Sunday 1 January 2012

10 Commandments of Visual Merchandising 2012

OK well here you go........from all of your messages and comments we know that you have been dying to see what we think the 10 commandments for Visual Merchandising 2012 should be.  After another seemingly fleeting year, we reflect on the highlights and low lights of 2011, although this year from a very warm and sunny Las Vegas (cool, eh?).  The cookie cutter tourists are screeching their way along the strip waiting for midnight to strike (somewhere) and the bling-bling of the 'slots' is quite deafening.  With their low levels of lighting in the unavoidable casinos,  screams from the roller coasters, and pumping loud music to encourage the punters to play harder and faster until every penny and dime has been extracted from their wallets and purses, we've stolen ourselves  away to our rooms on the 19th floor of our hotel (which incidentally is rather reminiscent of the set from the 80's US sitcom the 'Golden Girls').  Overlooking the Pyramid of the Luxor, the Gold wrapped Mandalay and faux castle of the Excalibur resorts we're sat at our computers to go through the thousands of images we've taken over the year and pick out the best (and worst) of 2011. 
There were of course clear trends from the brand leaders and naturally Luxury brands generally led the way followed closely by the mid range and laggards of the high street as one would expect.  Hopefully some of the trends will now die away and new key elements will emerge - although we wont be betting on that. 
One of the saddest moments of 2011 was of course the sudden death of our great Visual Merchandising friend and colleague Professor Ronald Knoth at LIM (NYC) in September.  We still miss him enormously.   However, equally we have also had enormous highs through working on projects, new concept development and mentoring a young Visual Merchandiser who subsequently achieved a Gold medal at the Worldskills Global competition for the UK, all of which continues to feed our desire to keep writing these entries.  After all, the whole point was to have our say, within an industry that always ignored anyone who had no cash to spend or prior experience to share and highlight that we are also consumers and/or customers (and in fact, actually have the prior experience and are also knowledge providers and facilitators) and also have an emotional response to whatever we see on the high street. Therefore, we were always going to shout a little louder about it until we were heard - and with over 1/2 million visitors, over 1000 posts we have been, at least just a little more.

We've kicked a few less tyres this year as we are just a smidgen less frustrated with our industry although the 'old school' and very naive mentality that future creative leaders should be 'scouted' from the shop floor and work their way through the ranks to the top jobs, while fearing or dismissing anyone who may actually be educated, creative and perfectly able to jump a few rungs of the corporate career ladder, still sadly apparently dominates.

We try to avoid any didactic approaches to our own work like the plague preferring the bizarrely seemingly feared (by the rest of Europe, the US and Asia at least) educated, experiential and reflective approach in conjunction with direct experience, otherwise, we feel, we will simply encourage a future work force to adopt a  'battery farming' approach with the end result, visual merchandising employees looking for and working toward (and with) some kind of pre-determined brand formulae or at worst, under developed dependent non-thinkers.  Clearly, the latter  is the preferred option for retailers which is perhaps why our high street often looks so visually bland and why we have a Visual work force that just do what they are told.  How can there be a formula for being creative as if it comes as a kit of parts that gives one all of the answers?  And, why does no-one else or at least so few in this industry appear to understand this or push away from it?  While our leaning toward and favouring of a more holistic and reflective approach to Design and Visual Merchandising may be frowned upon, misunderstood, feared, discarded or viewed as grandiose or unnecessary within our industry, the evidence is clear that Visual Merchandising research, Design and development  still remains, currently, at most, either 'testing a new fixture or prototype' (often designed by an external source), brands shamelessly plagiarising each other, concepts are literal translations from initial thought to completion or no creativity exists or is evident at all.  Celebrating dullards and simpletons in 'top' corporate visual merchandising jobs is still not cool, paying them whacking wages, criminal.  How are we ever able to move forward and develop our industry, pushing the boundaries of Design at least a little further forward, developing, redesigning and rethinking our Visual Merchandising Design agenda to avoid the blandness we see so often beaming shamelessly  from so many of our high streets?  Perhaps too many corporate 'creative' Visual Merchandising leaders are just not creative enough, if at all?  Or, so overwhelmed and outnumbered by marketing and finance departments (or absorbed into either one) that any creative energy is sapped simply just through managing to maintain some basic level of 'creativity' while fending off  or having to accommodate other department's cynicism?  Who knows?  That said, we certainly wouldn't wish to encourage potential mavericks, Machiavellian Princes or misunderstood geniuses, this is much bigger than simply adopting  an 'x-factor', stroppy teenager, rogue or feral approach.  This will take rather more gravitas.  In the meantime, the fact remains that so many of our Visual Merchandisers at every level lack a Design education background or basic design skills at the very least, and this needs to be addressed by our industry.  We are already doing our part.  This, surely should form the base of the Visual Merchandising agenda and certainly the base of the 'pyramid' from which everything else is built upon and therefore enable us as an industry to move forward through the century and become the tour do force that we should be?  Leaps are clearly ambitious right now and there are certainly too many people in our industry who will fear our thinking and dig their heels in further but ultimately we must acknowledge that the seemingly halcyon days of the trimmers and the 'display artists' (who incidentally were rather more informed and skilled)  are long gone and we must now either pack a punch and move forward, move over or simply move down the bench and allow a new Visual Merchandising agenda to flourish so that our industry is one that can be reckoned with, has longevity and no longer seen or used as something fluffy, flowery, glittery, ephemeral or a sticky plaster on the wound of bad retailing. Instead, we would suggest that it needs to be, simultaneously the overview and the detail, having a strong Design philosophy, be an integral part of a Design process, non formulaic and Visual Merchandising Design led in the first instance are just some of the solutions, although these will probably fall on quivering highly paid deaf ears.  Don't you think?
Anyway, that said, here are just some of thoughts for 2012........

1. Thou shalt not use literal translations

Is no-one else bored with seeing this kind of stuff.  We understand the Son of Man by Magritte reference here but where is the design element other than a literal translation?

2. Thou shall employ professional Visual Merchandisers

We come across these kinds of schemes on a daily basis.  Why do retailers not employ professional Visual Merchandisers to produce these schemes.  Of course, the cost element.  However, the amount of damage these kinds of schemes do both to the Visual Merchandising industry but moreover to the retailer themselves versus the cost of employing a freelance VM at the very least, staggering.

3. Thou shall maintain Visual Merchandising standards

Would you invite people into your home if it was unclean and untidy?  Probably not.  Its not very clear why retailers allow these examples as above to happen, although it does scream at us that they just don't care (but they will still take your money).

4. Thou shalt not use clocks in a repetition format

This not about the use of clocks per se, but about the use of the same old stuff churned out time and time again.  Worse still are the clocks representing different time zones.  We did have the urge to do as Salvador Dahli did at Bonwit Teller, but resisted.  Can we move on beyond these cliches please?

5.  Thou shalt not produce incomprehensible or meaningless schemes

These are just another few examples of the thousands of schemes that we see on our travels.  Meaningless, incomprehensible schemes.  Where is the Design in these schemes?  There isn't any, is there?
6.  Thou shalt avoid the corpse look.

If one has fashion product either fold it or show it on a bust form (preferably with articulated arms) or on a mannequin.   The hanging corpse look that we see every so often does nothing for the product.

7.  Thou shalt avoid the coffin look

We're not massive fans of this brand anyway, and we have poked them a lot during 2011.  Strangely they seem to simply just either take it on the chin or are completely unaware of what we say.  Does it matter anyway?  Not really.  However, we do wish for 2012 that they would breathe some life into their brand and give it some personality beyond the celebrity endorsements, or at least for someone to nail these coffins firmly shut.

8. Thou shalt not use stacked suitcases

We were really very surprised that this brand put suitcases stacked in their window schemes.  Yes, of course they are quite beautiful suitcases, but we saw this trend throughout the whole of 2010 and 2011 already.  The concept had already reached the 'value' retailers, therefore we're not entirely sure why this amazing and avant garde retailer  produced such a scheme.

9. Thou shall continue to produce incredible schemes.

The likes of Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys and Liberty really helped us keep our sanity this year.  The creativity that these brands communicate is quite exceptional versus the bland brands of the high street.  Thank you guys.

10.  Thou shall have a wonderful and Happy New Year.

If you've read this far, please do have a Wonderful, Happy and successful (whatever that may mean to you) Year and we look forward to sharing our thoughts with you throughout 2012.
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