Solutionist Designer: is the High St Retail designer dead? stifled and esconced

Nick Garrett – Posted article 23 06 12


Are you a furniture designer?

Really…?? What kind??  (tell me about it in comments)

Below are images of  retail sofa designs that really fail to provide something pure fresh and new.

Above:  The Moulton originally designed for Marks and Spencer… lifted by NEXT Plc.  Or was it the other way around??

Either way Rob Scarlet’s design is detailed and far superior.

The designs in this gallery range from Scarlet design, Laura Ashley, Next and M&S.

Where is the design innovation in this classic theme?


This is moving on … not product design.

Approaches to design

A design approach is a general philosophy that may or may not include a guide for specific methods. Some are to guide the overall goal of the design. Other approaches are to guide the tendencies of the designer. A combination of approaches may be used if they don’t conflict.

Some popular approaches include:

  • KISS principle, (Keep it Simple Stupid), which strives to eliminate unnecessary complications.
  • There is more than one way to do it (TIMTOWTDI), a philosophy to allow multiple methods of doing the same thing.
  • Use-centered design, which focuses on the goals and tasks associated with the use of the artifact, rather than focusing on the end user.
  • User-centered design, which focuses on the needs, wants, and limitations of the end user of the designed artifact.
  • Critical design uses designed artifacts as an embodied critique or commentary on existing values, morals, and practices in a culture.
But even in this list there is something missing… future brand design and solutionism.
Retail product stagnation

Often a designer (especially in commercial retail situations) is not in a position to define purpose as the main objective of the task due to constraints. Whether a designer is, is not, or should be concerned with purpose or intended use beyond what they are expressly hired to influence, is debatable, depending on the situation.  In the commercial environment the product development emphasis drives designers away from user centric design toward shelf fill newer versioning – or ‘moving on‘.

In our N European (UK) raw consumer society,  disinterest in the wider role of design might also be attributed to the commissioning agent, department head, design manager or client: rather than the designer.

However the stark exceptions to low end design is plentiful including Apple, Diesel, Dyson, Ted Baker, UGG, All Saints, Monsoon  and  Phillipe Starck to name a few.

Some of these newer fields of design are entirely based around user interface and identity.  Most have built-in specified purposes and smart user values, such as user-centered designslow design, and sustainable design.

If we dumb down design then Asian competitors will take the easy road: lift and reprint as they have done for 2 decades – putting the bulk of our talented product design industry out of business… moreover the consumer loses out.

Is that the objective of modern retail today?

The drive to simplify the tech interface in order to maximise experience requires real design strategy and planning.  These aspirations succeed in building prolific product ID, brand performers and consumer loyalty.

Design DIS

The modern High Street retail major simply isn’t interested in this philosophy because it build reliance and design based centrifuge.

The retail blue chip requires not reliance on staff talent, but product and HR roll-through… a faithless turnover with it’s designer teams part of it, kept entirely out of public view and moved on.

HR fuel this rotational ethic.

This approach is not only self destructive but it ultimately threatens the retailer’s very own customer base – it is a design (and design industry) disservice.

It stands to contain, negate and devalue the designer’s in-house role, creative success and wider importance in our performance based society.  Design is important to everyone.

So why not exemplify it?

Why not stage it?

Why not show it?

As a designer reading this article you must first define how you continue in retail design.  And carefully re-design your future prior to ME threat and burn-out. Mentors are not a bad idea.


The retail employer harvests the worst long term prospect for it’s young design staff because it would rather see a designer fade in mid thirties than break away as freelancer, demanding higher fee remuneration, rights and market threat.

It is the duty of experienced designers to share support and pure design agenda with the industry young  in order to keep UK design ahead of the worsening, not so cheap, manufacture based stuff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s