Dougall Harvison is the general manager of Bluehaus Group, an interior design firm with offices in the UAE and Oman that specialises in corporate and retail spaces. He talks about how retail design is about "the journey" and why the world needs fewer offices.
Was the economic downturn good or bad for your business?
Because of the economic crisis, real estate prices have dropped dramatically. People have found they can move to a much better location at a cheaper square-metre rate and still pay for their new fit-out.
What is your focus when designing retail storefronts?
Retail is all about the detail and customer journey. One of the best examples is Ikea.
Some customers have said they find the Ikea maze annoying. Do you help come up with ways to make sure customers don't go crazy?
Yes, we do help come up with ideas of "what do you want people to see the most"? It's also about setting a mood and experience. In a jewellery shop, the lighting has to be on to make all the diamonds sparkly because that's what people are attracted to.
How have you tried to create these customer journeys with your clients?
Timberland and Nike, which we worked on in Dubai Mall, have a certain set standard as to how they display the journey within the store. Footwear will be on one side, men's apparel on another side and children's on another. With retail, we also do Bentley car showrooms. With Bentley, you always have to walk on a wooden parquet floor.
The bulk of your business centres on corporate office planning. How is that different?
We go in and interview key people and identify how their department works. Everyone wants an office. We ask what their function is. What do you do? Do you sit down with clients at all? No. Do you deal with sensitive information? No. Then do you need to sit in an office? Probably not. Your HR and financial director deal with financial info, so they do need an office, but we can give you an open plan and a designated meeting room.
These interviews must be time-consuming.
We've just recently done Invest AD, which was probably 12 different departments over four days. You spend about an hour for each person.
Give an example of how you've put findings in place.
The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry was very progressive and understood the value of design. They wanted to get away from being governmental; closed offices with bad utilisation of space. We turned their work environment into much more of an open plan.
Is this corporate move towards having fewer offices just a way for businesses to save money?
It does save on real estate costs. It does. It is a cost-saving mechanism at the beginning, but when you have an open-plan environment it really does encourage communication and productivity.