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2021 - Through the Looking Glass

As cheeky as it is to dare predict the future, we’re giving it a shot. Below is our top three design trends that we think will shape 2021.

Colour & Texture

Trending colour palettes give us a glimpse into where people are sitting in terms of their comfort levels. When the heady 1980s came to a close, it was like we shut the door on colour too; as if the sight of garish reds and electric blues was too much a reminder of high interest rates, and even higher hair-perms. We opted for wrapping ourselves in muted greys, greens, blues and beiges, to recover from the house of cards finances that undid many national economies.

A quick glance on the street today shows us we’re erring back to conservative times in terms of colour when it comes to cars, with only a range of black, white and grey on display. The occasional red Ferrari might burble past, but that too is a nod to a time before GDPs and CPIs were common conversation.

Coming through to store design, as colour palettes are becoming more refined and muted, the absence of colour makes incorporating texture a higher priority. Macramé, shag pile, venetian plastering, pot plants and untreated timbers are all back. Their texture gives the eye relief from the soft tones of cream, charcoal and rose gold palettes. Their tactility is also a reward for shopping in real life, where we can leave our 2D online existence for a time.

The Design Table

This prediction really comes on the back of a hopeful wish. It would be really great to see more collaboration between a brand’s internal departments and agencies. Often when we sit at table with the client, it’s only with the retail team. The retail team are great of course, and they know their stuff. But I wonder what else could be achieved, at the start of the project, if we could also have their marketing, IT and merchandise designers, sit in?

I’ve worked in enough big corporations to know why this doesn’t usually happen; politics. Some corporate cultures can be a little guarded and it is risky to have too many cooks in the kitchen, potentially spoiling the broth. But where’s the chance, it’s always insightful to hear firsthand from more of the players in the team about what they’re planning to implement for the brand, and how the store design can support their goals.

Conversely, I’d especially love to see IT join the conversation more often so we could hear what tech is available in-house. Although software and hardware investments are made to support operations, POS and CRM, there are opportunities where the store design can benefit from bringing them in too. Having IT at the table could be a great way to bridge the gap from ideation to delivery.

Long Game

Given the polarising events happening globally, we’ve seen a lot of change and upheaval within the commercial sector as companies streamline to stay afloat and profitable. With a changing of the guard comes change itself, and it will take the steadiest of hands not to let the top-end edit rattle through to the brand’s stores.

Conversely, the-times-they-are-a-changing, and it can be tempting to respond with bringing that change into store design. This is where we see those playing a long game, float to the top. The long game comes with faith in the already-established, big picture plan. It requires resisting the urge to reinvent the wheel and by default, dispose of proven formulas, in the spirit of change.

Of course, this is not to say that making glaringly obvious changes for improvement should be derided. Au contraire, what’s broke must be fixed. But rather, it’s the unnecessary changes, like tweaking an already rock-solid logo, that needs to be avoided. Consistency sells, so changes to the brand’s visual identity need to be well-thought out, with one eye on the horizon for longevity.


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