The Cornershop: A paean to packaging?

26.08.14

We felt a little strange after coming out of this exhibition, and for good reason…

Making the entire contents of a corner shop out of felt falls somewhere between ambitious and crazy, but that’s why Lucy Sparrow’s “fluffy shopping experience”, The Cornershop, has quite rightly attracted media attention across the world.

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We’re fascinated by it here – not just because some of the packaging we’ve been involved with has been immortalised in felt, but also because this art show asks some of the big questions we ask every day:

  • What is essential to a brand’s identity?
  • What does packaging make people feel, and remember?
  • How do people buy, and why?

Obviously, as design researchers, we know packaging is special. But even we’ve never seen packaging quite as special as this before.

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Just as we interrogate a product’s design to determine which elements of it are integral to the brand’s identity or have emotional resonance with consumers, so too has Lucy Sparrow. In paring each product back to its core identity, surprisingly little is actually lost in translation.

Brands’ visual equities have been pared back to their minimum, and yet the felt versions retain the overall sense of the original

All of the ‘products’ in The Cornershop are for sale (though not to take away until the exhibition is finished). It’s cash-only though, so if you don’t have any money on you, you have to visit the actual corner shop up the road, coming face to face with the real-life counterparts to all the products you’ve just been looking at.

When you return and place your order, it’s not a disinterested shop assistant taking your details and money, but the artist herself, meaning that a very rare direct and physical transaction between the maker and the consumer takes place – her presence reminds us how the pieces were made, and adds value in terms of authenticity.  It would also be fascinating to compare the number of sales were the pieces displayed in a more traditional exhibition setting, as opposed to in an actual shop, where we are already pre-programmed to think about buying.

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The overall effect of The Cornershop is compelling, and while there’s no doubt that it’s brilliant fun, it also has some serious points to make, whether it’s in the ‘typical’ newspaper headlines we find from each news source daily…

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… controversial products displayed in recognisable (not yet plain packaging) displays …

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… or, simply, the realisation that everything we currently buy and recognise will evolve – and, in some cases, disappear altogether.

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In this way, it is one of The Cornershop’s greatest achievements that it is able to make us nostalgic for things not yet gone – for our own personal experiences of the brands of the present.

The Cornershop is open until 31st August at 19 Wellington Row, London, E2 7BB.