The new informality: Designing to new consumer aspirations

9 August 2017 | Think

In the past decade there has been a significant shift in consumer attitudes and spending behaviours. Bored of austerity, people are displaying a post-recession canniness, saving up to splurge on formative experiences and live events. In the past, status was measured by what you had; a house, a car, clothes etc. But as we enter a new era of post-recession consumerism, a growing number of us are rejecting excessive materialism and are instead looking for sharable experiences that build social stature and shape personal identities.

A study by the Retail Think Tank found that over 75% of consumers believe that “experiences” are more important than “things”, whilst the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that UK households spent more than £175 billion on gift experiences in the last year.

Consumer discernment has taken on a new meaning. Exercising choice has always been about building social stature and what your choice says about you. That has not changed, whether its possessions or experiences. What have changed are the criteria on which this choice is made. What we value is changing.

With rising levels of affluence and the proliferation of affordable luxury, consumer expectations remain high. But thanks to value brands such as EasyJet, Lidl and Money Supermarket, we’re reassessing perceptions of value and re-prioritising how we spend our money. Conspicuous consumption has given way to conscious consumption, aspirations have become more spontaneous and a new luxury aesthetic is emerging.

In response, a growing number of high-end fashion and lifestyle brands are eschewing traditional displays of luxury that communicate elitism and status, for a more informal tone, a tone that promotes egalitarian values of togetherness. These brands are breaking category norms, borrowing codes from other cultures, experimenting with self-expression. Ultimately, they’re being more human; they’re embracing imperfections and allowing a personal brand story to be told through the design in a way that is accessible, inclusive and real.

The principles behind this new visual language are starting to be embraced in the mainstream, with hospitality leading the way. From high-end restaurants and bars to high-street pubs, hospitality brands are moving away from traditional luxury codes to create more casual, convivial settings. Take Rabbit, a new restaurant on the Kings Road, with its rustic interior and stable door entrance. Or the Pig Hotel, who’ve abandoned traditional hotel décor of gold and black with touches of marble for rural-themed shabby chic. It’s even trickled down to the high street, with stalwarts like the Slug & Lettuce and Be at One adopting a more eclectic, mash up style. By breaking with category norms and adopting a more casual tone, these hospitality brands are creating a more relaxed, inclusive setting for more organic interactions to take place.

It’s no wonder hospitality brands have been early adopters of this new informal visual language, they are, after all, the places we go to connect with the elemental things in life- people, space, food and drink. But that’s not to say that it’s limited to hospitality; this new aesthetic tone provides a real opportunity for brands to use design to make more meaningful connections with consumers. Where the old, formal codes put a distance between brands and consumers, the new informal codes remove those barriers, facilitating more natural, human interactions. This new visual language promotes a more egalitarian, accessible and inclusive message, a message that’s much more in line with contemporary consumer values. But it’s not enough to just adopt these values, brands must first think about their core values and understand how these principles can be applied to their offer. Authenticity is key to this new phase of informality.