Designing the New Normal

Among the many ways students, teachers and practitioners of design approach their practice, one school of thought that consistently pops up is the idea of design not a only as way to create aesthetically pleasing functional objects, but also as a method to find solutions to problems, a method of facilitating the user’s interaction with their environment so that it feels complete and intuitive while being aesthetically pleasing.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is as big a problem in need of solutions as any we have faced in a generation. Beyond affecting the individual and limiting their movements, their daily actions and interactions, it also presents a challenge for businesses across the board. One of the challenges we have become very familiar with at Clout is the way it has affected the many designer-makers we have celebrated, worked with, and supported.

It was with this and other challenges in mind that Nando’s Design Program Creative Director, and founder of Studio Lee Lynch, Tracy Lee Lynch, started working on a series of screens and furniture accessories that would not only make social distancing a bit more intuitive, but also an enriching aesthetic experience.

Powder-coated table-blocker screen by Dokter and Misses for Clout
Examples of table-blocker screens by Naturalis, Pedersen and Lennard and The Urbanative, for Clout.

“If we are doing social distancing for the foreseeable future, even if it’s a year or so; when you have a big estate of restaurants like Nando’s does, how are you going to make the visitors to the restaurants feel secure? How are you going to make them feel like Nando’s cares enough to put things in place in order to protect people that have gone out of their way to come to the restaurants?” asks Lynch.

While take-outs and delivery services offer one kind of solution, the reality is that as lockdown regulations ease, more people will want to visit restaurants to sit down for the familiar social experience.

“I think people are still craving those kinds of experiences. So we’ve got to look at how we can make social distancing stand the test of time, and make sure that whatever we do reflects the Nando’s experience. We spend so much energy and resources on designing these beautiful bespoke spaces around the world, filled with Southern African art and design, so how can it be that stickers are the only solution we have to encourage social distancing?” she says.

Social distancing table-blocker screen by Pedersen and Lennard for Clout, showcasing Creative Block artworks by Spier Arts Trust.
Clamp-on social distancing screen by Dokter and Misses for Clout.

Over the past five years, together with Nando’s Property Director, Michael Spinks, and with the full support of Nando’s, Lynch and her team helped develop The Portal to Africa, an online marketplace that connects South African designer-makers to interior designers working on Nando’s restaurants around the globe. The atmosphere of uncertainty as a result of the pandemic, has also limited sales on The Portal, meaning that a lot of businesses that are dependent on the orders find themselves in a challenging situation.

“My commitment to our South African designers is always foremost in my mind’s eye when I’m looking at opportunities. So I saw the social distancing project as an opportunity for The Portal, and for Clout, our design programme, to start engaging with designers to find solutions.”

Studio Lee Lynch then started working on a series of social distancing design concepts, starting with a “table-blocker” screen to create distance when Nando’s customers are sharing a table, or to completely block off certain areas.

Left: Table-blocker screen by Naturalis for Clout, featuring pattern by Nando’s HYD 2018 finalist, Zinhle Sithebe, printed on timber. Right: Screen by Pedersen and Lennard for Clout, with opportunity to display artwork.

“To make it more interactive and to bring home the Nando’s experience, I created two opportunities: one to showcase our Hot Young Designers’ patterns,” she explains, referring to the patterns created by the 10 finalists for the 2018 Nando’s Hot Young Designer Talent Search competition. “This way, the young designers also get to earn a licensing fee for the use of their work. Secondly, we also showcase artwork created by artists who are part of the Spier Arts Creative Block project. So that at the same time as we are practising social distancing by creating a practical solution, we’re also supporting creativity and showcasing beauty,” explains Lynch.

Sanitiser station by Takk, for Clout.
Seat for none seat stopper by Studio Leelynch for Clout.
Bollards and social distancing signage (left and far right by Dokter and Misses, centre by Pedersen and Lennard, for Clout).

However, physical distancing goes beyond the table. Long before customers sit down at a restaurant table, there are many instances where they might find themselves not observing the necessary distancing.  Therefore, any design solution has to take a far more holistic look at the restaurant space and experience; from the moment customers walk in until they leave. From queuing and paying at the cashier, through to conscious and careful ways of using condiment stations.

Hence the full catalogue of items created together with South African designers such as Dokter and Misses, Pedersen and Lennard and The Urbanative, include a range of pieces from the table-blocker screens, to clearly marked bollards for the queues, to contact-free hand sanitizing units with foot pedals, through to seat-stoppers that clearly indicate which restaurant seats can’t be utilised.

Protective point of sale screen by Pedersen and Lennard for Clout.
A Nando’s casa with examples of social distancing screens and table-blockers.

For the foreseeable future, social distancing will be a part of our lives. It is a problem that will require a variety of solutions and innovative thinking. And while no single region of the world will have all the solutions, it is also a call-to-arms for designers to find solutions that go beyond single issues, and take context, local and global, into account.

The designs in this range will be available not only for some 1200 Nando’s restaurants all over the globe, but also for other restaurants who are interested. Over the next few months, they will bring South African ingenuity, creativity, and design thinking a bit closer to restaurants patrons around the world, as they keep the necessary distance from each other.

See the full catalogue here

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