a lifestyle.

With product offering split between the real and the virtual world the actual retail experience in a store will concentrate much more on the service and interaction with the sales professional than the product purchase itself. Product stock may slowly disappear from select retail stores in favor of online ordering and they will change into show room type spaces, where social media come to life. People who shop similar brands have a commonality. Retail space will be used for social interaction, giving brand aficionados a platform to compare and exchange their passions about the brands they adore. Many retailers have already started “club memberships” to foster such trends. Service staff will need to be trained to initiate and assist this scenario to create memorable real life experiences with strong emotional connections.

2.Product stock may slowly disappear from retail spaces.

Customer like to get a deal and they are savvy. The best way to check where to find a product for the best price and get recommendations is online. Customers may not come to buy necessarily any longer, but to test and compare product in real and experience the brand. Then they buy it online later, where they sometimes can find a better deal. So the retail environment becomes the brand ambassador and must deliver the lifestyle promise of the brand. Retail spaces will be places,where customers will be educated on products, test and evaluate. Orders can be made on site but product will be shipped directly to the house. No need to carry out any longer. No need to stock much product. Justifying increasingly expensive sft prices stock space will be converted to valuable branded consumer front space.

3.Registers will slowly disappear.

As the act of immediate buying will not be the main purpose of a retail environment, cash registers will slowly disappear in favor of mobile devices, which will allow the sales person to place orders and no-cash transactions at any time during the experience in the showroom and have product shipped to the customer’s home (following the model that Apple stores pioneered).

4.Product immersion will be favored.

Product immersion will be the new focus. Showrooms are defined by the act of testing and handling a product. Sample product will be available for customers to try out before a purchase. All product is displayed for test use. Touching and trying a product gets a customer hooked faster.

5.Smart environments backed by big data.

Retail environments will be backed by data knowledge. Big data collection on consumer behavior will play an important role in direct marketing and play out in store increasingly. Retailers are already able to send personalized messages to customer’s mobile devices, guiding them to their favorite brands and items. Proximity sensors will allow brands to send support information on smart phones, when customers are present in stores or interact with a product. Digital signage will adjust  content when a customer is nearby. Sensors will “recognize” a customer, her likes, favorites and aspirations with individual data sets built from shopping histories combined with  social media profiling.What sounded like sci-fi a few years ago is available technology today that will show up increasingly in the retail world.

I believe that there lies a great future ahead for retailers, brands and creatives, who

1.are willing to think out-of-the-box

2.embrace the sociological changes social media and online shopping are bringing to the physical world

3.don’t miss to make adjustments to physical environments, staffing and service offering.

These are my thoughts on the immediate future of retailing.

I would like to open this up to a conversation and would love to hear other predictions.

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winter feel

I came across a beautiful store design concept the other day that I would like to mention here as a good example of a branded environment:

Salzburg Sportalm Kitzbühel is one of Austria’s best-known winter clothing manufacturers. When looking to develop a new corporate design for all future Sportalm retail outlets the client wanted to keep the interiors very sober and ‘reduced’, with an emphasis on black and white, since the clothes are colourful and cover a range of different textures.

SPORTALM-Vera Subkus 01

For the firm’s new image, the architects Baar Baarenfels came up with an abstract impression of snow formations. The walls – homogeneously clad with white Avonite – seem to be all of one piece thanks to the undulating forms and seamless finishing. “Cuts” in the surface are reminiscent of breaks in snow covers.

The environments are fully distinguishable and the shop fit successfully creates emotional connection with winter landscapes and the lifestyle that goes with it, pointing to the brand’s core product line of winter sportswear.
Sportalm retail store (Photo: Vera Subkus)
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connecting retail

When iconic hair company Bumble and bumble came to us with the request to re-imagine their founding flagship salon in New York their focus was on including a strong retail element into their offering. It was clear that the retail space had to be at the front of the store so it could be seen and accessed directly from the street independently of the salon hours. What makes Bumble and bumble so exciting is their artistry and creativity. So we were looking for a way to let this energy transcend into the retail space and at the same time not hide the salon behind retail and away from the street view.

The answer was to separate the two entities by a semi open retail partition that would function simultaneously as a product display wall. See-through and “woven” together by an abstraction of hair texture, which then became the theme throughout the salon design, these retail walls define the new retail area at the entry of the salon and are now iconic elements of the Bumble design language.

www.omniform.us

The re-imagined Bumble and bumble salon by regis pean+omni//form

the new retail area and the salon are both visible from the outside

Retail foyer of Bumble and bumble re-imagined by regis pean+omni//form

the see-through display wall forms the retail foyer of the
re-imagined Bumble and bumble salon

regis pean+omni//form for Bumble and bumble New York Uptown

hair textures abstractions throughout the Bumble and bumble salon

cut floor Bumble and bumble New York uptown re-imagine by regis pean+omni//form

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