Google gets physical with first New York store

Google gets physical with first New York store

Google opens its first retail location in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood. We spoke to Ivy Ross, the company’s vice president of hardware design, UX and research, who served as creative director of the store, to find out more about Google’s move into physical retail

Google opened the doors to its first physical store, suitably located beneath its Manhattan headquarters in the Chelsea neighbourhood in New York City. Spanning a lively block of Ninth Avenue, the expansive retail space not only offers a holistic view of Google’s entire suite of consumer hardware, which ranges from its Pixel phones and Fitbit wearables to Nest Audio speakers, Stadia gaming consoles and Pixelbooks, it also provides a welcoming, yet in-depth snapshot of how all these products can work seamlessly together with Google’s other services.

‘You can learn about the products singularly online, but when you come to a physical space, one of the things you really want to understand, especially in a Google store, is that one plus one can equal four; what happens if I pair these things up?’ says Ivy Ross, the company’s vice president of hardware design, UX and research, and Wallpaper* Design Awards 2021 judge. ‘There are plenty of individual experiences, but we really thought long and hard about [bringing] offline and online together. People can come and just grab a box off the shelf and buy it, but what experience can we give them that they might not be able to understand well if you’re just shopping online.’

Google New York store: bringing experiences together

Fine-tuned using lessons learned from launching retail pop-ups since 2016, Google’s first store playfully brings together a range of experiences to appeal to a wide audience. 

‘Google is a great learning organisation, so we really experimented to learn what works and what doesn’t work,’ Ross continues. ‘We observed where people spent most of their time, and they wanted these different experiences. We kicked off with a brainstorming with my team and marketing, and then with the architect Suchi Reddy, we mapped out the baseline of must-haves, like a ‘here to help’ desk, and added how we could make it feel special and feel Google. We really wanted to make it a discovery and almost have an exploratorium-feel. The idea was to make people feel at home and relaxed, not overstimulated but also curious.’

Google store interiors

A display of interactive product-based Discovery Boxes, which allow visitors to better understand the inner workings of each product

As visitors enter the industrial glass-fronted space, they are met by an inviting, neutral interior constructed from tactile, natural materials. Sustainability is a key focus here, so much so that the space has been awarded a Leed Platinum certification. Some of the design details include wood veneer walls made from a responsibly sourced hickory, energy-efficient light fixtures and carbon neutral floor coverings by Interface that have been deployed throughout. Even the building processes and mechanical systems were put through rigorous assessment to reflect the company-wide commitment to sustainability. Cork, a sustainable and renewable material, has been incorporated into the shop’s furniture designed by Daniel Michalik, which creates the feel of an adaptable blank canvas that still exudes warmth and texture.

‘We specifically did that because we wanted it to be very neutral and anyone could project that it could be their space,’ Ross explains, while explaining the thinking behind the store’s so-called Sandboxes, where products are presented in real life scenarios. ‘We have a kitchen, living room and kids area that feature suggestions of furniture in the abstract. There are projections that simulate a day in the life of. You see the sun coming in through the window, there’s a knock on the door from someone dropping off a package and it prompts you on what to do in order to experience how the products go together.’

A detail of a Discovery Box featuring Nest’s hub and doorbell, viewed from the exterior storefront of Google’s retail space  in Chelsea

Around the space’s periphery, interactive product displays known as Discovery Boxes feature animated visuals that enable visitors to understand the inner workings of each offering. Ross says, ‘In these spaces, you can get the layers of attributes of the product. It’s everything from individual functions to how three products might work together.’

In addition to an entire Nest product gallery wall (showcasing all 35 products) and a gathering space for teaching and events, the store also boasts a 17 ft tall circular glass structure that houses an Imagination Space made up of custom interactive screens. Opening with an exhibit designed around Google Translate, visitors can experience real-time translation of their speech into 24 languages and hear the results being whispered back to them. 

‘There are some people who will immediately look for a salesperson and there are some people who will want to explore on their own. People have different learning styles and I wanted to make sure that you didn’t need to be assigned a salesperson to be able to start to play,’ Ross concludes. ‘It’s all about options and the good news is that all the things that people care about more since the pandemic, the store had embodied regardless. It’s the spirit in which we design the hardware. It’s human, it’s playful and it’s smart.’ §

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