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Retail and hospitality: Tech & design

Louise Curnuck, designer and leader in creative direction for the built environment, tells Installation that AV tech is having a profound impact on the way that retailers in particular update and launch outlets

The emergence and ongoing growth of the use of AV technology in retail and hospitality – particularly retail, as retailers work harder to pull people back into store as part of their hybrid offer – has undoubtedly had an impact on the way stores, hoteliers and other hospitality sectors design their bricks and mortar offerings for improved user experiences.

The store on the high street has had to adapt so much in recent years. It’s now not just a store, it’s a showroom, a drop off and collection point for online shopping, a brand experience with an alterations or customisation counter, and – often – a coffee bar. The bricks and mortar store has become the support act for the online store. This makes the integration of AV and consistent customer experience more important than ever. Brands can no longer put a TV screen on the wall and tick the digital box.

To be consistent with the online user experience, the technology needs to be so sophisticated that customers hardly notice it’s there. Where bricks and mortar stores used to take the lead in creating this experience identity, with an online following, many of today’s new brands are starting online and then moving into bricks and mortar once they are established. This has changed the way we design, and a lot more needs to be considered than a tangible fit out. 

I believe in a holistic approach to design that considers all aspects of a brand experience. We are creating experiences, not just interiors. Like anything, audio-video technology works best when it is considered from concept, and not as an add on, so building strong relationships with designers so that they are truly inspired by the tech from the get-go, rather than sourcing to solve problems at the end of a project, is key.

Where AV in retail needs to support its primary function in sales, in hospitality the focus can be much more on entertainment, and therefore more immersive. What I find particularly exciting is how technology has allowed for immersive dining where all the senses are aroused to support taste and storytelling. In these projects, the designer’s role is to work between operations, food tech and AV specialists, as well as the usual construction and fit out teams. 

This is where holistic design is particularly essential for success and the traditional boundaries of interior design cannot exist. The designer becomes a curator. This is where I’m increasingly using the term ‘creative direction for the built environment’, because there are no boundaries to creating a fully immersive experience.

Louise boasts 15 years experience in retail design, and is currently working with a restaurateur to create a new immersive dining experience in the heart of London’s West End.