Habitat, Conran and Creative Destruction

June 27, 2011

As Sir Terance Conran’s iconic ‘love child’ goes into administration, we reflect on the process of creative destruction

Habitat is a much-loved British institution. In the 1960s it pioneered a life-style revolution for a generation of home-makers, bringing a splash of coordinated colour into the design plans of a generation of young home-makers.

Design and Creativity

It serves as an example of the ideas of design theorist Margaret Bruce. Writing in the Routledge Companion to Creativity, she argues [p 40] that “design is the purposive application of creativity throughout the process of innovation.”

Professor Margaret Bruce

Margaret is Professor of Design Management and Marketing at Manchester Business School. Commenting on Habitat for LWD she noted

“I would put Habitat’s problems as being partly in the squeezed middle market not consuming high ticket items such as furniture. Low cost competitors like Ikea came in offering the same style. There are fewer first time buyers needing items for appartments. So Habitat failed to differentiate tself with an attractive proposition. In addition it may not be strong online which has high growth in the UK and its service needed to compete better than it has”

The decline of Habitat

The BBC reported the decline of Habitat

All but three UK Habitat stores are being put into administration in a deal to sell the indebted furniture chain. Home Retail Group, owner of Argos and Homebase, will buy the Habitat brand and three central London stores for £24.5m in cash. Habitat, which was set up in 1964 by designer Sir Terence Conran, has been owned by the private equity firm Hilco since it bought the heavily-indebted retailer from Ikea-affiliate Ikano in 2009.

“Of course I’m sad that my love child, Habitat, appears to be dying, but I am more interested in the future of my own business and design projects – that is my focus,” said Sir Terence.

You can see a video of the story here

Terence Conran

Sir Terence Conran has been one of the most influential British designers since the 1960s. His restless creativity has been implemented in life-style ideas. But unlike some entrepreneurs, Conran moved on. His remark about Habitat as his “love child” seems also to capture the capacity of the creative individual to be both involved and detached. The proud father and the rational economic entrepreneur. It is captured in the famous quote from Graham Green that “there is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.”

Creative Destruction

The demise of Habitat also demonstrated how creative change brings about destruction of the old and at the same time carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. Habitat was such a powerful idea that its niche position was eventually invaded by slicker and more modern alternatives such as Ikea.

Acknowledgement

Image is of the Habitat store in Cheltenham from skip to the end.com