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.

“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. 

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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

 

Worth A Damn In-Store Data & Interactive Is Finally Here

Last month I attended the large retail design industry trade show Global Shop in Chicago.  I don’t go every year because quite honestly, the retail industry is slow to come out with much new to look at. But it had been a few years, and it was in Chicago so I could drive out there. It was a great show this year, and I spotted a few things that have me thinking that physical retail is figuring out how to catch up to on-line’s primary advantages: interactivity and data.

The main advantage of online marketing and retailing is that you have access to data. You can see how someone found your website, where they came from, where they went, virtually every step of the shopping experience can be entered into a spreadsheet. There is a limitless supply of people who will help you mine that data and tell you how much to spend, and where to spend it to (hopefully) sell more stuff. With all this data, online marketing is a pretty easy equation. And easy equations mean less spend, more profit.

Physical retail is a bit trickier. Unless you’re actually interviewing guests, or having them fill out surveys, or you’re somehow able to connect people to receipts, it’s sort of messy and expensive to identify who’s in your stores and ultimately how to market to them. I don’t know of anyone who’s solved for this holistically. I’ve thought about it (way too much) and have few ideas primarily because 1) customer attitudes needed to change and 2) technology needed to catch up.

Just a few years ago “spying” on consumers, and asking them to pony up information was  impossible. But now in a world where our lives are on multiple, mostly public, social media sites and everyone is on the hunt for free wi-fi, consumers are more inclined to share high level data in exchange for something.

And even if we did want to find out more about guests in stores, the technology just wasn’t there for us to do so without a lot of effort, cost or intrusion. But now we have cameras, sensors, connections to mobile devices everywhere. And savvy consumers are okay with it.

Finally traditional retail can start to level the playing field with online retail.

As I walked to McCormick Place floor and thought about real multichannel retail marketing, four companies caught my eye at the show this year. Here is my take on why the work they are doing is important to tangible stores and keeping pace with online.

 

Data Display (http://www.dd-usa.com)

What it is: Using RFID technology, Data Displays (DD) displays can sense when a guest had picked up a product and can play a marketing message relevant to that product.

Why it’s important: The internet tracks everything you click on and provides information and makes recommendations based on that.  What DD is doing here is a big leap to usefully and proactively interacting with guests. No longer do I have to press a button to get info. This also gives real purpose to the video screens. They aren’t just for playing mindless advertising loops anymore. They now have a purpose and are an integral part of the sales process in store.

How to get it right: Make sure you have good, concise, engaging content on the video screen. Have a good maintenance and content strategy. NO BLANK SCREENS! Embellish the experience with subtle lighting cues and traditional graphics.

What’s next: I’d like to see technology that can track line of sight so we can capture guests who aren’t even picking products up, rather just window shopping, and share product information with them. Would be nice to gather demographic information as well as number of touches by product.

Parcel Pending (https://www.parcelpending.com)

What it is: Turn-key solution for “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) situations where customers can pick up products or parcels at their leisure, even after hours. Units are modular including refrigerated units. They are controlled by an interactive kiosk. Door pop open automatically after you enter in your data.

Why it’s important: This was the most exciting thing I saw, because I feel like the possibilities are endless. Grocery stores could use these to aid new online shopping experiences. The units are great for apartment buildings, adding more space and technology that can adapt – no longer one box per person, rather can be tailored to parcel size, on an “as needed” basis. These modular units can be part of the foundation for whole new retail experiences. They ultimately can free up store shelves, reduce real estate footprints, and really revolutionize retail as we know it. They are fully integrated to our online shopping habits already and can fulfill our need for instant gratification. And they can be treasure troves of data.

How to get it right: Work on your supply chain and challenge conventional thinking. Leverage their modularity and scalability to suite your business and geography. Leverage data collection to learn the demographics of who is using them and how. Vinyl wraps can let them stand out or fade into the background.

What’s next: I’d love to get my hands on these modules and build out a pop-up store solution, or solution for independent retailers to bring them into the 21st century. Refrigerated units combined with grocery store online ordering could revolution how we buy groceries. In general the store of the future will forego store shelves, have banks of these units and supplement them with impulse shopping opportunities or product and brand experiences. These could take convenience shopping to the next level and be bad news for traditional (and online) retail. A real game changer in the right hands.

 

 

Gable (https://gablecompany.com)

What it is: Digital signage, interactive media and architectural graphic elements.

Why it’s important: I was impressed by Gable’s fit and finish on their mall kiosk. The detailing was done well, and in retail, details do matter. Digital signage technology has grown by leaps and bounds, and there are a lot of players in this space. Digital signage and interactive is a great way to communicate a lot of information efficiently in real time.

How to get it right: Track how people are using your kiosks: where are they going, when are they using the unit, what are they interested in. Large format digital signage is ,very effective in any retail environment, at capturing short attention spans. You likely need to include something digital in your environment, make sure you have great content, it’s relevant and useful. Invest in creative and user experience, not just the technology. Make sure your form factors are on brand, and pay attention to details and quality.

What’s next: There is a lot of opportunity for style to factor into the design of digital displays. Modular LED panels allow limitless sizes to be created. Corners, columns, ceilings, floors…you can seemingly cover anything with digital signage. Interactive has the potential to give us the future we’ve always imagined. And the opposite of that is, can the tech recede into the background and we focus on content and stunning photography, and content generation.

Stratecache (https://www.stratacache.com/solutions/digital-signage/)

What it is: What is seemingly just digital signage is also content management, real time data management and content delivery. Stratecache’s digital signage can recognize guest demographics (e.g. male or female) and tailor marketing content deliver specific to the guest. Can connect with guests’ mobile devices. Their system can seamlessly network your brand content across all doors and update in real time.

Why it’s important: This is as close as you can get to an online experience at retail in terms of pushing out brand content, and taking in high level, actionable consumer data.

How to get it right: Assure consumers that their privacy is being maintained, while gathering insight into who is coming to your store. And while not specific to any one supplier or retailer, the idea of an op-in for wi-fi is a great way to have consumers voluntarily connect with you. From there you can start connecting the dots between consumer and behavior. Leverage tracking cameras to understand who is in your store and what are they looking at. Have relevant and accurate content ready to go so that once you recognize who’s in your store you’re pushing the right message at the right time in  the right place. Pretty simple, right?

What’s next: Yes, it’s like a sci-fi movie, but this is the world we live in. And there’s no reason physical retail shouldn’t be privy to the same data digital marketing has, within the bounds of consumer comfort. I’d like to see all of this technology coupled with register and online sales data. Some very smart people can then take all of this data and create a “world” of information that will give brands a realistic image of what retail looks like. And consumers will be delighted by tailored experiences. Less about stuff and more about ease. That’s when the fun starts.

 

In closing I’ll say a few things. First, I think physical retail is always going to be relevant. People simply like touching stuff. I don’t see how that ever goes away. Tech tools are coming into their own to help level the playing field of tangible experiences versus online experiences. And lastly, I think we are on the cusp of some massive changes in retail – the store of the future is going to look a lot different and I’m super excited to help shape it if I can.

What are your thoughts on the future of physical retail? What about these tech solutions I highlighted? Any others out there you like? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Cheers!

-Chris

 


Chris Weigand is an industrial designer and retail design consultant based in sunny (today at least) Ohio. No, he didn’t get paid, nor does he endorse these companies necessarily, rather they’re just good examples in his opinion based on what he was seeing at one trade show. The reality is being in retail is pretty freaking exciting and interesting. If you’d like to explore the future of retail for your business with Chris, give him a call at (330) 858-8926 (cell) today. Or you prefer he can be reached via email at chris@chrisweiganddesign.com