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The Design Partnership: Callie Van Der Merwe & Francois Van Der Merwe

An innovative team brings together branding, design and architecture

Juliet Pitman

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Callie Van Der Merwe & Francois Van Der Merwe of The Design Partnership

The ability to adapt to a changing environment is a key success factor for any business but there are those that do more than simply adapt. Working at the cutting edge of their industry, they are continually moving forward and opening up new frontiers. Instead of merely adapting to change, they bring it about. These are the true thought-leaders and visionaries.

In the complex, fast-paced and ever-changing world of design, keeping up is difficult enough. Setting trends is an ability found in an exclusive few and it is to this elite group that The Design Partnership belongs. Co-founded by architects Callie van der Merwe  and Francois van der Merwe, the business has broken new ground in forging a cohesive new discipline that combines architecture, design and branding.

Callie explains the company’s evolution:“Francois and I both studied architecture but as time marched on, retail commissions seemed to roll in at an ever-increasing pace. Retail and Hospitality design chose us. It is almost as if we had no say in the matter.”The partners launched The Design Partnership Retail & Hospitality division,anticipating and exploiting synergies between retail and architectural design.

“The boundaries between the design disciplines were purposefully eroded to encourage more interaction and yielded great results,” continues Callie, adding that one of the most defining trends in the world of design today is that of blurring the lines between design disciplines.

The lines between architecture and interior design, graphic and product design, even fashion and food design, are less clear than they have ever been in the past.Understanding the interaction between the disciplines, particularly in the retail and foodie markets where fashion trends dictate what’s vogue, The Design Partnership has excelled at delivering innovative retail and hospitality projects, among them Doppio Zero, Mugg &Bean and Carducci.

The more entrenched the company became in the retail design space, the more they recognised the need to tie the location, interior and exterior design in with the brand. Callie explains: “It dawned on us that because each business is developed around a very specific target audience we should logically communicate a very clear single message to this audience.”

The launch of the Brandertising  Division followed and with it, a new concept in design and branding. John Gordon,divisional director, explains, “If the brand is not to be diluted, you need to strap everything relating to it in with one belt. That’s what brandertising does.”

He adds that everything about a retail or hospitality space should follow on from the brand.

The process he and his team follow starts with the essence of the brand and where it would like to be positioned in the market. As Callie outlines: “A project generally begins with a brainstorming session about a current market offering, its competitors, where it is hoping to penetrate the market and where it would like to position itself in that market.”

The team then comes up with a single-minded message – a ‘soundbite’ –that reflects the essence of the brand. “The soundbite is the thing that will help a brand to penetrate the market, so that’s where you need to start.

It’s the thing that draws people to a place. When they get there, the interior and the furniture and the location will have an impact and play an important role in reflecting the brand, but the soundbite is what gets them there in the first place,” he elaborates.

One of their more recent projects is FSH, a seafood restaurant in Rosebank, Johannesburg. John explains how The Design Partnership developed its soundbite: “Major competitors in the same market already owned words such as ‘ocean’ so we had to come up with a soundbite that would get as close as possible to the restaurant’s core offering.

We couldn’t use a generic word like ‘fish’ so instead we used FSH – when people read it they automatically fill in the ‘i’. It gives them ownership of that word in that market.”Brandertising projects such as this one have taken The Design Partnership’s business to a new level.

This is a team that understands that to be a leader in business is not about carving a niche for oneself in an existing cliff face; it’s about discovering a new mountain and summiting it before anyone else realises it’s even there.

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