Design life... with RCG's John Lenihan

Recognised as a leader in his field of retail and commercial design, John Lenihan is a registered architect, retail strategist and director at award-winning property, architecture, design and research company RCG.

We had a quick chat to John about his approach to design, RCG's latest projects, and what we can learn from retailers in the USA.

So, what's been happening at RCG this year?

Well, we recently delivered the first concept store for AMI’s retail makeover, completely transforming how their insurance is sold (see our write up of the store). 

The AMI project looked at shifting the insurance provider's focus from product to individual customer, and where they are on their life journey – have they just bought their first car? Is their family growing? The store environment is designed to enable the kind of conversations that allow staff to best guide their customers.

The concept store in Takanini, Auckland, is the first result of an exciting and collaborative four months. Intense research and strategy has gone into this project; it’s been a complete business transformation. It’s innovative, smart and it sets a new benchmark for the financial services sector.

Other recent projects include fit outs for optical retailer Clearly, Ziera Shoes, and gourmet food shop Farro Fresh.

How do you approach a design project?

My speciality is strategic experience design – understanding my client's business, brand and goals is the basis. What accelerates my practice is the end user. My aim is quite basic, to deliver the best possible experience for them, one that is highly relevant and engaging. It’s very exciting. I use this method to transform, establish and scale up all types of businesses.

What do you love most about your job?

Seeing tangible results emerge from my design expertise. The most rewarding thing is to see people delight in a space that’s in-tune with their needs and to see the up-turn in our client's business.

Last year, you travelled to Chicago and New York (lucky you!) to see what’s happening in retail spaces there.

What can we learn from their approach to retail design?

The USA is a global leader in innovation, the country is big on technology in retail spaces and has made shopping a stimulating and relevant experience.

A highlight in New York was Story, a hybrid store and magazine concept that has a new theme, design and merchandise each month. Read about my trip here.

What advice would you give to budding commercial designers?

Accept each project for what it is and do the absolute best with what you’re given.