Designing Branded Commercial Spaces – Design Week

With a thoughtful mix of interiors and interactive design, brands are trying to tell new stories in retail environments.

At M&M’s flagship store in Berlin, visitors can create a virtual version of themselves made up of hundreds of lenses (the brand name for the candy’s distinctive shape). It’s a surreal step for even the most ardent M&M’s fan, but the map projection tool is one way the brand is surprising visitors in the new location. “We wanted to make sure we were connecting with the brand both literally and figuratively,” says Ashley Randolph, senior 3D designer at Landor & Fitch.

The Berlin store opened in October 2021, bringing the total number of M&M’s stores worldwide to seven. It may seem counterintuitive to increase retail space, as the pandemic hasn’t been kind to the long-suffering Main Street. But expanding a brand’s physical presence, if designed well, can provide opportunities for unexpected engagement.

Randolph, who worked in M&M’s stores in the United States, visited the German capital before embarking on this latest project. It was integral to the Berlin store – a way to differentiate it from its American, London and Shanghai counterparts – and also to recreate something of the city in the space (which was previously a theatre). “Berlin has this very nice culture of self-expression,” she says. “And we really want to make sure we’re a part of that as well.”

Some of these are aesthetic influences, like a street art exhibition inspired by Berlin’s East Side Gallery (visitors can also try making their own). One of the store’s most eye-catching features is the recreation of an M-Bhan train carriage that appears to be sticking out of a wall. There’s also a focus on digital interactive experiences, says Randolph, like clubbing modules that take inspiration from Berlin’s underground nightclub scene. As the designer says, “We tried to be as clever as possible in the store.”

clubbing pods

More literal connections include a rainbow-colored staircase, evoking the candy’s wide color palette, as well as a color-changing light that guides visitors through the store. Throughout the project, the key was to develop a tailor-made identity for Berlin. Compared to American stores, the Berlin outpost is “very artsy”, says Randolph.

Mixing Berlin’s counterculture with a brand like M&M’s may raise eyebrows, especially among those who see the stores as a tourist trap – a far cry from a city’s galleries and museums. Landor & Fitch tried to implement the brand in a playful way, according to Randolph. The MBahn model is stamped with the M&M’s founding date, while a ticker tells visitors how far they are from other M&M’s stores around the world. If you’re a sweets fan — and given the growing number of M&M’s around the world, it seems a lot of people are — you’re likely to appreciate these features.

Bringing an Italian experience to London

Lavazza’s flagship store in London

Lavazza’s flagship store in London was designed to tell a different story. When it opened last summer, it became the brand’s first store outside Italy and only its second flagship store (Milan is home to its first). Inspired by the idea of ​​italianità (a concept that evokes a sense of Italy), the store aims to introduce the famous coffee brand to new audiences and bring together British and Italian coffee culture, says Mirko Cerami , creative director of Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA). “They wanted to reflect the local market,” he says, “but also give you a sense of the Italian coffee experience in London.”

The location is divided into several sections, aiming to offer a variety of experiences. A cafeteria on the ground floor, designed by Italian architect Carlo Ratti, is inspired by the shape of a coffee bean and is made from a combination of brass and repurposed coffee powder. This is intended for a more leisurely experience, while a take-out counter allows people to come and go quickly (Cerami suggests this is more in line with British café culture). Coffee beans abound, of course, including a 700-bean chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

But how to live the experience beyond the beans? Cerami emphasizes interactive features. The store launched with an AR game where Londoners had to search for coffee cups hidden across the city in exchange for free coffee. A more permanent feature is the immersive tasting area, designed to give visitors an all-caffeinated experience. A “coffelier” – the wine world’s equivalent of the sommelier – provides a guide to the tasting experience and insight into the preparation of the drink. The aromatic notes of each blend – such as jasmine – are projected onto the ceiling.

The immersive experience is a highlight for Cerami and is inspired by RAA’s work on the Lavazza Museum in Turin. RAA worked with Lavazza – on the Turin museum and the design of a factory tour for the launch of Lavazza Casa 1895 (which was shortlisted for a Design Week award last year). This knowledge of the 127-year-old brand and its values ​​was key throughout the latest project, according to Cerami. The heritage alone sets the store apart from many British coffee chains, says the designer, although he hopes Lavazza’s story connects to the competitive London market.

Interiors that “show” as much as “tell”

It’s not just food brands that are innovating around flagship spaces. Samsung KX opened in London’s Coal Drops Yard. Its name refers to King’s Cross, the district where the room is located. Launched for the brand’s 50th anniversary, the space aims to offer “local culture, face-to-face learning and innovation”. People can browse Samsung products, but also attend workshops and try new technologies. Andrea Ferrara-Forbes, head of high-end retail at Samsung, who led the design of the project, said the aim was to make the brand’s ethos “fun and tangible”.

One of the key elements, according to Ferrara-Forbes, was finding a way to include branding details without overwhelming visitors. “We wanted to ‘show’, not just ‘tell’,” she explains. “If you walk into a retail space, there is a plethora of messages; we wanted to create a space that people walk into and feel comfortable in. This means careful use of any overt branding; Forbes says the team only used traditional details (such as logos) when they were “absolutely necessary”.

KX is hosted in Heatherwick Studio’s redesigned site; two Victorian warehouses were joined by a pair of iconic ‘kissing’ roofs. Samsung’s design team worked with Brinkworth interior designers throughout the space, often incorporating London-oriented details. The in-store fabric has been specially designed as a nod to London’s public transport, for example.

Less subtle is the 5G Bus – a London bus model that showcases Samsung’s 5G technology on the go. Like Randolph and Cerami, Ferrara-Forbes stresses the importance of designing with local meaning. “What works in our New York or Tokyo space may or may not work in London,” she says.

Lavazza’s new store has some pandemic-era touches — like sanitizing the lights — but it was more dramatic for KX. When the space opened, it was also intended to serve as an event venue for community networks and charities, such as Age UK and Mind in Camden. Meanwhile, it has a space where office or home workers can sit and work. Although the pandemic has reduced Samsung’s vision for its flagship, customers can now access the space virtually, where a manager will consult or guide them through the space, says Ferrara-Forbes. A degree of modularity is therefore crucial. She adds, “We rotated everything.”

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