Debenhams storefront displays and web design

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I found out about Debenhams window display on Oxford Street from a friend who was fascinated by them. Once I had got over the original oohs and aarghs I was curious to find out how they had done it.

When I was a child, shop windows with animatronic displays were custom-made and fragile like a wedding cake. Their skillful construction often detracted from their entertaining nature.

Debenhams animatronic window display

The Debenham’s window display was a product of the 21st century. In sharp contrast to the wedding cake approach, this show was based on cheaply made common pieces. There is:

  • Three types of cheap stuffed animal characters: owls, deer and foxes (which I presume Debenhams had made en mass for use in their store network
  • A set of standardised electric motors
  • Fishing line and the plastic tags used to secure pricing information to clothes labels

Everything else relied on the sense of theatre of the window dresser. The amount of slack in a line connected to the electric motor arm governed the ‘organic feel’ of the movement and the line was secured with the tags. One fox lay in the snow and the extremely slack line attached to his belly gave the appearance of breathing. It was impressive the way commoditised really simple dumb technology produced such ‘organic behaviour’ from the characters in way that would have otherwise cost a fortune in animatronic smarts.

I thought of it as kind of a real-world metaphor for modern web services and social media: lots of simple commoditised components being used to make something that is much more than the sum of their parts.