When emotion is a matter of algorithm

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The Food Retail of the Future? Digital Touchpoints for Sensory Spaces - 1

Food retail design firm Supernormal tells us about current trends, in spite of the new rules imposed by the health emergency, and the extent to which the devices we carry in our pockets influence bookings.

The Covid-19 health emergency is defining precise protocols for the use of public spaces, relating above all to social distancing and hygiene. However, rather than generating new design trends, the emergency has actually tended to accelerate some that were already present. “In food retail, the difference between physical and virtual space will become more and more blurred,” we are told by Milan firm Supernormal, with years of experience in designing restaurant chains with at least 3-4 points of sale. “Experience has become multi-channel. You have to look at its physical and digital touch-points, the flow of people within the store, payment mechanisms and the relative “customer economic cycle”, through to staff shift structures. This information, combined with data on users' gender and age, or what they eat, forms part of the space's design brief, and even the modulation of its offer. Data can even provide guidance on how to display goods on shelves. And this information is accessible via the devices everyone has in their pockets, or via CCTV cameras.

And there's more. For a brand that manages entertainment and gambling venues, we used heat maps to verify the best gambling machine layout, while gender analysis, which showed us that 85% of users were men, led us to give the space a more high-tech look. It's important for the physical space to correspond to the brand's 'value proposition'. And this must also correspond to a sales strategy: even how comfortable the seats are will depend on the time we want people to spend in the restaurant.

Focusing only on the location's looks is no longer enough: the space must be tested using analysis tools, because every decision has a sequence of repercussions, from interior design to graphics, to the items on the menu.

Emotion is an important tool. But even this is a scientific factor: consumers' reactions can be influenced through choice of colours or materials, fragrances or lighting design. For example, the use of lights influences circadian rhythms or the production of wellbeing hormones like dopamine or cortisol. The sound ambience is equally important. This is not a kind of alchemy: these are measurable physical parameters and variants of the space, which can be controlled by sensors that analyse customers' behaviour.”

The current health emergency has given a strong boost to the food delivery system. Even before last February, “we were seeing strong growth in the number of restaurant cook rooms (or ghost kitchens), which only produce for home delivery. In food retail, there's a trend towards proximity: local supermarkets or delivery services with dense territorial cover, for which multichannel design of brand visibility is all-important”.

Bio Supernormal

Supernormal was founded in Milan in 2019 by Giuseppe Leida and Paolo Cazzani to design spaces, brands and objects for retail, work and culture, where architecture, design and communication interconnect. They both trained as architects. Leida founded GLA (Giuseppe Leida Architetti) in 2003, and Cazzani created the Spotbreak advertising agency in 2001. They have been working together on food retail projects for Panino Giusto, Spontini, Saquella and Espresso Club since 2009.