Well Read

Why bookstore design doesn't need to be dull

A Godzilla-like creature stands  guard at the entrance.
A Godzilla-like creature stands guard at the entrance.
A central spine  curves sinuously through the store.
A central spine curves sinuously through the store.
A sculptural  staircase leads to  the second floor.
A sculptural staircase leads to the second floor.
Each zone is separated by  a colour-coded canopy.
Each zone is separated by a colour-coded canopy.
Ministry of Design used dramatic statement pieces to counter the traditionally uninspiring design of many bookshop interiors.
Ministry of Design used dramatic statement pieces to counter the traditionally uninspiring design of many bookshop interiors.
The stationery section.
The stationery section.

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Bookstore design has a long-standing propensity to be dull and disinteresting.

A reflection, perhaps, of general attitudes towards books, which are treated with indifference by a massive proportion of the population. But lacklustre bookshop design doesn’t just reflect negative attitudes towards books, it feeds into them – a self-perpetuating cycle that is damaging to all.

Which is why, when Singapore-headquartered Ministry of Design was commissioned to create a brand persona for Prologue, a new name in Asia’s bookselling business, it was keen to come up with something that was both eye-catching and up-to-date.

Battling blandness

Colin Seah, founder and director of design at the progressive Ministry of Design, admits to being baffled by the blandness of most bookshop window displays, and describes bookstore design as being years behind fashion retail standards. “Most bookstore displays merely showcase posters or latest book promos or newest books – decades behind fashion displays which capture emotion and tell a story.

“I think there is a great need for bookstores to catch up in terms of capturing customers’ attention. With Prologue, we aimed to respond to these issues, as well as introducing a dynamic public element in the form of a vibrant café setting,” Seah said.

Prologue is a new venture by Singapore-based Popular Holdings, an established Asian player involved in book retailing and distribution, publishing, e-learning and property development. Founded in 1924, Popular currently has over 40 subsidiaries in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, China, the UK and Canada.

The company has repeatedly proven to be firmly in tune with market needs. In the 1980s it made the bold step of ditching its wholesale business and focusing on the retail sector. The new Prologue brand is a further indicator of the company’s proactive approach, as it identified the need for a more lifestyle-orientated retail space that redefines the book buying experience.

Essentially a boutique bookstore, Prologue is located on the fourth floor of Singapore’s luxurious ION Orchard Mall. Ministry of Design was called in to choreograph all aspects of Prologue’s brand concept, from logo, collateral, shopping bags and uniforms to window display and interior architecture and design. The aim was to create a seamless and rich experience that extended across each and every aspect of the new bookstore brand.

The greatest challenge that Ministry of Design faced with this project was a construction timetable of only 12 weeks. “The timeframe was a real challenge – the entire store was up in four months. It was challenging to work out the structural requirements for the stairs to the second floor within the timeframe, and ensure that the details were all well implemented.”

Floor plan

Creating consistency is fundamental to any successful retail project, Seah noted. “The key is to craft an experience, from the signage to the entry to the navigation to trying on items or browsing and paying – it needs to be exciting and alluring but also practical and efficient,” he said.

Ministry of Design prides itself on its ability to question, disturb and redefine. And when it brought its progressive attitude to the bookstore experience, it discovered a handful of recurring issues that plague conventional bookstore design. These included a lack of clear spatial hierarchy and poor visual zoning for different book categories. These two issues make it difficult for consumers to both navigate through the space and locate the book they want.

Both of these problems were addressed in the 1,550m², two-storey Prologue store. “We redefined way-finding with a central spine that organises all the secondary zones and spaces,” Seah explained. “Curving sinuously through the entire bookstore, the spine begins at the entry window display, continues through the core of the space and culminates at the cafe and the sculptural staircase leading to the store’s second-storey stationery section.”

To enhance visual distinction, each book zone is crowned by a bright, colour-coded, perforated metal canopy. “Experienced as a collective, the eight canopies create a dynamic ceiling-scape and clearly guide the user from one zone to another,” said Seah. “The spine and coloured canopies are my favourite part of the interior. It is beautiful at night, especially against the ION Mall facade.

“We have also defamiliarised the entry by creating an installation art display starring a godzilla-inspired creature unpacking books amongst a city-scape of packing boxes, which will gradually evolve into a cityscape of books,” Seah continued.

Created by Rich Art Enterprises, the godzilla form creates a very striking first impression. As befitting a bookshop interior, Seah wanted to tell a story – and that story starts at the unconventional window display. “Prologue tells a story from the beginning, with an oversized godzilla amongst books, inviting adults and kids to wander into the giant land of books.”

As the name suggests, this unique venture is just the start. “It is the beginning of many things for this book retailer, Popular Book Company, just as a prologue is for a normal book,” said Seah. “It is the beginning of a redefinition of book retail experiences.”

Introducing: Colin Seah, founder and design director, Ministry of Design.
Architecturally trained in the US, Colin Seah honed his sensibilities working for the likes of Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Libeskind. He also spent four years at the National University of Singapore’s department of architecture. As Ministry of Design’s founder and director of design, Colin is a two-time recipient of Singapore’s highest design accolade, the President’s Design Award. Recognised as a Rising Star in Architecture by Monocle, Seah has also been invited by the Singapore Tourism Board to redefine Singapore as a destination for 2020 and beyond.

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