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“.
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 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.