Rodney Fitch CBE served as D&AD President in 1984. He was the founder of Fitch design agency and was Professor of Design Studies at Delft University of Technology. He sadly passed away on 20 October 2014.
This is an extract of an interview which took place in 2011 as part of a series of interviews with previous D&AD Presidents.
When I was a boy growing up, shopping was a ghastly experience. It was full of mean, nasty suburban shops and if you wanted any kind of excitement or experience, you had to go to London’s West End. I can remember the excitement that I had when my parents would take me on a shopping trip down Oxford Street. It has always been in my blood, and I’ve always loved the idea of the shopping experience.
I’ve always thought the retail world to be the most dynamic of all of our commercial worlds. It’s the most innovative and it’s the most constantly changing. And what I like about it so much as a designer… is that it has everything to do with people. They get called consumers and customers, but shopping is about relating to people. So much design work isn’t… but retailing is entirely to do with the end user.
That’s what has always drawn me to it and the reason it has been a life’s work.
On Retail Design
There isn’t any doubt that although it’s regarded as a very minor art (and in fact scathingly so by what you might call the left wing), it is one of the most innovative businesses you can imagine. When we think about innovation, we think about motorcars, engineering and aeroplanes. But in the business of shopping, the technologies that have been introduced are quite remarkable.
Look at the inventions that have been brought into existence as a result of shopping: on the one hand, simple things like a plastic bag and on the other hand a checkout. But also until Selfridges appeared in London in 1908, no one had ever built a plate glass as big as they built for Selfridges.
So I’ve always found retail to be enormously challenging from an innovative point of view, both from an engineering point of view and a creative point of view.
The retail revolution
It’s hard to imagine that when I first started Fitch, there was not in Britain a shop that a young woman could go to buy clothes. It’s only just under 40 years ago that the very, very first shop for young women, specifically designed by Fitch, appeared.
Over the last 50 years we’ve seen the world of shopping completely and utterly change and the design fraternity has played a large part in that. It’s been a very very rich vein for creative work.
Now, we’re coming full circle with the concept of markets. What you’re now finding is that people like Amazon, Tesco even people like ASOS are creating new technological marketplaces. That’s the dynamism of shopping – that we can go absolutely full circle, except when we come back to the beginning, we come back to something quite different. It’s a marketplace, because we don’t have any other language to describe it.
There’s always a place for the experiential shop, of course. But I have no sympathy at all with Mary Portas or the government and “saving the high street”. That’s complete rubbish. That’s just trying to deny social change.
Simple fact of the matter is that people who would have shopped in Solihull High Street now have a better alternative. And it’s completely contrary to the idea of democracy that in some way they should be challenged from doing that.
The democracy of the high street
The great thing about retail, it’s the only true democracy in the world. There is no political democracy, no monastical democracy that is democratic as shopping. You can shop or not shop. You don’t have to shop at all if you don’t want to.
There’s no other activity that I know of that allows you to do that. Democracy runs all the way through the retail landscape, because it gives people their choice… and if they choose not to go to Solihull High St, it seems to me anti-democratic to put up pretensions that they should.