Duck Architecture – Putting The Fun Quack In Retail


 

Hello shoppers…

You’ve done it a million times – you drive to the store, plunk down jack for a jar of Jif, scarf it in the kitchen with your finger, get caught by your wife who yells at you for acting seven, you prove it by drinking out of the milk carton, you get a divorce and live in your parent’s basement for six months where you gain 240 pounds eating peanut butter and drinking vodka any @#%& way you want.  

It all seems simple, no? Buying stuff?

No. Buying is a complex process that involves hundreds of variables, from product placement to peer pressure to whether Jane Seymour endorses it. Betsy Teutsch, consumer advocate and author of  Money Changes Things, writes on her “Why we shop: Getting a Grip on Consumerism” blog that there “are many triggers behind shopping,” of which the most powerful include “meeting needs, solving problems, fulfilling fantasies, affordability, short-term happiness and seeking style.” 

And duck architecture.

You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the term.(I’ll forgive you although I can not speak for others less tolerant.) I know about duck architecture because I lived for three years on Long Island, where the phrase was coined by Robert Venturi, considered one of the most influential architects of the 20th Century.

Venturi was visiting the eastern side of Long Island when he came upon a wood and concrete building from which duck eggs were sold – good choice by the owners, since the 20 foot tall structure was shaped like a large mallard. The “Big Duck” was eventually sold and later added to the National Register of Historic Places – no one knows why. And the term “duck architecture” was thus used by Venturi to describe a structure that looks like the thing it sells – literalism in advertising.

 

There are many modern examples of duck architecture – the Oscar Meyer WeinerMobile. The episode of The Brady Bunch where cosmetics heiress Bebe Gallini asks Mike Brady to design a factory for her in the shape of a powder puff. And that’s about it. Okay there aren’t many examples. But the ones we do have scream fun – how can you not smile when you see someone driving a 27 foot long fiberglass wiener?

And that’s the problem. Most retailers aren’t willing to take risks when designing the multi-million dollar glorified Morton outbuildings where we shoppers go on our retail dates, which is why America’s roads are choked with listless four corner casket-shaped retail exteriors and uninspired tofu-flavored interiors dominated by thousands of 90 degree angles created by rows, racks and stacks of merchandise, piled floor to ceiling. Yawn. They’re as boring as my description.

But shoppers don’t shop by thinking with our reasoned practical left-brain. If we did, we’d never buy anything but the things we absolutely needed – donuts, Playboy, check, please!  Instead we buy by feeling, with our unreasonable, impractical, irrational, fun-loving heart. In fact, 80% of the decisions we make are based upon how we feel, not what we think, regardless of what men claim. (“Honey, I’ve thought about this $90,000 life-size animatronic moose with glow in the dark eyes for our family room, and it just makes sense!”)

Shoppers are round pegs, forced by most retailers to shop in square holes. That’s one of the reasons why online shopping has exploded – web site designers may also be left-brain and process driven but they can also read “Daily Unique Visitors” and “Gross revenue” reports. That’s why successful online retail sites are often made alive and vibrant with colors, curves, motion, video and sound.

This “fun-void” presents a tremendous opportunity for savvy business owners who are willing to toss out the book of design rules and play around with the look, feel, taste, sound and smell of their store. Duck architecture may have died but its attitude of fun and whimsy is something we long for, now more than ever. This is why I constantly encourage my clients to experiment with their stores, push the envelop, toss it on the wall and see if it sticks, literally. 

Imagine the entire main facade of a car dealership designed like the front grille of a classic car, complete with working head lights and turn signals. A shoe store entrance built in the form of a shoe opening, even made with real leather. These exterior designs would also give store owners incredibly fertile ground with which to design their store interiors. Speaking of which I once recommended that a lawn care store client plant real grass inside the store and have customers walk on it instead of carpeting. We even found a type of grass that would grow indoors! Eventually the idea was dropped, which demonstrates how difficult it can be to get owners to let go of the tree base and step out on to a limb, where the most breathtaking views exist, where our humanity aches to play – and where the greatest retail impact can be had.

If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it must be – duck architecture. Otherwise you’re probably at Wal-Mart. For the rest of retailers? To paraphrase Cyndi Lauper, shoppers just wanna have fun – so let ’em!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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