You cannot get authentic experiences at the click of a mouse button. So people jog, climb, cycle; they sew, cook and garden. Nature is fashionable. Cities need to be greener. More personal. More human. Concrete specifics are set against diffuse generalities. And this is a trend that both the retail trade and the municipal authorities can use very much to their advantage.
The opportunities that emerge for the retail trade will be the subject of discussion at the Premium Business Programme, which brings together, at Christmasworld in Frankfurt (January 27-31), industry professionals from around the world to shine their light on the issue of decorative concepts.
The show organisers in Frankfurt are delighted to have been able to get the two well-known and highly-regarded speakers Stefan Suchanek and Richard van Hooijdonk to come along. The latter will be offering some very valuable insights into various possibilities relating to the design of the towns, shopping centres, hotels and shops of the future.
“If you want people to feel comfortable in towns, shopping centres and shops, you must create emotional appeal,” said Stefan Suchanek, retail designer and lecturer in visual rhetoric and staged settings. Research on the human brain has shown that the memory retains positive experiences better and we need to ensure that people have good feelings like that, he suggests. At the end of the day, it is no longer simply about having a product on the shelves. Products have to be set in the right lighting and contextualised in such a way as to stimulate emotions. Designed into the display, somehow. “But the design not only needs to be attractive, it must release something else – namely pleasure or joy.”
In quite specifically practical terms, this means that it must appeal to people’s senses – and to as many of them at once as possible. People need to smell, hear, see and feel.
“The art lies in animating the locality in such a way as to move people, to touch their emotions. It’s all about conveying a feeling for life and creating a particular mood,” explained Klaus Mark, owner of MK Illumination. “In the past, people just ordered things they liked; nowadays, it’s about themes and concepts. It’s all about telling stories with the help of the lighting and of creating long-lasting appeal.”
This, they claim, is an important trend. But there is, they point out, always the prior question: What do I stand for and how to I want to position myself?
Suchanek, too, is very aware of the significance of lighting as an elementary design feature; “Light is the number 1 carrier of information,” he stated. “Light steers, controls and, moreover, creates atmosphere and mood, as well as contributing to our safety and security.”
A sense of atmosphere and a sense of security are two important emotions, he suggested. “And it is, after all, light that creates that sense of magic in towns that people are so keen to photograph,” he said.
The lighting not only has a long-term impact on people’s moods; depending on the surroundings and the time of year, it can also produce a variety of different effects.
It has long been a tradition in the south to add emotional charge to events with light and flowers. In Italy, in Spain, in Greece, it is the illumination that turns a party into a real occasion. This is something that Christina Dominquez from ilmex is also aware of. “In Southern Europe, people not only opt for more cheerful, brighter colours, it just goes without saying that events, even in summer, are deliberately illuminated so that entire streets and squares are steeped in light to create effect.”
Depending on the season, flowers are sometimes used too. Flowers, combined with illumination, have, for a very long time, also been something of a feature in China too,” said this expert in the field.
Klaus Mark also suggested that lighting can add a touch of elegance and, with it, an emotional charge to any party or festival in our part of the world, too. He points to a castle in Belgium that was decorated last summer with several metre-high lighting displays in the form of horses and some exquisite floral bouquets. “The unbelievably fabulous atmosphere has not only stayed in our memory, long term, the whole summer festival was a great hit,” he observed.
“Whether you are using flowers or lighting, simple or more elaborate decorations – at the end of the day, it is all about appealing to people,” emphasised Suchanek. So he also wants towns to become more human again. There are various ways of achieving this, but the most important of them is, he suggests, with the people themselves. “The most attractive decorations in towns are the people there,” he insisted. “In order to reach out to them and to invite them to stay a little longer, you have to create a positive mood.”
Wherever there are people, then other people will be attracted to join them. If there are seating facilities and visual focal points such as umbrellas or appealing lighting effects, then the path is clear. “It does not take that much, when all is said and done. The main thing is to do it nicely. There are some cafés that are always full and that has to do with getting things right: the way you treat people, the friendly staff, an attractive and harmonious ambience.”
It goes deep, said Suchanek: “Towns need quiet spaces. People like to look, too; you need to be aware of that, as well. Towns, where the traffic has been ‘calmed’ out of existence are, therefore, not always entirely auspicious. A visit to a town needs to be perceived as a short-break holiday.”
And for that, we need to create oases. People themselves may well also have been a factor that contributed crucially to the launch of the Christmas period in Berlin in 2011. “On that occasion the Mayor of the City of Berlin officially rang in the Christmas period with a procession which we illuminated,” remembered Giannis Paleohorisnos, CEO of Fotodiastasi. “That has not only remained a wonderful memory for us. We have again and again been reminded by others of this festival and this concept in particular.”
What is true of the town as a whole is also true of shopping centres. They need to have more emotional charge. Rüdiger Pleus from the German Council of Shopping Centers (GCSC) has also come to this conclusion. “In future, there will therefore be more food offers, more pleasure and leisure activities.” We are already seeing a trend towards more food and catering outlets. Ten or fifteen years ago, the share was, on average across Germany, still just three to five percent; today it is around eight to ten percent. Pleus forecasts that “this trend can only become more pronounced and will grow to 15 or 20 percent.”
Over the next few years, says Dutch trend researcher and futurologist Richard van Hooijdonk, people will be increasingly replaced by machines. At the same time they will be more and more linked with and by technology. We are already seeing the first developments in this direction; Google Glass, for instance, the wearable device that functions as both camera and display and combines the here and now with the virtual world. Or Pokémon Go, which conflates the virtual and real worlds to create the game. According to Hooijdonk this trend is not about to disappear in the foreseeable future. He works on the assumption that even sensory experiences will very soon be able to be turned into virtual ones. Then it will no longer be possible to distinguish between what is real and what is virtual. This technological advance would bite deep into the nature of one’s being as a human, as well as influencing purchasing and consumer behaviour.
Pokémon Go and Google Glass notwithstanding – there is still no technology that can replace a celebration shared in company, the smile of two people who have just made eye contact. This is a trump card that shopping centres, towns and also shops and hotels should be ready to play, in order to reach out to guests and customers and to secure their loyalty. Something unique must be on offer, tension between opposing poles needs to be created, hunger for real food.