Opportunity demands retail responsibility

Yaron Meshoulam is right (see page 19): retail has been quick to pick up on multimedia. So swift has been the influx of touch-screens, computerised tills and information systems that it is sometimes hard to imagine how we coped before.

We’d be mad to ignore the trend, and for designers it is particularly relevant. Even if you’re not directly involved in retail, you’re probably creating products for sale or are involved in some way in the selling process. Changes in that process inevitably have a knock-on effect, and radical technological shifts are opening up untold opportunities for strategic and informed design consultancies.

But with opportunity comes responsibility, and at times of such radical change designers need to take the higher ground. Responsibility to the client is a given. But there’s more to it than blindly following instructions. Informed advice is what you should be being paid for, and it’s what your clients deserve – even if your expert view contradicts their assumptions.

The best advice also covers the social angle. Clients want to sell things, but it’s part of the designer’s job to protect public interests. The danger in retail is that marketers too often gets the upper hand and technology ends up merely adding to environmental pollution in the high street.

Take Marks & Spencer’s introduction of in-store TV, selling itself to customers in its food hall in London’s Oxford Street. Who needs it? Certainly not the checkout staff, subjected to jolly jingles all day long. Then there’s Dillons up the road in Gower Street. Once a friendly, bookish place, it now has messages blaring out suggesting shoppers surf the Net – not conducive to a quiet browse.

Hopefully, customers will not be impressed by these examples. But unless designers take a holistic approach to retail and battle it out with marketers, there’s worse to come. New media offers a great chance to help, entertain and educate. It merits a far better fate than creating hostile shopping environments.

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