My Fjord Internship: Humanizing the Retail Experience
When I started my internship at Fjord New York, I didn’t know what to expect from a design consultancy. I definitely never envisioned that I, a computer science major at Duke, would soon be opening a mannequin with a power saw, but Fjordians are all about exploring the unexpected. I was incredibly lucky to get to work with some of the most creative minds to tackle pop up stores, a rising trend in retail, by rethinking data and technology integration.
With a plethora of location-based and demographic data at my fingertips, a simple computer algorithm seemed like a straightforward solution to determine a pop up’s location. However, being surrounded by a community of designers at Fjord, who are driven to think in terms of human-centric design, I wondered how we could incorporate more personality in this analysis than a mere computer program could provide.
Turning to a completely digitalized retail experience is often not the best case. Although purchasing items online from our home is comfortable and easy, it accounts for just 8% of overall retail sales. There is an intimate and multi-sensory aspect involved when we interact with clothes in person that transcends the simplicity of ordering online. We are offered the instant ability to feel a product’s material, ensure the correct size, and be confident in a piece before purchase. Clothes do not translate as well in the two-dimensional, online world as they do in person, which is why a large majority of Americans prefer to shop in-store.
Likewise, algorithms can scrape data and provide physical numbers on demographics such as similar brands, geotagged venues, and heavy foot traffic locations; however, I believe we must apply human intuition to the data analysis for an activity like shopping, because it involves an emotion-driven thought process. By using computer science to augment human innovation, we can take normal data analysis one step further to focus on the personal element ingrained in this research.
As humans, we possess the complex ability to understand data implications on a much deeper level than computers. I channeled this human centered thinking and worked exclusively with data that I manually mined from designers’ social media accounts. Upon noticing different trends across each designer’s fan base, I knew there was a way to turn these disjointed data points into coherent personality traits. Each person is a complex makeup of multiple demographics and interests that are insignificant alone but give a person depth when combined. By iterating through randomized groupings of the followers’ data points, I considered the circumstances where they connected within that group. Through this research I was able to generate concrete attributes that, when combined together, described each designers’ unique fan base.
POP UP STORES
By furthering this research to include computerized data, we could easily find the overlapping interests and then apply a human based thought processes to determine attributes of not only a brand’s followers, but also of events. The process becomes much more personal, and people with certain characteristics would be linked to events with the same ones. This human centered analysis gives brands the opportunity to create events in the right locations or predict at which existing events their customers will already be located.
Specifically in relation to pop up stores, their successes come from being designed directly for a personal audience and providing a shopping experience. By knowing its clientele through this humanizing analysis, a brand can tailor custom features of its store to directly align with customers’ interests and pop up in a location where consumers will already be. Additionally, through channelling creative and innovative ways to market their products, designers are able to express their own distinct aesthetics in a style that cannot translate as strongly on a computer or app.
For example, eyewear company Warby Parker drove around the country in a refurbished school bus, bringing products directly to consumers who normally could only purchase them online, whereas Hermés launched brightly colored pop up experiences in celebration of its 80th anniversary. These flexible retail stores allowed an exclusive, short term experience with efficient sales, low real estate costs, and a lasting impression beyond just a product.
NATURAL TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION
Designing these pop up stores in a world of booming technology is another challenge in itself. With our access to limitless possibilities for in store digitalization, focusing on a natural integration of technology is crucial. We must avoid implementing overwhelming advertisements and flashy in-store gimmicks that scream for attention, because they only distract customers from interacting with the physical retail product. Without interaction, one of the main purposes of an in-store experience has been discredited.
The Fjord team and I worked on brand storytelling through subtly integrated technology that does not distract a customer with a video or large TV. Rather, it uses small, unobtrusive screens to showcase a retail product and its backstory in order to encourage physical interaction with the piece.
Overall, this internship encouraged me to examine Computer Science in a more complete light. I learned the importance of not only focusing on the technology driving future change, but how these innovations can be executed through effective design. Because of Fjord, I will approach the new semester with a fresh perspective on the technological world and will channel design thinking to drive my future studies.