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Retail design is more important to clients than ever by David Dalziel

Today more than any other time in our history Retail Design is proving its worth to our clients and delivering tangible benefits to their performance, their brand awareness and their brand credibility.

Since the launch of our business in 1983 we have seen a shift in the market. In 1983 there were a handful of retail design specialists including Fitch, Conran, McColl's and a few others who dominated the market with an Interiors-led service that profited on the management of a roll-out to a few dedicated clients, typically UK, and typically reliant on teams of functional designers hand drawing site packages without a great deal of brand awareness and without a great deal of creativity.

That has changed beyond recognition. Successful retail design consultants today are multi-disciplinary, focusing on skills not yet invented in 1983. Successful consultants are typically global, working for a wide variety of clients around the world. Successful design consultants are now brand aware, strategically advanced, providing their clients with a broad and deep service that can reflect, and in some cases change, the way they do business.

Today, ambitious clients demand creative solutions from their design partners, less about the cookie-cutter roll-out and more about the 'Big Idea', the brand shifting solution that can re-present their brand for a more demanding and flexible future.

This more creative brief pays dividends. Across the market in the UK it's possible to draw a line through a performance league table separating success and failure, and almost without exception those above that line are employing design as a key component of their business strategy, occasionally without even recognising it. Whether it is the increase in the share price, the increase in the brand awareness, the increase in long term trading, the increase in footfall, the increase in staff retention...whatever the measures, good design can contribute to those success criteria.

One key driver in the ability for design to make a difference is the range of services that might now be offered within the scope of retail design. The traditional disciplines of Interiors and Graphics have been enhanced by Branding and Digital to create something we might describe as Experience Design, the ability to create an environment, online or offline, that make real and positive emotional connections with a shopper. It's that 'One Brand Space' that can really resonate in the minds of your audience, a confidence, a consistency and a creativity that is so powerful.

This activity is no longer only for premium aspirational brands but has made an impact across all product areas and all levels in those markets. From Selfridges to Primark, Wholefoods to Aldi, the benefits of good design are evident.

In recent years the rise of value has stunned those markets ill-prepared for it's impact. Power players like H&M and Primark have democratised the premium brand experience to blow away their competition wherever they go. This phenomenon has created a whole new raft of design briefs, the defensive, challenged middle-market has to respond with new ways of adding value to a previously undefined offer. It can be done, it needs to be done, every market needs to look at itself and find it own unique and compelling message.

Digital developments have given us a new tool in the box, a new channel to push our message. Great brands are operating and embracing these new channels in a intuitive and seamless way. Digital design and it's contribution to the retail experience is only going to get stronger and more integrated. The recent developments at Argos show that a tired brand with low esteem can be enhanced by that totally integrated design approach to create something vibrant, commercial and relevant for the future.

As design spreads it's influence and good retailers get better, it is clear that in the future 'good' is no longer good enough. We need to strive for excellence, to create benchmark solutions that define sectors.