Seen Displays - Creative and Circular Thinking for your Brand

Louisa O’Connor, Client Services Director, Seen Displays

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Sustainable and circular design has always been a focus for us at Seen Displays and we try to adopt a sustainable approach whether it is explicitly part of a brief or not. Recent consumer insights show us that Covid-19 has created a shift in what people deem as important, with individuals feeling more aware of their environment, health and relationships. This shift in personal attitudes directly affects patterns of retail consumption, and brands must approach their campaigns and installations to empathise with this re-evaluation of priorities.
Sustainable design and manufacture plays a big part in this, but brands often don’t know where to start. A circular design approach to physical retail spaces should be authentic, creative and engaging – acting as an extension of an honest brand message or product. Sustainable design does not have to be expensive, ‘brown’ or boring as many brands fear it can be. At Seen Displays, we have invested time in research and the development of an exciting materials library, to ensure we can deliver premium and on-brand solutions that are sustainable and can be tailored to different budgets.

What do consumers want?
In these difficult times, we are seeing consumers spend more carefully and rationally, with an increased tendency to choose brands they perceive as making a positive difference to their immediate and wider world. Lockdown measures have also encouraged consumers to shop locally, supporting businesses within their immediate community, which seems set to continue even as government measures ease.
As part of our research and insight offering, Seen Displays works closely with a collective of Gen-Z individuals, who share valuable opinions on their generation’s outlook. Kaan, a 22-year-old Fashion Designer from the collective, gave his thoughts -
“I think that the way brands were previously set up was purely for the aesthetic and purely for the design concept. But a lot of brands are realising that it’s important to stay sustainable… I think a lot of brands are seeing that and changing their perspective on how they begin making and designing.”
The definition of essential purchases is now being widely reconsidered, even stretching into the world of luxury fashion. Previously, opulent and frivolous purchases may have been considered a triumph and symbol of status. We are now seeing luxury fashion brands championing re-use and recycling, using these methods within their designs to create ground-breaking collections. A recent example is Gucci’s ‘Off The Grid’ collection which used sustainable raw materials and production processes, and was promoted with a responsible marketing campaign. Alongside using 100% recycled nylon, metal-free tanned leather and ECOLYL fabric in the garments, Creative Director Alessandro Michele directed the photoshoot for the campaign himself in a local park in LA, which in turn reduced the environmental impact usually associated with high-fashion shoots.

Gucci ‘Off The Grid’ – Vogue

It doesn’t have to be hard…
Knowing that consumers across all categories are seeking more sustainable attitudes when it comes to retail, means a circular design approach should be a priority for all brands. However, we sometimes still encounter misconceptions around sustainability, which can be perceived as expensive, complicated and hard work for brands to implement. Yes, there are some cases where sustainable materials can be more expensive to buy or work with, although with increased demands for these materials, we are seeing this improve. We have also seen that consumers are willing to spend more on sustainable products, investing with brands who have committed to a sustainability pledge. Circular design isn’t just about using innovative sustainable materials (although there are lots of exciting options for this!), it can also be approached in simpler, cost effective ways such as reuse or refurbishment. Our team of designers and project managers are experts at identifying opportunities to reuse or refurbish existing displays to be used in new, innovative ways.
A great example of this comes from Balenciaga, who salvaged old Las Vegas casino carpet to create the flooring in their Milan flagship store, as well as collaborating with Crosby Studios to create a transparent sofa stuffed with old and worn pieces of clothing from previous seasons. Designing with circularity in mind means you can make simpler materials and designs work harder for you. When working with Alexander McQueen on their material and asset palette, we created a series of accessories tables using a modular stacked design so that they could be reconfigured to create new, functional displays in a range of different pop-up locations.
A circular approach can also be extended to packaging. For some of our campaigns with Nike and Converse, we have considered packaging solutions that go beyond their basic function –
for example, bags made from seeded paper which can later be planted, or tote bags made with longevity and reuse in mind. Another innovative example comes from Samsung, whose recent campaign challenged customers to create functional pieces of small furniture from the packaging of their products – the waste was transformed back into something useful and beautiful. This is
something we encourage our brand partners to consider, that the packaging of their products can become an extension of their brand story and enhance the consumer experience.

Dezeen x Samsung ‘Out of the Box Competition’ – Dezeen

Material solutions
Beyond clever designs, we are passionate about offering an ever-evolving range of circular materials. Our sustainable materials library is growing all the time and features exciting, interesting and colourful options for all applications – nothing brown or boring! When we consider circular materials we look at two main categories – biological and technical materials.
Biological refers to natural or man-made biomaterials which inherently biodegrade or compost at end of life. This ranges from readily available cork to the more unique Mycelium – a fungus fibre that can be formed into rigid sheets or moulded for packaging. Stella McCartney has championed the use of biological materials in their store designs, using mannequins made of sugar-cane and wall panelling made of waste-paper collected from the brand’s head office.
Technical refers to man-made materials that present opportunities for reuse, refurbishment or recycling. In our work with Converse, we have partnered with Charlotte Kidger – a material designer who takes acrylic dust (a by-product of CNC machining) and reimagines it into beautiful, sculptural pieces. Ace and Tate also recently opened a flagship store in Antwerp, clad out in Plasticiet – a colourful, solid panelling made of post-industrial plastic waste. This store is a great example of how research and collaboration can pay off. By championing a little-known sustainable material, Ace and Tate created a totally unique store design which in turn attracts and engages new consumers through the innovative project and its core values.

Charlotte Kidger - Dezeen

What’s next?
Aside from the physical, digital is playing a major role in the sustainability shift. Online to offline activations are a topic within themselves, but we have seen great examples of brands using the power of social media and digital to further their circular story. Looking again at Gucci and their ‘Off The Grid’ campaign, consumers followed the brand story online via the Gucci app where they could build their own virtual tree house like the one featured in the campaign. Online shopping and engagement has seen a huge uplift since lockdown and is here to stay. Digital activations have obvious positive environmental implications and we think considering them in line with future campaigns will keep brands relevant and consumers engaged for longer.
In summary, circular design considerations don’t have to feel overwhelming, unachievable or boring. Even small changes can make a difference. We would love to be part of your sustainable journey so please get in touch if you have any questions on how you can apply a more circular process to your future projects.

About Captivate Group:

Captivate is an Independent group of marketing agencies with a shared attitude and core values of curiosity, ambition and distinction. We help brands to inspire audiences and affect the way they think, feel and behave through 5 key channels: PR, Experiential, Content (social and CRM), Influencer Marketing and Retail Display. Learn more at


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