Naomi Yamamoto (Executive Creative Director, Advertising and Design Department, Shiseido) × Rikiya Uekusa (Creative Director, Advertising and Design Department, Shiseido) The Future in Spatial Design, a Mirror of the Times
This is part of the interview series TALK, in which creators at Shiseido discuss the idea of beauty. In 2016, which marks the 100th anniversary of Shiseido's Advertising and Design Department, guests appearing in this series have considered future Shiseido designs throughout the year. The last issue for the year presents a conversation between Naomi Yamamoto, who manages about 130 creators as the General Manager of the Advertising and Design Department, and Rikiya Uekusa, who is responsible for spatial design in the same department, including store design and display design.
The spatial design of stores, which serve as communication spaces, is an important tool that has been passed down through the generations since the founding of Shiseido. What is the philosophy behind the development of the designs? Here, our two guests discuss the secrets to spatial design, which has evolved continuously in tandem with the times amidst developments in Japan and around the world, the formats that stores will take going forward as societies move increasingly toward digitalization, and, on a grander scale, ideas about designs of the future.
After graduating from the Department of Scenography, Space and Fashion Design of Musashino Art University in 1987, she joined Shiseido the same year. After serving as the Art Director for the window designs at the Ginza Head Office and SHISEIDO THE GINZA for INOUI and Proudia, she became the Art Director for SHISEIDO as an expatriate in New York in 1998, and was appointed as Chief Creative Director of the exclusive China brand AUPRES and other brands since 2006. After that, she was involved in the analysis of global trends and insights at the Corporate Planning Department, and took on the position as the General Manager of the Advertising and Design Department in 2015. She currently manages about 130 employees in the Department, passes on the tradition of the “Shiseido style” as the Executive Creative Director and Executive Producer, and tackles new creative challenges.
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1973. After graduating from the Department of Three-Dimensional Design of Tama Art University with a major in Interior Design in 1997, he joined Shiseido the same year. He was assigned much overseas work since joining the company, and takes an on-the-spot approach. Over the course of 20 years, he has traveled overseas on more than 250 business trips. He is responsible for the design of Shiseido counters around the world. Starting in 2013, he has been stationed in Paris for three and a half years. He is currently the Group Manager and Creative Director of the Spatial Design Group in the Advertising and Design Department, and is responsible for Shiseido’s spatial designs ranging from store designs to office designs.
-- First, I would like to find out what “store design” entails for Shiseido?
Uekusa For typical manufacturers, I think the work of designing a store is generally outsourced to external contractors. However, in the case of Shiseido, I understand that there has been staff in charge of store design from the Design Department (now the Advertising and Design Department) since the establishment of the company. The first president of Shiseido, Shinzo Fukuhara, considered stores to be of great importance, and often visited the stores on his own. There were apparently times when he refused to leave until the decorations for the stores were completed for the year-end/New Year period. Even in terms of architecture, Shiseido has actively adopted the latest technologies of the times and collaborated with famous architects. Against this background, Shiseido has always handled the work of spatial design on its own.
-- Does that Department specialize in the work of designing and creating stores?
Uekusa That’s right. Although we call them “stores,” they are not simply counters selling cosmetic products. The Department is involved in everything happening within Shiseido’s spaces, including beauty salons, cultural spaces, and event sites for production promotion. Surprisingly, during the renovation of the Shiseido Ginza Building in 2013, we handled not only the concept, but also the exterior and interior designs as well as the office layout.
-- Even the office layout! My impression of Shiseido is that of a makeup company, and I did not think there were people in the company who could come up with architectural drawings.
Uekusa I know, right? (laughs) While it is easy for people to imagine Shiseido staff coming up with drawings of bottles and packaging, it was probably not widely known that we have people who are able to produce shop drawings. We also produce the architectural models essentially on our own, and some of these have been tested out at full scale.
Yamamoto Shiseido has the mission of inspiring a life of beauty and culture. Its corporate philosophy lies not only in cosmetics, but also in enriching the hearts of people and inspiring a life of beauty and culture through that process. We could say that the originality of the spatial design team of Shiseido lies in its history of having designed not only cosmetics retail spaces, but also spaces such as the window displays of street-front stores, parlors, galleries, and beauty salons. I think that “the creation of spaces” is not confined only to the narrow definition of creating a cosmetics retail space, but is linked to the essence of how to bring rich color to the lives of people.
-- I would like to find out more about the counter design for the Global SHISEIDO brand, which is found in department stores and airports around the world. Earlier, you showed me the latest counter design. Careful thought has been given to every single detail, even for, say, a single light, such as combining lighting of different levels of brightness to match skin tones. Seeing that, I realized that this could not be achieved without the right knowhow.
Uekusa The counter is where consumers come in contact with our cosmetic products. You could even say that it is a unique space where products are sold as part of consumers’ conversations with the beauty consultants (specialists who provide beauty consultation services to consumers, “BCs”). That’s why we also take into account the necessary functionality when coming up with the design and staging of the counter.Store construction drawing from the 1970s (From the Shiseido Chain Store Comprehensive Design Plans) Inside the cosmetics department of Shiseido about 100 years ago (1916) The latest department store counter, “Shiseido Social Counter”
-- In department stores, the Shiseido counter would be lined up alongside rival manufacturers. When coming up with the store design, are there any points that you pay especial attention to, in order to preserve the Shiseido character?
Uekusa We create designs with the intention of producing the best that we can based on the trends and lifestyles of the times, so there are no precise colors or forms that we consider to be representative of the Shiseido character for the counters. I may even venture to say that the typeface, the Hanatsubaki logo, and other logos can be regarded as symbols of the Shiseido character. However, the red color that we use is constantly adjusted subtly to match the times and concept. For example, we used a slightly lighter red color in the 1980s.
Yamamoto Up till the first half of the 1990s, it was more important to express the brand’s identity clearly through the use of colors and materials at department store counters. This was the same for other companies, and the department store would also raise the question, “Where does the originality of your brand lie?” However, if we were to look only at functionality within a limited space, ultimately, it would become a design that does not vary much anywhere.
-- Did differentiation take on greater importance after that?
Yamamoto Yes. In light of that trend, it became necessary to have an original character that could serve as a signpost when consumers enter a store, telling them “This is Shiseido.” I believe that this identity is shaped not only by the red color and texts that Uekusa mentioned, but also in the display format, and further, the way the BCs working there serve consumers. In addition to the Shiseido character, the production of the entire space became an important aspect of design, and it was also necessary to incorporate a marketing and sales perspective.
Uekusa The spatial design prompts the movements of the consumers as well as the BCs. For that reason, it also has a significant impact on sales. If we were to compare it to a piece of theater, we could say that it is not only the stage design, but also the direction.
Yamamoto Earlier, the two of us talked about how “stage” is a keyword in spatial design. The approach toward design differs depending on whether we place the product, the BCs, or the consumers in the leading role. I feel that thinking about how to present the lead, what kind of distance to maintain, and the overall impression is similar to what a stage director does.Department store counters overseas (1990s) The feel of the counter changes with the movements of the BCs and the consumers
-- What are the specific aspects that have changed from the past to the present day?
Uekusa For example, the height of the counter table has risen by about 5 cm since I first joined the company 20 years ago.
-- Is that because the average height of the Japanese people has increased?
Uekusa That is one of the reasons. Changes in the purchasing behavior of consumers across the eras have also had an impact. In the past, we set the tables and chairs at a low height to allow consumers to take their time to sit down; today, however, we have raised the height of tables and chairs so that they can sit down quickly. In the past, consumers and BCs were positioned facing each other like in a bank, but BCs today serve consumers from the side. I believe such changes have also been observed in industries outside of the world of cosmetics, but I think that they are closely related to the culture of the times. In that sense, it is impossible to gain insights by observing cosmetic retail spaces alone, which is why I visit a variety of stores.
-- The impression left on the party that you are talking to changes significantly when you are face-to-face, and when you are next to them, doesn’t it? What is the mainstream approach for creating stores in our current times?
Yamamoto For example, the angle of the shelves on which cosmetic tester products are placed has also changed with the times. They have been placed flat, or vertical, and so on.
Uekusa Tester shelves today are placed at an inclined angle of about 30 degrees so that they are visible even from a distance. There was a time when the incline was steeper. However, usually, once that happens, the next tester design will become fully flat. The thing is, the development team would want to make the products more prominent so they would steadily increase the angle of incline. When that happens, the staff on the site would then give feedback that such shelves are difficult for consumers to use.
-- Does that mean that the latest counter design here is of the ideal form for the current times?
Uekusa That would be right, but the model is changed approximately every five years. However, that cycle gradually became shorter, and minor changes are made on a daily basis. This is the same for all manufacturers, and, after all, what is most important is for consumers to visit the retail space. Hence, the general approach would be to test it at the retail space, and gain experience from the reactions at the site. Completion is never complete; improvements are made every day.Consultation counter with a face-to-face design (1990s)
-- What are some of the problem areas for storefronts and counters today?
Yamamoto Since about 2010, we have been thinking about how to use a storefront itself as a medium. Earlier, Uekusa also spoke about minor changes. As storefronts start serving as media, it has become necessary to rapidly enhance the sense of novelty to keep up with the changes of the times.
Uekusa Consumers are also constantly changing; they use greater variations of cosmetic products and have richer knowledge of how to enhance beauty compared to the past. That’s why we could miss out on many opportunities unless we link stores to the information that consumers obtain through the Internet and social media.
Yamamoto In light of that, visual merchandising (abbreviated as “VMD”) is also implemented at counters that sell cosmetic products. Based on the concept of retail spaces, it is necessary to come up with display methods and carry out promotional events strategically. The current situation is such that it is vital to meet various needs. There is a wide variety of consumers, including those who wish to select products themselves without going through the BCs, those who wish to take time to consult with the BCs, and those who have already decided on what they want to buy. Since our stage, the counter space itself, cannot be changed easily, VMD is applied to improve the novelty of the information inside the counter space. I think that we have to inject effort into this aspect in the present times.
Uekusa We equip the stores with various functions to fulfill the needs of all types of consumers. Of course, we create a layout that encourages the consumer to think, “I would like to try this cosmetic product,” but the BCs are also changing the way they serve consumers today, and they do not approach consumers immediately. When you visit a cosmetics retail space, don’t you get the impression that you are being made to buy something? In order to move away from that image, the basic approach is to have consumers try out the products freely. The BCs only approach the consumer when they assess that he or she wants to ask a question. High counters and middle counters are available, so the consumer can select his or her preferred counter. Although this is a trial-and-error process, we are testing various things.
-- I would like to ask you some questions about the future. How do you think stores will change in the future?
Uekusa Taking the example of the apparel industry, we are now witnessing the emergence of systems where consumers stand in front of a large LCD screen that allows them to see their whole body in 360 degrees, and look at how the clothes fit on their images. Even at Shiseido, we have already developed the Mirai Mirror that allows consumers to see an image of what they would look like after using the makeup. Taking that idea further, I hope that we can develop it into a tool for communication between people. We are now exploring ways to encourage young consumers to take an interest in our cosmetic products, and actually pick them up for a closer look.
-- Members of the younger generation have been familiar with makeup from an early age, and know what suits them without having to consult the BCs. Will the young then naturally move away from using retail counters if that is the case?
Uekusa That is certainly a challenge that we face. We have named the latest counter design the “Social Counter,” and we hope to organize makeup seminars and small-scale events in the future. Rather than selling products in a one-sided manner, we would like to communicate more with our consumers.
Yamamoto The value of cosmetic products is changing today, and it has made the transition from being something that we yearn for, to something that is a part of our everyday lives. Counters are also no longer present only as a place for purchasing products. If we do not create the spaces with the intention of giving consumers experiences at the Shiseido counter that are “different from others,” “memorable,” or that make them want to visit again, we will end up making a steady shift toward becoming an Internet retail business. Speaking to people in real life and having them touch the actual products is very important, and we have to make sure that these experiences are truly worthwhile. In short, it is necessary for us as designers not only to think about spatial design, but to also consider “experience design.”
-- It already seems to have gone beyond the conventional scope of a designer’s work.
Yamamoto That’s true. Spatial design going forward should be captured not only as design that involves coming up with a drawing, but also as the desire to enrich the hearts of consumers, and as something that is produced comprehensively with people in IoT who think about communication and technology through objects and tools, as well as with planners who think about communication with consumers on a daily basis.
-- What are your views on the relationship between spatial design and the concept of “beauty” presented by Shiseido?
Yamamoto Our aim is to inspire a life of beauty and culture, like I said in the beginning. Designing does not signal the end; rather, we have to create something that can continue to survive. Aesthetic sense changes quickly from one era to the next, but the essence must be passed on to the next generation. As long as consumers and society continue to love Shiseido, I believe this essence will exist even if its form changes. However, our society is becoming ever more strongly Internet-oriented, even if we were to imagine what things would be like 100 years later, it’s hard to say because we would no longer be alive, and we don’t even know if human beings will continue to exist in their current form.
-- Does that mean that the concept of makeup may even disappear?
Yamamoto Even so, seeing as makeup has been used since the time of Cleopatra, that is the pre-Christian era, I think that the act of expressing one’s own beauty and character as a marker of one’s own identity will remain unchanged. Although it is very hard to explain how that is related to spatial design, I believe that “beauty” is a fundamental desire of human beings, and I think that the real thrill of working in a company like Shiseido is having the opportunity to be involved with that.
-- As long as women have the desire to become more beautiful, Shiseido will continue to pursue products and spaces that can satisfy that desire.
Yamamoto The first question is, how do we apply the frank feedback from consumers and BCs to our designs? Till now, we have only thought of stores as a medium for disseminating information. Going forward, however, it may be necessary to also see it as a medium for absorbing information from consumers and to try out new things.
Published in December 2016