Retail: Challenging by design


La Pâtisserie des Rêves

This guest post comes from Mike Branson, Managing Partner, one of the three founding partners and head of the New York studio of the international design agency Pearlfisher. Mike challenges retail brand builders to push the boundaries of branding at retail in all its touch points.


Retail: Challenging by design

As brand channels to market become ever more diverse, a clear understanding of the core brand truth and directional thinking about how this can and should translate – both behaviorally and aesthetically – remains key, particularly in the context of the retail environment.

The advances of technology has maybe slightly blindsided us because we feel that we live in a more connected world than ever before. But, the dichotomy is that, we are actually much less physically connected and are looking to brands and retailers to reinstate and refresh that connection and create a deeper and more meaningful brand experience. And, of course, it is design that is the single most tangible interface between anything man made and with people who use it. Therefore, in a commercial context, how well a product or retail space is designed – in both the function and aesthetic – will affect the bottom line and business fortunes.

There are, of course, the mega successful and much cited retailers – like Target and Loblaws – that have maintained commercial success and recognition primarily by evolving the creation of the brand offer and the brand experience through the total design of the retail environment. But, in even just the past two years, if we look at any sector, any market, any global territory we see a change almost beyond all recognition. And it’s design that has been the prime catalyst as a new breed of brands has bravely changed and challenged existing paradigms to create new thoughts and visual expressions for brands – redefining both categories and the look of the retail environment.

Singapore’s Frolick yoghurt shop

La Pâtisserie des Rêves in Paris sells a deluxe range of cakes and pastries but nothing in the sleek and minimalist design is reminiscent of a traditional patisserie. Rather it is more akin to strictly controlled lab conditions with the ‘masterpieces’ exhibited under their own temperature-controlled glass bells suspended from the ceiling. In contrast, Singapore’s Frolick yoghurt shop has a completely cool and playful attitude to being health-conscious with a plethora of colorful, fun and diverse Frolick brand slogan ‘badging’ – such as ‘My yoghurt will beat up your yoghurt’ – on everything from signage and fixtures, to packaging and real badges… Lifestyle store Pino, based in Helsinki, sells unique, functional and innovative design objects. The idea for the concept came from the name of the shop which means a ‘pile’ or ‘stack’ in Finnish and this idea is taken visually into the new logo and the design of the shop fixtures.

And if we look closer to home, we have seen an explosion of innovation right here in the US. Eataly NYC is the largest artisanal Italian marketplace but could actually claim to be a gastronomic town with a combination offering shopping, eating and workshops/classes all under one roof…But innovation is not just confined to the more traditional retail spaces as mobile and pop-up initiatives – such as Street Sweets a mobile kitchen bakery in New York providing handcrafted sweets and desserts – bring the brand and retail experience directly to us.

And, today, with consumers looking for a new experiential and emotional connection with retailers, these savvy establishments are challenging and breaking away from tried and traditional retail conventions through the design to give the consumers the space to truly experience, connect and interact with the brand, the environment and the fellow customers.

In a world of shorter attention spans for the over-choiced consumer, it is mold breaking, forward-thinking design that meets evolving human needs – and which stands out to give the competitive business advantage. Can our larger and more established retailers really afford to ignore the inspiration offered by these creative – and successful – boundary pushers?

Mike Branson, Managing Partner, Pearlfisher

Follow Mike on twitter


Lifestyle store Pino, based in Helsinki


Previous articleMorrisons Continues to Build Private Brand Dream Team
Next article2010 Private Brand Sales Show Continued Growth
Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.