Tuesday, 31 March 2009

So can we control consumption?

I have been looking into this question for a number of months now. For many the gut reaction is consumption is bad and we should reduce our output of products that saturate the market place. Another viewpoint though would be to look again from a clean slate, starting at the beginning to see if we can consume, but in different ways. An interesting project that my colleague Andrew found was WANT. The article originally posted on Core 77 is an interesting one in the sense of consumption and the questioning of consumption.

Temporary experiences

Following on from a number of recent blogs I came across a concept setup by BONJIN. Bonjin eatery has been going now for around 2 years serving Japanese food in the New York area. At first that does not seem very different to any other Japanese restaurant. The difference is that they use other peoples kitchens and move from kitchen to kitchen every month or so. This one-off feel to the whole dining concept follows on from the article I reported on with the mobile Taco company that advertises through twitter, and also the manipulation of the billboard into a brand new retail space.

Japan as a culture seems to always come up with these type of ideas, indeed Bathing Ape's Nowhere pop-up shops probably started this trend and it does seem that the customer is going to be more and more looked up rather than the customer visiting the retail space. 

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Bigger and better - or smaller and more niche?

I have been thinking about new business models for different size businesses now for a number of months, while we hear about big companies currently feeling the pinch in the media, we do not hear about the thousands and thousands of smaller companies out there who contribute to the worlds economy. What really interests me at the moment is the balance between the need for global multi-national corporations and the smaller niche companies. I have read a number of articles recently such as 'The Edge' by Jon and also an older article produced in wired.com which all seem to lead in a similar direction to my thoughts about the future economic landscape post-recession.

On a quick projection into the future there seems to be a number of different ways companies may evolve in the future. The wired.com article is interesting in the fact that there is a symbiosis between the huge global company and then there are smaller companies that have their independence from the large company but also need it to function and trade, just like Amazon in the article and other companies such as Ebay. Suddenly the idea of different and individual really starts to be a reality we can now for example use iTunes and it's software Genius to find tracks or artists that we would never have heard about before because they were not big enough to be stocked in your local record store.

I am working on a project currently where niche and cost are hugely important to the project and yet the project also has to cast a larger net as it is part of a wider awareness campaign. I hope to utilise the attributes of the small and large templates, to make the project as successful as possible. If anyone has any ideas or examples of work surrounding this kind of work I would be really interested in hearing about it.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Sustainability, Eco-friendly, bio-degradable, ethical

I am currently researching the perceived notion of sustainable design. In particular within the mass-consumption market of day to day lifestyle products. I am particularly interested in is the categorisation of products. Words such as 'sustainably sourced', 'made from recycled materials', and 'bio-degradable' all seem to give the impression that the companies producing these products are 'ethically' aware and some would lead you to believe they are in fact helping the environment. Advertising campaigns from 'Triple Velvet' with their planting three trees for every one tree they use and 'Lenor's' concentrate range that has helped reduce the amount of packaging of their product's and so allowing more products into one shipment and so reducing the amount of lorries on the road.

On face value these all seem to be strongly ethically balanced ideas. But is this true? and what do these really achieve? For the company it may help their profit it could also improve there brand values within the outside world by 'green washing' over things, but ultimately they are a lesser evil. They do not really answer the big question they still use virgin materials and ultimately once the consumed part is used the rest goes is perhaps recycled into a lower grade product and then goes into landfill or is incinerated, or is put into landfill straightaway. 

So while this may prolong the consumption of the plants and resources of the planet it is not ultimately going to stop them from being lost or consumed. At this point I must point out that this is not about being ethical and environmentally conscious (as Michael Braungart and William McDonough said in their book 'cradle to cradle'), it is about being smart. We live in a world now with huge knowledge and expertise. Materials can and have been produced that not only do not use up natural resources but put things back into the system. 

Monday, 16 March 2009

Understanding the authenticity of a company

Up until innocent smoothies, it seems as though companies would strive to be as big as possible and the idea of being authentic or believable in that their story seemed to be unimportant. Since innocent however and also an ever growing move towards customer feedback and power. Companies are more and more informing people about their story and what they are up to. While this is not a new thing. Keeping with innocent who have now been trading for over 10 years now there does seem to be a growing development into this kind of storytelling. 

The story has become crucial and just as important as the product. However each story seems to hold true only within a very small area. For example companies stories have to be believable. So does this limit the size of future businesses? will it mean more niche markets? A company for every group perhaps? You can see the original stories of companies becoming disconnected with their original stand. Innocent for example are now the market leaders in the smoothie market and have a huge annual turnover, yet their story is of a small independent company. In marketing terms a David against Goliath battle. In this case though David did exactly what he did in the fable and now you start to question who is the minnow. And so does it now follow that the original story of small independent company in touch with their customers hold true?

Swan Vesta - Brand development

While branding is not just about the physical brand identity and packaging, it is still what people associate immediately with that company. If you think of something as iconic as marmite, you probably think about the brown jar with yellow top and the red badge, and white name on the front. In the same way I recently visited the Museum of branding and packaging in London, where there are some great exhibits that show the development of some of the nations best loved packaging. Among them was the below shot of the development of Swan Vestas. It is a really interesting look into how the packaging went through both visual, dimensional and also technical changes through advancements in production techniques. 

Monday, 9 March 2009

I need a huge monitor

I was reading in the New York Times supplement in the Observer this weekend that NEC have publicised a piece about how monitor size can affect your productivity. the report claims that the bigger the monitor size can increase your productivity.

For further information I came across this article on Gizmo

Of the moment retailing

Further to my last few posts about retail and the immediacy of shopping. I was walking through Cardiff this weekend, and came across the below umbrella sales person. What I love about this is that the day up until that point had been a bit cold but fair sunny and there was not much of an indication of the forthcoming deluge. This then really is almost like parasitic retail i suppose. Utilising an overwhelming event that can then be taken advantage of. I am sure this must have been written about before, but in particular I like the supply and demand of it and possibly the idea of the question in the future of ownership I mean people buying these umbrella only need the umbrella for the experience of shopping through Cardiff they don't need it after so maybe it's not sold but rented??

ice cream vans and moving libraries

I had this idea of movable retailing and then had a look (ok I was spying) on Andrews blog saw him writing about Kogi, a Korean BBQ company based in Amercia. they actually use twitter to tell there customers where they are going to be.

Friday, 6 March 2009


I came across this today and seeing I have just been trying to do a rubix cube this has put me to shame. The Petaminx has 975 individual parts not including the stickers. What I found really remarkable though is the story behind the making of Petaminx, The original design was produced by Andrew Cormier and he publicly posted it on a puzzle forum for people to discuss. From here though things took an interesting turn with Jason one of the forum members deciding that he would actually make the puzzle. It took him around 75 hours including the moulding process and assembly.

The piece will be sold on Ebay and is thought that it will raise a hefty sum. For me the really interesting thing about this is the idea of supply and demand and almost a new way of retailing and bringing back to a Artisan / barter system.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

product No 2

Biodegradable Tent Pegs - made from Potato Starch

Product No 1

Swedish cheese slicer, just a great product.

Cradle 2 Cradle in Venlo

I came across this article on treehugger.com. I have been interested in cradle to cradle design ever since Michael Braungarts visit of Cardiff when he lectured at a Design Wales arranged event. I think back in 2007. I remember the lecture vividly mainly due to the different approach and also the disturbing facts of products that have been built for years and have been taken for granted, yet they give out and include huge amounts of toxic chemicals. Also the simple notion of everything being designed in such a way to give back and not just to take take take.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Not Japan this time Paris

I came across this apartment and fell in love with it. The apartment situated in Paris is a tiny 16 square metre space.

Billboard give away

I recently attended a lecture given by Peter Snadden, his talk was about Japanese culture such as Hello Kitty. As well as talking about Hello Kitty he also spoke about current retail spaces and how they could potentially change in the future. In particular there was the question of retail spaces crossing over into galleries. I remember reading 'The Value of Things' a number of years ago which spoke about the relationship of how museum's have heavily influenced the original department stores such as Le Bon Marche and later Selfridges and Harrods. In recent time places such as the Californian cafe/shop/art space ROYAL/T, which looks at the relationship between this even further. For somewhere closer to home there is Dover Street market in London's Mayfair area. All of these were used as examples to show how the retail space is more and more becoming an experiential space that is not always obviously about selling 'kit'.

I was particularly interested though in the really challenging idea of those spaces that are even more obscure or indeed temporary. In a previous article I spoke about pop up stores and it is this idea of temporary and also the idea of pet architecture which was introduced to me for the first time through the lecture that really intrigues me. Pet architecture is  a really fun study of buildings that have 'grown' or 'chiseled' or 'fitted' into what many people would see as hugely built up areas. I will try and post a few images to demonstrate the idea in a future post. A very interesting piece of news I came across a few days ago, it made me think even further of what is a retail space. The above image is from Austrian Outfitters Northland Professional who produced a series of billboards that had samples of there clothing range attached to them. Each day the samples were replaced and the campaign took place of a period of a month. the idea is interesting on a number of levels. Firstly what has become known as tryvertising and trying before you buy also in this case the item can be kept and even passed on. For me I was interested how the billboard had almost for that month become a shop front for the company. A retail place if you like. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

History of MUJI internationally - part 3

Through this new found popularity MUJI launched their first store out of Japan, in July 1991 they opened in London, and since then they have become a truly international brand opening stores from France to Hong Kong. From the early nineties MUJI expanded it's product range in ever more diverse directions. In 1995 they launched household electrical appliances such as telephones, electric cookers and refrigerators. Also in 1995 the company was listed for the very first time and people could buy shares of the company. In 1999 they added maternity wear and children's clothes to their product line all following on the lines of the original concept of affordable and high quality. 2001 saw MUJI work with another household Japanese brand. By working with Nissan the two companies designed the MUJI automobile.

MUJI History Their first retail outlet - part 2

In the June of 1983 MUJI made the planned move to opening one of it's very own stores. As previously planned the store was opened in one of the fashion hotspots of Japan Aoyama. The double-storey store was designed by Ikko Tanaka and Takashi Sugimot and immediately became a talking point with it receiving a large about of media coverage. The store was the perfect spoke person for the MUJI way. incorporating the new and old ways of Japanese culture. The external walls of the store were built from red tiles which were popular from the Meiji period. The internal floorboards and shelving were all produced from recycled materials, having been collected from the knocked down buildings in Shinshuu.    

Crucially the store became popular by youngsters and the creative classes who understood and believed in MUJI's low prices and high quality offering. Within the first year the Aoyama store smashed predicted sales by ten times it's target. In the first year it produced a sales revenue of 120 million yen. along with the success of the store MUJI had now increased it's product range to a staggering 720. Both of these factors had finally brought proof that the MUJI concept could compete even in the then heavily 'branded' product market. Through opening it's own stores up MUJI could control everything from displays through to retail costs and through a gradual reduction of supplying to supermarkets and an increase in setting up their own specialist store MUJI for the first time could call of the shots.

Although MUJI had become firmly established it was not until 1989 that the Mujirushi Ryohin Division of the Seiyu parted from the Seiyu supermarket system and was officially founded as Ryohin Keikaku Co. Ltd. The timing of this separation was significant for the 1990's was starting to see a reaction within Japan and also worldwide against heavily branded goods. People had become weary of luxury items and paying over the top prices for items that were no better than others, and had merely been overly 'styled'. In the early 1990's some people were wanting to move away from these extravagant lifestyles and were more and more looking for simplicity within their lives. MUJI fitted these ideals perfectly, and through this new found popularity began to expand beyond Japan.  

Sunday, 1 March 2009

History of MUJI - part 1

In the 1950's the supermarkets of Japan were in crisis. There was an ongoing battle between the supermarkets and manufacturers regarding the final retail price of their products. The disagreements continued well in to the 70's with the Japanese consumer seeing the products available as being "cheap but of poor quality". One of the leading supermarket companies of the time decided to make a stand and through bringing together their creative division the Seiyu supermarkets company decided on a very contradictory way forward. In the late 70's heavily branded exuberant/luxurious products were being seen within Japan as being the way forward. For Seiyu and their president Seiji Tsutsumi they saw a different story, teaming up with the America giant SEARS, who through this collaboration re-established their core values of affordable and quality.

In 1980 with his team of creatives they produced nine household products and thirty one food items. All of the products centered around simple, value for money, They also all followed a rigid colour way of black, white and khaki. As well as all of these values they also concentrated on reduction, recyclable and sustainable, so although products were mass produced there was an ethical commitment to environment. And so through these small steps formed what MUJI was about to come. 

At first with only a few products having been designed and produced, sales were not as good as expected. In fact it was a dissapointment, although the amount of products had increased to forty in the first three months MUJI were struggling with store presence. During a dinner MUJI's president Tsutsumi told his employees how they would move forward. With such simple non-branded products, coupled with having very few products supermarkets were not following their instructions in how to display the products, also the constant competition with other in store more luxurious looking products all made for bad initial sales. 

So to combat this Tsutsumi announced they would set up their own stores in Aoyama and Roppongi, both of these areas being renowned creative centers. Before they could set up MUJI shops they needed to increase their product range and also their reach. So in 1982 MUJI started to distribute their products wholesale to associate shops. 1982 also saw the launch of one of MUJI's longest and most successful products. The product summed up MUJI's language perfectly and summed up the Japan at the time. The product was the MUJI bicycle and coupled with an advertising campaign. MUJI started to make an impact.