MICK MCCONNELL, R/GA’s New Creative Director, Retail & Live Events
MICK MCCONNELL is an architect who has led projects such as the Iconic Greenhouse in Abu Dhabi, the largest luxury mall in Bangkok, and renovations of hundreds of Starbucks to elevate the brand and comply with green standards.
He begins work this month as Creative Director of R/GA’s retail and live events group, charged with bringing innovative digital experiences to their fullest and best potential in retail and branded environments. Think beyond the 2D flat screen that enables you to customize your Nikes to effects that personalize your entire in-store shopping experience, from the products you see, to lighting and music.
In this interview, Mick offers a futuristic look at the converging worlds of architecture, experience design and digital technologies.
JS: You’ve worked in both architectural firms (Leeser, Asymptote) and advertising agencies (Arnell, Interbrand). What do the two have in common with each other?
MM: My role has been the same throughout my career: To design things that respond to a specific functional requirement.
The purpose of the Abu Dhabi Greenhouse was to make it possible to grow fruit in the 140-degree desert so the client could present world leaders with locally grown produce – to showcase the capability of the UAE.
Design evolves out of a thorough evaluation and understanding of all functional requirements, and this is what architects do: They design buildings and spaces based on what is required. Sometimes the requirements include aesthetic parameters, use restrictions, and more. The best architects strive for the most obvious solution, one that is honest.
An important part of the design process is an understanding of user experience: How do the environmental factors around you – whether in store or on a web site – influence how you feel about a brand, and whether you choose to engage or buy.
JS: Give me a couple examples of how users’ needs influence the design of both retail and online experiences.
MM: For Starbucks, location, store size, revenue and customer base all play a role in store design. We sorted stores into functional types, such as university stores where students socialize and study, versus commuter stores that manage a lot of foot traffic.
At university stores, we had to take into consideration a customer base that stayed longer. The team had to design various seating opportunities, task lighting, power strips, etc. to accommodate the students. Customer base even drives product selection. University stores offered more menu choices, baked goods, etc. whereas commuter stores focused on coffee and tea.