Feng Shao

There’s a common insight that commercial businesses, especially retail chains, are often neglected when it comes to contemporary designs. Perhaps due to the nature and scale of these enterprises, owners and investors do not devote much time and attention to branding—both graphically and architecturally. However, the target consumers in this age of social media and digital technology had shifted this view; they have created a demand for constant innovation regarding design outlooks, critical or not. This new pressure is a force that drives design, on many different scales, to accommodate the customers’ desires of presenting.

This question of presentation and/or representation becomes DAS Lab’s subject to explore when designing HEYTEA stores. HEYTEA is a Chinese tea shop chain that strongly relies on social media in order to promote their products, with millennials as the main customer demographic. Because of this marketing strategy, the chain has a heavy focus on the output images that communicate with media users; therefore, it has conducted many collaborative projects with different design studios across China to experiment and explore methods of presenting. One recent collaboration is with DAS Lab for their newest store in Hongqiao Xintiandi, Shanghai.

DAS Lab, led by Li Jingze of DAS Design, is an experimental design studio also based in China. With the philosophy of erasing the boundaries amongst architecture, space, and human, the studio wants a certain blurriness to give each and all of those factors a freedom of interpretation; much like the inner design for HEYTEA itself. As a reciprocal response to the current users’ perspective, the designers completely twist the common image of tea shops. The space is constructed of two main materials: stainless steel and red mortar.

The surprising combination creates a dramatic contrast of organic and manmade, tradition and futurism. The mortar is a derivation of rammed earth, which is a vernacular material used in China, while the glossiness of stainless steel cuts through monolithic red volumes to insert a sense of modernity. The consistency of colours and material use extends the narrow space, elongates features like cushioned benches and metal lines across the store. Using white lights to amplify the contemporary essence of the space, instances where red mortar is being used to create an intensified robustness.

Spatial cleanliness is one of the achievements of the design. Through this, the tea shop’s target users are able to use this presentation as a platform for image-making, while (un)consciously turning the process into marketing tools for the shop itself. However, arguably, presentation and outlook are only the base factors to create a successful business. The remaining percentage relies on the products’ qualities. This is why DAS Lab had cleverly edited the design to be as simple as possible while maintaining its innovativeness through material usage. The space is transformed into an experiential medium with a neutrality that highlights other essential factors within the shop.

Big concept, simple execution, grand effect.

In the shop