Ryan Russell is director of Russell & George and has experience as a designer crossing the fields of architecture, interior design, industrial design, and theatre and exhibition design.
In 2007, he won both the National Interior Design Award for Emerging Practice and the national Idea Award for Retail, for Left, a retail store in Melbourne.
He is also a judge for the 2014 Australian Interior Design Awards.
Architecture & Design spoke to Russell about what he will be looking for in a winning entry, why designers need to re-educate clients at times and why he’s lost the joy of shopping.
You are judging the emerging practice category of the awards. What will you be looking for?
I will be looking for an emerging practice that, through their work, is thought provoking, can create a detailed spatial environment on a number of levels and fundamentally has clarity of vision. I will also be looking at what a practice says about their work and whether their words marry with the built outcome.
You've previously won an award for the design of Left, a fashion store in Fitzroy. How can retail design engage with a customer?
It’s the whole point of retail design to engage with a customer. Good retail design is a simple extension of the customer’s values, aspirations and desires. This is a complex process and good retail uses not only physical space, but also virtual space to engage a customer. The two spaces interact with one another and can define and shape the other.
How open are clients to innovative and unique retail designs?
The best and most successful clients long-term are always open to innovation and bespoke designs. Sometimes a re-education of the client is required to produce more unique outcomes, and I believe it is one of the roles of a designer to do this in a way that uses material and data that the client can understand in a tangible way.
Do you think retail design engages with customers in Australia?
I believe it's changing rapidly for the better, however there is still a disconnect of service once in the store. Good retail design allows for good service and creates prompts in store to allow the customer to engage with retail consultants effortlessly and vice versa.
Why do you enjoy retail design?
I love the complexity of it – the psychology of design that has to be incorporated. I also enjoy the pace of it as it can be a complete testing ground for concepts for larger projects we work on. Retail design, like all design is prototyping, but in retail design it's rapid.
What is one of your favourite retail stores to visit and why?
I tend to steer clear of retail spaces as we design so many of them and they remind me of work. Unfortunately, I have lost the joy of shopping and being a flaneur as my brain is conditioned to dissect every space I walk into and analyse the mechanisms that are used to create them. I do like spontaneity in retail - not pop-up spaces, but street hawking in Asia as it condenses the offer down to a simple transaction but is full of vibrancy and vitality. The barriers are removed. I suppose in this way I tend to focus on the end consumer and the experience they could get, not what they would expect to receive.
If you weren't a designer. what would you like to do?
I always wanted to be a Pediatrician growing up, but can't stand the sight of blood, so that ruled that career out. Becoming an architect was the next best thing for me – marrying technical skill with a love of problem solving without using one’s voice to communicate or veil a response; having to attune one’s self to the subtle nuances of information you receive in order to create a way forward.