Assignment 5/A

Research Proposal

During Semester 1 I carried out secondary research on 'Connectors in Design' and I would like to explore this topic further. This time I'm planning to use primary research to get a deeper insight into a particular problem I have identified based on two articles I read in the previous semester.

Pamela's Place: Power and Negotiation in the Hair Salon’ by Debra Gimlin is based on field research undertaken in a hair salon and highlights the importance of personal, face to face contact with clients to build up a trusting relationship. This type of personal contact provides an opportunity for conversation between two people who may have different opinions. It can help to solve problems the customers may be having and create a new discourse between two people. Conversation can help to personalise the product for the customer making the shopping experience special, unique and creative. This article highlighted the importance of providing a high level of service in a small designer shop.

Consumers and Consumption’ by Sharon Zukin and Jennifer Smith Maguire describes a history of globalization and the success of shopping centres. These big, shiny malls create a perfect place for gathering and convert shopping into a social experience. They give the illusion of a wide range although they sell very similar products according to the latest fashion trends. The cheap prices of the goods sold in the big brand stores in these malls are also very appealing to customers. The article describes globalization as a 'political project' and uses advertising as its biggest weapon to sell a massive amount of goods. Magazines and TV adverts tell customers where and what to buy and suggest that shopping centres are the obvious place for customers to buy these goods. This article reinforced my belief that it is very difficult for independent designer shops to compete with the shopping malls and the big brand corporates.

This led me to wonder how could small, independent designer shops become a success story in such a competitive market. My first idea was to combine designer shops with cafés or pubs to make them a place for socializing and gathering as well as purchasing designer goods. I also had an idea of a campaign to popularise these shops. This would involve a big sculpture build up from personal, unique links designed by the small shops. The exhibition would attract a crowd of people and start a conversation between sellers and buyers to discuss problems, share ideas and spread information. To investigate whether independent designer shops can be successful I believe primary research is required by reviewing the perceived needs of shoppers who would normally shop in malls and by finding out if their shopping habits can be altered.

The research method I propose to use is the interview after I have carried out a brainstorming session with fellow design students to prepare appropriate questions. Brainstorming is quick, creative and it always provides plenty of ideas for further investigation.

I find the interview research tool very useful because it's personal, informative and gives me the opportunity to get detailed answers for my questions. I also have the chance to react for to an answer immediately and get the exact information I'm looking for.

Interviews have limitations as well. People can only give opinions based on their own experiences and the local situation could be very different from other locations'. In Dundee there aren’t as many small designer shops as there are in bigger cities and so Dundonians who have not traveled to other cities have limited experience of this type of shops. There is also a limit to the amount people I can interview.

Preparing for the interviews will require a lot of planning, organisation and the process itself is also very time consuming. I still believe this is the best way to investigate this question because of the interactive quality of this design tool. I think talking with 10-15 people for about 15 minutes each would be enough to give me an insight into customers' shopping habits. I intend to find out what might make people shop in designer shops instead of shopping malls and how these shops might become more attractive to customers. I also intend to investigate if people are more likely to use independent designer shops if they feel they would get a better service or are more likely to obtain a unique, handmade, highly crafted product made by an artist. I am also interested in finding out if shoppers would find it more appealing if designer shops are grouped together, like in the same district and it if this grouping gives more of an opportunity of socializing and gathering?

I will select my first interviewees in small shops to find out what makes them chose these shops instead of shopping malls. That would help me to create my exact questions. Then I will search for customers in shopping centres by using ethnography to find the right people to participate in my survey. I'm planning to do it on the weekend because that's when shopping malls are the busiest.

I intend to analyse the results to find out the typical age and gender of the clientele which would most likely shop in designer shops. The interviews would take place in a silent café to create a relaxed conversation. I have to be careful with my questions because I don't want to influence my interviewees. I'd like to get creative ideas how to develop a unique shopping experience in small shops and make them able to compete with big companies. I will carry out the interviews alone because I have a deep insight into the topic and two people asking could be confusing for the participants. Although it would be useful to involve other students to the analysis of findings. More people means more opinions and different standpoints.

The organisation for the interviews including a brainstorming session should be done in three days. To carry out the interviews would take about two weeks and I would leave another week for the analysis of the findings.

Assignment 4

How knowledgeable are shoppers about what they are buying?

We've been asked to do three interviews in a chosen topic. I choose the one above and I started with a mind map before I found out my questions. I've tried to consider different topics relevant to the question. I won't use the real names of my interviewees because they didn't give me a permission to do so. I choose 3 girls because as far as I know boys not that interested in shopping trips. They try to buy the items they're looking for as quick as possible while girls do shopping as a hobby or a recreational amusement.

First I talked with an architecture girl in her early 30's, her name is Petra. 
1. Where do you usually buy your clothes, shoes, etc.?
I lost my job because of the recession so nowadays I mostly go to charity shops, I search for High Street sales and TK Maxx is my constant favourite.
2. How many times do you go for a shopping trip per a month?
I go for window shopping about twice a month but I don't buy anything if I don't need it. Mainly because I don't have the money for it. But I still buy a new item in every month.
3. What do you consider when you buy something?
I would go for colourful, extreme items, maybe with big patterns. Those are the ones which catch my eyes.
4. How do you make decisions during shopping?
Value for money. I wouldn't buy something just because it's organic. I used to buy organic T-shirts though when I had enough money.
5. What influences your taste?
I think the biggest influence was the Art College in Hungary. I still have the same style although it became more sophisticated and a little bit more mature. I always want to be different, that's the main rule.
6. Do you know where the products you buy coming from?
Since I found out where Primark products coming from I buy less items there. But probably almost every clothes made in Asia (China or India) by wee children. TK Maxx is good though, they sell quality products for reasonable prices. I don't think we can find out where clothes coming from or at least it's really hard to bring to light. I've read an article on Tree Hugger about organic clothes. They discovered that a big percentages of them aren't really organic, although the labels told so.
7. Quality or quantity?
Both. I think I spent as much money at Primark for cheap stuff in the last couple years as I spent on quality stuff. Not any more though. I realised that they last for 2-3 washes then they are rubbish. And I don't want to produce more waste. TK Maxx is the best place to go, it offers cheap, quality products and it has a similar feeling than a charity shop what I really enjoy.
So you don't go to Primark anymore?
Well, sometimes I do, but I don't buy lots of stuff just because they're cheap.

Petra is fairly aware of sustainable issues although she still goes to Primark sometimes. It's hard to resist of cheap clothes and customers usually hope that this time it's going to live longer than last time. Sometimes actually Primark goods do live for years but you have to be extremely lucky. Price is a very important issue for her at the moment because she doesn't have the money to buy costly products. I'm not sure if it's been always the same. That's a shame that I forgot to ask her. She enjoys shopping and likes to present herself with something new every month but she's not a shopping freak. She has her own style and she's fairly unaffected by trends and by her environment. She probably checks the Tree Hugger website regularly so she must be interested in eco-friendly solutions. I think if she would have the money she would go for quality, sustainable maybe even fair trade clothing but price still would be essential. Although if she falls in love with something unique, extreme and colourful item I'm sure she would pay quite a lot of money for it when she'll get a new job. It's value for money after all.

My next interviewee was Eva in her mid 20's. She's working as a shop assistant in a book store. 
1. Where do you usually buy clothes, shoes, etc.?
I go where the big sales are. To the high street or to the shopping centres. Sometimes I go to outlets but they are pretty far away.
2. How many times do you go for a shopping trip per a month?
I go for window shopping about 6 times but when I actually buy something is about twice a month.
3. What do you consider when you buy something?
What are you looking for when you go for a shopping trip?
T-shirts, jumpers and shoes.
What catches your eyes?
The colours or the shape of the clothes.
Which colours do you prefer?
In terms of T-shirts I prefer black or white because they are perfect to wear at work. Vests can be colourful though, I can't wear them at work anyway. I prefer green, blue or grey. I don't like pattern so I go for the plain ones.
4. How do you make decisions during shopping?
I fall in love at the first blush. I would pay more for something if it perfectly fits or if that's the item I was looking for. If it makes my shape looking nicer that's a must buy. Or if it's very cheap even if I won't use it just as a pyjama. I guess this is why I have a huge cupboard full of clothes and I never find anything to wear.
5. What influences your taste?
My environment, my workplace, what I allowed to wear at work and also my age.
Your age?
Yes, I dress more elegant than before. I try to wear clothes appropriate for my age. But fashion must influences me as well because shops have a narrow supply according to current trends.
6. Do you know where the products you buy coming from?
No, it doesn't really matter for me.
What about the materials?
That's very important. I only buy 100% cotton. It doesn't make me sweat and comfortable as well.
8. Quality or quantity?
Quantity. I rather have many clothes and store them in the cupboard.

Eva is very aware of her look and her main goal is to fit in to the society. I don't think she has an interesting wardrobe probably it's full with similar coloured plain T-shirts and jumpers. She cares much more about what she's wearing - even for sleeping – that where the products come from. She's not interested is sustainability or in global issues. Price is the most important criteria for her probably because she doesn't have enough money for shopping. She goes for window shopping quite often though so probably she would buy more stuff if she could afford it, maybe even another cupboard to store the new findings. I think she's a little bit addicted to shopping otherwise she wouldn't buy useless cheap stuff just to own it.

My next girl is Gigi also in her mid 20's. She works as a shop assistant at a petrol station. 
1. Where do you usually buy clothes, shoes, etc.?
I'm looking for high street sales or I go to shopping centres because they sell quality products for cheap and they come in all sizes.
2. How many times do you go for a shopping trip per a month?
5-6 times for window shopping and 2-3 times for actual shopping, when I need something.
3. What do you consider when you buy something?
I buy something when I find myself in the object, when I feel like its my own. Of course I check the prize tag first.
How would you describe an item like this?
Style, material and the right size are very important. I like feminine clothes in pastel colours, black or white. I always have a crazy hairstyle so I try to balance it with my clothes. I like soft cotton materials because they are comfortable and healthy. I also care about the quality of the item.
4. How do you make decisions during shopping?
I just fall in love at first sight.
5. What influences your taste?
My environment, my family and the style of the music I like at that moment. For example I wouldn't ever bought a pair of Air Max shoes if wouldn't go to hardcore parties at that time. Everybody was wearing them so I tried to fit in.
6. Do you know where the products you buy coming from?
No, I don't check it normally, everything is coming from China anyway. Although I would never buy Nike shoes if the label says 'Made in Taiwan'. It means that's a fake one because Nike doesn't fabricate shoes in Taiwan. In any other case I don't care the origin. I think it doesn't affect the quality.
Do you check what the product made of?
Yes, but I can feel it. I love touching fabrics. I wouldn't buy anything prickly, soft feeling is very essential for me.
7. Quality or quantity?
I like to buy more. It is important for me to have a wide range of clothes in cupboard but I wouldn't buy anything cheap to bin it after two washes. Quality is important.

Further research:

Petra, my first interviewee mentioned a website called Tree Hugger and the problem of some companies faking organic clothing. So I tried to find the post about this topic but I couldn't. I found some other ones though.

An interesting finding from Michael Lackman of Lotus Organics concludes, “The growing of bamboo is environmentally friendly but the manufacturing of bamboo into fabric raises environmental and health concerns because of the strong chemical solvents used to cook the bamboo plant into a viscose solution that is then reconstructed into cellulose fiber for weaving into yarn for fabric.” 
This interesting article compares eco-friendly attributes of cotton, nylon, fake- and real fur coats. It talks about the accomplishment of organic cotton and how big companies trying to adopt it to their supply. It also mentions innovative fabric types as a solution for sustainability even a sweatshirt developed by Rebecca Earley (Craft Council) which never has to be washed. It's a big success story because 80 per cent of a garment's energy use is in its laundering.

Assignment 3

First I had a look at a website about useful design tools like mind mapping, prototyping and role playing games. There are plenty of others and they all serve to understand how people use an object in real life before we create the actual product. But this time we had to use ethnography as a design tool. Ethnography is about observing people in their own environment where they act natural. It helps to understand the relationship between a product and the target audience. We had to visit a place where we've never been before so we wouldn't feel comfortable. I think it helps us being aware of the place and the people. I've chosen the Tropicana Casino a posh district of Budapest but before I went there I did some practicing by watching people on the Underground.

I moved back to Hungary for a couple of months and I quickly bought a cheap bicycle to travel because I felt public transport is really depressing. I bought two tickets to observe underground traveling and find out why? First of all the Underground is a place where all social classes travel together and it generates some tensions. It shouldn't be like this but there are so many problems in this country and you can feel the stress around you. I've realised earlier there are two raw of seats facing towards each other in the metro cars which force you to stare the people opposite, the floor or any random point in the car. Many people are actually reading, playing cross word/Sodoku or playing with their mobiles just to do something. Staring is very impolite but you can see all the extremes of the society on the underground so you have to have a look around. Nobody wants to get into trouble though so everybody tries to be as polite as possible. You can catch other people's eyes as they give you a look but in a second they change their object to look at. It's quite uncomfortable and it could be changed by rearrange the seats to something like on a train. Me personally always enjoyed watching people and underground is the best place to find out what's going on in the society so normally I don't mind the seats but a lot of people do. The other very annoying circumstance in the travelling experience is the state of the cars. Imagine very old, rusty Russian metro cars with graffiti tags all over the windows. It definitely has an effect on the passengers. It makes them feel even more unsecured. No security gay, no CCTVs just you and a lot of different people in a dodge metro car. Probably that's why everybody moves to the other side of the car if a group of gipsies get on the underground. There's too much discrimination going on in Hungary but small changes could help a lot.

After a little walk in the posh district of Budapest with all the fairy lights on I arrived to my destination. It wasn't hard to find it, it has a huge entrance arch with a flashing red 'Tropicana Casino' light on it. It looks like a hotel's entrance and the reception has the same feeling. They take your ID than take a picture of you and than you get a credit card kind of thing. You can sign in with the card with no hassle at any time in the future. So we were allowed to enter by a nice, elegant security man. I took two other girls and later gave them some money to play with while I'm writing. But first we went to the bar. I instantly realized their branded matches and the drinks came with branded coasters. They have a tropical bird on them sitting on a palm tree. The whole image of the place was like being in 'Waikiki' from the 'Hotel' board game. They created a perfect place to feel relaxed. 

The most conspicuous thing was definitely the tropical design. In the middle of the room there were about five fake palm trees with lights at the bottom. The place was fairly dark apart from these warm lights hidden among fake plants around the room. The other light source was a fake glass roof over the palm trees and the poker tables which were located round the trees. The roof gave a botanic garden feeling to the place and highlighted the poker tables. It was old looking with painted plants on the edges. The mood of the place was like being in a cave but the lightning made it mysterious and warm. Palm tree motives were also used on the carpet design and on the uniform of the poker table guys. The colours were mainly green, blue and some warm red touches. Over the Bar, the Cassa and the roulette tables grass thatched roofs accentuated the tropical feeling. So the design of the place was very successful and created a really relaxed feeling. Although we weren't relaxed because it was obvious that we've never been at such a place and everybody was staring at us for a while. Than they kept playing so we were fine. My friends started to play after the helpful security guy explained how the machines work. The 'one-arm bandits' were on the walls with comfy little chairs. You can choose from several designs on the touch screens just in case you're bored with the fruits. So I started to watch people. The staff was more elegant than most of the audience: two sexy, black dressed girls at the bar and young guys in light coloured palm tree patterned shirts at the tables. The security men were the most elegant. The customers were normal people mainly in jeans or something casual. Most of them were men in their 50's but at the machines there were mainly women. A couple of guys in their 30's were playing poker, they were talking sometimes but haven't seen too much socialising elsewhere. The Bar was empty too so it wasn't about drinking either. In general there wasn't any moving in the room apart from the security man who walked around sometimes. It was all about playing and spending time at a nice relaxed place. Although I don't think many of the customers realised the design features because they were lost in the game. People playing at the machines were just staring at the screen and pushing the button. I couldn't decide if they are looking for luck, want to leave with a bunch of money or just the addiction of playing keeps them in this mysterious cave. Anyway it's a comfort zone for them because they fit in the society of the club and they found a way of recreation that they enjoy. I think it's still better than drink in a pub and playing helps lonely people to spend their time among others and not at home on their own. Tropicana created a place where adults can enjoy the experience of playing and the feeling of a holiday.

I've learned from this assignment how small things can change a lot. Like the lightning, the colours and the mood of the staff. I've learned to pay attention for the details and to keep enjoy watching people. I think I have to find my target audience and learn what they need.