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

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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.

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

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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.

Wicked Cool Material Usage

I was at Best Buy the other day researching a project when I came across a couple new headphone displays that caught my eye. We’ve worked on plenty of these kinds of project, but I was really impressed with the use of unique materials. Why didn’t I think of that?

 

The Beats display used felt for the backdrop and head shaped headphone display mounts. Felt seems perfect for a headphone display since it resembles sound deadening material used in sound studios. We often talk about this material on these types of projects but never really came up with using it so nicely. The extruded look of the background is contemporary and pleasing to look at. And the use on the globe like “heads” is a fantastic, touch worthy detail.

Adjacent was a Skull Candy display with an awesome platform detail – stacked plywood and acrylic, below the headphone case display. Plywood is a great on brand material for Skull Candy, and the thoughtful way it was used in the display was well done.

These are two great brands to work on. Great products and brand stories, that give the retail designer a ton of room to do interesting, cool details and well thought out retail experiences. The use of these materials in these displays helps reinforce brand stories (sound story for Beats, authenticity and raw appeal for Skull Candy) while remaining playful and unique.

Wicked cool.

-Chris


Chris Weigand is an industrial designer with over twenty years experience designing retail experiences for over two hundred brands (including a few that sell headphones). Contact Chris today to have him help you tell your brand story at retail. 330.858.8926 or chris@chrisweiganddesign.com

 

3 Things I Like About LinkedIn(‘s Office)

While eating my Honeycomb® cereal and enjoying my coffee this morning I caught up on some of the trade mags I have piling up. In the June 2018 issue of Contract magazine I came across an article on the LinkedIn NYC office that M Moser designed recently. It’s a really nice looking office, with well thought out details throughout.

There is a lot of good stuff going on in this office space, if anything maybe too much, but I’m okay with everything I read and saw in the article. Here are three things that particularly tickled my design fancy:

linked in office image 1

Color square dividing wall.

Most of the renovated office is actually food service for the employees. The various food stations have different themes based on NYC parks. And apparently the Highline Park themed one has this excellent translucent color square wall divider. I love to nod to the skyline that surrounds the park, and the colors were selected deftly; greens at the bottom with blue skies and purple buildings and / or flora. I love the idea and it was executed well. The wall adds a perfect pop of color in a purposefully muted space.

Linked in office image 2

Extra long lamp cords, artfully arranged on the walls.

I think I’ve seen this before, but I still like it no less. In the article’s one photo they show overhead lams with purposefully long cords. The cords are arranged artfully on two walls to create modern wall art. I love the double duty of the cords acting as art which also negates the need to add another “thing” to the space in order to avoid blank walls. It’s a touch that, while may seem impractical and inefficient to some, actually kills two birds with one design stone thus being the very definition of efficiency. It also speaks to attention to detail both in design and everyday work life – a subtle reminder all can benefit from.

linked in image 3

Full size chess board on carpet tiles (presumably).

Last is the fun, life size chess board made out of (what I’m assuming are) carpet squares. Why didn’t I think of that? Only downside is it’s virtually impossible to discuss work during a chess match if you’re doing either right, I feel. That’s probably the point. Keep your mind sharp, while taking a break from helping people network.

Kudos to M Moser, LinkeIn and Contract for creating and sharing this project with the world. It’s a design feast of all the details that can make a work space delightful, engaging and appealing.

-Chris


Chris Weigand is an industrial designer and retail design consultant based in northeast Ohio. He may be contacted at 330-858-8926. All magazine images are borrowed from the June 2018 issue of Contract Design Magazine