19 May 2024, 09:57
By Furniture News May 12, 2014

Johannes Torpe's 360° retail experience

Johannes Torpe heads a multi-disciplinary design studio which has worked in the fields of hospitality, branded space, interior design and branding for 16 years. He’s also the creative director for Bang & Olufsen, where he specialises in creating immersive in-store retail experiences. Ahead of his keynote speech as part of May Design Series’ Conversation Series this month, Johannes answers Furniture News’ questions on the subject of retail design …

What makes a valuable/successful retail design? 

First of all, it is important for retailers to understand the importance of a thought-through retail design. With increasing online sales, the retail sector is in need of strong spatial designs to keep the customers’ loyalty.

At Johannes Torpe Studios our core competences lie within creating strong concepts for retail and hospitality businesses. By re-thinking the retail experiences, we create designs that are not only holistic in their nature, they are a 360° encounter with the brand. This involves a head-to-toe interior design solution with custom-designed elements to display the products in the best possible way.

These concepts are valuable because they are an elongation of the brands’ values and will strengthen the brand and customer relationship.

Have you been involved in the design of any furniture stores?

I have had the pleasure of designing a showroom for an onyx figurine company, Skyword, in Shanghai. Designing for art and furniture pieces is a great assignment to land, because the platform for furniture/figurines have to complement the pieces whilst standing out on its own. We did the Skyword showroom in a very Scandinavian-subtitled way, which stood in sharp contrast to the beautiful and very detailed Chinese figurines – the contrast created a unique environment for the products to stand out.

Adding an element of constant change, we put huge blocks of the raw onyx material on a moving ceiling track system, sliding the blocks in behind the installations. This made the showroom into a kind of an art installation in itself, giving the spectator a feeling of witnessing the environment change, live.

“This made the showroom into a kind of an art installation in itself, giving the spectator a feeling of witnessing the environment change, live”

What elements should the ideal furniture retail store possess?

First and foremost it should contain an element of surprise – giving the customers more than they expect when entering a store. This is the first step towards gaining their loyalty.

In general I believe that spatial designs should be an elongation of the brand DNA, to support the experience – we call them branded spaces. Branded space is the synergy of the numerous elements within the fields of interior design, furniture design, product design, architecture and graphic design. This evolves through the profound understanding of the consumer experience from beginning to end. The result is the creation of a holistically-designed environment.

Essentially, in the furniture store example it means that the retailers should be better at giving the customer a sense of home integration. Giving the customers a way to envision their purchase in their own context makes the decision-making process easier. Sometimes, furniture stores can be a little too perfect in their styling, making it hard for the customers to envision each piece in their own home.

How might a furniture retailer employ some of the ideas you’ve implemented at Bang & Olufsen?

The core of what we have accomplished is the idea of experience design. We have created a branded space that gives the customers the same experience in the store that they have with their products at home – simply magical. We have managed to completely change the customer’s encounter with the brand – by challenging the purchasing situation and giving the customer that experience, we have brought the element of magic back to Bang & Olufsen’s retailers.

"A strong retail design is only strong if it delivers the brand value 360° around"

How might retailers then integrate these ideas into their online offering?

Creating these branded spaces, I find it very important to incorporate omni-channel touch points to the retail solutions. We cannot stop the customers from price testing and purchasing similar products online, but instead of fighting it, we should continue to find innovative ways to integrate it.

A strong retail design is only strong if it delivers the brand value 360° around, which means that it should also contain these digital touchpoints. As long as retailers bear this in mind – the power of the smartphone is astounding, but should not be confused with the importance of a live meeting with a brand, where the surroundings are designed especially for the purchase situation.

What elements of a customer’s psychology do you feel need to be addressed in-store?

Besides creating the desire to purchase (obviously), I always aim to spark people’s curiosity with my designs. By creating spaces with elements of surprise I find it much easier to inspire the consumers to purchase, thereby creating value for my customers, the retailers, restaurant, bar, and hotel owners.

Are there any design obstacles or opportunities particular to the UK market?

I always look for opportunities, and the UK is the third-largest retail sector in the world. With the rising interest in retail and showroom designs, we are ready to help UK retailers create the ultimate experience for their customers.

Do you plan to get more involved in furniture design in the future?

Every time we design a space we leave our fingerprint on the furniture – meaning that, when we create a branded space, in order to fully create a holistic experience we also design the furniture, both for hospitality and retail.

So, in the last quarter of 2013 we decided to start utilising the portfolio we have created over the years, and opened a furniture department within the company, to accommodate the growing interest in our furniture designs. We already have exciting collaborations up our sleeve, which we look forward to revealing come summer.

"I always look for opportunities, and the UK is the third-largest retail sector in the world"

What should visitors to May Design Series expect to take away from your presentation?

They should attend if they are interested in hearing how we work with the branded spaces and experience design, and how we aim to innovate both the retail experience as well as various sectors within the hospitality industry. But, above all, to get inspiration to design differently, with an understanding of the brand and the customers’ value creation in mind.

Johannes Torpe will deliver his keynote speech, Creating Magical Experiences Through Spatial Design, at the May Design Series exhibition, at ExCeL, London, from 13.15 on Tuesday 20th May. This article was featured in the May issue of Furniture News magazine.

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