June 8, 2020 / Experience

Social distancing; design for non-essential retail

Great news for non-essential retail in the UK. From next Monday, 15th June, stores will be able to reopen. Consumers will be able to shop once again. It will be imperative for stores to adhere to government guidelines to ensure the protection of employees and customers. 

One of the key parts in ensuring safety is to facilitate social distancing measures. However, as designers, it is essential we are able to create spaces and environments that are intriguing and visually compelling, as well as safe.

Non-essential retail is a leisure activity, a pastime, and done well, a memorable and enjoyable experience. As we learn to operate our new normal, we summarise how designers have created beautiful experiences, whilst also respecting measures for safety.

Beautiful experiences, respecting safety

Photo Credit: Marcella Winograd

At the start of May, Italian architecture firm – Caret Studio, provided a visual response to this question through their installation StoDistante. In the region of Tuscany, the minimum safe distance between people is 1.8m in order to curb transmission of the virus. StoDistante is a temporary solution to this, whilst also providing a visually engaging solution to reviving public spaces following the ending of lockdown.

The installation, in a square in the town of Vicchio, near Florence, features a grid of 1.8m squares painted onto the cobblestones. These markers offer visual guidance to pedestrians on how to keep their distance, whilst also enabling people to begin to enjoy outdoor life again. 

Last week, architectural magazine – Designboom, showcased painted circles in Brooklyn’s Domino Park to offer people guidance on social distancing whilst still enjoying being outside. Though simple, the design is effective in that it creates a safe and enjoyable environment for passersby.

A project by Matteo Cibic Studio, also based on adhering to social distancing guidelines, is reimagining our future public spaces by launching a new product range inspired by the Art Deco era. Intelligently, this is a reference point to a design period during which partitions were fashionable. In response to the health crisis, the design studio has debuted seven aesthetically pleasing space dividers: four that act as room dividers, and three that are table or desk-sized. 

Designed for use in hotels, hair salons and restaurants, these kinds of dividers would work well in non-essential retail stores that require easy communication between sales advisors and clients, or perhaps to direct consumer-traffic safely between different product offerings and departments.

Thoughtful Design for Non-essential Retail

Whilst we find ourselves designing for socialisation through dividers, and with a demand for quick solutions, it is essential that we are able to do so by designing thoughtfully and in a way that is meaningful for the brand experience. This is where the power of shapes and design comes in. Whilst creating store experiences that respect distance guidelines for non-essential retail, brands have the opportunity to manipulate shapes, lines and flooring tiles in order to achieve this and to breed a sense of originality and visual appeal.