Monday 1 June 2009

Sustainable Retail Interior and Window Design?

Retail and in particular display design by its very nature is dynamic, idiosyncratic, ephemeral, and often de rigueur, while promoting innovation, inspiration and creating aspiration (at least in some cases). It can also be inordinate, and if used incorrectly vapid or pointless. In our contemporary society there is no real excuse nonetheless for not combining retail display design innovation with concern for the environment. I don’t for a minute believe that its just a case of creating sustainable retail displays in a vaguely sustainable market but perhaps the notion of sustainability is misunderstood or maybe ignored within this area of design? Perhaps we need to look to accommodate retail display design in the overall design vision rather than in isolation? I would never suggest that marketeers or accountants have a tighter grip on the development of concepts, I think we are already living with those consequences and I can feel my toes curling as I type at the mere suggestion. However surely there is a way of being creative within this industry and yet sustainable?
Consumer culture may have solved a lot of social problems through such things as ‘health’ products and better life styles but as we all know this has come at an environmentally high price. Retail display design can have a unique role in providing solutions which could address the problem rather than act as a sticky plaster covering up the environmental wounds that may lay behind a retailer’s lack of responsibility? I am not suggesting that we all rush out to design a ‘Green Theme’, ‘Eco Window’ or create props from old tyres and toilet paper. We need to have a far more in depth look at what we are doing and develop a strategy to deal with this instead of a strategy not to deal with this problem, abandoning a surface approach to simply ‘appear’ to be concerned as no one is fooled anyway – however something is better than nothing. I am not suggesting that we revert back to wax or plaster mannequins for example, these were extremely heavy, impractical and the wax of course was made from paraffin – Oil based. Does anyone ever consider Soya wax mannequins (at least in part) or vegetable dye printed graphics on recycled cardboard or paper may have possibilities? Of course Display Design is only one small albeit crucial cog in the retail and design world but it does nonetheless need a sustainability philosophy to be a part of this, which at least to my knowledge is only being explored in a limited way. Retail display design should not only be something used to create a higher profit or be something that creates differentiation or maintains a competitive advantage but surely should and can also be something that is sustainable? I am not convinced that the retail display design industry is so insular, elitist or simply obsessed with its own image and attitude as it requires us to be focused, have a greater understanding of culture and trends, be multi skilled and think in a holistic way – even if we are not supposed or allowed to depending who you work for of course. We all know good retail display design is good business, communicates additional messages to the consumer, promotes choice and brand identification, facilitates sales and of course is part of the shopping experience. However what type of materials are wasted in this process unnecessarily? What type of materials are being used in this process when we could use something else? Cost reduction in retail display design and of the designers themselves seems perpetual, however perhaps a far more healthy philosophy would be to consider how retail organisations can increase budgets and contribute to sustainability instead? We are increasingly breeding a new type of customer who will scrutinise everything we do in retail design for its environmental impact and sustainability. It may at this stage be a Utopian dream where nothing is ever wasted but we will have to find new ways to create our 'selling receptacles' eventually with this in mind. We do now need to create design displays that meet the needs of our current designers without compromising the needs of those designers of the future. I have probably asked more questions than I have answered, however it does seem to me at least to be an area that is currently very much over looked? You may know otherwise?
In the mean time if you don’t want your old materials, props, fixtures or mannequins, can I have them for my students please? I will be around on my band wagon in the morning – carbon neutral of course.
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