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How to Be a Creative Catalyst

Learning to evolve, pivot and understand the shopper is just part of the story




SOME PROGNOSTICATORS ARE still confident in predicting that “retail is dead.” I beg to differ – retail is not dead, it’s evolving. As designers, retailers and creatives, it’s our job to lead this change by being the alchemists creating the next evolution in design and experience. The beauty about creativity is that it can always be pushed further, and it’s never technically finished.

It’s quite clear that there’s been a shift in consumers’ methods for shopping as we enter the post-Covid era, along with their expectations. Retailers are becoming smarter and more data- and insight-driven because we have to be smarter about how engage with people. It’s about predicting and accommodating different need states of the consumer, which allow us to bring purpose to both the spaces and experiences related to the brands we work with.

Brands, by definition, are built on a series of promises they make to their consumers, especially when it comes to the kind of product or service they’re delivering or the kind of interaction they promote. Delivering on those promises requires building trust between all touchpoints, like the brand, the space and the consumer.

The role of a creative consultant is to dig deep into the problems that brands are experiencing. Once we identify the issues, then we can explore actionable solutions. I find the best method to start this process is to get into the store and experience it the way customers do. Shoppers have different expectations because certain kinds of experiences have trained them to expect more from an environment than in decade’s past. Being a creative catalyst and consultant comes with the responsibility to continually learn by immersing ourselves in stores, restaurants and other retail spaces to understand the shopper.

Connecting that data with our understanding of the consumer, the element of emotion can’t be forgotten when it comes to designing an experience. How do we create experiences that really imprint on peoples’ minds and create positive long-lasting memories?

As important as digital and online is in today’s world, they’re only some of the many ways in which a brand can connect with consumers. It’s important to consider how to bring all touchpoints and channels together in a truly meaningful symphony of brand experience. Retailers who are staying afloat during challenging times have embraced change and had the courage to pivot. As creatives, we want to keep expanding on that evolution and give consumers that new silver bullet, which might just become lightning in a bottle.


Want to hear more of my musings on what it means to be a creative catalyst? Check out the WD Partners podcast (wittingly named WDCast) where the infamous Lee Peterson (former VMSD Editorial Advisory Board member) interviews me about design, innovation and our shared love of live music.

Jay spent more than 17 years building teams, leading creative, and collaborating with all disciplines involved with experience design. Currently EVP, Creative at WD Partners, his career path encompasses all phases of the retail strategy and design process, solving clients’ real-world business problems via “big ideas” in concepting, prototyping, and scaled implementation. Past partners include Aramark, The Home Depot, Target, Verizon, M&M’s, and Krispy Kreme. A recognized industry leader, he’s won design industry and influencer awards and is a featured speaker at events like International Retail Design Conference and EuroShop. Jay sits on the VMSD Editorial Advisory Board.



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