Richard Brownlie-Marshall is creative designer at Pret A Manger. Here he talks to Retail Focus about the evolving design of cafes and eateries, plans for the brand and his favourite store design. RF. What’s your career background? RBM. After studying product design at Northumbria University, I knew I wanted to move to London, so sought after an internship with the Brent Hoberman founded, mydeco.com. This was a fastpaced and exciting environment that I thrived in, and worked up to eventually become the design coordinator. Although I absolutely loved the company, I felt that I wasn’t doing as much hands-on design as I would’ve liked. It turned out to be a good emotion to have, as it encouraged me to launch my own interiors line, which drew from all the knowledge I had learnt while working on the site. Soon after launching my first products, I came into contact with the founder of Tossed, Vincent Mckevitt and convinced him to take me on as the head of creative. I was with Tossed for almost four years and saw the company (and myself) grow considerably in this time. Alongside my work at Tossed, I was raising my design profile through commissions and one-off designs with clients including Zizzi, Candy Kittens and The Archbishop of Canterbury. Eventually an opportunity arose at Pret A Manger where it was expanding its creative team and as a fan of the brand I was very keen to be part of it. In my current role I’m working on Pret design around the world, which includes packaging, marketing and interiors. RF. How do you feel the design of cafes and eateries is evolving? RBM. Going back a few years, brands were a lot louder in their delivery; now it’s much more about stripping it back to basics. We’re dealing with a much more design-savvy consumer, so it’s not solely about logo application. They want to feel the brand’s essence, and that’s where design does the talking. We’re stepping away from shiny and standardised to a much more natural and organic feel. I think this is partly due to the boom of the pop-ups, which brought an eclectic vibe. With a heightened awareness, designers are encouraged to try out new materials and processes, which in turn results in a lot more experimentation in food retail design. RF. How has the design of Pret A Manger evolved? RBM. When I was first introduced to Pret at a customer level, the interior was head to toe in stainless steel. It felt exciting and futuristic, speaking very much of the time by giving off an express feel with a strong brand presence. Today the interiors show a much softer side, featuring brickwork, signwriting and hessian menus. I think this look speaks very much of the current time, offering the quality of a chain with the character and comfort of a one-off. The introduction of printed hessian in recent years was something I had never seen before, and gave a new medium to communicate its coffee story.
RF. What has been your favourite store concept to work on? RBM. When I joined Tossed, one of my first projects was to design a store at the gates of the London 2012 Olympic games in Westfield Stratford. I always think of it as the project where I earned my design stripes, as it was my first time dealing with the complete design of a retail space. I pushed boundaries to create a store that was visually exciting and was a design departure for the brand, while being completely on-track to what was to follow. The aesthetic took inspiration from a traditional English garden but was Tossed-ified with a contemporary edge. It incorporated hundreds of plant pot hanging lights, tree woodcuts and bright pink gnomes. I challenged myself creatively, producing a majority of bespoke products, which made a truly one-off interior. It was a steep learning curve but I enjoyed being submerged into the project, and it ultimately produced a more compelling outcome. I still try to visit the gnomes if I’m ever in the area. RF. What plans are you working on at the moment re. store concepts for Pret A Manger? RBM. Pret A Manger is a fast-paced company to be part of, which keeps it engaging in terms of design. It’s great to be with a company that is about to turn 30 and continues to evolve and bring fresh ideas to the table. One of the projects I was working on most recently was the Good Evenings on the Strand, which looked at how a Pret store might look like if it was adapted for evenings. It was an interesting brief, as it was how the space could be used for breakfast and lunch, yet transform into a different dining space after hours. In terms of design, we considered how the Pret brand could be injected into the table setting with placemats, crockery and glassware. We changed up how the Pret artworks are displayed by introducing printing onto wood and craft paper. The overall interior incorporates a darker colour palette and lighting is used to full effect in differentiating the space throughout the day. I imagine this is a concept that will continue to evolve, and I look forward to seeing where it eventually leads.