December 11, 2012

In Real Time: Perfectly imperfect



David Denniston is a creative manager at Big Red Rooster’s Columbus Office. His creative approach, paired with a global perspective, helps him deliver powerful brand experiences for clients such as adidas, Google, and American Express. 


Perfect is boring.

Imagine a painting of a bowl of fruit that is immaculately drawn. It looks so real that it’s indistinguishable from a photograph. What can you glean from that painting? Not much.

Now let’s talk Picasso or Van Gogh – defying the imagination with child-like strokes and colors that don’t match reality. Or what about Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? It’s messy, it’s the vocal line repeated over six strings, and it’s over too quickly: but we wouldn’t change a thing.

Or how about Jack Kerouac? His nontraditional style made him a favorite among alternative writers and thinkers. While some scholars claim he meticulously crafted works such as “On the Road” to achieve the spontaneity that made him famous, others simply labeled his writing as rambling and indulgent…”imperfect.”

Apply this “imperfect” approach to architecture and retail, and the result becomes so much more interesting and unexpected. Like him or not, you probably know architect Frank Gehry’s work. Common Gehry criticisms include complaints that his buildings waste structural resources by creating functionless forms, they do not seem to belong in their surroundings, and that many of buildings are designed without accounting for local climates.

Now apply this idea to retail. I’ve seen a resurgence of “imperfect” in the industry, especially in the apparel sector. From windows and interiors to displays, merchandising, and graphics, imperfections provide a human, hand-done feel. Anthropologie has done this for years, and people have come to expect this from the retailer. Imagination and curation set its windows and displays apart and thus enhance the brand.

The new Converse store in Soho and the Nike/Hurley “Salvation” stores are raw and full of character-laden touches. Environments that celebrate customization and creativity are more about style than sport. These become environments that you can hang out in. Since they don’t feel like cookie cutter spaces, they welcome extended dwell time.

Raw spaces look different and more lived in from month to month, somewhat like an artist’s studio. Fencing masks, taxidermy rodents, and relics of someone else’s grandfather’s life are sprinkled around the Jack Spade store. The trick is to carefully appear like you don’t care.

“Imperfect” resonates throughout an exciting apparel concept our team recently created for a retail client. The design speaks to a young, fashion-focused male who loves to pull his wardrobe together in an eclectic, curated closet. It isn’t perfectly organized, but it’s perfect for discovering something fresh and new. I can’t wait to share the concept with you when it debuts next year.

So what does this mean for retailers and brands? Brands want to be unique and aspirational. They want their guests to feel inspired, hang out, spread the word, and come back again. As humans, we can relate to hand-done environments. They have the ability to rise above the expected clean, shiny, and manufactured spaces to create truly unique, welcoming experiences.

Retail just got a little less perfect.