Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the
2011 “Making the Case”
competition, in which an esteemed jury
identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear,
compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design
thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on
The objective was to establish a “street-level,” retail-based
arm of our design firm, Grant Design
Collaborative, located in Canton, Georgia (about 40 miles
north of Atlanta), to introduce the general public to Grant
Design Collaborative and to showcase our design thinking, services and
capabilities. Additionally, we wanted to make design a more
accessible, tangible concept to those not fully immersed in the
design industry; to create an open forum for the team, a design
laboratory where we can test out new ideas and new product and get
an immediate reaction; and to take the concepts of recycling and
sustainable design one step further with an ongoing series of
custom handmade paper goods that incorporate repurposed paper and
other raw materials from past projects or junk mail that would
otherwise be thrown away. This imaginative collection showcases how
design thinking and ingenuity can transform trash to treasure.
When a storefront space became available in the same
building as our studio, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to
interface with the public in a more direct way—an opportunity to
introduce ourselves, our services, our products (and design in
general) in a more tangible way. It was also an opportunity to
showcase and distribute our product designs, such as Grant area
rugs and wall coverings.
Prior to opening the Store at Grant Design Collaborative, the team
accessed the surrounding retail ventures in Downtown Canton. Since Grant
Design Collaborative worked with the City of Canton to design a new identity
and brand strategy for the town's Main Street program and Historic Downtown
Loop, the team was keenly aware of the fact that the community desired a local
retailer of creative and original, yet affordable, gifts and home decor. While
designing and fabricating the retail space and products, Grant Design
Collaborative posted a list of potential products on the door to the space
along with suggestion forms for other items the public wanted to purchase. The
potential patrons entered their suggestions and submitted through the mail slot
in the front door. Many suggestions influenced the range of handmade,
sustainable products offered at the Store. In addition to this informal
research, the Grant team also studied other traits of other retailers in small,
Main Street cities to determine a formula for success. Grant also surveyed
influential consumers in Canton, GA, to design a retail experience that met
with their approval. This created excellent word-of-mouth publicity among
connectors and mavens.
Grant Design Collaborative employed an “all systems go” approach
to the design and implementation of the Store. We aimed to get the
Store up and running as quickly, efficiently and inexpensively as
possible. While the whole team took part in the initiative, team
members tended to gravitate toward their area of expertise. For
instance, designers handled new product and signage, those
specializing in interiors led window displays, and our VP of
Operations established the financial infrastructure and processes.
We were only limited by our imagination. By fostering an inclusive
atmosphere there was a tremendous amount of collaboration,
cross-pollination and enthusiasm.
After opening, we noticed that foot traffic during the weekday
tends to ebb and flow. For this reason, we adjusted our store hours
to coincide with lunch and dinner breaks while closing for a period
in the mid-afternoon. Local events such as Fourth Friday Art Walks
and Farmer's Markets bring more people in and foster a party
atmosphere. These events offer an opportunity to meet and greet,
and to launch new products. Through our PR efforts, we noticed that
national interest and attention outweighed day-to-day local
traffic. Because of this we have focused more energy on our online
presence, opening an online store (available 24 hours a day to
anyone in the world) and using social media applications such as
and Twitter, all of
which will vastly expand our reach and influence.
After a slower summer due to the recession, Grant Design
Collaborative has landed several new clients. We will be challenged
to continue to grow the Store and develop new products while also
meeting the demands of our commercial design business.
Many in the community acknowledge The Store at Grant Design
Collaborative as a source for original cards, notebooks, paper
goods, area rugs and home accessories. Some have expressed their
excitement about a source of “cool,” “interesting” things so close
to home, and that they don't need to “travel all the way into
Atlanta to get cool stuff.” Many have inquired about custom card
and custom design projects, indicating that people are beginning to
connect the dots, understanding that design is an active process of
creation, and a dialogue between client and designer. Other
interest has been generated for Grant's brand and interior design
business as well. In addition to local response, we were also
invited to discuss the Store on two design podcasts, and
Metropolis magazine is featuring the Store in its October
When the economy hands you lemons, simply put, make lemonade!
This was an effort to take control of our destiny. It was an effort
that required the whole team to implement, but in the process
became a rallying point for everyone involved, instilling a sense
of ownership and pride in the company and optimism for the future.
The unofficial Store motto—A retail stream-of-consciousness for
cockeyed optimists—became our mantra. Great brands have the
power to engage the public, create movements and alter the course
of local communities. Such grassroots efforts can be ignited by
emotional and intellectually compelling design. Even with minuscule
budgets and unrelenting economic conditions, great design can move
people, create change and advance causes.
Learn more about the jurors’ thoughts on this 2013 “Justified” selection.
Section: Why Design -
A collaboration between a design firm, a real estate firm and an architectural firm yields a new model for designing and building
accessible homes on U.S. military installations.
Section: Why Design -
Competition, architecture, environmental design, experience design, social responsibility, Design for Good, Justified
A panel of design leaders discuss diversity challenges, insights for influencing corporate programs, and solutions for a more inclusive design profession.
Section: Inspiration -
culture, diversity, Diversity and Inclusion