The ask: Revive a dying retail brand.

Situation: As the largest physical book retailer, Barnes & Noble is known for its enormous stores and endless selection of books. Over time it has struggled to compete with online retailers, like Amazon, who can do what they do at a lower price and higher convenience. When it comes to technology they have failed to innovate quickly enough, reflected in their -2% profit margin and shrinking retail foot traffic.

Barnes & Noble is the only bookstore left, defining a dying bookstore category

Barnes & Noble is the only bookstore left, owning a dying bookstore category.

Cultural analysis: A Decline in Reading

It’s no secret that people read fewer books nowadays. Take a look at the facts:

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Reading is directly related to imagination.

Reading is important because it broadens our imagination by stimulating the right side of our brain. It opens our minds to new possibilities and new ideas helping us experience and analyze the world through others’ lives.

And that's when we realized there was a much larger problem: The Imagination Crisis

We live in a world that no longer fosters creative or critical thinking. Today we see kids preferring video games to playing outdoors. Before sleeping, adults choose to scroll through their phones rather than picking up a book to read. With an abundance of standardized testing, even school systems are fueling a society that thinks black or white.

If you can’t imagine, you don’t have a mind of your own. You can’t think beyond the information fed to you. You can’t think of new ideas, new possibilities, new worlds beyond your own.

Imagination is important across all ages:

  • It helps children to solidify their understanding of the world and set events to memory.
  • Lack of imagination in adults is linked to declining memory.
  • Imagination is critical to successful cognitive skills.
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Brand opportunity: Imagination is like a muscle, the more one nurtures it, the larger it becomes.

Barnes & Noble could leverage this by showing that it’s more than a bookstore, it’s an integral part of the community, a place for nurturing one’s imagination.

Brand purpose: Nurture an endless imagination.

Target archetypes: 

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Insight: Books are the medium; stories are the substance. Stories come in many forms: ranging from conversations between friends to music and podcasts. It’s these stories that take you on new adventures, uncovering new truths, seeing different perspectives by transporting you to a world that's different from yours.

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In the age of this imagination crisis, Barnes & Noble needs to recognize the need to live beyond books and be a leading force in bringing storytelling to life.

Strategy: Spark imagination through stories.


Brand Manifesto

Visual Identity:

Old vs. New

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Our new logo is modern, clean and sophisticated. 

Our logo also lives in an adaptable form transitioning from one story to the next, as a representation of bringing the different kinds of stories to life.

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Reimagined Retail Space

The current Barnes & Noble stores feel stuffy and overwhelming as they overflow with books in every nook and cranny.

By reimagining the stores we designed an in-store experience that looks and feels warmer and more inviting, with a lot of natural light and greenery. An open, inspiring environment that fuels people's imagination and encourages the exchange of ideas and conversations. It entails interactive sections bringing storytelling to life. 

A magnetic poetry board with jumbled up words and interactive displays to draw and colour on give a unique approach to storytelling. They stretch people's imagination muscle and foster creativity in a fun manner.

While logging on to the wi-fi in stores, people would be redirected to a splash page where they can share their own story with us. The stories generated would collectively pop-up in real time on an interactive wall, generating curiosity among people.

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To get people's attention while strolling on the streets or on their way to work, we shared different types of bite-sized stories on sidewalks in major cities and also in subways.


Taking advantage of Twitter's short-form content format, we created fascinating short stories as tweets to keep our audience engaged.

Employee Shirts

We want the employees to take a front seat role in the storytelling experience and make stories a means by which they can interact with customers around them. They would be sporting these shirts with their personal stories on them. 

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Free Library

We built a little free library on street corners where people can leave an old book and take a new one. This gives more people access to books beyond our bookstores and also encourages them to make storytelling a shared experience within their community.

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Restructured Membership

Barnes & Noble's current membership structure is restricted, one-dimensional and lacks a digital component. It entails a $25 membership fee and revolves mainly around in-store discounts. Our new three-tiered model has less expensive options, making membership more accessible. It includes offerings our audiences are interested in, that go beyond discounts.

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Repurposed App

The current app provides little value beyond buying products and searching books.

We want to repurpose the app by integrating it with the membership program to make it easier for members to track their benefits and points earned depending on the tier they fall into. It allows them to become a part of the larger community of Barnes & Noble members. 

Team: Carly Harrison (Strategist), Morgan Garber (Creative Brand Manager), Thea Ryan (Copywriter), Casey Phillips (Art Director), Ted Gregson (Art Director), Naomi Bradley-Jean (Experience Designer)

Sachee Malhotra