Creativity and imagination are the building blocks of design, something we all know, but here is the thing we are all born with the ability to imagine and think creatively. But if you are in the creative industry, architect, designer, writer, filmmaker etc, it takes more than an innate ability to churn great work. Just like all kids are creative, but as they grow older they do things the ‘way it’s supposed to be’ and by the time they are adults creative thinking goes out of the window. Similarly just being naturally talented doesn’t always work in the creative industry, it takes more than that. It takes methodical training, rigor, design methodologies and an undying commitment to WHAT IF.
In fact these methodologies and processes can be applied to other industries as well. Creativity and imagination don’t need to be building blocks of the creative field only, intact when these processes are used in other industries we coin it as Design Thinking. There are many definitions of this term but my favorite is an add on of Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie’s definition, Design thinking is actually a systematic approach to problem solving, where systematic approach means imagination combined with creativemethods.
Imagination; What if
Designers and artists think differently, the reason being they see things others don’t because they ask questions. Asking WHAT IF is the most crucial part of the design process. Imagining a product, service or system without any preconceived notions, moreover the process is rethinking the world as we know of it.
Creative methods; Tools of the trade
Designers have toolboxes too, like any other industry that is involved in the art of doing and making things. Only designer’s toolbox has more of metaphoric tool in it, these tools are the methodologies that enable them to create, iterate and innovate. I am listing some of these methodologies that I have been using for the last the 10 years as a designer.
4 Strategies For Creating Iconic Retail Experiences
Retail experiences are an integral part of our day to day life. We experience them every day, whether buying groceries, grabbing coffee, getting lunch, spending a day with friends and family. Most retailers and brands think of retail as a transaction experience, which if happens in a physical store they think ‘designing retail space’, if the transaction takes place online, they think of ‘designing a website’, but retail is no longer just the act of selling and purchasing but more of an experience that is social, sensory, and cognitive. A retail experience has more variables than mere products and transactions. Anatomy of retail experience includes artifacts, environments, interactions, operations and consumer behavior.
This is the era of Experiential Retail, where both physical and digital experiences have become synonymous with brands; merchandise, environments, interactions, and operations revolve around the values of the brand and retailer.
How do we design for experiential retail you might ask? To design for the challenges in 21st century retail we need to look closely at anatomy of retail experience and design accordingly. These 4 strategies can help in creating unique experiences that will help you stand apart from your competitors.
1. Brand, Brand —- and Brand
No I am not talking about marketing, neither am I talking about advertising. Brand is the core of a retailer’s very existence. Know your brand promise; translate it to your packaging, physical spaces, staffing, and digital channels. For example Starbucks’s promise was to create a space in between home and office, keeping that promise has been the driving force for creating an iconic experience that lends to a purchase of a $4 cup of coffee a very loyal customer.
As surprising as it sounds apart from Starbucks, Disney, Apple and Mc Donald’s are great examples of successful retail experiences, no matter how far removed their experiences are from each others, they are all iconic examples of brand integrated experience, physical and digital. Every channel employed by these retailers delivers an experience unique and original to the brand promise.
2. Customer Journey is the key
With the surge of social networking platforms and blog posts such as Facebook, twitter and Pintrest, the retail experience can no longer be categorized as ‘in store’ and ‘online’ or ‘physical’ and ‘digital’. While browsing Macy’s store on their mobile, customers don’t think that they are browsing a ‘mobile channel’, neither do they think they are making a purchase through ‘e-channel’ when browsing the website. From their perspective, they are shopping at Macy’s. Unfortunately Macy’s doesn’t get it! (They recently introduced a new line of products available only available online, hence their online store is competing with the offline store.)
On the other hand successful retail brands like Nordstrom has a multi-channel, multi-touch point experience that looks at the entire customer journey. This can start by speaking to someone or browsing on a mobile device and may end in a physical or digital store. The same inventory is available offline as online, expedited localized delivery, creates a seamless retail experience.
3. Think behavior not segments
Traditionally retailers base their strategies, and entire product lines on customer segmentation based on age, gender, income etc. However traditional segmentation is important but not everything, it fails to portray the human depth; behavior patterns, goals, aspirations and contextual needs.
This year a Seattle based retail start-up Hointer opened the doors to its beta version store, catering to men. The concept was based on the assumption that most men don’t like to shop, hence men can enter the store, download the store app, look at the merchandise, all hung facing customers, scan the bar code on the price tag, look for their size, if they like to try order it for trial, the app will send the jeans to a changing room, the app tells you which changing room to go to. You try, you like, you swipe your card in the changing room and you are out. No hassle, no customer service nightmare, its quick, it’s convenient and its perfect for those who don’t have time. Well, guess what they realized, a demand among female customers; apparently women don’t like shopping jeans either! It never was about the gender, it’s about busy life style (behavior), buying jeans is boring for both men and women (context), women are consciously uncomfortable while looking for the right size (goals, aspiration), and recently Hointers added women’s collection to their inventory. The crux of the matter; human behaviors is not constant it’s inter changeable and contextual. Unlike segments they are not fixed hence designing for human behavior brings depth and diversity, enabling retailers to create compelling experiences.
4. Beyond products
Experiential retail goes beyond the product, it’s about integration of brand, product and …. Service. Retail experience depends equally on customer service as on the brand or product. May it be a physical location, digital interaction or delivery time, what differentiates an exceptional experience from a mediocre one, isn’t based on the biggest inventory,but on having the best or the most innovative service.
Let’s look at Nike, world’s leading sports brand, but its success didn’t stop it from adding the Nike plus experience that extends beyond the store and shopping. With its running app, watch and fuel band, it gives its customers the tools that make their lives easier, helps them optimize to their full potential, and fortifies brand connection.
Designing retail experiences for 21st century is a blind spot for many retailers, and ignoring it would cost them a great deal.
PSFK is curating The Future of Home Living exhibit, an interactive physical showcasing of ideas and innovations for a modern urban living. The exhibit housed in a 4500 square feet retail space, opens on July 23rd in NYC.
I am looking forward to see the exhibit, If you are in NYC around the time you should surely check it out!
Recently I read an article about ‘maulvis’ and their changing relationship with Pakistanis. what caught my attention was the fact how oblivious pakistanis are to the dramatic change they have undergone as a nation.
“A senior journalist, Ghulam Farooq, agrees: “In the 1950s and 1960s, no…
At present I am taking a course called Design Futures, where we are in search of future narratives; possible scenarios. With 11 other class members I spent a week on selecting a topic, ranging from water, food, museums, concept of quality to brand, branding and advertising. Through voting and debate we ended up with museums, my initial reaction was disappointment that we were not working on the big world issues of water and food but instead museums. Well that only lasted for a few days for we were told to write our most current museum experience, or a museum experience that moved us greatly. As I sat down writing my initial museums experiences and the most recent once, a new meaning of museums started to emerge.
Before I talk about the change in my perception of museums and what it means, let me tell you what my previous perception has been. I have always been fascinated by history and that has been my motivation for museum visits. To me visiting museums was like being a kid in a candy shop. Coming from Pakistan most of the museums that I have visited are historical (no surprise there, considering the appx. forty thousand year old history). Having seen exhibits on one of the oldest civilizations in the museums of Moen-jo-daro and Harappa, Taxila to the dinosaur fossils in the Baluchistan University museum. For me museums were curators of history, culture and heritage. They seemed like big tombs of the eras that had passed by, tombs that both sparked curiosity and were fascinating.
But this definition of museums altered after my visit to the Natural History Museum in New York, although it seemed no less than a metaphoric tomb, old, grave, silent, bespoke of the history, of creatures and civilizations gone by. It’s been two years since I visited the museum, they had two special exhibits, one on the first expedition to North Pole and the second was the Silk Route. They were the best designed experiences I have ever had in a museum; it changed my definition of a museum from curators of history to avid story tellers. The narration combined with the artifacts, the visitor’s journey, the engaging of senses with sight, sound, smell and tactile.
The exhibition of North Pole expedition had speeches, newspaper clippings of its eras, the biographies of the people. The images of the people and the conditions, the artifacts (their equipment, clothing, maps) and mostly the environment that surrounded the exhibit tied the story together. The Silk Route was another exceptional experience. The various regions, cities and towns spread on the route was represented by music, smells of the traded goods and the tactile artifacts that could be touched, the daily scenes of the area, histories and achievements of that particular city or town, it’s people and their craft. The visitors moved from city to city as if travelling on the silk route and coming across its wonders and diversity.
Since then I have visited several museums of art, history, science but nothing has topped the experience I had in both of the previously mentioned exhibits. But now I see museums in a relatively different light, I see them as narrators, they tell stories of the past, of art, of science depending on what museum’s concentration might be. In the end, the museums have the power to evoke curiosity and ignite imagination through their ability to tell narratives and stories.
Have you seen the latest TED edition of Ted-Ed. An open source network for educators, animators, designers infact anyone who is interested in spreading knowledge. You can nominate an educator or recommend an animator, the lessons are made in to engaging videos. Check out their website and learn more!
An Essay on Peter Schwartz's, The Art of the Long View
This is a relatively easy but never the less insightful read on strategic planning for un-fore seen futures and on the use of scenarios as an effective tool of communication for strategic planning. Examples from Schwartz’s past experiences working with companies like Shell and later on for his own consultancy are great case studies of success and learning from failure.
He cautions the readers against treating scenario building as a tool to predict the future. Rather than predict one certain future, scenarios intend merely to describe and simulate multiple plausible futures. The goal of scenario-based strategic planning is to free people from conventional wisdom and what he refers to as “the official future” organizational groupthink encourages. This freedom allows people to see many plausible futures, their causes, their consequences and their signs, empowering people and organizations both to be appropriately prepared for the future, regardless of which one actually arrives and which one they want to work toward.
Schwartz’s strategic scenarios are based on the tensions between driving forces, predetermined elements and critical uncertainties, which he collects by collecting primary data and then interviewing (secondary) the key people in the concerned fields.
His methodology STEEP which stands for society, technology, economics, politics and the environment. It is a great frame work to look at future trends on a Macro level, although it can be filtered to micro level through iteration process. It’s the relationship of STEEP with the Predetermined Elements and what he calls the Critical Uncertainties create the holistic picture.
As of his 2025 scenarios most of which are quiet plausible and we hear of them in segments, but he identifies a pattern and builds up the narrative, scenario around it. In my humble opinion some of the societal scenarios are more general, the economic scenario almost seem China-phobic, India and Brazil are mentioned again and again as growing economies but are extremely different from each other and vary from China as well. They all face different challenges and have different strengths. Political future scape seem to be void of a certain depth. What’s missing from these scenarios is the regional politics of Mid-East, the tension between India and China, complete invisibility of Russia from the picture and the question of definition of East (from Mid-East, South Asia to China all of them consider them as The East, and none of them share either culture or history).