Category Archives: Retail

Open source – the art of creative collaboration

Collaboration is very much a part of the zeitgeist. Social networks, open innovation, crowdsourcing and an emergent co-design philosophy all point to a breakdown in silos of professional practice and a coming together of previously disparate parties. Across the world, groups with shared interests are using social media to debate, collaborate and act on their ideas in a way that has never been possible before.

In consumer branding too, collaborations, whilst not exactly new, are becoming more prevalent and are taking on new forms, in particular by engaging consumers to generate creative ideas. Over the last few years, companies have started to draw the public into the process of design and development by using crowdsourcing initiatives and open design competitions. The idea, says Joe Bakowski, managing director of graphic design agency Stocks Taylor Benson, is that online crowdsourcing and design competitions allow customers to feel part of the brands they love and use.

‘There is no doubt that crowdsourcing and competitions can be used to generate a buzz around a brand and make customers feel involved and I’m sure it can offer certain small-scale and short term benefits for the brand,’ says Bakowski. ‘By throwing design open to a multitude of people, the brand may also end up with some very good ideas. In fact, with thousands of people submitting, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them in isolation might be better than those from the brand’s design agency.’

A crowdsourcing initiative recently run by Sony, called Open Planet Ideas, has gathered suggestions from people around the world on ways that Sony’s technologies can be repurposed to tackle environmental problems. ‘Open Planet Ideas is an exercise for us to be open and honest,’ says Tak Kawagoi, director of Sony Design Europe. ‘It’s very interesting to use new ideas from consumers and it’s good for us to understand them better.’

To some, this may seem very appealing but there is plenty of resistance to crowdsourcing and open competitions when it comes to actual design work. As this article was being written, a closely balanced yet passionate debate was unfolding on the Facebook page of Adobe’s Creative Juices initiative, a forum set up by Adobe for professional and non-professional designers to share work, ideas, discussions and design techniques. The controversy stems from a competition thrown out to this community to design the new Creative Juices logo, where the designer of the winning logo receives a copy of Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 software.

Some in the community, many of whom are professional designers, feel that the competition is a ruse by Adobe to source numerous creative ideas for free. It can then select the best one and implement it across all its Creative Juices promotional activity, in turn promoting Adobe products to existing and potential customers. Others see the competition merely as an innocent method of allowing creative people to share their work, receive peer recognition and feedback, and ultimately to give the site a community-sourced logo.

Whilst Adobe Creative Juices is a relatively low-key open design competition, it does reveal some of the awkwardness which surrounds public design collaborations, especially on high-profile or commercial platforms. Detractors believe that open competitions devalue both the design process and the skills of professional designers.

Last year, Gap found itself dealing with the seemingly shambolic launch of its new, professionally designed logo. Almost instantly, the new logo – an oddly anachronistic Helvetica and gradient-square affair by New York agency Laird & Partners – was pounced upon by online commentators, many of whom decried it as a big mistake.

In a strange tactical shift, Gap then launched a fleeting open competition to search for a second new logo, asking people to ‘share your designs’. The crowdsourcing bugbear raised its head – free design work for a multinational corporation, anyone? – and in the end the whole thing petered out with a reinstatement of the original blue square logo.

Meanwhile, Marka Hansen, president of Gap brand North America, admitted a mistake: ‘We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognise that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowdsourcing. There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way.’

The Gap debacle says a lot about both the power and pressure created by online social media – and brands’ willingness to bow to it – as well as the treacherous waters of crowdsourcing design ideas. According to graphic designer Ben Stott, brands that feel the need to ask consumers for designs are already lacking a necessary connection with their customer base. In Gap’s case, Hansen’s comments would appear to confirm that assessment.

‘I would be shocked if a client who didn’t already have this type of collaboration as a part of their strategy suddenly asked to do something like this,’ says Stott. ‘But then there are brands like Nike who do amazing things that involve people without [participants] really even thinking about it.’

Two things are coinciding here: the unprecedented ability of consumers to debate and respond to a brand’s behaviour, often en masse, and the increased access to creative technologies, allowing more people to design and produce their own content, whether graphics, film, photography, animation and so on. Crowdsourcing and open competition are one response of big business to these two developments. And whilst not everyone is a great designer, if the crowdsourcing net is cast wide enough there’s a fair chance of a catch.

‘Creativity has been democratised for some time and we are now starting to feel the effect of this on the design community,’ adds Stott. ‘Technological advances raise the bar on what everyone can achieve, making us all content producers. Photographers have had it far worse than designers: everyone is a photographer but, as we know, not everyone is a good photographer.’

So do crowdsourcing and open competition threaten design as a profession? The standard design industry response has been to admonish ‘crowdsourcers’ as devaluing design by holding what is essentially a gigantic free creative pitch. Yet most designers don’t really see the public as a threat.

‘Crowdsourcing is an amusing and enjoyable diversion; if in doubt, ask the populous,’ says Howard Milton, chairman of design group Smith & Milton. ‘But crowdsourcing can never belittle the design profession because we all know it is an amateur pursuit.’ According to Milton, we will ‘continue to dip in and out of this source, but it will never replace a well thought through brand design’.

Stott claims that the industry should react with greater poise to crowdsourcing and open competitions. ‘When the design community comes out and screams it looks like protectionism; like we’re saying that only we can design, using our special powers. I have no problem with it at all – and most examples are generally bad in any case – but I do think it will evolve to become something that is less obvious and unnatural than it is now.’

Design competitions and crowdsourcing may still be in their awkward infancy, but a more tried and tested method of collaboration comes through brands linking with high-profile artists and named designers. Coca-Cola’s tie-ups with fashion designers such as Manolo Blahnik and Matthew Williamson, Citroen’s special edition DS3, decorated by Orla Kiely, Issey Miyake’s and Paul Smith’s reworkings of Evian bottles and Adidas collections designed by Stella McCartney are just a small selection of these kind of brand-designer offerings.

Perhaps one of the longest-running and most consistent artist collaboration programmes is that by vodka brand Absolut. Beginning in 1985 with an advertising poster created by Andy Warhol, the brand has remained committed to strong links with the art world ever since, working with such figures as Spike Jonze, Jay-Z and Damien Hirst. ‘Absolut has a rich legacy of creative collaborations that have ensured the brand has continued to evolve,’ says Vlastimil Spelda, marketing director for spirits at Pernod Ricard UK, Absolut’s owner since 2008.

Of course, professional design agencies should also be capable of evolving a brand, so where do artist collaborations come into an overall marketing strategy? According to Spelda, they are complementary to the more brand-focused design work that is commissioned from agencies. ‘Collaborations provide an effective marketing tool through which brands are able to creatively express their personality. They drive consumer interest and deliver standout and presence within the trade,’ he says.

But Milton believes that if designers were offered the same freedom as artists, similar left-field results could be achieved. ‘There is an assumption that jobbing brand identity is incapable of taking a brave creative leap, yet the ability to grow a brand in the right direction – even in a massive jump – is far more likely to come from the designers who understand and work with brands every day. Regrettably, they are simply never given the chance to fling emotion into the mix because the marketer lacking in real creative confidence will seek to repress and minimise personal risk.’

Absolut’s Flavor of the Tropics duty-free edition was created by design agency Williams Murray Hamm, but agency creative director Garrick Hamm acknowledges that the brand gains something more than just effective design when it collaborates with artists. ‘For Absolut, working with artists is part of an overall strategy. It’s not necessarily about the design output itself – most good design groups should be able to push the brand – but it shows they move in these artistic circles.’

According to Milton, the artist-brand collaboration merely provides a ‘quick PR win’. ‘It’s the addition of cool and the quality by association stamp,’ he says. ‘Basking in the reflected glory of a renowned “creative” might seem attractive to some marketers. For once, they take a hands-off position and let the artist have centre stage, reaping the plaudits and admiration for their daring. This is something few can do when engaging with the “professional” designer.’

In the end, any collaboration rests heavily on the strength and synergy of the relationship. A weak link or a cursory ‘artistic’ flourish will be transparent to consumers, while a committed, long-running programme of focused artistic endorsement could prove very effective. And whether fresh design ideas are sourced from practicing artists, through open competitions and crowdsourcing, or from a standard design agency process, one thing is now for sure: the public, more powerful and vocal than ever before, will respond to the outcome, as Gap discovered.

‘[Technology changes] have turned the world on its head in the past few years and designers have to up their game,’ says Stott. ‘We can’t control everything and we’re no longer closed off from everyone. Younger designers know this – they try things out quickly and online, ditch what doesn’t work and move onto something else. But traditional design has this process: we go away and think and set up a structure. We may have to rethink our process. In 15 years’ time, graphic design will not exist as the profession it is now.’

 

Case study – Brancott Estate / Sarah Herriot Design

Wine brand Brancott Estate, creator of the original Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, commissioned jewellery designer Sarah Herriot to create a range inspired by the landscape of the company’s New Zealand vineyards. Herriot was selected partly because she was raised in New Zealand and has an affinity with landscape, but also because of the overlap between Herriot’s and Brancott’s customer profile.

‘Our customers are culturally astute, affluent and discerning so we have to work hard to connect with them,’ says Matthew Bird, marketing controller at Pernod Ricard UK wines, Brancott Estate’s owner. ‘A design collaboration is an effective way of reaching consumers. But to make it successful it was really important for us to take a lot of time to build a relationship with Sarah, establishing basis on which we wanted to work together. As a result, there was a lot more time spent upfront compared to a normal design agency process.’

Herriot’s designs include a women’s pendant and a pair of cufflinks, sold via the companies’ websites. ‘It’s important for me to be able to tell people why I’ve made things in the way I have,’ says Herriot. ‘These pieces capture the vineyard’s location and there is the story of where I’m from. But I wouldn’t necessarily do any collaboration; it couldn’t go against my design ethos and I need to feel happy with the process and results, as in the end it will have my name all over it.’

This article was written for Marketing, 14 April 2011.

Visual boost

The word ’corporate’ can so often be a synonym for bland and monolithic, especially when it comes to offices. Think corporate headquarters. Think facsimile cubicle workstations scraping upwards layer upon layer toward the sky. The work may be interesting, challenging and dynamic, but workplaces seldom are.

Yet dull, homogeneous workplaces can have serious negative effects on staff, as well as on visitors. Movement and interaction can be restricted and staff may fail to feel a sense of common purpose or belonging. This can lead to poor productivity, low morale and high staff churn.

One relatively quick and low-cost way of addressing some of these issues is through well-implemented environmental graphics. A rising awareness of the influence of internal graphics is leading more organisations to take their visual identity and weave it throughout their buildings. The idea is that buildings benefit substantially – and measurably – from stimulating and functional visual elements, promoting the organisation’s brand personality at the same time.

’I think the growth in this area is driven by a few things,’ says Michael Johnson, creative director at visual identity consultancy Johnson Banks. ’The barriers and costs seem lower, the technology is better, and clients and architects are more prepared to let “graphics” come into a space. For a relatively low outlay, environmental graphics can make a massive impact.’

Design group Household has worked on workplace graphics for firms including pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca, Yahoo, Transport for London and Virgin Media. Consultancy creative director Sarah Page says internal graphics can be ’a quick, efficient way to refresh the workplace, adding personality and boosting the sense of a culture’.

Graphics, says Page, are a clever and relatively subliminal way to communicate a company’s spirit, without relying solely on words such as straplines and mission statements. Astra Zeneca took this opportunity in its new-build hospitality and training headquarters in Macclesfield. ’The business had a corporate palette, but not an environmental one, so extending the language of the business values into the environment was essential. Encouraging people to move around means they are more likely to network, share information and generally contribute beyond their immediate task in hand,’ says Page.

In the London offices of property developer Land Securities the company’s purpose and speciality is demonstrated in graphics based on London A-Z maps. Created by Hat-Trick Design, the bespoke maps are intended to reflect Land Securities’ detailed knowledge of the city.

’There are 52 maps in total, covering parks, animals, noise levels, bridges, lost rivers, markets, film locations, inventions, books, churches, archaeological finds in London and so on,’ explains Hat-Trick director Jim Sutherland. ’Several were produced plotting the staff’s favourite restaurants, shops and bars, so we involved them in the process. The maps have become a real talking point for staff and guests and a book of map postcards was given to all staff on the day they moved in.’

It’s not just corporate offices that can benefit from environmental graphics – colleges and universities are also often housed in rather insipid spaces, battered by heavy use from transient students. Here too, large-scale internal visuals can increase the appeal and functionality of buildings, benefiting current students and attracting new ones.

Westminster Academy, for example, sports bold, large-scale typographic treatments by Studio Myerscough and Hat-Trick has worked on similar projects for Brookes University in Oxford. Johnson Banks, meanwhile, is in the process of applying its identity work with digital technology college Ravensbourne to a new Foreign Office Architects-designed building in Greenwich.

’The Ravensbourne building is open-plan, so it needs really powerful graphics just to make it clear which floor you’re on and how to find what you need. We’re developing the visual identity so that the shapes work as large-scale “supergraphics” and signage within the building, acting as a mixture of wayfinding and brand reinforcement,’ says Johnson.

Well-implemented environmental graphics that truly reflect an organisation’s culture and ethos can offer tangible benefits to the people using the buildings – staff retention and loyalty, a sense of belonging, and increased productivity and interaction can all be measured to some extent, says Page.

But there are things to watch out for, too. Enthusiasm from management and staff is important so people don’t feel patronised by the branding. ’It’s very important not to over-brand areas. Putting big logos everywhere does nothing to get a personality across – you just feel shouted at,’ says Sutherland. Land Securities’ staff-sourced maps show how people can contribute to the process and Johnson Banks included Ravensbourne students in its identity development.

It is also necessary to work closely with architects or estate management teams which may be responsible for delivering and installing the final workspaces. And you have to get the basics right first or risk creating animosity. ’It’s no good looking at inspiring images if you are sitting on a broken chair,’ notes Page.

But in the end, like most design processes, it’s about drawing out an organisation’s genuine stories. ’Interviewing stakeholders is the key to unlocking the stories that sit behind businesses,’ adds Page. ’And ensuring the essence of a business is captured in a timeless way is essential to the success of branded environmental graphics.’

 This article was written for Design Week’s Opinions on Interiors supplement, September 2010.

Marketing’s Design Leagues 2010

In many ways, design’s star is rising.

Its strategic relationship with business continues to improve and its profile in the media and among the public appears higher than ever. As mass-market advertising flounders, design is inching its way into business structures and boardroom psyches, with major companies now regularly talking about the power of ‘design-led thinking’.

Projects such as the launch of London 2012 mascots Wenlock and Mandeville have sparked debates about design in the national press. Even mainstream TV is interested: in recent months there have been several design-related shows, including the BBC’s The Genius of Design and High Street Dreams, an episode of which featured the input of design agencies Pearlfisher and Blue Marlin.

The very notion of ‘design thinking’ is itself a leap forward because it shifts conceptions of the discipline from something that produces solely a tangible output – a pack, for example – to something that is an approach, a structured thought process that can be applied to many and varied issues. Design groups are keen to promote this strategic clever thinking because it helps them move up the client food chain, earning meatier projects with bigger budgets and a higher value.

Mixed outlook

On paper, the future may look rosy, but in the real world things aren’t so easy. As this year’s league tables reveal, 2009 was tough, with fee income falling significantly for many. ‘There is no doubt that the past 12 months have been an extremely challenging and pretty bloody experience,’ says Andrew Eyles, group managing director of Blue Marlin.

Last year was characterised by the postponement of projects, as clients waited to see when, or whether, the economy would start to recover. Top agency Imagination was one of many to suffer a double-digit fall in fee income and, while agencies of all sizes have been squeezed, those toward the bottom of the table seem to have been hit hard.

Some of that pressure will remain in the year ahead and agencies working for the public sector are bracing themselves for severe spending cuts. The good news, however, is that many private businesses have ended their freeze on investment, allowing NPD and innovation to continue and putting more briefs into the market.

Guy Douglass, managing director of packaging design agency FLB, agrees that things can only get better. ‘(Last year) was really tricky. We only just made a profit, and business and cash flow were difficult,’ he says. ‘But this year is looking positive. There’s lots of work out there, both from existing clients and new business.’

Continued investment during a recession can help brands appear strong. Argos’ brand identity work with The Brand Union, for example, is intended to position the retailer as fit for the future. ‘Customers told us that they want a brand that feels relevant and is well equipped to stay relevant,’ says Siobhan Fitzpatrick, head of brand marketing for Argos.

Research found that customers had a desire to see Argos investing in itself. ‘It sent the right signals out at a time when companies like Woolworths were all closing,’ adds Brand Union UK chief executive Simon Bailey.

Retail spending has just about held up, too, which is good news for those working in FMCG packaging, branding and retail design. ‘The market is still robust enough for consumers to pay for a good quality service,’ says Michael Sheridan, chairman of luxury retail brand consultancy Sheridan & Co, which works with Absolut and World of Whiskies. ‘The value of the pound is also a big factor. Visitors are coming to the UK not just because it’s 50% cheaper than it was in 2008, but because we have a very good shopping experience.’

As Media Square design chairman David Worthington notes, those who stand still in FMCG die. ‘Big brand-owners are very clear on the need for constant innovation, preferring steady and continuous growth, rather than peaks and troughs. Irrespective of recessions, they tend to cut a more consistent path by remaining committed to a product development cycle,’ he says.

Bakery brand Warburtons is a good example of this relentless focus on product development. New business director Jason Uttley says this is what customers are looking for. The company entered the snack-foods sector in March with the launch of ChippidyDooDa pitta chips and SnackaDoodle wholegrain snacks. The brand extension was developed with Anthem Worldwide.

Beyond the shelf

Although FMCG work has remained steady, some of the rules are changing. In particular, brands and design agencies must now think beyond achieving shelf standout, argues Nick Dormon, managing director of Echo Brand Design.

‘Standout is now the baseline – if you don’t stand out, you don’t survive,’ he says. ‘At the same time, supply-chain savings and sustainability programmes have meant the loss of physical presence on shelf as packaging becomes smaller and more lightweight. So it’s about the whole experience. You pick up a product in store, feel it, read it, take it home and use it, put it on a shelf, see it, use it then eventually dispose of it. All these moments are an opportunity to engage with people.’

Norwegian mineral water brand Isklar circles this brand experience with a uniquely engineered bottle design, by Blue Marlin, creating differentiation on shelf but also reducing its use of materials. The brand-product ‘loop’ is then closed by the company’s sustainability efforts, which include full carbon-neutral certification, use of hydroelectric power for its bottling plant and investment in high-end recycling facilities. Each aspect is consistent with notions of purity and nature.

The implications of last year’s precipitous fall in business are still playing out. Although work has picked up, the sector remains fragmented and competitive. In a procurement-driven environment, business has become harder to win and sustain. Dick Powell, incoming D&AD chairman and director of Seymourpowell, believes these pressures are leading to more instances of free pitching and the continued erosion of margins. ‘They are trying to cut the fat out of the design agencies, but there is no fat there,’ he says.

His sentiment is echoed by Eyles, who adds: ‘We are all having to work a lot harder and give a lot more. Some groups have gone for volume and are churning stuff out just to keep the lights running, while other groups have got smaller, leaner and more specialist.’

The pressure is on, then, for agencies to reinvent their businesses. Some are looking to overseas markets for revenue, particularly in the fast-growing BRIC nations. Sheridan & Co, for example, is finding its clients buying strategic and creative ideas to use overseas. As an industry, maintaining revenues from emerging markets requires British design to retain its reputation as a global leader.

Overall, Eyles concludes that the design industry emerging from the recession could look very different from the one that went into it. ‘Design output has to be married to effective strategy and consultancy,’ he says. ‘Often we may not even do any design. It’s now all about the brand – a seamless service of look, feel, tone and qualities. Some clients welcome deep strategic work, others protect their right to control it, but I’m optimistic that design can sit at the heart of this, working from strategy and concept to 2D and 3D output. The squeeze on fees now will just make the industry leaner, more credible and more professional and then the value of its work will come back in.’

THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE

As advertisers increase their focus on dialogue with – and between – customers, they are recognising the significance of the whole experience that people have with their brands, from the moment they first see a pack, ad, piece of copy or web page, through to disposal of a product or their interaction with customer service if they have a problem.

The communications environment is rich, complex and rapidly shifting and brands need help to manage these numerous ‘touchpoints’. Ad agencies, design groups and even some digital groups are vying to lead this work. Yet, whoever oversees the process, collaboration between agencies is more necessary than ever.

‘The landscape has become more complex for clients with many different agencies working for them – advertising, branding, sponsorship, interaction, social media, digital and so on,’ says Simon Bailey, UK chief executive at The Brand Union. ‘To have a partner who has helped create the brand itself working to manage all these groups can be very useful for clients.’

The Brand Union adopted this role for Barclaycard, where branding output spanned corporate identity, advertising, direct marketing, digital media, internal engagement, environments, literature, packaging, point of sale, exhibitions and sponsorship. The list of contributing agencies (Bartle Bogle Hegarty, EHS Brann, Balloon Dog, Dare and Vital Marketing) demonstrates how collaboration and oversight are essential in maintaining consistency in a complex, multichannel environment.

This article was written for Marketing’s Design Agency Leagues 2010 publication, 30 June 2010.

Banks rely on design to regain trust

Last month, a spoof edition of the Financial Times, set in the year 2020, was handed out to commuters at railway stations in London, to coincide with the G20 protests. It featured satirical stories deni­grating the world’s political and financial systems, as well as similarly sardonic ads.

The latter included one carrying the Royal Bank of Scotland logo and the following text: ‘What would you do with a trillion pounds of public money? Bail out your mates and mop up the mess you all made? Or squander the lot on pipe dreams like renewable energy?’

This scornful attack represents the sharp end of a wider swathe of discontent­ment with the UK’s high-street banks following the emergence of toxic debts, reckless lending and mismanagement.

With their reputations in tatters, banks are having to fight to convince consumers of their trustworthiness, their dependability and solidity. So it is that in a world of decentralised, contact centre-driven customer service, the high-street branch and face-to-face communication have again become the focus of many banks’ invest­ments in branding and design.

Over the past few years, banks have been attempting to operate more like retailers. This has resulted in some genuin­ely innova­tive environments, such as the branch format for Italy’s CheBanca!, designed by Crea International.

CheBanca!’s ‘Natural Tech’ design looks more like a set from 2001: A Space Odyssey than a high-street bank branch. According to Crea International managing partner Massimo Fabbro, the light and minimal design brings together ‘innovation and reassurance’, placing the customer at the centre of the experience.

Barclays, too, is in the process of rolling out a fresh design concept, created by interiors consultancy Aukett Tytherleigh, ¬ across its 1700 branches. ‘Branches are important to our custom­ers,’ says Erin Biertzer, UK retail banking director at Barclays. ‘We have made a long-term commitment to refurbishing our network.’

The bank’s flagship branch, nestled under the neon lights of Piccadilly Circus in London, is undeniably striking. Touted as the first ‘brand concept’ branch in the UK, it features a host of technology and high-end design touches (see case study, above).

However, having been conceived before the crisis hit the financial sector, how comfortably do such design-led interiors sit now that the recession has taken hold?

‘When times were good and money was easy to borrow, everyone wanted retail cues,’ explains Sam D’Lacey, director at design agency Hart D’Lacey, which has worked with RBS, NatWest and Arab Bank.

‘These banks tried to link their branches with other leisure activities, such as coffee shops, to drive footfall. But retail is very disposable, so people started to see money as disposable too. However, we’ve gone back to reliability. The flippancy and the humour are gone,’ he adds.

As part of this shift toward the ‘retailing’ of personal finance, services and advice have become ‘products’. In some cases, these have been physically embodied in the form of a box that could be taken to the counter for purchase.

‘Customers want to talk to people and get reassurance, so some of these things that seemed progressive at the time now seem inappropriate,’ says D’Lacey. ‘The redesigned Barclays branches, for example, have a queue rail – which is beautiful and sculptural, but does it really instil confidence?’

Howard Milton, founder of branding agency Smith & Milton, puts it more strongly. ‘The “Eureka” moment, when banks decided to strive to become retailers, was where they lost their perspective and, ultimately, our trust,’ he says. ‘When your core product is cash, serious consideration should be given to how you handle it. Banks man­oeuvred our thinking away from this custom. The cash­less society has been suborned into losing touch with the value of money.’ ¬

The result of years of easy credit and bad debt has been much discussed, but bank design and branding must begin to reflect the climate and rebuild consumer trust. Experts are divided on whether the retail format branch remains the right option.

However, Roderick Logan, financial-services analyst for Datamonitor, believes it is. ‘Banks can use the less formal environment that a “store” provides to make the consumer feel more at ease. They can also win back customer trust by showing concern and offering advice,’ he says.

‘There is plenty of room for innovation in the banking sphere. Communicating with consumers in the language of retail may make some of the more complicated financial products easier to understand.’

Logan also notes that retailers themselves are competing in the personal finance market. Tesco, for example, is looking to establish a retail banking environment through its store network.

‘The traditional banks will have to maintain some degree of innovation to stave off this threat,’ he adds. ‘More flexible opening times offer greater convenience to customers and innovative branch features, like those at the Barclays Piccadilly branch, can entice inquisitive customers.’

With innovation comes technology, already a huge enabler of convenience in transactions and financial services research.

For First Direct, which operates only online, technology and digital design are especially important. The bank has been working with design agency Splendid on a Micro­soft Surface table for display at the Grand Designs Live exhibition at London Excel from 25 April to 4 May. The device has a touch screen that allows consumers to interact with its mortgage products.

‘The brand stands for innovation, so we have to be design-led in what we do,’ says First Direct head of brand Lisa Wood. ‘We don’t physically have a product, so you can’t try before you buy. However, it is creating an interactive way to draw people into talking about these mortga­ges.’

She adds: ‘We will use Surface at the exhibition to show how our offset mortgages could link to home-improvement projects. You can have up to six people using the table simultaneously and, because we don’t have branches, this is a great way to have personal interaction.’

This interaction, along with the trust­worthy advice and personal reassurance that appear to have been lacking lately in banks’ relationships with their consumers, is what many in the industry are lauding as the necessary next step.

‘The big banks don’t communicate on a personal level,’ says Nick Ramshaw, mana­ging director of design group Elm­wood Leeds. ‘My local Lloyds TSB branch has no private room, for example. They need to think about the customer’s point of view.’

There are other threats, too: the rise of community lending schemes such as Zopa has put even greater pressure on the big banks to deliver the goods. ‘In order to remain relevant and compete with these new breeds, the incumbents must adapt or die,’ warns Terry Tyrrell, worldwide chair­man of design agency The Brand Union.

It seems there is a fine line to tread in adapting to the current climate, while remaining competitive in a busy market­place. Bank brands need to be seen as innovative while simultaneously empha­sising tradi­tional values and a service-led mentality.

All this has to be communicated through staff training, strategic branding and branch design, not simply through advertising – the quick fix route to shifting perceptions. As Richard Newland, global head of retail design for HSBC, concludes: ‘Branches are our most valuable source of advertising and they have to live up to that. But balancing confidence and reassurance is difficult. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.’

This article was written for Marketing, 21 April 2009.

Inside track

B&Q churns more than 10 000 SKUs a year. That’s stock keeping units, for those unfamiliar with shop speak. At Tesco they deal with no fewer than 13 000 individual product lines every year. And in a retail world where brand consistency and design clarity are vital, keeping tabs on that lot is no small task. Enter the in-house head of design – the pivotal figure who corrals a company’s numerous design projects and products into something coherent, connected and comprehensible, something the customers can understand.

Of course, it’s not just retailers that need to ensure their design output is always on message. Any large organisation – an airline, bank, public transport operator or global charity, to name just a few – has multiple customer touch points, perhaps overseen by different departments which may or may not be talking effectively to each other. In businesses like these design overview is a valuable investment, helping a company to innovate and respond while also remaining efficient. And the person who holds that position can be a rather powerful design buyer.

‘Tesco used to have an in-house design head, but there was a big gap before I joined and, in the meantime, categories started to fragment,’ says the supermarket’s head of design Alyson Jakes. Previous incumbent Jeremy Lindley left to take up the role of category development director at drinks giant Diageo two years ago and, according to Jakes, even though the supermarket continued to work with design consultancies, consistency started to deteriorate without an internal hand on the tiller.

B&Q packaging design and guidelines manager Jonathan Couper paints a similar picture. ‘Historically, the business has been driven in all aspects by the commercial teams, so design was guided by individual [product] categories. Some category teams did this very well, others less so. But this is a fairly disparate approach,’ he says. To combat this, B&Q management – along with marketing and customer proposition director Jo Kenrick – has set up a team that will police the messy and the random, instead sending out a coherent message across all products and communications. For example, there were previously ‘ten to 15′ different typefaces in use by the company, but now there will be just one.

Like many large businesses, both Tesco and B&Q operate a roster of trusted design consultancies. So why not use one of these groups to act as brand guardian, especially when an external group usually creates the company’s brand identity in the first place? B&Q, for example, recently worked on its brand ‘personality’ with Interbrand. ‘You’ve got to be inside the company to create the degree of change at the speed we need to do it,’ says Couper. ‘A consultancy could do what we’re doing, but not at that speed, and it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. You can’t afford to do that as a retailer.’

Although efficiency and cost savings may be one reason for employing an in-house head of design, it need not be at the expense of high-quality design. An in-house chief can champion design internally in a way that no external group could really hope to manage, despite the sterling efforts of many. They can also make the case for the rostered consultancies and demonstrate how good design management is a bottom-line investment for the business. ‘I show how there is a triangle of benefits from design – aesthetics, function and cost – but design still has to be fought for on a day-to-day basis,’ explains Transport for London head of design Innes Ferguson. ‘It’s used as a business tool in this organisation, not as an optional extra, and you need a good, strong internal team to make sure the quality is right and – in our case – that the taxpayers are getting what they pay for.’

According to Ferguson, an in-house design position might cost about £30 000 a year, but that same person can provide TfL with about £150 000 of work. ‘An outside consultancy could do it, but it wouldn’t provide value for money. And there isn’t a group in the country which could do everything that we need,’ he adds.

In many cases, an in-house design chief reports up to the company’s marketing director, and in smaller business it’s often the marketing team that manages design appointments and projects directly, with no design head intermediary. But according to Couper, having a position between the nitty-gritty of design’s detail and the macro view of a company’s marketing strategy is a great benefit. ‘A marketing director can’t focus on that level of detail, but they do have the overview on the direction of the business and we can ensure that the design fits with that.’

Jakes concurs. ‘I’m the eyes for the marketing director,’ she says. ‘A head of design has really close contact with the customer on the shop floor, which a marketing director can’t. It might be quite hard to sustain this role in a smaller company, but for a bigger business you really need to make sure consistency is there day to day, no matter how good your brand guidelines are.’

This article was written for Design Week, 17 September 2008.

Marketing league tables 2008: the view from design

It’s perhaps a little unfair to kick off a ranging look at the state of play in the design industry with a project that emerged in a flurry of controversy, but last summer’s farrago over the London 2012 Olympics logo neatly illustrates a few things. Significantly, it shows the passion and involvement everyone can feel for a piece of graphic communication, the emotional connection lying at the heart of design’s power to influence. Vocal criticism and defence of the Wolff Olins-designed logo shows that people instinctively relate, one way or another, to the creative ideas it presents. Somehow, although ‘only a logo’, it’s important.

We all respond to visual and physical design everyday, whether it be a logo, a store interior or a juice carton. And our reactions can have a profound influence on the fortunes of the business behind the product, even if designers have often found it hard to quantify this influence. This is one of the major challenges facing the industry.

The 2012 responses also highlight a problem that has long beset the branding industry in particular – the huge focus and weight placed on a logo or corporate identity to the virtual exclusion of all the other work the design agency has carried out. And this is not just in branding: whichever discipline of design you’re looking at – retail design, product design, packaging or whatever – a good design process goes much deeper than the ‘colouring in’ of the final output. Focusing on the ‘physical’ manifestation of design work can sometimes belittle this depth, leading to design becoming a commodity purchase – another obstacle for design to overcome. ‘The value of design and design thinking does tend to get lost or overshadowed when people view it as a commodity, which even some people within the industry do,’ notes Lloyd Northover chairman Jim Northover, whose clients include Lexus and Royal Mail.

Finally, in relation to marketing more broadly, the 2012 marque demonstrates something else too: it shows the relative permanence of design, in this case for at least five years. Although design may provide some of the materials to create a marketing campaign, it is seldom a campaign in itself; typically, design hangs around much longer than an advertising or direct marketing sweep. The importance of good, well-managed design over the longer-term is therefore very high. Yet many agency-client relationships are still conducted on a short-term, project to project basis, while ad agencies win accounts that they often hold on to for years.

Each of these points provides some backdrop to the challenges and issues facing the sector. In many ways, the design industry fares differently to other marketing services, partly due to its culture and structure. In fact, some still question whether it is really an industry at all. To many, its micro-business set-up is that of a cottage industry; one populated with independently-minded ‘creatives’ whose lifestyle proclivities and ambitions often actually eschew huge growth or empire building. There has been nowhere near the kind of agency consolidation experienced in advertising and according to Design Council research, around 60 per cent of UK design agencies employ five or fewer people.

‘It is also an industry which has traditionally focused on excellence of product rather than profits,’ notes Tony Walford, a senior consultant at Results International, a consulting and finance business specialising in the marcoms industries. ‘There are many small agencies run by design practitioners who are passionate about their product, rather than concentrating on the commercial aspects.’ Not that ad agencies necessarily place profits above creative quality, but design agencies do often struggle to balance the two.

As design continues its growth from origins in arts and crafts, there seems to be one cardinal challenge to meet. It must communicate and demonstrate the real depth of value it brings to business. To do this, it must strike up long-term relationships at a client’s boardroom level, breaking free from project based, commodity-bought work and forging deeper partnerships with clients. As Scottish & Newcastle chief executive John Dunsmore notes, continually running with project based work means that design agencies ‘have to roll sixes every year’ to survive.

‘Design is the least profitable of all the marketing services sectors, because we’re treated as a talent commodity,’ says Andrew Knowles, chief executive of packaging design agency Jones Knowles Ritchie, which has worked on Scottish & Newcastle’s Strongbow brand. Doug James, a partner at multidisciplinary agency Honey, which works with Tesco and Harrods, echoes this. ‘These big clients usually see you as a service provider with a specialist skill set, so we have to demonstrate the business effectiveness of our services and show how we understand the commercial requirements of a company. They need to start to realise that we can think for them to some extent,’ he says. Then agencies have to start charging for it. ‘I don’t think consultancies charge appropriately in terms of the impact their work has on a client’s business. But this impact does have to be demonstrated,’ says Interbrand chief executive Rune Gustafson.

According to Paul Castledine, chief creative officer of Birmingham consultancy Boxer, once a business impact is demonstrated agencies have a ‘tangible’ sell. ‘Design must be driven by insight and should be measured in its effectiveness. In essence, we are talking about turning an intangible sell into a tangible benefit,’ he says. Some clients are already demanding proof of design’s effectiveness. ‘We’ve seen big changes in client’s demands. Increasingly, they want their design to demonstrate real effectiveness and request a clear way to demonstrate the value and impact design has had on their brand,’ says The Brand Union managing director Simon Bailey, whose clients include Vodafone and SABMiller.

For agencies able to do this, businesses are willing to pay. ‘You see this come through in the pitch process, where clients are asking tougher questions from their design groups, but are willing to pay for it,’ says Jonathan Ford, creative partner at branding and packaging design agency Pearlfisher. ‘They are starting to realise they can get a good return on design investment and are making sure they get it right, so it can be a long-term investment.’

As Ford notes, long-term partnership-style relationships between client and consultancy are increasingly important. Since its inception seven years ago, UK financial protection firm Bright Grey has worked with design group Navyblue. ‘They are very much a partner in our business,’ explains Susan Sneddon, communications director at Bright Grey. ‘We share the same level of information with them as we would our own marketing team, which allows them to be a true extension of that team. We have the view that we will get more value from our external suppliers if we invest time and money in developing a relationship with them.’

With the huge consolidation of big business – and a concomitant lack of consolidation in the design sector – there are a large number of agencies chasing fewer and fewer clients. In this climate, long-term partnerships are even more important and many consultancies and clients are now viewing their relationships in this way. ‘Over the last year we’ve been working a lot more with above the line agencies and I think this is partly because clients are looking for longer term relationships with their designers,’ says Barry Seal, managing director of strategic branding agency Anthem Worldwide. ‘Ideally designers have stopped being suppliers and are starting to become partners with a business. It’s about having a real relationship with your clients, not just a supplier relationship. I can’t stress this enough.’

Or, as Knowles puts it: ‘If clients give us more lock-in at the senior level we’ll work with them to deliver effective design. But the project nature of the industry terrifies agencies because if the client doesn’t like your face, there’s something in your portfolio they don’t like or they’ve got a mate they used to work worth – bang, you’re out.’

However, for all the challenges in proving effectiveness, winning boardroom buy-in and improving agency margins, the picture for design is not at all bleak. There’s little doubt that the strategic – and financial – value of design is being recognised at a higher level amongst business, helped along by the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards and the Design Council’s Designing Demand programme.

‘I don’t sense there’s any boardroom doubt about the value of good design,’ adds Knowles. ‘The uncertainty is more about how they acquire it and manage it. There are therefore huge opportunities for design consultancies to show how design can be of benefit to the business.’

As the economy wobbles and consumer credit dips, design must compete even harder to prove this strategic value to business. As Walford notes, design can be one of the first marketing services to be cut in a tight economic period and the last to be reinstated when things pick up. Indeed, within the last couple of months network-owned branding giants Interbrand (Omnicom) and The Brand Union (WPP) have both cited ‘uncertainty’ as a reason for senior redundancies.

But where agencies demonstrate their strategic understanding of consumer behaviour, along with the power of design to influence that behaviour, corporate chiefs are more likely to keep them in the fold. This is true not only of branding consultancies, but also in product, digital, retail and packaging design disciplines. Before taking the view from some of these sectors, it’s worth picking up another trend that connects them all and perhaps fundamentally changes the nature of all marketing communication.

Shifts in the way we communicate are creating what Seymourpowell director Richard Seymour calls a ‘paroxysmal change’ in the relationship between products, communications and marketing. ‘So much so,’ he says, ‘that most people, including design agencies, don’t know what’s going on; we’re right at the centre of it.’ What Seymour is referring is the transition from ‘push media’ – where marketing activity pushes messages about products and services towards consumers – to a Web 2.0-style of communication where people, everywhere, are sharing, re-appropriating and commenting on these messages like never before.

‘Push media is evaporating. Not the places to put it, which are still there, but what people are doing with it, which is that they’re talking to each other. It’s like going back to the Middle Ages. If the blacksmith in the village is shit, everybody knows about it,’ says Seymour. As an example, he cites a YouTube video that shows how to crack a Kryptonite lock with a biro. The video’s author reportedly said: ‘Your brand new U-lock is not safe’, causing huge implications for Kryptonite’s products and brand.

‘Basically, if you lie, you die. If you promise something great and the product isn’t up to it, there will be an onslaught,’ continues Seymour. ‘So, you start to see a re-emancipation of the object or the product as the truth. In this new order you see a new way of communication developing. If you say something in the old way – “we think this” in a pompous way – then there’s a massive negative reaction. This is a huge relief. It’s honest trading again. We can’t just take some stuff and advertise the bollocks off it.’

If this is the case, it affects not just design, but the way consumers receive all products, services and marketing communications. ‘It’s a fantastic time to be in the creative industries because we’re witnessing a complete change, a new dawn,’ argues Seymour. ‘And it’s not technology, not the “it” of the internet – that’s just the “how”. It’s anthropology; it’s emergent behaviour which arises from the tools we’ve now got.’

This is a version of an article written for Marketing, 8 July 2008.

Click till you drop

Talk to designers about retail and you’ll soon come across terms such as ‘theatre’, ‘experience’ and ‘customer journey’. These elements are part of the allure of a trip to the shops, for many a leisure pastime rather than practical chore. And with high street retailing such a competitive, cut-throat business, store designers are repeatedly called on to create more absorbing environments, anything to lure the customer away from a competitor’s store.

Yet it is just these 3D design elements – things like materials, finishes, lighting and space, as well as tactile products – that are lacking in the world of online retail. Despite this apparent handicap, the value of e-tailing is growing apace while sales on the high street are somewhat in the doldrums. According to a report from Verdict Research, online retail spend is forecast to grow by 32 per cent this year to £19.5bn, while offline sales bump up a mere 1.2 per cent. The report says that an online presence will become ‘a much more important differentiator between retail success and failure’.

‘Having an internet presence is now more important than ever,’ says Neil Saunders, a consulting director at Verdict Research. ‘The future for successful retailers isn’t about choosing between bricks or clicks, it’s about [both].’ Asda recently reached the same conclusion, partly because the likes of Primark and Tesco have stolen a march on the supermarket’s budget clothing line George. In response, George products are to move online for the first time.

According to Elmwood London managing director Nicolas Mamier, there are two main approaches to the web taken by retail companies. ‘They can either go for the full-on e-commerce portal, as FCUK has, or they can use the web as a branding tool, like Paul Smith,’ he says. ‘Some do a bit of both, like Top Shop, but for companies with a high rent, high footfall street presence there’s always the danger of cannibalising your sales with an online shop. This is the big decision they have to make.’

Either way, the high street will not die, claims Saunders. ‘Shopping is a tactile process and for many people it is a leisure activity – online retail does not really deliver on those two things,’ he says. Perhaps not, but retailers and digital designers are getting savvy about what the web lacks over its high-street counterparts, especially when it comes to fashion and clothing brands. On a website you can’t try clothes on, put together an outfit or shop with your friends and ask their opinions, for example.

To address exactly these sorts of issues, Otto – owner of the Freemans and Grattan catalogues in the UK – last year launched a dedicated online brand called Oli. Digital consultancy Conchango designed a ‘rich’ internet experience that would replace some of these missing elements. ‘Previously, the catalogues had been supported by a small web presence. With Oli it’s the other way around: it is primarily an internet brand supported by a smaller catalogue and they wanted to offer a dressing room-like experience,’ says Conchango digital media consultant Derek Dunlop.

The result is a site that allows shoppers to gather items ‘over the arm’ and place them on a blank canvas, re-sizing and arranging products to check out an overall outfit. This collection can be mailed to a friend for an opinion and the whole lot sent to checkout with one click. Dunlop says there’s now scope to add live elements, allowing multiple users to discuss and manipulate collections at the same time.

H&M’s response to online’s lack of dressing rooms is a series of ‘models’ created by Montreal-based My Virtual Model, whose bodies, hair and skin colour can be adjusted to match your own. Another approach to the lack of physical space online is the virtual shopping mall, a model given new momentum thanks to the rise of Second Life. Currently in beta test stage and scheduled to launch later this summer is UK-based Myfaveshop.com. Designed in-house, the site will combine a 3D ‘bespoke’ shop comprised of the buyer’s wish-list of products, with community elements, such as product reviews from friends, also built in. ‘You can manage your products in 2D, but when you look around they are all there in a 360-degree environment,’ explains Myfaveshop marketing director Ashley Harris.

Whether used as lush branding vehicle, e-commerce-enabled database or full-scale virtual world, a well-considered presence on the web is essential for retail brands. The design challenge is to make the online experience not only as enjoyable as shopping in stores, but also captivating enough to lure consumers to one site amongst a wild west of cheaper alternatives.

This article was written for Design Week, 15 May 2008.

Cheap as chic

It’s well documented that we’re in a period of financial gloom and diminishing credit, which is bad news for retailers. Or is it? While consumers naturally tighten their belts in a recessional period, it’s often the big ticket items – such as cars, kitchens and holidays – that get the chop, while lower-cost items are bought with a more mix and match approach, some value products, some premium. And in this environment, it’s packaging design that guides shoppers through the sea of choices, tugging gently at the subconscious one minute and shouting loudly in the face the next.

Most supermarkets – and, increasingly, other large site retailers – use a tiered system of good, better, best product ranges, ostensibly to offer something for everybody. ‘Good’ represents value or economy and the standard approach to communicating a value offer is with a bold, simple and often brash palette – high-impact typography and low levels of information. This type of visual communication is quickly and easily understood and doesn’t make excessive ‘decoding’ demands on the consumer. Its simplicity also suggests an economy of manufacture which, in the customer’s mind, translates to higher value.

‘It’s about saying what it does on the tin as fast as you possibly can. Any extra tricks or finesse and people think that they’re paying for it,’ explains Doug James, director of Honey, which is designing packaging for a range of Tesco products.

But it’s not just in economy lines where simplicity and value are intertwined. Jones Knowles Ritchie creates the packaging for McVitie’s Digestives, still sold in a traditional plastic roll-wrap design. Attempts to move away from this with, say, foil materials or card packaging, are met with consumer resistance because the fancy – and therefore ‘expensive’ – design is seen as too complex for the product. ‘We’ve looked at ways of protecting the biscuits for transport and ways of improving freshness, but in terms of the perception of value in people’s minds, it’s very hard to improve on the roll-wrap,’ says JKR director Andrew Knowles.

Different brands and ranges are usually presented in a manner which side-steps their weaknesses and highlights their strengths, adds Knowles. So, Tesco Value and Sainsbury’s Basics ranges compete on price directly with discount retailers such as Aldi and Lidl with designs that scream value – basic two-tone packaging often set on a plain white background, occasionally with product photography. They can adopt this ultra-value style because, to consumers, the big supermarkets carry an inherent quality level. At Aldi the super-low prices are well known, but it has to fight against an associated perception of low quality. So its packaging uses higher-end cues including full-colour photography and more complex colour palettes. Meanwhile, branded manufacturers such as McVitie’s or Heinz cannot (and do want to) compete on price, so their packaging deliberately avoids any low price cues, instead promoting higher quality and consistency.

The good, better, best strategy is a complex dance around not only the competition, but also other products in a retailer’s own portfolio. B&Q is on the verge of revealing a new strategy behind its packaging and brand ‘personality’, but already operates a three-tiered approach to products. According to packaging, design and guidelines manager Jonathan Couper, ‘better’ must complement and support ‘good’ in such a way that consumers want to trade up rather than down. ‘Good and better packaging is based around the same identity, a speech bubble device [originally devised by Elmwood]. There’s more colour and information on the better range, but the speech bubble is used in both tiers to tie them together and help encourage trade-ups,’ says Couper.

The idea that value or economy packaging may be especially designed to ‘guilt’ some shoppers into trading up to the next level perhaps has some currency. ‘It has to be as cheap as they can get away with, as they don’t want to migrate regular customers down to the economy level,’ notes Knowles. But Richard Murray, director at Williams Murray Hamm, the consultancy behind the Sainsbury’s Basics packaging, says purchasing patterns may not be that clear. ‘The interesting thing about value packaging is that it’s not just poor people who are drawn to it. Some people choose it because they don’t like slick marketing or to feel that they’re being played with,’ he says.

In this way, the basic simplicity of the packs plays a new role – not just cheap, but honest. Sainsbury’s Basics on-pack copy and illustrations explain honestly, and often humorously, how the supermarket has managed to make the products cheaper. ‘I just bought the cornflakes in the range at 26p. The copy line claims “No fancy packaging, still a great breakfast”, saying it like it is, with wit, engagement and pride,’ says Martin Grimer, creative director of Blue Marlin Brand Design.

Finally, in a climate of achieving value through sustainability, branded packaging itself perhaps walks something of a tightrope. Ikea, the self-styled ‘democratiser’ of low-cost domestic design, uses virtually no packaging apart from what’s needed for transit. A company spokeswoman says this is precisely because it ‘saves costs and minimises waste’. This, hopes Ikea, translates to better value, more honest retailing.

This article was written for Design Week, 15 May 2008.

What’s in store at Terminal 5?

A retail experience – its design and integration – has been embedded in the long gestation of London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 from the very early stages. A retail designer was always present when architectural concepts were being tested, as was Nick Ziebland, retail strategy director for T5 at BAA, the airport’s owner. The project, claims Ziebland, has not only created a more coherent environment at T5 itself, but will also act as a process blueprint for the further development of Heathrow and BAA’s other airports in the UK.

The importance of retail for BAA is manifest. In the last nine months of 2006, retail income across its UK airports was almost £500m. In the vast, Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners-designed T5 building, 22 000m2 of floor space is dedicated to shops, food and drink for its exclusively British Airways passengers.

But, refuting claims that T5 is essentially a giant shopping mall, Ziebland insists that the percentage of retail space is ‘quite small’. An exact figure is hard to pin down, because it depends on which zones of the building you include as the ‘whole’. Nonetheless, Ziebland defends the scheme. ‘Retail has not extended walking distances, there is no bottleneck. There are matrices of flow, but you don’t have to walk past any particular shops,’ he says.

Size matters aside, the retail offer is specifically designed to give passengers something a little special. ‘All the retailers had to make proposals to us with innovations in their concept designs or service. We made this quite explicit. In order to make T5 different, we’re looking for everyone to do something that’s not quite the same as what you’ve seen before,’ explains Ziebland.

As well as encouraging innovation in its tenant brands, BAA has influenced the overall design with strict material quality and environmental standards, says Paul Elms, retail account director at Sheridan & Co, the consultancy which designed Sisley’s retail unit. BAA also maintains control over the public spaces outside the retail units. ‘A lot of work went into framing the bulkhead above the stores, which is up-lit. There are no extending or bus-stop signs because the space curves, with a clear delineation between retail and public space. The shops are on your way, not in your way,’ says Ziebland.

The collaboration between the T5 design team, the architects and BAA Retail marks out T5 as a benchmark for future developments, says BAA design director David Bartlett. ‘There is a common understanding of the passenger journey across arrivals and departures, where people have different practical and emotional needs at different stages. And it’s about integrating the retail at these different stages, as well as with the architecture. We’ve very carefully balanced what’s land-side and air-side,’ he says.

Moving air-side, the space divides into two main internationaldeparture lounge squares, each with its own character. The north square is informed by such adjectives as ‘high energy, upbeat and young’, taking Times Square as a design metaphor. The south square adopts the cues of a hotel lobby, with wood and leather. Each square sits under a ‘theatrical’ lighting scheme that complements its character, says Bartlett. The key retail and food brands are located accordingly, and the two squares are connected by a ‘high street’ of stores.

Bartlett likens the management of the T5 building to the staging of a production at London’s National Theatre, with terminal as theatre, floor plates as stages and the various environments acting as dynamic sets within. ‘T5 is an enabler to start, and sets a benchmark. We’ve reviewed all the retail design guidelines and we’ve done everything we can to integrate retail with the passenger journey, from the beginning to the end,’ he says.

This article was written for Design Week, 27 February 2008.