Talking Shop: The design secrets behind Dyson’s store

By Oliver Smith 6 February 2017

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Not every shop is the same. Some are breaking with tradition, blurring the lines between the physical and digital, changing how we shop.

From Burberry to Dyson and Apple, our new Monday fortnightly series Talking Shop explores how these smart stores are revolutionising retail, by meeting the people who designed them.

The high street will never be the same.

Today we’re talking to Max Conze, the chief executive officer of Dyson, who worked on the original concept for one of the most innovative new shop designs in the world of retail: the Dyson Demo store on Oxford Street.

Conze is a former member of the German army and 17 veteran of Procter & Gamble, where he oversaw the sales of brands like Pantene and Herbal Essences across the world.

Since taking over as CEO of Dyson in 2011 Conze has focussed on expanding the company’s business in Asia, where Japan is now Dyson’s biggest market, and in 2014 said the company would launch 100 new products over the following four years.

Under Conze’s leadership Dyson is also expanding and hiring rapidly.

Its Malmesbury campus was recently expanded with space for 3,000 new staff by 2021 and Dyson is currently looking to hire 110 new software engineers with online puzzles and Crystal Maze challenges being run to attract the most talented employees.

An early design sketch of what Dyson's Oxford Street store would look like.

The high street is another of Conze’s areas of interest, he has launched “Dyson Demo” concept stores in Paris, Tokyo, Moscow and Jakarta, and last year the doors opened at Dyson’s first UK store on Oxford Street.

A busy man, with powerful design ideas, The Memo asked Conze how he’s transforming the face of retail with this store.

How did you want people to feel when walking into the Dyson Store on Oxford Street?

Our goal is for visitors to understand what makes Dyson technology different by getting hands-on with our machines and being immersed in what makes us tick.

The Dyson Demo [store] surrounds visitors with the Dyson philosophy as soon as they walk in: that we use a science and research-led approach to create technology that solves problems – with a strong emphasis on function over aesthetics.

James Dyson and Chris Wilkinson [of WilkinsonEyre architects] have worked together on Dyson spaces since the mid-‘90s, including the Dyson research and development campus in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, and the first hands-on Dyson Demo space that opened in Paris in 1999.

Read more: Step inside Dyson’s beautiful, top-secret Wiltshire campus

We also hope that people will breathe a little easier when they walk in: the Dyson Demo is located on one of London’s most polluted streets, but we purify the air inside to a very high standard.

The Dyson store has more than 64 different samples of dirt for testing its vacuum cleaners.

And what were the broad goals behind the design of this store?

Although the products are displayed on plinths, we’re not trying to create a museum as visitors are very much encouraged to handle the machines and try them out.

The space is engineered to encourage people to pick-up, test and experience Dyson’s technology.

This is essential for people to really understand why our technology is different.

There are more than 64 dirt samples for testing the vacuum cleaners on several different floor types, while ‘smoke box’ demonstrations are used to show how effective Dyson Pure Cool Link air purifiers are at removing pollutants from the air.

We also display cutaway and exploded machines with the inner components labelled, so people can get an understanding of the technology inside.

On the first floor, we’ve installed a hair salon, where you can get a complimentary blow dry with the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer.

Read more: Dyson is eyeing Japan with its high-end hairdryer

Dyson's in-store stylists give free blow dries and are also experts on the technology in Dyson's Supersonic hair dryer.

What technologies make the Dyson store unlike any other in the world?

Instead of focusing on retail technology, we put a great deal of effort into recruiting and training the Dyson Demo’s staff – we call them ‘Experts’ rather than sales assistants for a good reason.

They all understand our products inside out, and have spent time with the engineers who create our technology at our Malmesbury headquarters, to ensure they are best placed to help and educate our visitors.  

In the salon area for the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer, the stylists who do the blow dries are experts in more than just creating a look – it’s vital that they also know the ins and outs of the Dyson digital motor V9 which sits in the handle of the hair dryer spinning at up to 110,000 times per minute.

What challenges did you face designing this store?

One of the biggest challenges was trying get across all of the passion for engineering and invention that goes into our machines, within the relative constraints of the space.

It took more than 17 years of research, development, failure and iterative improvement to bring the Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum to market, so communicating the extreme lengths that we’re prepared to go to can be hard.

For this reason we lined the walls of the Dyson Demo with video screens, which play films depicting the research and development work that goes on behind the scenes to create our products.

We also installed some of the testing rigs that are used in our labs during the product development process to further lift the veil on what goes on behind the scenes.

Which elements of this design have become synonymous with modern shop design?

The idea of consumer brands opening ‘experience’ stores, with just as much focus on education and discovery as on generating sales, is well established now.

I think it’s a trend that will continue, but it’s important for the experience that’s offered to be meaningful, otherwise consumers will quickly tire of the concept.

We’re looking to expand our programme of events for visitors at the Dyson Demo [store].

During the school holidays last year, the James Dyson Foundation used the space to run free design engineering workshops for school children, which is just one of the exciting ways we’re planning to use the space that’s outside the traditional remit of a ‘shop’.

Come back Monday week for our next #TalkingShop interview, and get in touch if you know a store or designer who’s also revolutionising retail.