An idiom of design

Investment in retail design never goes wrong as it adds to the brand experience. Manu Neelakandhan, Design Director, Idiom Design & Consulting Ltd speaks to us about the importance of retail design.
Manu Neelakandhan

Investment in retail design never goes wrong as it adds to the brand experience. Manu Neelakandhan, Design Director,  Idiom Design & Consulting Ltd speaks to us about the importance of retail design. 

Jasmeet Sahi (JS): Idiom is a design firm with varied design skills under one roof. Could you elaborate a little bit on what these varied design skills are?
Manu Neelakandhan (MN):
We are in the field of creating experiences. This cannot be done with a single faculty of design. Idiom has varied design skill sets from graphics and communication designers, architects and interior designers, product and furniture designers, design engineers, illustrators and visualisers who work together to stitch together a brand experience. The business end is supported by business insight group and design managers and the implementation end by services consultants and project management teams. 

Idea Café (the resource library) and in-house Protoshop are the other facilities available for designers. 

JS: In your opinion, can retail design of a store affect sales? A few brief examples maybe...
Retail is the last point of contact between a customer and a product, where the final purchase decision is taken. The job of retail design is to aid this decision making. This is why retail design involves as much science of design as art. What else can explain why value retailers invest in retail design? 

JS: Pilferage is a major concern with retailers today. Any suggestions on what kind of layout/store design can help check pilferage?
It is wished a layout or store design change could help reduce shrinkage. It is a common practise to keep small and high value open merchandise in close proximity to cash or within visual surveillance. Use of surveillance technology is increasing too. Unfortunately its contribution towards checking the loss is minimal. Firstly, because law breakers find their way around every system; secondly, because a good 50-60 per cent of pilferage is an inside job. Lastly, reverting back to the traditional ‘across the counter’ practice destroys the brand experience for the customers. 

JS: How can a retailer on a small budget create a creatively inviting retail space out of a frugal budget?
Retail design is about story telling and creating a brand experience. Nothing prevents you from telling a story with a small budget. Budget constraint has to be an integral part of the concept brief and not introduced as an implementation brief. Then all it takes is some creative and rational thinking.  

JS: Do a merchandiser and a store designer work together to accomplish a commercially presentable look for the store? How?
DO they work together or SHOULD they work together? They ‘should’; but in India, they seldom ‘do’. A merchandiser is a new breed of talent in our country; they are mostly people trained inside retail organisations. Store designer, on the other hand, is invariably an external consultant. In such a case what happens is that a merchandiser takes over where the store designer leaves it. 

Some day in the future we’ll have retail design companies employing merchandisers and be able to give a ‘complete look’ (or commercially presentable, as you put it) for the stores.  

JS: Should a store owner invest in making the store an extension of the brand, with theme colours and logos all over, or should a sombre approach be taken?
At the risk of a repetition, retail design is about brand experience, which is definitely not just about brand colours and logos. It is as much about the shopping experience – the culture, the mood, the activities, the materials, the small rituals and the service – as it is about the logo and colour. 

JS: There is this trend towards minimalism in design. Does it work for retailers to incorporate it in the store layout?
The idea is not to over-design or under-design. In India, the need of the hour is to be simple and/or optimal, not minimal. The practise extends to all aspects of the store design and not just the store planning or layout. 

JS: Lastly, Idiom is the idiom for…
Idiom is out to seek the Indian idiom of design. There is so much to learn from our country, a knowledge that can be exported as opposed to our current practise of importing western theories and ideas and mindlessly force-feeding it to Indians.  

Manu Neelakandhan, Design Director, Idiom