Hannah Tattersall talks to a creative entrepreneur who’s crossed boundaries, and is encouraging businesses to push boundaries in their own store design.
Starting a design company from scratch would be challenge enough. But for Betül Madakbas, creative director of design and branding company, Baseline, one of the initial challenges she faced was how to communicate in English with potential clients.
Dutch-born Madakbas moved to Melbourne from Holland six years ago, with the attitude: “If I’m going to take the challenge, I may as well take the full challenge and go overseas.”
Although she came from a design and marketing background, Madakbas admits she knew nothing about the Australian market and, on top of that, her English was “pretty shocking!” It’s one thing to be able to speak basic English, but getting a handle on Australia’s unique jargon proved tough, on top of trying to prove herself in the market. “I had nothing to show, having had no jobs in Australia,” she says.
But passion and commitment are core ingredients for success, and for a woman who didn’t have an office to begin with, or know the difference between Tullamarine and St Kilda, it was quite a feat setting up a network of designers and suppliers in a year. “For a year I worked with freelancers, and after one year got my first big client. It was a bit of a struggle but I loved every minute of it.”
Creating a business independently meant that from the outset Madakbas had to do everything pretty much on her own. “I was involved in everything from designing to cleaning the toilets, to accounting and making tea. It’s the nature of small business.” And with only six people currently employed by Baseline, Madakbas maintains not much has changed. “We are a nice little team and I don’t think I’d want to grow a lot bigger at the moment. You can give a personal service to people and it means we can spend a lot of time on concepts and things like that.”
Designing Retail Space
When printing company Colour Graphic, specialists in large format printing such as outdoor media, approached Baseline and asked them to create a campaign to coincide with a new store location, the outcome was a designer’s wonderland. “They came to us because they had seen our work. They did all the printing for our clients. The director of their company came to me and said they were going to move to this new building and wanted to have this store with a bit of impact. And being in large format printing, how could we distinguish them from anyone else.
“I thought wouldn’t it be great if you walked in and everything is distorted, all the walls look like they are coming to you, and there’s print everywhere so you don’t even know where to look. And you look around and you almost get lost in the space.” From there, the Alice in Wonderland showroom was born—a project showing how important design can be in a retail space. “You enter this room of Alice in Wonderland and you’ve got the playing cards flying around, you’ve got the big teapot somewhere, out of the Mad Hatter’s tea party,” Madakbas says excitedly.
The project led to a number of accolades for Baseline including the coveted Silver Melbourne Advertising and Design Club Award, and first prize in the retail design category at the IDEA Awards 2005. “To get an award like that is very meaningful because it means that the industry acknowledges that it is acceptable to push boundaries,” Madakbas explains. “It’s good to know that the industry recognises this and supports it.”
She knows very well the importance of design in a retail space. With so much choice on the market these days and little variation in quality between products, it is often the design that will help distinguish one product from the next for consumers. A good design can even influence the consumer’s decision to purchase one product over another. “Even if you sell the same product, if you sell it in a different environment it gives people another experience,” Madakbas explains. “If your product and brand allow you to be different then I think it is definitely a good idea to be different. I mean, how else are you going to catch attention in an overcrowded market?”
When it comes to design Baseline encourages retailers to take a leap out of their comfort zone. Often injecting a portion of shock value into acampaign sets one product or service apart from the next. “Shock value doesn’t necessarily have to be nasty. Shock value can be fantastic. I totally believe in pushing the boundaries,” says Madakbas.
But, she points out, going for the outrageous campaign option will not suit everyone. “We give the client options. If they really want to stand out, option A could suit, if they only want to stand out a little bit because they don’t want to go too crazy, then option B. Or if they want to go really mainstream then option C would suit.
“We don’t do different stuff for the sake of it, we do it because we think it works. And it’s all in the ideas these days.”
Baseline’s clientele varies from the local kebab shop to larger franchise chains, but they don’t work solely on retail-based campaigns. The company works with many corporate clients to create brochures and documents, and also undertake digital printing and web-based projects, but regardless of the type of design work being created, Madakbas maintains the aim is always the same. “What we like to try to create are environments that have a lot of impact. Whether it’s a for store environment or showroom or reception area of a corporate [office], it doesn’t really matter,” she explains. “We just want to create an experience and attach that experience to an environment.”
So far, the Baseline experience has been an interesting and successful one. But challenges are endemic to any business. “It’s been a great learning curve,” says Madakbas. “You create these ideas, put a lot of time into creating these ideas that you believe are good and it’s not always easy to actually convince the client. But the challenge is to create something that has the right effect for them.”
Looking ahead, Madakbas hopes to preserve the close-knit work environment that has so far proved successful at Baseline. “I want to keep personalising our services and put a lot of effort into working with the client.”
She has come a long way since landing in Melbourne six years ago, and is starting to see the rewards. “There’s nothing better for me than when the client comes back after a year and says: that campaign had so much effect, my sales increased this much, or my brand awareness increased this much, and that is what my aim is most,” she says. “Delivering creative work and good ideas, to really make a difference for a client, is a fantastic challenge. I love it.” If the positive feedback is anything to go by, the communication barrier seems well and truly behind her.