Retail design collective Noise Noise Noise wants to subvert the conventional shopping experience and boost sales by creating beautiful places for shoppers to explore and Instagram.

Ever walked into a store and come out feeling like you’ve not so much been sold a product, but more been subject to an experience? That’s how retail design collective Noise Noise Noise (NNN) wants you to feel in sneaker boutique Subtype’s new flagship store in Melbourne. Founded almost three years ago by Blair Cooper, the company has worked with some of the buzziest contemporary brands around such as Hype DC and Coffee on Cue, all with a view to create an unforgettable experience for consumers, and a rewarding one for retailers. “Gen Z consumers are the target market with the most disposable income, and they are spending on experiences rather than products,” explains Blair. “Investing in experiences for customers is the way to go. Make it meaningful, curated and relevant to who your customers are and what they expect to see and experience from your brand.” Her claims are not unfounded. According to PwC’s 2018 Global Consumer Insights Survey, Australian consumers are increasingly spending more on experiences, year on year. And, of them, 66% are 18-34, indicating a radical priority shift in millennial and Gen Z spenders. “Stores need to become more like brand experience centres where customers can interact with store teams, other customers, learn something new, and have an experience that is memorable,” says Blair, talking us through her vision for a truly captivating retail landscape.

Noise Noise Noise Design Retail Experience Melbourne

PC: Arnaud Domange Photography

NNN’s recent design of Subtype, a curated sneaker gallery located in the basement of Melbourne’s iconic Hero Building on Russell Street, earned the design team several accolades including a Silver Award in the Melbourne Design Awards and a place on two shortlists in the 2019 IDEA awards. “The original design brief was very open – literally ‘to create something wow,’” exclaims Blair. Custom designed shelves made of steel pipes and perspex are piled high with sneakers from the likes of Nike and Adidas, whilst the store is strongly backlit with fluorescent white light to provide a camera-ready stage for Instagrammers and sneakerheads to take photos in. Outfitted with copious amounts of off-the-shelf galvanised steel sheets and metal tubing juxtaposed against organic looking, hand-picked rock formations, the store has a part-industrial, part-space-age look – one split into two sections: a retail front and a customisable gallery space in the back for events. Making the most of that space for their opening, Subtype invited Adidas to fit out the gallery with green-tinged lasers to showcase their 4D technology. “It’s my favourite project so far because it most accurately embodies NNN’s philosophy of design, use of materiality and execution,” says Blair. “We used a lot of off-the-shelf raw materials to keep it simple, while every fixture was custom-designed and made locally.”

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As much as they focus on design, NNN is all about the experience, firm in the belief that that’s what creates the all-too-valuable point of difference their clients crave. “For one of our projects, we created a drop-in cinema for Hype Dc x Onitsuka Tiger, featuring their collab film ‘First.’ shot in Tokyo. For the event, we transformed the store with custom animations, featuring Japanese neon motifs, staircases clad in chrome red and changed out window campaigns to encourage the customers to journey into the cube. Visually, it was damn impressive,” states Blair. “And, when they went into the cube to watch the film, they were each given a custom-designed ‘movie poster’ as a giveaway and as a connection driver to the Onitsuka Tiger brand.” 

Noise Noise Noise Design Retail Experience Melbourne

PC: Arnaud Domange Photography

Blair made the spontaneous jump to start her own studio after resigning from one of Australia’s largest retailers Cotton On Group. “I would love to give a glamorous backstory to NNN. However, the true story is that I took a spontaneous risk and quickly learnt the ‘ideal designer life’ wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned – invoicing? Charging GST? Insurance?” She laughs. “I try to not take things too seriously and think about space differently by using common materials. Everyone laughs at me because I spend so much time at hardware stores and my suppliers’ factories looking at things like plumbing pipe. I think there’s beauty in these nonchalant materials, and they provide an unexpected twist to traditional ‘shopfit’ retail environments in my designs.”

Despite the continuing growth of online shopping, Blair believes that retail outlets offer something irreplaceable and are here to stay for good. “Brick and mortar stores are a necessity. Stores can’t compete with the ease of online markets, but they can offer something online can’t – a reality. We are going through a tough market shift in Australia at the moment, and our backwards-thinking retail strategies are failing,” explains Blair. “I am absolutely blown away by what is happening in China. The retail design execution I have been seeing there is next level. They really understand the new Chinese customer and I love that a lot of brands are taking risks, and are confident in selling one product like Bubble Tea. It is about a niche and capturing the market! I can’t wait to do a product in China and push some boundaries,” she exclaims.

As for her continuing work at NNN, she says, “I like to keep it interesting. My suppliers always say I keep pushing it on their boundaries on what’s possible. The diversity keeps us thinking, on our toes and serves as a reminder to us that design isn’t about what we personally like; it is always about the customer and the brand. We have a lot of exciting things on the cards for early 2020.”

Banner PC: Arnaud Domange Photography

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