Shop tactics

The credit crunch might not be all bad news for retail design, forcing stores to take a more innovative approach, says Trish Lorenz, while sustainability will be an issue across the whole of the commercial interiors sector

Gazing into a crystal ball and trying to predict what the future holds is a tricky business, but it’s also a temptation that’s hard to resist. Particularly so in 2008, a year that looks likely to hold real challenges for the British economy and an environment in which those companies that are most able to anticipate consumer needs are best placed to succeed. And though commercial interior design encompasses a broad school – from retail and workspace to hotels and transportation – there are common themes that designers working across the sector are likely to face in the coming year.

Technology will play a huge role across all spheres, and particularly in workspace design. The world of virtual working has crept up on us and wireless working is increasingly becoming the norm. A study by furniture manufacturer Vitra found that in 2007 more than 171 billion e-mails were sent each day. The same study found that by 2010 more than 120 million workers will be mobile e-mail users. It seems inevitable then that 2008 will see desk-bound office spaces begin to diminish in importance.

But that doesn’t mean that the office has had its day – far from it, in fact. The challenge designers face with a more mobile workforce lies in providing spaces that encourage teamwork and collaboration alongside quiet thinking and working zones.

A more mobile workforce combined with staff turnover can also mean that employees become distant from the brand and corporate values. Office interiors are one way of connecting staff with the brand and increasingly this will mean much more than a logo on the wall behind the reception. The physical space will be asked to convey the brand’s messages and designers will need to find thought-through interpretations, such as the slides that are an integral part of Red Bull’s head offices and which, almost literally, give its staff wings.

Retail interiors face similar challenges. The growth of on-line shopping is nothing new, but when combined with what are predicted to be more difficult trading conditions in 2008 (as the credit crunch hits home and a likely slump in property prices affects the consumer feelgood factor) Internet shopping looks set to pose a greater threat than ever to traditional high street stores.

As a result, this year should see a growth in more innovative interior interpretations and a continued focus on consumer experience. Successful brands will see their stores as theatres/ spaces where consumers can learn, touch, taste and interact with products and where expert staff add real value to both the shopping experience and to brand perception.

There’s also likely to be a growth in guerrilla stores and short-term openings that build hype and attract media interest to support the launch of new products or brands (a smarter investment in difficult trading conditions than a colossal flagship). Personalisation – of both products and service – is another key theme for 2008, so expect to see a growth in the number of retailers offering lounge-style spaces designed for one-on-one shopping.

The leisure sector will also see an increased demand for personalisation. The day of the ubiquitous hotel room is almost over as travellers now demand unique experiences and a sense of locale. And as our homes become ever more design-led, hotels, in particular, need to deliver more inspiring spaces to keep pace with consumer expectations. Consumers are increasingly adept at reading spaces and measuring brands on their physical incarnation – a combination of excellent design, a sense of place and top-notch service is becoming mandatory for successful hospitality offerings. Expect to see hotels making the most of local materials and offering a variety of room sets that cater to different moods and needs.

Sustainability has been the watchword of 2007, with corporations across every sector keen to highlight their Green credentials. Environmental issues look set to continue to play an important role in interior design in 2008, almost becoming a hygiene factor for new developments. Expect to see sustainable interiors extending beyond the selection of materials to smart spaces that monitor habitation levels automatically and adjust lighting, air conditioning and even computer terminal use accordingly.

Of course, if we really could predict all that the future holds life would be seriously dull. So as the year travels on expect a few new and unpredictable factors to slide in from left field, adding interest and more challenges to the 2008 business environment. Bon chance.

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