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Guest Blog – Crêpes, Couches & Craft

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I was in the Market Square the other day, or the Nottingham Riviera as it’s currently known, and for once had a few moments to take in the surroundings. I was taken by how many foreign tourists were there, and after being in Nottingham for such a long time, it did make me consider what the place means to me and what hidden gems there are beyond the big shopping centres and chain stores.

From the utterly fascinating record and book shops on Mansfield Road, to the wonderful independent restaurants in town, what makes a place stand out is not only the product, the outcome, but the service and the sense of value.

As a creative, I hope what I do is well crafted and appreciated, but as a business, design isn’t art. It’s a service as much as a product, and working with the client, the process is as important as the outcome. You can go online and order a logo for as little as $25 nowadays, but my clients value the relationship, the process, and ultimately the stronger product.

An expensive meal, with wonderful ingredients and faultless preparation can be ruined by location or service. I bet a cheap Wetherspoon’s burger tastes better when served with a smile. We often judge value based on more than just product.

I had a fascinating talk with a fellow designer who introduced me to the concept of hygiene factors, qualities that should be a given, not sold as positives. Hospitals ought to be clean and supermarkets ought to be good value. The author and marketer Seth Godin talks of telling stories, selling journeys. If your competitor is cheap, go cheaper, but promote your better customer service.

Believing in what you do is key to not only providing a great product but also great service, and the process, the journey, provides the greatest sense of value to your customers.

One of my favourite shops in Nottingham is Danish Homestore, on Derby Road. It’s an enormous shop, maze-like, and crammed full of the most amazing original Danish furniture and homeware. Now 20 years old, and going strong, its success is down to understanding the market, providing a fantastic service, and offering a quality product. It also, crucially, recognises the importance of craft and journey. Last time I went, and bought myself a great little vintage armchair, I was shown around the workshop where they restore all their pieces. I love my new chair, full of character, a product of true craft, an investment, and ultimately better for the soul than Ikea.

Another favourite of mine, a true hidden gem, is a small cafe, really hidden away in West End Arcade, just off Market Square. Bringing a little vintage French charm to town, Aubrey’s Traditional Creperie is a work of art. The attention to detail, to the store, inside and out, the ingredients, the menu, the atmosphere, the service — all spot on. Not only are the galettes and crêpes ridiculously tasty, but you can lose yourself for a while, you genuinely buy into a story, an experience, even just for a few minutes.

Although the tourists looked happy enough, and the locals, in that rare sun, certainly were, I can’t help thinking the Market Square is nothing more than a theme park, it’s not got a story to share, it’s not celebrating a craft. I read a fantastic quote recently, by a product designer, that sums up for me how important process and value is alongside quality:

Design of ‘things’ is a lost cause. Product is a mere destination. Its the journey that people fall in love with. Design the journey. Lloyd Pennington

Being good isn’t enough anymore, that’s a given, you have go that extra mile. Or 1.6 kilometres if you’re in Aubrey’s.

Got some hidden gems of your own to share? Please do.

Find me on Twitter at @marcusbatey.