This year’s Retail Design Student Awards have been…. a little bit different. As with all our lives we all have adjusted to new ways of working; with highs and lows, ups and downs and everything in-between.
So for me, instead of getting on the train and heading up to see the students at Manchester Metropolitan University, the students, tutors and I all joined one big Zoom studio critique. While this had its obvious challenges, it has thrown up some interesting positives. It has enabled us to have much wider conversations and given students the opportunity to present their work in smaller teams, without the pressure of standing up in front of an audience. This format has been less intimidating and a little more relaxed.
(Logo design by Eoin Cantwell)
With this year’s briefs set by The Body Shop - to design a 25m2 pop up to address the brands sustainability objectives, and the Co-op - to design a pick-up and drop off point for an existing retail partner or create a new partner in a sector complementary to the Co-op’s own proposition, we had an opportunity to gain some very exciting insights into what is currently happening on the high street from clients at the heart of retail.
Of course, the question on our minds as designers, fueled by our passion for all things visual, tactile and naturally inspired by face-to-face dialogues… is... can we be creative in these isolated times? Will the students be more inspired by what they experience on-screen at home and abandon the idea of physical retail in favour of digital? Will their concepts involve robots rather than humans?
The refreshing answer is that despite today’s challenges, all the students showed an abundance of creativity in answering the briefs. Everyone explored both the experiential environment as well as the digital.
The work created has certainly challenged the myth that Gen Z people only think digitally. Instead, they have addressed the briefs with a natural balance of both – identifying what is surely the future of retail.
All have embraced the digital as a tool to enhance the customer experience in the physical space; all have offered ideas about making our lives easier, linking on-line with rich sensory environments that are grounded in sustainability and community. All addressed the ethos of The Body Shop and the Co-op, both of which embody these principles.
The Body Shop winner, Emilia Kenyon from Glasgow School of Art, designed a clever modular pavilion using seaweed and bamboo-based materials. In her design 'Wave of Emotions' she created a space that works from morning to night and is multi-sensory, using sound and light. Full of atmosphere and attitude,her scheme provides a space for conversations and events while showcasing the brands new product ranges.
Emilia links her strategy to the UN Climate Change COP 26 conference, which Glasgow is to host in autumn 2021. The result is an exciting destination experience with a clear call to action.
Highly Commended went to Hanya Kamel with The Body Shop's 'Activists Trip', a flexible cart on an electric bike giving an easy assemble pop up with plenty of brand exposure, reaching a much wider community.
Albina Gatajeva, from the University of Huddersfield, won the Co-op prize with the brilliantly simple 'Co-Go Tool Share', which is perfectly suited to the ethos of the brand. Customers can hire and share DIY tools for free via an app and convenient in-store vending machines. The result is a dynamic in-store feature and a very handy local service.
Georgia Clark, also from Huddersfield, was commended for a community plant incentive 'The Grow Together Project'. This is an engaging idea, bringing together nature, native plants and the community.
Customers can learn about local wildlife on screen, discover plants, seeds and insects and share photos of their own Grow Together projects. Centrally placed in-store, this small, flexible installation forms a fun, exciting community hub for children and families.
The judges gave a special mention to the fun and visionary robotic design by Kyohong Min; 24/7 healthy fast food served from a robotic kitchen by Robo-Chef.
It is wonderful that this year’s entries produced a wealth of ideas that seamlessly bring together the experiential and the digital, despite the very different circumstances we face. As well as being grounded in reality, students gave answers to the briefs that are both inspiring and do-able. Check out this year’s shortlist and winners at www.rdsawards.co.uk and join us in celebrating the students’ passion, resourcefulness and creativity.