Storytelling in 3D | Interview with Anne Richardson
After graduating college with a Fine Arts and Art History degree, Anne Richardson knew she wanted to continue her education in art and design. She went on to complete a master’s in Exhibition Design. The program allowed her to explore storytelling in three dimensions and opened up a pathway into designing environments which set the course for her career.
While pursuing her master’s Anne had the opportunity to work with Sweetgreen – a fast casual salad restaurant chain – designing for large scale events. “At the time, Sweetgreen was headquartered in Washington D.C. and each year they put on a music and food festival. I was able to use the skills I was learning in school that were focused mostly on museum work and apply them to different design problems. I worked with local artists to design site specific installations and interactive activations for the guests, while challenged to maintain a level of sustainable design to align with Sweetgreen’s mission.”
It wasn’t until she found herself at STORY– a retail space curated around constantly changing themes – that Anne found herself designing for retail. “It was a massive learning experience. I was taking on graphic and store design work, but I wasn’t trained as a store designer, so I picked things up as I went. The projects moved quickly from conception to install and it was a small group of us, operating like a family. We did a lot of the install work ourselves; I became really comfortable with power tools! It was rewarding to see the projects come together so fast before our eyes. All in all, I was involved with 13 different concepts during my time there. It was extremely formative.”
“That’s what makes me happy and excited about design – walking into a space that makes me have an emotional reaction.”
After STORY, Anne worked in experiential marketing until she was approached by New Balance. She joined their Global Retail Design team as a senior designer in 2017, developing new concepts and advising regions on their retail efforts. “Our team is split between Boston and Hong Kong, and there is a fair amount of travel involved. Before joining the company, I wasn’t aware of how the brand is recognized in other countries. Traveling to different regions is huge for inspiration, but also really informative for how the brand is perceived.”
New Balance has been wholesale driven for most of their history and only recently began developing their position as a retailer. Although the brand was founded in 1906 and is a sizable company today, it is a young retailer that faces the same challenges as other young retailers. These challenges include presenting a consistent brand message, gaining and maintaining brand loyalty, and modernizing while staying true to heritage to name a few.
“We have a long way to go and are working hard to conquer the challenges we face.”
Everyone in retail is facing the challenge of incorporating digital into their design, New Balance included. “We are constantly discussing more meaningful ways to incorporate digital into our environments, how can we connect the dots for the consumer so they have a seamless experience that will bring them back to NB.”
“It’s about pushing the boundaries and finding creative solutions within the boundaries you’re given.”
Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere – “What makes me the most excited and energized is when I am in a place that is immersive and I know the designer has put detail into every surface – especially the ceiling, always look up. I look for odd material combinations or try to figure out how something was built. I also find it really beneficial to have a creative outlet outside of work. I have been throwing pottery since I was a kid and try to make it to the studio as much as I can. Sometimes I sketch out forms I plan to throw and that ends up informing a shape I am toying with at work.”
“The world of design can be intimidating. I find joy in spaces that are inviting and inclusive.”
Anne is taking advantage of her contacts within NB to learn more about custom materials and sourcing processes. “I am really interested in why certain materials are chosen in our products and how I can incorporate them into our stores in unexpected ways.” She has been developing a new design concept for New Balance’s MADE collection. The brand’s most pinnacle product, the footwear is manufactured both in the US and UK using premium materials and execution. “ I am working to incorporate these elevated materials into store displays and focusing on the story of modern craftsmanship behind these products. I was encouraged to stray from our typical design standards and try something new. It’s been fun and challenging to weave modern and youthful aesthetics into a part of the brand that is so rooted in heritage. I’m excited to see it come to life.”
We asked Anne what advice she follows that had brought her so much success. “Take every opportunity to learn new things and stay curious! I was encouraged early on to build a multidisciplinary skill set that I could apply to a multitude of scenarios. I am always trying to teach myself new things even if that means watching you-tube tutorials…”