Designing for the new wave of pop-ups

As pop-up spaces become increasingly popular and more sophisticated, we look at how brands can best take advantage of them.

Opening Ceremony pop-up, designed by Max Lamb

Source: Jamie McGregor Smith

Opening Ceremony pop-up, designed by Max Lamb

Back in early 2011, Julie Oxberry, managing director of Household Design, predicted the pop-up concept would be one of the year’s retail ‘must haves’.

She was spot on, and in the years since then, the pop-up phenomenon has grown and grown.

A recent report from network EE and economist CEBR showed that pop-up retailers contribute £2.1 billion to the UK economy each year, and are expected to grow by 8.4 per cent over the next 12 months’.

EE has now launched its pop-Up UK campaign with pop-up space marketplace Appear Here (the group organising a series of pop-up stores at London Underground stations) and British Retail Consortium, and says it is commiting to help 3,000 pop-up shops over the next three years, suggesting that the trend shows no signs of abating.

Since they first emerged, pop-ups have evolved from an ephemeral brand outpost into a series of increasingly sophisticated retail spaces

As such, the considerations in designing for such space have shifted dramatically. Where retailers were once content with branding spaces through quick, easy modifications such as wall graphics, now each space must give increasingly discerning consumers something more special.

Michael Sheridan, chairman and founder of Sheridan & Co, which has worked on pop-up projects including Facegym at Selfridge’s and Paris couture brand Carven at Harrods says, ‘The basic criteria of an element of surprise, delight and generosity still apply. People need immediacy, and also the idea of getting something they can’t get somewhere else. You need to give something additional to the core proposition’.

Opening Ceremony entrance

Source: Jamie McGregor Smith

Opening Ceremony entrance

Last week, US fashion brand Opening Ceremony launched its pop-up at Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel, having brought in product designer Max Lamb to design the space in his first retail project.

The store is beautiful and experimental, marking the shift in pop-ups as quick, easy brand extension to a destination in their own right.

At the Opening Ceremony pop-up, the store will stock brand collaborations that buyers can’t get elsewhere. Formerly housed in Covent Garden, Opening Ceremony’s main store is currently closed for wider building refurbishments, and it’s likely the brand is using the time as an opportunity to explore how customers in Shoreditch –  a fairly different retail landscape to Covent Garden – will react to its offer.

Lamb says, ‘They can’t do Covent Garden what they can do here. The space is more luxurious and exclusive, and the size means they’re forced to edit their collection, so there’s a different quality to the shopping experience.’

The store uses a bold interior design featuring some gorgeous interventions by Lamb. Latex curtains surround the space and also create a hidden changing room area; while smaller pieces are displayed on unusual plinths, which Lamb created using Polystyrene sprayed in rubber, a technique he’s been exploring since his time as a student at the Royal College of Art.

Opening Ceremony pop-up, designed by Max Lamb

Source: Jamie McGregor Smith

Opening Ceremony pop-up, designed by Max Lamb

Maximising the space, garments are hung on a blue pipe rails in ‘Victoria Line blue’, says Lamb.

‘As it’s a retail space for a fashion brand, by default it’s ephemeral so it has to be a very rigorous environment’, he says.

‘Inherent to retail design are considerations of material, design and layout – whether that’s for a pop-up or a permanent space’.

So why are brands still so keen to use pop-ups? ‘They allow for a bit of experimentation in how to build a retail space, where to be testing new markets’, says Lamb.

‘Brands use pop-ups for the ability to target customers – they can get closer to them than they can in a traditional retail space’, Nathan Watts, design director at retail specialist Fitch, adds.

‘The high-street is much more of a broad church, but with pop-ups you can create a more targeted [offer]. It’s a chance for brands to shout about something specific and to seek reappraisal with consumers. 

Another advantage for brands, of course, is cost – in a temporary space, the financial risk is far less than setting up shop in an established department store or in a devoted stand-alone space, where your brand’s voice is competing with hundreds of similarly-pitched ones.

Sheridan and Co's Little Shop of Gin
Sheridan and Co’s Little Shop of Gin

Sheridan says, ‘[Pop-ups] are a great way for brands to not only sell some product, but get ambassadors out into the marketplace which will get people talking.

‘They encourage people to talk about the experience and generate viral interest, and there’s the opportunity to learn how that can be utilised.’

He adds, ‘You have the advantage of getting direct engagement with consumers – you can get a sense of what they’re thinking.’

Sheridan and Co's Little Shop of Beauty
Sheridan and Co’s Little Shop of Beauty

For designers, too, pop-ups offer a freedom and scope for experimentation that the financial and time investment of creating for a permanent space don’t offer.

For Lamb, the Opening Ceremony project was the perfect retail design extension of his product design practice, giving him the opportunity to experiment with materials and pieces that nor only look enticing for consumers, but can also be removed and reconfigured in other spaces if or when the pop-up pops back down again.

According to Lamb, 80 per cent of the fixtures and fittings at the Opening Ceremony space are transferable.

‘I have my own design language in whatever project I’m working on’, says Lamb. ‘In terms of the design process I come to the same conclusions, but working in a retail space is a new set of questions for me, and with that you get a different set of answers’.

However, since they first started to emerge, pop-ups have since proliferated hugely – some might say, nearing saturation point. With so many temporary spaces, many consumers are looking no longer drawn in just by the promise of an experiential space, the buy-it-or-it-goes hook or a Time Out-endorsed event listing.

As such, brands are increasingly using pop-up spaces as not just a product showcase, but an event space and a site for actively interacting with consumers in a way that’s not solely based on instant monetary transactions.

Sheridan and Co's Little Shop of Gin
Sheridan and Co’s Little Shop of Gin

At Sheridan & Co’s devoted pop-up space in Marylebone, central London, up to eight brands at a time recently took part in a series of ‘little shop’ events –  The Little Shop of Health, The Little Shop of Beauty, and The Little Shop of Gin.

Brands from each sector could use the store to sell products and engage with consumers, and the space was also used for ticketed workshop events.

Watts also sees using people and discussion as much as spaces as crucial for designing a pop-up that effectively reaches consumers and helps gain new ones.

‘Pop-ups are just one channel that brands use, but you have to be wary of them becoming overused as a method of reaching customers.

‘A pop-up isn’t just about the physical thing, it’s about a person – the idea of human nature and advocacy are [part of] the evolution of pop-ups’.

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