Space odyssey

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First, digital drove us to our screens. Then, physical fought back. Both dramatically changed our expectations of the physical world – first in retail, then in the workplace and soon in public spaces.

Now, as digital and physical intertwine, organizations must find ways to seamlessly interconnect digital and physical experiences. This will require a fundamental rethink of the approaches and tools for designing spaces in order to meet users’ expectations of greater flexibility and personalization.

Key sectors:

  • Communications & Technology
  • Banking & Insurance
  • Automotive & industrial
  • Retail & consumer goods
WeWork uses insights from its 287 coworking spaces to advise corporations.
WeWork uses insights from its 287 coworking spaces to advise corporations.

What’s going on?

In our 2018 Trends, we predicted Physical Fights Back against digital with a shift in emphasis away from screens to physical spaces, after years spent assuming that digital would lead to more of us working and shopping remotely from home.

Next, a further shift occurred. People became more global, on-demand, social and holistic, blurring the boundaries between work and play.

Now, the emergence of an increasingly integrated approach to digital and physical space is becoming evident, led by the retail environment and followed by work. Convenience powered by seamless connectivity depends on data, and there’s been a further shift amongst retailers to gather, use and act on customer data both more effectively and creatively.

Your face is your bank card at Hema supermarket.
Your face is your bank card at Hema supermarket.

China’s Hema supermarket chain is a fusion between supermarket and fulfillment center, where everything happens via an app, powered by data and payments facilitated with facial recognition. Its owner, Chinese retail giant Alibaba, calls this “New Retail.”

Nike’s new flagship NYC store replicates the online experience.
Nike’s new flagship NYC store replicates the online experience.

In November 2018, Nike’s new flagship store opened in New York City. The design makes shopping in a physical store as convenient as shopping online, wooing people who hate shopping in real life.

In the workplace, WeWork focused, until recently, on offering individuals and small businesses physical coworking spaces. Now, it’s augmenting its physical space offer with digital information gathered from its 268,000 members to give real-time recommendations to big corporates on how to get more out of their spaces and reduce employee churn.

Herman Miller Living Office.
Herman Miller Living Office.
Herman Miller’s research-based “living office discovery process” for clients.
Herman Miller’s research-based “living office discovery process” for clients.

And US-based office furniture-maker Herman Miller is using a proprietary, research-based “living office discovery process” to help clients better envision the office they want and ensure it’s more tailored, responsive and flexible to their needs. This reflects a shift to catering for today’s needs rather than processes and technologies from a previous era, as many legacy workspaces do today.

Nike’s “House of Innovation” in NYC blends the online and offline experience of retail - Engadget, YouTube.

What's next?

The intertwining of digital and physical will continue to deepen in 2019. A wave of change, driven by retail and office environments, will hit all our spaces, from the most industrial to the least fixed.

Organizations will use their understanding of customers’ online behaviors to reshape offline experiences and vice versa, following the lead set by companies such as Mastercard and Google. They are working together to develop two-way tracking conversion that transcends the digital world to finally connect offline behavior and digital marketing.

Many will emulate Alibaba and others like it, building on a seamless connection between the digital and physical experience.

Amazon 4-star is a new physical store where only products with 4-star reviews or above are stocked.
Amazon 4-star is a new physical store where only products with 4-star reviews or above are stocked.
Urban planners are rethinking the design of civic spaces.
Urban planners are rethinking the design of civic spaces.

Design of spaces will become more holistic. Across both work and retail spaces, digital and physical will become fully entwined and influence each other more closely. It will become harder to distinguish between permanent and moveable space, business- or art-focused space, and publicly- or privately-owned space.

Increasingly, the physical and digital journey will be created as a single design meeting the holistic needs of users. Organizations will open up to ecosystems, designing digital channels, stores, supply chain or communities as part of an integrated whole.

Those that can’t afford to either invest in work or retail space or drive differentiation in the physical environment will give up market share to those that can.

Evidence update

What you should do

01

Let online behaviors inform offline

People’s digital behavior can give powerful insights to what people want and value. Use those insights where appropriate in a physical environment, just like Amazon did with their four-star physical store that only stocks products that have been given four stars or more in their online reviews.

02

Mind the gaps

The experience of seamlessly moving between digital and physical channels is evolving. Explore the potential of new tech partnerships, such as the one between Google and Mastercard, to make it happen.

03

Link space and business strategy

Define the productivity you want from your space, and design around it. The business purpose of space is changing, and that needs to be reflected in your business strategy.

04

Create a connected ecosystem

Look at the ecosystem of services and experiences offered in your space, and link those to your customers’ mindsets. This is what should drive your design decisions.