February 25, 2016

Surface Design Show 2016

The Surface Design show this year provided us with much food for thought when it comes to materiality in the retail environment as well as inspiring us with some exciting new surface applications.

We attended a few seminars over the course of the show including ‘Future Shop’ which challenged the effectiveness of materials in the retail experience.

It was widely acknowledged that on the high street, the experience of shopping is more important than the actual sales transaction for the consumer and the reason they still chose to shop in actual shops instead of online on a certain day is down to the ‘real’ experience they receive. The physicality of the materials they’re seeing, touching and feeling in reality, not through a touch screen. It’s the lighting, the atmosphere and the ‘being present’ in a space that has been designed to evoke a certain identity and experience that excites, encourages creates a value for the consumer.

Brands should look at ways in which to engage the consumer from the very being to the very end of the consumer journey. Touch points are very important, the physical surfaces the customer comes into contact with; info desks, way finding directories, rest areas, toilets. When it comes to budget these are priority areas.

The over use of digital screens was a key discussion point. Everyone already has one in the form of their mobile device and so putting them without real reason into retail environments can be ineffective. Consumers are looking for a different kind of experience – material focused. Materials in the retail environment are therefore seen as of equal importance to technology.

When designing retail spaces we are encouraged to think about time as well as scale. With ‘agile retail’ a retail unit may only need it’s finishes to last 4, 5, 6 years so brands should be ‘consistent but appropriate’ with their materials.

With the broad range of bespoke materials and patterning techniques now available brands can express their identity through a custom made material or pattern as well as colour. This is a great opportunity to promote brand loyalty.

Consumer target groups are no longer defined by age but by attitude. This threw up the question, ‘what is quality?’ and how it is perceived by different kinds of consumer. How does the experience of a consumer, their spending power and the time they have affect this?

Generation Z (born 1995-2012), although we don’t know a lot about them yet, are vital in the future of retail design. Having grown up in a sophisticated tech savvy world we need to find out, what their values are, what their expectations are, how brands can keep their loyalty.


We noticed some exciting trends and a few new products on show amongst the exhibition stands this year.

material photo 1

Technology with craft was demonstrated by some companies, inspired by the old techniques of marquetry and inlaying to create modern geometric 2D and 3D patterns like Giles Miller Studio’s Marsden tile made from jesmonite and Plexwood’s timber plywood end grain panels available in a variety of timber types and patterns.

material photo 2


Getting back to nature as always is a prevalent trend and demonstrating this were some good replications of natural surfaces from James Latham’s Xylocleaf range of TSS (Thermo Structured Surface) panels and also some really nice to the touch textured veneers in Marotte’s Borg! range. Bright Green have developed the ultimate zero maintenance green wall, their preserved real moss wall. No water or light required, just some dusting. It’s available as panels or whole walls.

material photo 3


We always like to see a good range of colours in any product range and we were glad to see more and more manufacturers are pushing for this. James Lantham’s great range of coloured laminates on exposed edged plywood caught our eye along with a slightly more unusual product, Lumiscopic’s dichroic acrylic, which projects and refracts a spectrum of colour that changes depending on the viewing angle.

material photo 4


Texaa’s new ‘breathing ceiling’ stood out for us when it came to the ‘functioning’ surfaces line up. Their transparent acoustic textile Aeria can be stretched like a fabic over lightweight sound absorbing metal frames to create ceiling panels which absorb sound whilst allowing for the passage of light and air ventilation. But we like it most for the translucent skin like quality it creates as a ceiling.

material photo 5

SDS2016 put some very relevant design discussion topics in the spotlight, indicating that experience in retail is key for the consumer and that the right kind of material finishes are essential in demonstrating brand identity. We look forward to the possibility of using some of these exciting new materials on future projects.