Seeing how First-World design emerges is always an eye-opener, and so we recently embarked on a voyage to London, England (as they say Stateside) to explore the latest marvels of the design world at this year’s London Design Festival – armed with nothing but our wit, worthless credit cards and a desire to change the world of design.
We set up base in Brixton. Once written off as a slum-like ghetto, Brixton has undergone enormous gentrification in the last decade to the point of hipster status. But with the prevailing theme of rehabilitation and renewal at the LDF2018, the neighbourhood was a surprisingly perfect fit, and from our base of operations in Souff London (i’nit?), Johan Pieterse, TDC&Co’s Art Director and I (Neville Wills, Group Creative Director) could attack the various design districts of the LDF2018 with vigour.
But for anyone thinking of attending the festival, you have to go prepared. It can get overwhelming really fast, so planning is everything – even if you only plan to scratch the surface.
DAY 1: New Coat, Same Soul
With Johan still detained in the UAE for travelling on a ticket belonging to a certain Mr John Petersen, I decided to explore Brixton and catch up on what had changed since my days of living in London in the 1980s. I was very happy to see that, despite the area’s urban renewal, it hadn’t lost its gritty soul.
The Brixton Market still trades as such, but has perhaps become a bit more inclusive of a wider variety of subcultures. Adjacent to the market on the other side of the railway arches was the Brixton POP – a temporary project that has turned a space that has fallen into disarray into creative spaces for locals and independent businesses. Using transport containers in the construction of this village has allowed young creatives and startups to grow without the burden of erroneous leases and unmanageable rentals. The result is a vibrant, energetic community that might never have been. As South Africans, there’s a lot we can borrow from initiatives such as these.
Across from Brixton POP is a superb example of reuse and regeneration. The Department Store, a new development by Squire and Partners was originally built in 1876 and was christened the Bon Marché Department Store at the time. The store became a local institution and traded for about 100 years until 1975, when it gradually fell into disrepair. Squire purchased the site in 2015 and completely reimagined the space. To me, this was such an intelligent example of rehabilitation, as they’ve preserved the heritage of the building by keeping some of the graffiti and crumbled walls the building had acquired over the last four decades – not aiming for pristine perfection but rather celebrating the perfection of the imperfect.
DAY 2: Flagships Ahoy!
After a grueling 24 hours in the UAE, I’m happy to report that Johan finally made it to London alive and well. After breakfast at the Department Store’s Canova Hall, we were ready for the best London could lob at us (#fightingtalk). We had some serious retail design boxes to tick and after Claudia and Mia’s recent visit (Read more), we headed off to Westfield White City, where I was particularly impressed by Khahdi, an Indian Sari store, which was superbly laid out and rich in texture.
A fish and chips and a pint of Guinness later, we approached Oxford Street from Marble Arch. First stop: the Footlocker flagship store. And boy, was it worth it! The designers clearly had such a good grip on the brand’s target market with a fully tech-integrated experience featuring intelligent mirrors, click and collect facilities, QR-code ticketing, and even a cleaning station.
“But in my opinion, the best experiential work in retail currently comes from the sports/sneaker brands”.
Anyone in retail will know that Selfridges is a must-see. The sheer amount of different departments, each creating its own nuanced experience within the Selfridges brand, is simply staggering. And their wine department is a highlight.
Based on feedback from my colleagues’ recent visit to London, I was really eager to experience Reserved, a Polish fashion chain in the same tier as Zara and H&M. It has to be my favourite new mass retail concept. The design is crisp and fresh, every square meter of the shop floor is well organised and well lit, and the different areas of the store were clearly distinguished by a clever use of textures.
But in my opinion, the best experiential work in retail currently comes from the sports/sneaker brands. Nike HQ on Oxford Circus is always innovating – there’s even a DJ on every level. Asics in Regent Street has the best gait analysis studio out there, in my opinion, and their water station setup at the POS counter and the unique shoe delivery system from BOH store rooms add to the overall experience and entertainment associated with the brand.
Other notable stops were Miu Miu, Le Labo, Norton, and Rag & Bone in Soho. And more on the H&M stable of brands in Part II.
DAY 3: It’s Gotta Have Personality
In any form of design – as in life – it’s always good to keep the big picture in mind. By looking at a logo, the way a meal is presented, the lines of a car, it stimulates ideas for a seemingly unrelated creative work. And so, we hit the pause button on retail and dedicated Day 3 to brand design.
As Johan pointed out, we have a more cluttered design aesthetic in South Africa compared to what we saw in London. And after a week of seeing predominantly clean, streamlined designs, we quite enjoyed coming back to South Africa’s messiness.
“And after a week of seeing predominantly clean, streamlined designs, we quite enjoyed coming back to South Africa’s messiness”.
What we did conclude, though, is that brands are becoming much more flexible than before. It was far more apparent in the UK that brand design is guided by what the customer wants. Nando’s is a great example. There’s a global structure to their brand design, but the flexibility around the brand – the country, culture, shifting zeitgeist – is so well thought out that the brand is able to change with its customers, no matter where it is or what their demand is.
As brand and interior designers in South Africa, we find that concept to be very hard to carry across. Brands are generally very reluctant to change the way they’ve been doing things, but seeing the way brands operate in a country like the UK really drives home the need to understand the customer first before we design the brand and all experiences and spaces that go with it. It’s our responsibility to guide the client to their customers. The best part is that many of our clients are adapting to this new approach to brand design and in so doing, are setting a trend, which means that by default, they’re already ahead of the pack.
Catch more of our insights from LDF 2018 with TDC&Co’s Top Take Outs from the London Design Festival 2018 PART II.
For more information on how we can help you reimagine your brand, get in touch with Tanya Manterfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.