Class Act

How to find inspiration and guidance from the next generation of designers
Posted June 15, 2009
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Realizing that today’s college students will help to significantly reinvent the retail landscape in the next 10-15 years, FRCH Design Worldwide (Cincinnati) decided to go back to school in search of some design inspiration.

We partnered with the University of Cincinnati to teach a retail design studio this past winter to design students in their fourth year of a five-year program. The design focus was on developing retail brand strategies and prototype retail environments. We wanted to pick our students’ brains while sharing our creative process in an effort to engage in a new level of unrestricted exploration and perspective. In the end, three concepts surfaced.

It’s good to disagree. This generation has a passion for collaboration in the decision-making and design process. While they’re comfortable with contradiction and tend not to recognize too many rules, these designers almost naturally acted and designed in teams. They aggressively looked for and offered input to resolve individual design problems in a sort of 11-week-long conversation that at times was almost brutal in its candor.

Their retail expectations are their own. The idea of place to young designers is as much social as it is physical. They socialize virtually, but are invested in the sensuality of built environments. For aesthetics, the “on-the-edge” basement or garage look has been replaced by a more abstract collision of space, architectural form, graphics, media and materiality that never appears to be the same twice. Value has more to do with relevance than price (but price is still huge!). And being connected to everything and everyone is mandatory.

More than just a store. Through our class, the coolest retail idea we saw was a store that's about buying, swapping and trading products, information and services – all centered around the needs of the college community. From used furniture and books to baby sitting services, bicycles and tutors, this store became a resource center that matches needs for both buyers and sellers.

As we prepare for the next wave of the retail revolution, we now know that this class values incremental change over staying the course. They have grand dreams but realistic expectations. They worked hard and fluidly together, and are able to hold their line when they think they’re right. This kind of fresh thinking – simultaneously scattered and direct in the same moment – continues to amaze, inspire and help us rethink our processes and the creative mix of talent we select.

Paul Lechleiter is chief creative officer, FRCH Design Worldwide. Brian Davies is associate professor, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, University of Cincinnati.