It’s show time

When Nokia’s global flagship roll-out hits London next month, customers will find an environment that’s all about hands-on participation and tinkering with products. It’s the latest high-profile example of how ‘experiential’ design is becoming a core part of brand-building in retail, meaning greater customer interaction with the shop space and its contents.

Not surprisingly, technology plays a big part in making these immersive experiences. It’s what Nokia head of retail marketing Cliff Crosbie describes as ‘bringing Nokia alive in the retail space’. So, by using text messages, customers are able to manipulate aspects of the retail environment, including the colours of translucent panels around the store and what’s displayed on a vast bank of LCD screens. An interactive installation designed by Tomato, for example, allows people to create videos that play out throughout the store.

The Nokia retail design also features bespoke video software, created by London interaction consultancy Nanika, which takes text messages and flows the words and letters ‘organically’ across the screens. The resulting medium is both interactive and ambient, encouraging users to become involved and allowing them to manipulate the atmosphere of the space around them.

‘The original idea was to give some control to the visitors,’ explains Nanika partner Andreas Müller. ‘One of the pieces takes text letters and blows the messages across the screens as if by a wind. Another allows colours and shapes to be generated. We can also create bespoke canvases as backdrops for the interactives, as well as allow people to change the colour of panels through remote control by their phones. All these things make a massive difference to how the store looks.’ But as well as being ambient, the screens are also very much a retail tool. When a customer picks up a handset, the screen directly above reacts by displaying product information and tutorials.

In collaboration with a number of artists and designers, Nanika worked on another retail project combining ambient architecture and interactivity for Sony-owned high-end gadget store Beyes in Tokyo. The Motional Wall interactive ‘wallpaper’ uses a projection system which senses motion in front of a screen and then translates it into swirling colours and patterns on the wall. Customers can interact and manipulate the display by moving around in front of the screen. ‘It’s in a section of the store which is between two main areas, so there is already a lot of customer movement there which gets people involved,’ says Nanika partner Florian Schmitt.

Both these installations result from a shift of emphasis in retail design, from seeing branding as aesthetic decoration to a focus on what the customer actively sees and does. Motion Wall is not directly a sales tool, but it does demonstrate technological innovation, an important attribute for a gadget brand such as Beyes.

From a design point of view, a degree of theatricality is needed to stimulate customer participation in stores, so retail designers are adopting techniques often pioneered in museum exhibitions design to create engagement with products and services. Mobile network operator O2 has adopted similar interactive concepts to Nokia for its ‘experience store’ at The O2 venue in London and, significantly, the design consultancy behind the store – New York-based Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture – also works in exhibition design and digital media. In its space at The O2 customers can spend time in lounge areas, while activating a jukebox or changing projected wallpaper via SMS from their phones.

According to Land Design Studio creative director Peter Higgins, most brands still equate interactivity with an interactive website, which means there is a great deal of scope to bring exhibition-style design skills into retail areas. Along these lines, the consultancy has designed an interactive installation for the Star Alliance airline network. The installation is touring airports across the world and is installed on the airside of the terminals. Created with Star Alliance’s advertising agency DDB London and consultancy Clay Interactive, the system uses physical gestures to navigate content, from which three key ‘brand’ elements are revealed. The user’s pulse rate is read for a section demonstrating how fast-track check-in is less stressful, while the benefit of conducting meetings face to face (via air flight, of course) uses gestures to illustrate how people respond to body language.

Higgins says the Star Alliance installation is an example of exhibition design methods, such as narrative and interactivity, working for retail. ‘It is a very unusual location for something like this, firmly inside a retail domain,’ he says. ‘It’s there to pick up passing trade and encourage people to sign up, so it’s very much a sales tool, but with gestural controls and stories, the piece is more like a museum installation. This shows what you can really start to do in a retail environment.’

THAT RETAIL EXPERIENCE

• Experiential spaces are being used by retailers in brand building, with a rise in ‘architectural’ ambient and interactive installations

• Design techniques from the museum exhibition sector, such as narrative and physical interaction, are being adopted for retail objectives

• Nokia’s global flagship store blueprint uses interactive systems developed by Nanika, Tomato and Universal Everything, and launches in London later this month

Latest articles

Remembering Jon Daniel: 1966-2017

We look back on the life and work of the Design Week columnist, independent creative director and social activist “who helped put black participation on the political map”.