Elevating the Art of Experience, Through Science, to Design the Future of Retail
Based on the buzz around the new Forty Five Ten at Hudson Yards in New York City, and the Virgil Abloh installation at Louis Vuitton on Fifth Avenue, there's a clear trend at the moment for dramatic art installations in retail. Personally, I love seeing these come to life, shopping them, and designing them. However, we shouldn't forget about the “science” dimension of retail design that plays an increasingly important role these days in the form of data, analytics and smart technology.
Our clients are currently challenging us to understand how art installations and brand experiences translate into dollars for them. So while we still believe that these artful experiences are important for brand connections and growing loyalty, we also need to understand the science behind what resonates with customers and drives them to shop the brand. Our job, as designers, is to then create revenue from these experiences.
People want experiences that fulfill their basic human desire to belong, to progress, to be independent and find comfort. For example, we look for a retreat when we want to heal, a lab when we want to explore, an arena when we want to fight. It’s no longer, “What can I buy from you?” It’s “What can I achieve with you?” Because our shopping behavior is changing so quickly, one key point that brand leaders and agencies need to focus on is listening and observing customers within their habitats. Once we understand their behavior, we can create better experiences and destinations that fulfill these specific needs.
At FITCH, we've defined "Experience Themes" to help us better understand how a brand can design a compelling three-dimensional space that makes sense for its distinct community of consumers. Using WPP BrandZ data, we can identify the experience expected by 650,000 consumers of 23,000 brands in 31 countries.
Here’s what that looks like in practice: A brand like SoulCycle has developed a cult following in its “arena” atmosphere. The instructors tap into our human need to progress and become a ring leader, motivating each rider to their limits — on and off the bike. This human connection is what drives SoulCycle enthusiasts to keep coming back every week, or even every day.
In a city like New York, it can be hard to find peace and quiet. There's also (at times) an overwhelming need to escape. Casper mattresses tapped into this recently when it created The Dreamery, a “retreat” where customers pay $25 for 45 minutes of uninterrupted relaxation in complementary pajamas, paired with a toothbrush set, face wash and audio tracks to help them meditate. It’s a perfect way to test drive the Casper brand in an experience-forward way and simultaneously snag a midday nap, while touching upon our very human need to escape, relax and renew.
There’s also our human need for discovery, which can be hands-on. We worked with Miele to develop its small format “lab-like” experience in Toronto that lets consumers explore the technology behind its line of kitchen appliances. Guests can test drive Miele’s convection cookery at the digital hob, for instance, or discover pairable products along the RFID-enabled consumables wall. The M-touch wall highlights the integrated tech that sits behind Miele’s range of appliances, enabling customers to build a connected, smart kitchen. The space focuses on the technology and science behind what powers Miele, and consumers are invited to play along and familiarize themselves on their own terms.
What each of these brands has done well is fuse the duality of art and science together to create highly commercial, distinctively memorable retail experiences.
Alasdair Lennox is the executive creative director for brand and retail consultancy FITCH.
Alasdair Lennox is the Executive Creative Director for brand and retail consultancy FITCH. He is a FITCH mainstay, having been there for 20-plus years, starting his career as a junior environmental designer and working his way up. He even trained under its founder, Rodney Fitch (how many ECDs can say that?). Alasdair is a design junkie, who truly understands with every brand project he works on, that they key is to sell more products and win more fans…. A feat which boils down to design. As in, it’s all about design, from product to storefront to consumer experiences.
Outside of work, Alasdair is heavily involved in charities supporting men with mental illnesses (something he sees as a close tie in with the creative world), and is an avid collector of vintage dive watches (again, he loves functional, aesthetic-pleasing design). Originally from Great Britain and now living in Brooklyn, Alasdair went to school in both the UK and Catalonia. Under his guidance, FITCH has scored major wins at Cannes Lions and the World Retail Awards. He has extensive experience in both strategic and creative assignments for a wide variety of clients, including adidas, Miele, McLaren, Nespresso and Enterprise.