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High Street Mash Up

May 20, 2010

Jim’s Cafe, Chatsworth Road E5, uprooted and relocated to Spitalfields, next door to globe-straddling competitors Starbucks, who also appear to be opening a shop on Chatsworth road. Still a bit of a refurb to do there…
For Darren’s High Street Mash Up workshop last week we each brought in photos of London high streets divided into two broad areas – the more affluent areas frequented by tourists and lunching office workers, and the common local high street, home to Turkish and Bangladeshi mini supermarkets and wholesale handbag suppliers. The shops fronts, signage, and advertising in the more affluent areas is more considered – brand managed – with a restrained use of colour and discreet typography. The local high street on the other hand appears to have developed organically, without the benefit of an aesthetic strategy or the input of professional designers – visual clutter, haphazard use of type and colour, plastic signs and grubby shutters. We reached the consensus that from a designer’s point of view the local high streets are no only more visually interesting, but also more effectively convey the character of the area and its population. It’s an obvious point, but not untrue – the more affluent high streets have had much of their individuality stripped away by brand managers employed by anxious investors afraid to deviate from their timid market research findings.

Interestingly, Chatsworth Road falls into a third category of high street: the road has experienced so little consumer traffic over the last couple of decades that many of the shops (even some of those still trading) have retained the signs and frontages from the 60s and 70s*. Composed of real materials – wood and tile (none of the plastic laminate signage that prevails through the borough) – and in muted colours, these signs possess a quality that many shops in more upmarket areas aspire to – bespoke, vintage, unique.
*Note this surviving display of giant Wrigleys chewing gum packets in the window of A. E. Barrow, a long-since closed tobacconists on Chatsworth Road.

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