Retail Design Student Awards past entrants: Zoe Baker

There was a neat symmetry to Zoe Baker nailing the Ted Baker brief in the first year of the Retail Design World Student Awards. Her playful, Monopoly-inspired response to the UnexpecTED theme devised by Craig Smith of Ted Baker with Fitch creative head Tim Greenhalgh, won top prize, prompting quips about her shared surname with the quirky fashion retailer.

That was in 2015 and Baker was in her final year, studying interiors at Kingston University. Her prize – an internship in Ted Baker’s studio near London’s Kings Cross – set her up for a career that has so far veered successfully towards retail design.

But though she wanted to be an interior designer from a young age, watching TV series like Changing Rooms and the like, Baker hadn’t taken it up from school. Instead, she gained a diploma in fine art at Arts University Bournemouth and found herself working as a runner for TV production companies.

“I had a bread-and-butter job, but also did freelance work when I could,” she says. That freelance was notably on visual merchandising projects for a couple of high-street stores such as Debenhams. “But I felt my progression into interiors was hindered by not having a degree,” she says. “I decided to go back to university.”

Baker chose Kingston “because it had the most connections with industry”, she says. The Retail Design World competition was part of that connection.

“The competition was brilliant because it exposed us to people in industry,” Baker says. “It meant conversations [with potential employers] started before I left university. As students, we got excited about it because though it wasn’t a real project, it meant our work was seen by people outside the college.”

Winning the award built her confidence in her design ability and reaffirmed her preference for retail, she adds. Her prize included an internship at Ted Baker.

During her internship, Baker designed Ted’s Pawnshop – a fun exercise for a space on London’s King Street.  “I played with the idea of a king prawn and came up with a cross between an aquarium and a pawnshop.  As with the Monopoly project – [with its mini pop-up stores appearing across the West End in simple structures resembling red and green Monopoly pieces] – I definitely wanted to bring in the play aspect.”

Baker reckons her playfulness helped her get her first job after college, with retail consultancy Campaign. Co-founder Philip Handford enjoys playful design, she says.  “Campaign was my first choice,” she adds. “I’d interviewed them for my dissertation on the future of retail so the relationship started there.”

The Campaign job proved short-lived though. The consultancy moved from London to Cornwall in 2017, two years after Baker joined as a designer. “It was sad at the time,” she says. “I was inspired by what they had done and we all believed in the projects.” But she quickly found her feet, moving to her current job at Universal Design Studio. “I was introduced to them through my course and loved their work,” she says.

Zoe Baker
Zoe Baker

“I’m extremely happy at Universal,” she says, highlighting the rigour and craftsmanship in projects such as London’s original Stella McCartney store. “They create timeless design.”

Baker relishes working alongside digital giant AKQA, which took over Universal last summer. “Digital and retail design go hand in hand these days,” she says.

She sees her future as a director though – “I’m stronger as a concept designer,” she says. She’d also love to work overseas, “because every place, every city has its own way of doing things”. Universal works with overseas clients and AKQA is global so she may get her wish before too long.