Five minutes with Nicolas Wozniak
Nicolas Wozniak, who specialises in brand environment and retail design in his role as president at Paris-based WIP Design, talks to Transform about the art of branding for retailers, and how clients’ tastes can change over time.
What does retail design represent for the brand strategy?
For DIY brands, the retail is the brand, while advertising, press communication and even brand platforms are just moments. Similarly for hotels and restaurants, the retail is where all the promises and guaranties come together and are brought to life.
For the automobile industry retail is just one of the moments of the brand expression, together with advertising, press reports and communications, events etc. Moreover, the new design ‘reveals' are certainly the most inspiring, visionary and branded moments for this industry.
What does WIP do differently to other retail design agencies? How does this show in your work?
WIPdesign and WIPbrands are composed solely of designers, who work to understand the brand and who are committed to translating and transforming the essence of the brand. WIP stands for ‘work in progress’, our name expresses the truth that what has been decided today will certainly evolve and change tomorrow.
Therefore, clients and designers must always be ready for the next move and welcome change, while understanding the bigger picture in order to keep in touch with the audience and the brand identity.
We are loyal to customers; we do not judge their choices. We try to make the best of their situation, at a specific moment in time.
What kind of research will you undertake of a company in order to understand their brand?
If you give your measurements to a tailor, he will use an existing pattern and simply make a few adjustments. If you’re looking for a bespoke approach, you’ll have to meet the tailor several times – he'll get to know you, try to understand your habits and your specific needs for the suit. Only then can he provide you with an appropriate design. We believe it’s the same with brands. I don’t think we can have an informed understanding of a company without spending time with them or collaborating together.
We build relationships over time with all our clients, in order to learn and understand their culture, their language. We translate the clients' needs and emotions. This means that in the competition phase we illustrate our initial understanding, but ultimately we know that the design will have to be redeveloped together with the client, for their audience.
Do you believe there has been an increase in brands becoming concerned that their retail environment does not reflect their identity?
Retail expression reflects our society, if not it disconnects with the audience. For example, environmental messages are becoming more important for communication purposes. But when it comes to acting on those words, embracing the change by investing in it, suddenly it becomes harder to find resources.
Because retail is physical and uses matter, we are trying to evolve our design by:
- Reducing quantities (less matter)
- Reducing complexity and unbricked elements that cannot be recycled
- Trying to differentiate structural design (long lasting) and communication design (embracing trends or the ergonomy of the moment)
You’ve noted in the past periods of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ retail design. Please could you explain this phenomenon, and which of these two trends currently underpins the thinking within the industry?
If retail companies are mirroring society, its design follows the same rules. The world is oppressed with different crises, there is tension at every level; economical, cultural, philosophical etc.
Concept changes in retail design represent an investment, a bet on the future five to 10 years. Therefore and despite very demanding briefs, most brands have a tendency to retain the will for changes. As a consequence, the responses become quite similar, and in terms of message, we are losing enthusiasm and visionary propositions.
Of course you might see here and there crazy pop ups and flagships, but in the end they are mainly niches for communication. You’ll have very little chance as a customer to experience it by yourself. Furthermore, most of those experiences will neither engage the brand in their future, nor be developed for larger audiences or large roll out programmes.