About Chris

Designer and artist looking for and sharing life's wondrous ups and downs. We only get one ride. Make it a good one.

Don’t Throw Your Bubblegum Out the Window

Twenty years ago my partner taught me to not throw my used bubblegum out the car window. Or anywhere else for that matter. What would happen if someone walked by and got the wad of chewed gum stuck on the sole of their shoe. That would, most likely, ruin their day or at least irritate them. I know I’d be put off. It’s a simple concept but it stuck with me. I haven’t thrown my gum away carelessly since; instead carefully placing it in it’s wrapper and into the trash every time.

I’ll apply this as an analogy for thoughtful design. Designers need to take into consideration ALL the stakeholders that will be affected by the things they design. Any time we do something that has the potential to ruin someone’s day, or inconvenience them at the very least, we are throwing gum out the car window.

We can not just worry about the user, client, engineering or manufacturing. Anyone that will come in contact with the finished design should be delighted or at the very least not inconvenienced by that which we put time and effort to present to the world.

Often, creative retail design projects, as they move from client to marketing and salesperson to sourcing, end up carrying a lot of baggage. Decisions are made ahead of time – materials, placement of interactive elements and elements that affect ergonomics (human factors). Designers can be handcuffed a bit. We as designers work to give a voice to the voiceless in the process. And if we’re not successful in convincing the others on the project to make changes, there’s a good chance gum is being thrown out of the car window.

Accessibility is the primary area this happens. The standing reach limit is about 72″ and we rarely ever run into anyone asking for something higher than that. Where we do run into a problem is making solutions accessible to people in wheelchairs and for shorter guests. A standard desktop height (30″) or countertop height (36″) is the preferred zone for interactive experiences. Any touch screen needs to have a centerline at 48″ or below, or at least have a set of controls below that height. More often than you’d think though, we get design requests that are beyond these – too high or too low – all to meet some preconceived requirement that has nothing to do anything really.  We have to match some sort of pre-existing standard e.g. an existing display or a racking set up and we aren’t allowed to “move steel”.  As designers we advocate for changes to the design requirements that benefit all stakeholders, making displays accessible to everyone.

Yes, I understand that we don’t see a lot of people in wheelchairs in some retail stores. But I would think they have enough challenges to deal with on a daily basis. Why make a retail experience be another one. And it goes beyond just accessibility. Poor way finding, confusing messaging, and poorly planned user experiences all work towards inconveniencing and annoying guests.

Prioritize design parameters, challenge preconceptions of what success looks like and focus on pleasing everyone, especially those stakeholders who don’t always get a voice at the design table. In the long run you may need to rethink the existing build environment if it’s not considerate and functioning. No sense adding more bad design to bad design.

My advice:

  • accessibility is important – know where humans can reach, see, and access interactive elements and design for them
  • keep it simple – guests are short on time when they are shopping, no one is reading paragraphs, educate concisely and quickly
  • easy to find – break it down so I can find what shoppers want, quickly
  • design the user experience – only use technology when necessary and spend the money to design the experience (should not be uncommon to spend 10% of project budget  for design of interactive user experience)
  • attention to detail – put buttons in the logical place, make sure everything works, delight guests, don’t make life complicated.

Is it the end of the world if a stranger steps in gum? No. But it sure is annoying and can really mess up someone’s day. Why would any of us want our brand experience associated with stepping in gum.

-Chris

_______

Chris Weigand is an industrial designer with over twenty years experience. He has worked on projects for over two-hundred brands during the course of his career. He may be contacted at 330.858.8926 and chris@chrisweiganddesign.com and would love to learn about your retail design project.

Meraki House Collective

So we did a thing.

Our consultancy has been based out of my basement for the last six years. Yeah, I know, sounds half rate but the reality is in this modern age we can work from anywhere, and there was really no need for the overhead of a leased office space. I work with a close group of designers and other consultants, spread out across America. Technology allowed us to share files and video conference.

But the reality is, especially in a creative field, there is a lot of value in having people physically near by to be able to bounce ideas off of each other, or ask opinions of. There is a whole aspect of a rewarding work environment missing if you work solo, no matter how nice your office is. Also home offices carry a lot of inherent distractions that are less work related, and more cat or grocery shopping related.

In late summer of this year I texted a friend and collaborator of mine and basically said “I gotta get out of here”. We had been knocking around the idea of getting a co-working space for some time and the time had finally arrived to make it happen.

So, fast-forward to October 1st and four (not just two) of us have moved into Meraki House Collective (M House for short). We each maintain our individual businesses but by working together in the same engaging and purposeful location we get so much more benefit than even if we had just rented a basic co-working space or joined some pre-arranged flex office space. We shoot to spend about seventy percent of our time on our core business and thirty percent on collaboration, development and exploration. While it has only been two and a half months, the space and our collective is exceeding expectations.

Highlights:

Flexible, purposeful spaces: There are a variety of work environments at M House that are conducive to doing great work. Two former offices have been turned into a library and a conference room. A generous main space allows for larger collaboration and ideation. There’s dedicated work space for traditional work in the loft area. In the warmer months, a large deck beckons outdoor conversation and gatherings. There are spaces and places to be quiet, and others for when you need to make a little noise. No matter the need or mood, M House has the answer when it comes to spaces to connect or work.

Delightful experiences: We got most of the furniture from Facebook Marketplace, or from home and some of it we made ourselves. The landlord did a fantastic job painting all the walls and refitting the kitchen and bathroom. Yes, there are traditional things like computers, a conference table and printer, but there are also crayons, whiteboards and a cork lined trend wall. So far, most of the art on the walls, we made ourselves. Plants help clean the air and soften the spaces. It’s a space for people to come together for fun, creative collaboration.

Guest friendly: Visitors are one of the best things about M House. People are excited to see us here, and they love being in this space. We take pride in what we are building and it shows. We are very purposeful in the space, it’s fittings, and beyond the physical space. We want M House to be a safe place to imagine, ideate and create. There is good energy here and it is shared with guests via the space, and our positive approach to having meaningful conversation. This is a place to feel renewed, productive, and it is a place to solve problems.

I’ll post more in the future about our businesses and how we are collaborating, but for now below is a visual tour of our space.

-Chris


Chris Weigand is president of Chris Weigand Design, LLC, a boutique retail design consultancy located in the (Peninsula) Richfield, Ohio area, halfway between Cleveland and Akron. He has over 23 years experience designing engaging retail experiences that delight guests and help communicate wonderful brands every day at retail. Contact Chris at 330.858.8926 to find out more and discuss your design needs.

Quick Look: Interactive Displays at Walmart

The other day I was in Walmart shopping and looking at displays, and a couple interactive displays caught my eye. We work on a lot of interactive, smart home displays, and while we didn’t work on these ones we’re talking about here, I did think they were interesting. They did some things good / great, and I think there are a couple things that could amp them up.

WM interative displays

The two displays I saw, I really like. Walmart does a nice job presenting smart home products in a calm, cool and collected manner. Security is handled below with a closed case that is still inviting (lighting) that allows guests to view product boxes. There’s a nice integrated caption strip above the case and below the display for a branding message.

Above the strip, the display sit – one is a Google display and, located elsewhere in the electronics department, is a home wi-fi display. I don’t know if Walmart designed and built these displays or individual brands did, likely Walmart did as the wi-fi one showcases several brands, but they bring a cohesive look and feel. Both displays are punctuated by simple white metal forms and a large back panel graphic.

I love the simplicity and focus on the actual product. The downside is there is too much white space; I advocate all the time for simplicity (and negative space) but these two might take it a touch too far. There is some architecture and surface area on the Google display that could benefit from some product call outs (so guests can associate product with name) or high level information. Regardless, the display successfully leverages its back panel with large type that calls in guests from thirty feet away and beyond.

The wi-fi display does a great job leveraging a video monitor and sound to tell several product stories. The buttons are clearly marked, explaining to guests what they are going to be learning about. I don’t mind the reach and the videos do a nice job of explaining things, with content seemingly created for the display and just just random commercials. The back panel graphic falls down a bit by being not-so-inspiring, and inexplicably there is a large expanse to the left of the screen that could benefit from some whimsy or designedly touches to delight the guests.

Overall two nice simple displays that error on the side of being too simple. But I would rather see that than something overwrought and confusing to guests. Especially in an already confusing category.

-Chris

_________

Chris Weigand is president of Chris Weigand Design, LLC, a northeast Ohio based retail design consultancy that works with retailers, manufactures and brands to create engaging retail experiences. Chris has worked in retail design for over twenty years, and has worked with over 200 brands and retailers during his career. Contact Chris at 330.858.8926 for more information and to discuss your retail experience needs. 

Please No More “Good, Better, Best”

So as a retail designer I work with brands, retailers, agencies and display manufacturers. They all have different viewpoints and goals when it comes to retail design projects. Some are better than others when it comes to creative briefs and project kickoffs. That’s fine. I’ve been doing this a long time and can navigate the waters to get the information needed to execute a successful design project.

Framing the design problem is something that almost every client struggles with. In my mind there are two ways to approach problem or project in retail design: tactically or strategically.

Tactical solutions solve issues like ergonomics (the existing display is too high), plan-o-grams (we need to fit three new SKU’s in the set) etc. Tactical is so easy for everyone to understand, you get like fifty people at the design table and they all have fun outlining what success looks like then go to lunch.  Anyone in the company, and often most everyone does at one point, can pop in and lay down tactical design direction. It feels good. I’ve had CEO’s design retail solutions on a napkins and say “here, design this“. Okay, I can do that. Tactical has its place and I’m more than happy to work on those projects because we all have bills to pay.

Strategic projects are more ambiguous. No one likes them because it could be months before we get to draw pretty pictures and drink beer afterwards. Strategic design projects requires us to understand our brand, the marketplace, consumers…the weather. Strategic projects require a design process: research, discussion, ideation, (more) creativity, difficult decisions, uncertainty AND fact based decision making. Yikes!

At project kickoffs we often hear ideation direction ranging from tactical “design this exact thing for us” to strategic “We need help selling more, or connecting more, or etc. etc.“.  Somewhere in the middle there is a broad band where executives, marketers and salespeople add-in, as if by knee-jerk reaction, “oh, and they want us to provide ‘good, better, best’ concepts“.

Aghh!!

I don’t know who “they” are but now I know we, and “they”, are in trouble here. Good, better, best (GBB) is a concept I think I first heard in the early 2000’s when working on concepts for mass retail. And for a while it actually wasn’t too bad. Physical retail still dominated over online. Cost of retail displays and fixtures was the main decision factor – how much do we want to spend. Technology in store was non-existent. Sure, give me three GBB concepts and call it a day. Good job.


As an aside, do not confuse my use of GBB to mean we don’t merchandise product ranges that actually include GBB products i.e. base model widget, intermediate model widget and top of the line widget. Yes, designing experiences around the actual product strategy is what we definitely want to do. What we don’t want to do is create a “good” display, then add a tv screen and call it “better” and then add lasers for the “best” retail experience. Also, some chains have so many stores they may not be able to afford to put the most expensive solution in every store, so yes, we do design for modularity and scalability. It’s important to note this as part of the strategy.


By now, in 2019, I’m almost ready to pass on ANY project where they mention GBB in regards to what concepts they want delivered. GBB is not a strategy. It’s throwing things at the wall while the person with the loudest voice in the room, or worst yet – the accounting department, decides which one to pick. This is not helping your business stay solvent past 2020. This is not design. This is not solving problems or seizing opportunity.

I can count on one hand (finger?) the number of clients I’ve worked with during the last twenty years that think strategically on almost every project. It’s not easy to do but it’s worth doing when possible. Stop with the knee-jerk reactions to what ideation should be and what solid retail design solutions are. The process is formulaic at times but the goals and solutions never should be.

I advise that all stakeholders in a retail design project work to be strategic. Create the best solution every time. Forego good and better altogether. “Best” never means most expensive or flashiest in my mind. It’s the number one head butting moment I have with clients, trying to convince them that we shouldn’t just throw stuff at the wall.

We need to look at the brand in stores and online. We need to understand consumers and how they take in information. Look at their wants and needs. We need to look at product, how does it add value and solicit emotion. On and on…

For important, big picture projects, we need to set aside the tactical, no matter how easy it is for everyone to articulate, because tactical isn’t going to help us. Tactical follows the strategy. Not the other way around.

Break the habit.

Recognize that GBB is a tactic.

Don’t lead with tactics.

Have a strategy.

Only accept the best retail design solution every time.

 

-Chris


Chris Weigand is an industrial designer and retail design pro based in northeast Ohio. For over twenty years he has worked with hundreds of brands, agencies and retailers to research, ideate and design compiling retail experiences. Contact Chris at 330-858-8926 to discuss your retail design needs or simply talk about retail design, strategy and pretty much anything of interest to your business. 

Akron Northside Marketplace

I stumbled upon a really cool new neighborhood in Akron last night. The centerpiece is the Akron Northside Marketplace. The complex is adjacent to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Northside Station. Within easy walking distance of plentiful parking are a collection of shops, bars and restaurants. Anchored in the middle is a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

I attended a local food entrepreneurs meet up at the Countryside Conservancy’s Public Market. On my way out I briefly stopped upstairs to check out the community bar and shops. Many of the shops were open late. A sense of community is created with open seating, tv screens and tables where people can meet to exchange ideas, work or just share conversation over a few beers. Most of the shops appear to be smaller local start-ups and this space gives them the perfect leg up in starting out in the real world with brick and mortar retail.

Step out on the street and you can discover a nice environment decorated with holiday twinkle lights. Adjacent to the marketplace are fine dining and a wicked cool looking speakeasy. Above everything are condos that can be purchased in case one wants to live in the heart of it all. The entire complex has some elevation too so you get great views of the valley and city.

This is the experiential retail, food and hospitality spaces we need. And it’s all very well done. I’ve already made plans to visit again when I have more time, and bring my wife and friends for a night out.

Railroad Dining Car Interior Project

We just completed a pretty neat project for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) here in northeast Ohio. The railroad refurbished the interior of a multipurpose car and they asked us to help out with the interior design. The 80’+ long car was stripped bare on the inside by CVSR volunteers and lovingly put back together. As a multipurpose car it will primarily be used for dining, but with moveable chairs and tables, the car may be configured for various other events such as wine & painting excursions, and holiday parties.

Our design team initially proposed three material concepts: “Nature”, “Eclectic” and “Tailored”. Each was inspired by a different set of images, materials and concepts.

CVSR-Multipurpose-Car-02a

 

The Railroad selected the Eclectic theme which was focused on earthy spice tones. The foundation of the design is a wild botanical pattern carpet from Milliken. From there we built off of the carpet by selecting Sherwin Williams Resort Tan (SW 7550) for the walls and accents. This is a versatile color that can fit in a variety of situations. It’s an earthy mushroom tone that changes color depending on how the light hits it. And it allows for a broad range of complementary colors to set any mood. The monochromatic scheme inside the multipurpose car provides a warm inviting space, perfect for romantic dinner train rides.Screen Shot 2018-03-28 at 11.29.11 AM.png

dining-car-in-progress

The painted car, ready for carpet. Note the ceiling is actually existing carpet that we didn’t replace. Up closed it is a variety of blue and red, but looks blackish brown from far away.

Simple dining chairs with a dark brown fabric and satin black powder-coat were selected for their durability and ability to hide stains, as people of all ages will be using the car for a variety of activities, not just dining. Existing tables were reused to keep the budget in check, and they can be outfitted in any number of ways depending on need and mood.

Light tan colored curtains from Carnegie help to lighten and soften the interior a bit. There was much debate on how they should attach and what their final form should be. The team went back and looked at historical photos for reference and landed on two single curtains per widow, with a gap between one curtain and then the next on subsequent windows.

image1.png

For a final touch, the Railroad sourced vintage luggage for the luggage racks. This adds a nice historic touch without a doubt, but the luggage also provides a means to hide speakers and wiring. Check out the photos below, clicking on them to zoom in.

This was our first foray into rail car design, and we learned quite a bit on this exciting project. Trains are amazing attractions, and fun for the whole family. Every car is unique and has a history all its own. We look forward to the opportunity to work on more of these cars in the future. Visit the CVSR website www.CVSR.com to view all of their upcoming excursions, and you can see the car firsthand.

-Chris


Chris Weigand is president of Chris Weigand Design, LLC. Our boutique firm specializes in unique retail and interior experiences, both fixed and rolling along the rails. We are a small network of experts with decades of experience providing world class industrial, interior, graphic and user experience design. We’ve worked on projects for over 250+ different brands, organizations and retailers. Contact us today to discuss your design needs, we are happy and excited to work with you.

330-858-8926 or Chris@ChrisWeigandDesign.com

 

“Buying Online, Picking Up In Store” Lockers Are Latest Tool In An Ever Changing Retail World

 

I came across Parcel Pending at Globalshop this year and was impressed with the quality solution they came up with in their storage locker product designed for “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store” (BOPIS). The idea is you buy something online, travel over to your local store, and pick up your item. All while avoiding as much human contact as possible (if that’s your thing).

It’s hard these days to appease our innate hunter gatherer human desire for instant gratification awoken by a world that has us hooked on easy online shopping and short shipping times. BOPIS addresses our need for getting our hands on tangible items ASAP. At least it does until drones start dropping boxes of on our porch. Taken a step further, these lockers allow consistent in and out service so you don’t even have to wait for someone to help you at the store.

To recap we have:

  • traditional drive to brick and mortar store, hunt and peck
  • buy online, free shipping, often next day
  • check store inventory online, buy online or in store, pick up in store
  • buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS)

These are the primary shopping methods today. Someday we’ll have (or may not have) drone delivery, 3-D printers in our homes, and / or no one buying stuff anymore.

And you know what else is out there, right now? Order a bunch of stuff online and someone else does the shopping for you: “Curbside Express”

What a fantastic time to be alive and living in the wonderful world of retail.

This brave new world of shopping will utilize every tool at its disposal, mix them together and continue to invent new ones. Some brands will carve a niche in just one area and others will look to leverage several tools in a bid to win the most market share. Online is a great niche for startups because the overhead is so low and reach is great. Brick and mortar is perfect if your brand has a service or needs to explain products in a tangible manner. Hybrids of both online and in-store is where most brands fall, in an attempt to capture their audiences, manage inventory and selection. Quite frankly most humans are programed to shop both ways today.

What I love about these storage lockers is they connect shoppers, in a tangible way, to the bigger issue of retail today: inventory and distribution. First they taught us to shop in a warehouse. But now with fast shipping, or these lockers, why even go to a warehouse? In a warehouse I still have to go up and down aisles and wait in line. Plus I’m usually accosted by someone asking for a membership card at the start of my visit. Suddenly every store is a warehouse / distribution center.

Take all the warehouse / distribution space in the physical store and efficiently package it, basically close it off from consumers. Consumers can buy all their commodity items online (deodorant, memory cards, baked beans, batteries, etc.) and either have them shipped to their homes or they can BOPIS them. Now use your retail real estate in one of three ways:

  1. Get rid of it, you just need lockers (or drones), right? Become a micro-distribution center for your brand, or all the brands (e.g. Amazon).
  2. Focus on experiences, customer service and product research with “store-in-store” experiences that tell your brand story.
  3. New hybrid shopping experience where all the commodity stuff is out of the way and you can focus on impulse buys, promotions, seasonal, cross merchandising or curated collections, etc. while either reducing footprint or having your building work harder for you

The possibilities are endless. I can’t imagine a world where we just buy stuff online. There will always be a need for multiple shopping methods because our needs as consumers as well as brands and products are all so different. Versatile products like these self serve lockers work to enrich our options as shoppers and give all retailers and brands a much needed tool to craft meaningful, relevant and convenient shopping experiences.


Chris Weigand is an industrial designer with over 20 years experience designing compelling, shopper focused retail experiences for over 200 different brands. 

SaveSave