Q&A: Richard Brownlie-Marshall - Creative Designer at Pret A Manger


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 Pret A Manger and his favourite store design he's worked on.

What's your career background?

After studying product design at Northumbria University, I knew I wanted to move to London so sought after an internship with the Brent Hoberman founder, mydeco.com. This was a fast-paced and exciting environment that I thrived in, and worked up to eventually become the design co-ordinator. My role involved curating products on the site, giving interior inspiration and fronting segments on mydecoTV.
Although I absolutely loved the company, I felt that I wasn’t doing as much hands-on design as I would have 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 whilst working on the site. Soon after launching my first products, I came into contact with the founder of Tossed, Vincent Mckevitt. On learning that they planned to bring all their design work in-house for the first time, I convinced him to take me on as the head of creative. It was the dream role for a multi-disciplinary designer like myself where I was creating store designs, packaging ranges and full-scale campaigns all in one position. 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.

How do you feel the design of cafes and eateries is evolving?

Going back a few years, brands were a lot louder in their delivery and now it’s much more about stripping it back to basics. We are 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 with them an eclectic vibe, which is quite an interesting space to be in. 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.

How has the design of Pret A Manger evolved in the last few years?

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.

What trends are you seeing in the design of food retail spaces?

Across the board, comfort is a big thing we are seeing with retail spaces. And I’m not just talking about comfortable seating, but more a welcoming and friendly environment. With eating out being on the up, you have to create a space that people choose to spend their time in and would happily consider ‘their local’. Storytelling is also becoming increasingly important, with consumers wanting to know where products are sourced and how they are being made. With so much choice in food retail, design is a great medium for showcasing key brand messages in very accessible ways. Finally, individuality is becoming more prevalent, with customers wanting a space that's customised for their needs. This makes the designer’s role more interesting as it involves working with the building to expose its merits, which encourages creativity with every store.

What has been your favourite store concept to work on?

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.

What plans are you working on at the moment re. store concepts for Pret A Manger?

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's 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 '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.

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