‘If people like buying your product, it’s because its story helps fill in the narrative gaps in their own lives.’ - Hugh McLeod

‘Narrative Shopping’ explores how design can transform and reappropriate existing systems to create new outcomes. The project aims at engaging in a discussion and reflection about the scripted experience of shopping and redesigning it to make it into a tool for community sensing, storytelling and personal reflection. It is a concept for a store in which everything is organized according to the personal stories and desires behind people’s purchases. The constantly shifting shape and arrangement of the store is influenced by data from the narratives which are collected at the store’s checkouts.

The designs emphasise physical and audio input and output of data as a contrast to current corporate future visions which often concentrate on screen-based interactions. The six elements are the ‘Narrative Checkout’, the receipt, the ‘Storyteller’, the ‘Intuition Sensitive Shelf’, the ‘Product Location Finder’, and the ‘Shape-Shifting Building’. It is a store similar to a 1 Euro store, with a wide range of products and everything being sold at the same price.

Instead of a price tag, which is not needed because all products are sold at the same price, there is a device next to every product, with a button, a knob and a speaker. Pressing the button will result in the last story recorded about that specific product at the ‘Narrative Checkout’ being played back. Turning the knob allows to scroll through past stories told by different customers.

Design Process (Performance / Action Research):

Empty meat trays were labeled with labels seemingly selling intangible things such as happiness, sentimentality, peace, success, creativity, etc. They were designed to be part of a performance, to have something tangible to engage in a discussion with people about these intangible things and to research their purchasing motivations. The first iteration was to go to a supermarket and place these ‘products’ in the meat shelf. When people were looking at them, we walked up to them and engaged them in a discussion about which one they would choose and what it means to them. One of the most important insights was that the first reaction from people is always that you can’t buy, e.g. happiness. But when they start to think more about it, they start telling stories about things they have bought that indirectly brought them happiness, or something else intangible, or things they buy because they hope to achieve happiness though them.

We later set up a little ‘store’ on Colorado Boulevard, the main shopping street in Pasadena, where we used the same meat trays and listened to people’s stories behind their purchases. At the end I gave the participants a receipt of our conversation, documenting their choices and stories, as a reflection of their purchase. The idea of people indirectly trying to purchase intangible things, and the interesting, unexpected stories they told, later led to the development of the concept of ‘Narrative Shopping’.

The Narrative Checkout & Receipt

The checkout process is the most important process at the Narrative Shopping Store. Here, the selected products are paid for, and the checkout persuades the participant to tell the story behind his or her purchase and sort the purchase into a category according to the intent of purchase (to achieve happiness, to achieve creativity, etc.).
The data from these narratives gets fed into the arrangement of the store, and is printed on the receipt, as a receipt not only of a purchase, but also of a conversation and personal reflection.

Shape-shifting architecture

The shape-shifting architecture of the store consists of a row of size-changing rooms, connected through a central hallway. Each room contains products of a certain category (e.g. happiness, creativity, time), and the room’s size changes according to the data people feed into the system at the checkouts. When buying a product, people can specify which intangible things they wish to achieve through their purchase. Then, when for example more people buy products to achieve happiness, the happiness room enlarges. Different stores in different locations will form unique shapes, influenced by personal stories, demographics, etc., which makes the store a barometer of a social space and a form of community sensing.


© 2017