The retail sector may not seem a good place to be at the moment, but despite the dreadful headlines it is important to bear in mind that retail is a vital part of the world’s economy. Although I am not going to claim that shopping will save the world, retailers have always been capable of finding ways to survive.
Because this sector has been responsible for so many important factors in everybody’s lives, I really do believe it will ensure it gets through the current difficulties to emerge stronger and more compelling than ever before.
So, my premise is that designers need to be responsive to what retailers will need from us in the future, and that the challenge is how we develop and hone those skills effectively.
There are specific ‘technical’ attributes, such as great management, communication and visualisation skills which retail clients will always expect from designers and which are perceived by them to be a ‘given’. Supplementing these skills should always be part of a professional development programme.
However, the other relatively special factors which clients expect to find within a design consultancy are less technical and more esoteric. If you were to ask me to name the crucial skills that are required to be a successful retail designer, I would list creativity, cultural awareness, innovative thinking, market awareness and wit.
It is my belief, therefore, that it will be those less tangible skills that will emerge as the most desirable collateral that we can offer our clients, and those are the ones to develop. The three main skills on my list, which I would focus on, would be creativity, alongside market and cultural awareness.
First and foremost would be creativity. The best innovation comes from a creative mind and I am absolutely in the camp that believes the creative brain is not only something that you are born with, it is also something which needs to be exercised, trained and supplemented.
This is highly relevant to the current marketplace, quite simply because the retailers that will survive will always be the ones that are continually on the lookout for innovative approaches to selling their products. That is why they employ designers to help them to develop enticing ideas, which will make them stand out in the marketplace. Second comes the skill of using information to enable clients to stay ahead of the pack. This is an invaluable asset in today’s economy, and developing ways of providing relevant information, through market awareness which is also pertinent to a retail client’s business needs, is an essential tool for all of us.
The skill to develop here is to learn how to understand all of the different information ‘avenues’, and how to customise those findings in the most effective way.
Finally, I would suggest that a wider awareness of the cultures that we are exposed to would enable the UK retail design sector to build on its international reputation. The biggest market for retail design will almost certainly not be in the European Union, but will be biased towards Asia and the Middle East.
Understanding the cultural differences and expectations of these regions is an enormous challenge for designers, and can take years of hands-on experience to get to grips with.
For too long, retail design in the UK has considered itself to be unassailable, and the competition from around the world must not be ignored.
Whether esoteric skills can be supplemented and developed effectively is always a point of conjecture, and the real art is how to customise and mix these skills effectively for your client – but that’s another debate entirely.