This editorial appeared in Contract's November 2013 issue. To read the digital edition, click here.
You can purchase almost anything you need online without leaving your home or going to a specific store. Shopping is a task we now complete by using a computer or mobile device anywhere or anytime. Do we look up from a screen? Do we still window shop? Do we still patronize stores in person?
Well, the answer is yes. But the participatory act of shopping is evolving thanks to the ease of online retail. Therefore, design is of paramount importance to the in-person experience. We kept this in mind as we produced this issue, which features excellent retail interiors, including the Stuart Weitzman Milan flagship (page 44) by Zaha Hadid Architects, as well as a special feature on an exquisite Parisian restaurant (page 56). Taken together, the projects illustrate that great interior design enhances the customer’s experience of a brand. That, in turn, served as inspiration for the tagline of this issue—Brand and Beauty.
Design matters, and place matters. Companies are increasingly aware of how the power of an experience relates to a purchase, which is why websites alone often don’t cut it. The in-person experience of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store is not going away, but it is certainly changing. A recent article from analytics service provider Mu Sigma succinctly describes the fundamental raison d’être of brick-and-mortar stores: “Retailers would do well to realize that customers do not always shop to just acquire products. They often shop to gratify other deeper needs—a need to engage all five senses, to socialize and to commune, and at times to simply be out in public.”
On and near Boston’s trendy Newbury Street shopping promenade, retailers known primarily for their online presence—Bonobos, Warby Parker, and suitmaker Blank Label—have recently opened shops. Why? The store is a means for the brand to present itself and its value proposition, and for customers to understand the full breadth of offerings in one location.
Another example of what one could call “showroom reverse” is Best Buy, which is devoting space in its stores to high-profile brands such as Microsoft, Samsung, and Apple in a department store model. In its U.S. stores, Best Buy has launched 500 Microsoft Windows shops within shops, with sleek white display tables set on a hardwood floor. With this shop-in-shop concept, Best Buy is attempting to change the consumer proposition by establishing the website as the showroom, and enticing people to then come to the store to make a purchase.
If you’ve been to an Apple store—and chances are you have— you understand the concept of a store as a public gathering space. More people now visit one of Apple’s 400-plus stores in a three-month period than visit Disney’s four largest theme parks in a whole year, according to data from the Themed Entertainment Association. Design is essential to Apple, and we recognize the modern interior of each store—a carefully crafted assemblage of glass windows with a back-lit Apple logo, stone floors, interior stainless steel walls, and wood display tables—as a backdrop for the products within.
And Apple understands that that it cannot rest on its past success. The first Apple stores are now more than 10 years old, and an experience that was once considered fresh and innovative at the turn of the century may seem—to a new generation of young shoppers—to be run-of-the-mill and expected. Just last month, Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, who had transformed a stuffy Burberry brand, to be its new senior vice president of retail. She is charged to, in essence, further reshape and refine Apple’s physical and online retail efforts to be simpatico, and the impact will likely have a ripple effect on broader retail interior architecture trends.
If you are interested in learning more about designing for brand experience, see the article “Bricks Over Clicks: Enhancing the In-Person Shopping Experience by Design” (page 62) by Caleb Mulvena, a principal at the firm Mapos, who outlines key examples of how design can be utilized to positively influence brand identity. Enjoy this issue, and consider how your design work synthesizes brand and beauty.
John Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA, Hon. IIDA
Editor in Chief