Adrian Morris.

Morris kicked off
by saying there’s 
no such thing as a bad brief, but we do need a
more inclusive and better design process. In addition, with everything moving
and changing at such a rapid rate, there’s a prerequisite to stay relevant.

Think of when the car was becoming more prevalent – the question was whether
citizens would need walkways. And so, Morris says, architects developed schemes
around cars, with a vision of building ‘machines for living’ extrapolated onto
cities. None of these were realised, but the idea that the car shaped the city
was taking root. Now, Morris says we’re seeing a shift away from this. Leftover
city spaces are being reinhabited, like the elevated High Line park, a disused
railway track in New York. 

Morris reveals that what makes these projects work is the attention they pay
to tactile human experience. If you’re a legacy brand looking to
leap onboard and enhance your customer experience, take heart from the fact
that it’s already been done by some of the country’s biggest financial

How often do banks
surprise and delight customers?

Morris says the first step was for Design Partnership itself to design a mantra
in their business on ‘design that works’. Their design work for Absa in the
Mall of Africa is then an example of this:

Some of the standout, fresh design features here are ‘plug and
play’, so the branch can effectively be redesigned in the space of an
afternoon, and the waiting area doesn’t have outdated magazines to browse
through but instead has foosball tables. These are so popular that when a
consultant is free, the clients are often still immersed in their game and
surprised to be called back to reality – nice way for a bank to surprise and delight
customers, says Morris.

Morris also shared that in working on Standard Bank’s airport lounges designed
for private clients, they aimed to bring something pleasurable back to the
journey as air travel is so exhausting for the average traveller today. You
often have different pockets of time to spend, so three different experiences
were created at three different sites in OR Tambo International airport, 15, 30
and 60 minutes from the gates. At the first, effectively a Wi-Fi hot desk, all
travellers can charge devices, grab a newspaper and water as it’s a transit
area. The next two require proof of your bank card to gain access as CaféBlue
is a deli area, boosting the pre-flight experience with complimentary deli
style meals and drinks on the go, while the last is a premium library lounge
with premium drinks and cuisine to choose from.

Morris concluded that ‘old school is new school’. In an age of constant
disruption, a return to legacy values with refreshed design may
be best.

Why Woolworths’
design work works

Brian Mtongana,
head of design at Woolworths, rounded out the retail advertising run after the
afternoon tea break, in a fascinating presentation on the commercial impact of
design. Mtongana began on a personal note, showing that he loves and lives the
brand so much that his presentation was designed in Woollies’ instantly
recognisable font. Little wonder as this creative decision-maker’s first
project out of varsity was designing First African in Space Mark Shuttleworth’s
spacesuit patch. That proved the kickstart for his innate curiosity and love of
design to overlap his personal and private life, as his job now involves
constantly being curious and trendspotting across the globe. Mtongana goes so
far as to call himself a ‘
communication activist‘ who loves typography
and clever word play. 

The ‘Googlethu’ t-shirt he designed with Justin Nurse’s Laugh it Off brand is
an excellent example of this:

On the role of design in business, Mtongana said at college, design was
understood as an art or form of expression, but on entering the industry it was
merely a form of communicating a business idea to consumers. Up to 80% of their
design work is time spent on research and customer engagement, as well as their
thought process and emotions to motivate customer behaviour change. Customers
in turn often give detailed suggestions on how to improve various

So, Mtongana says, as much as you want to express yourself as a
corporate designer, it’s about the brand
. Design is a process of
synthesising insights while also boosting branding and marketing, reflecting
who the customer aspires to be. “We don’t call ourselves Woolies, YOU call us
Woolies”, he explained. Mtongana adds that some customers go as far as to
purchase Woollies’ bags and take their trolleys into other stores so it looks
like they’ve purchased a Woolworths trolley-full.

This is why in designing, you need to ‘be the consumer’ and know what they want
to see on the packaging. As a result, Mtongana showed us how they live the
brand internally through designs of some of their internal communications. It’s
colourful, bright, bold and doesn’t feel like corporate black and white at all
– I’ll be paying more attention to the packaging when I next push a trolley
through the store.

How to use retail design
to boost your bottom line

Mtongana says to think about how to improve your customer’s perception of your
brand, which should represent your customer base and the message you are trying
to get across to those customers. He listed the following from Puma and
FuseProject as really clever product design as it solves an existing problem
and makes the world a better place – yes, really:

Mtongana also shared local case studies of distinct branding and visual
branding. Bos Ice Tea stands out for Mtongana as one of the most iconic SA
designs, and he pointed out that a Nando’s ad is instantly recognisable based
on the font and memory structure created. 

This is not limited to print though, Mtongana showed how that feeling of
“Nando’s” is even associated with seeing their ads on TV:

Speaking of how design plays a role in product sales at Woolworths, Mtongana
said their packaging is updated every three to five years to keep things fresh
and based on trends – and it works. As an example, he spoke of how their new
juice box packaging was launched in Winter. Sales went up 40% with no change
other than the clean new design. Even their food photography is
easily recognised as ‘Woolworths’, due to the aesthetic they have created over

The Woolworths at Waterstone Mall in Somerset West is their flagship store,
with global recognition by the Association for Retail Environments for the
grand prize for design in the ‘supermarket/grocery’ category, effectively
making it the best designed retail store in the world. 

Mtongana says this is no small fry, we’re playing in the World Cup when it
comes to retail design and SA has lots of potential – we are definitely
punching above our weight.

That’s just a taste of the current flavour of design-thinking. Click here for our
Business of Design coverage, and be sure to follow 
@busofdesign for the
latest updates.