10 things I learned building the Know Sugar Shop

The Know Sugar Shop prototype was an interactive retail space set up in August 2014 in the Wellgate Shopping Centre in Dundee. The purpose was to test our idea of a Know Sugar Shop and get feedback for three product ideas. Visitors explored their sugar consumption, took the ‘Know Sugar Challenge’, underwent a health check and engaged with a sample kitchen space, taking home healthy ‘grab bags’ full of ingredients to make low sugar meals. There was also a Now I Know Sugar, my pledge is chalkboard upon leaving the shop, which encouraged visitors to focus on their future relationship with sugar. We made a video of the prototype…

Know Sugar from Snook on Vimeo.

I’ve had a good few months to reflect on this and I’ve been working in the background to wrap up our initial funding bid and figure out what happens next. Building and delivering this pop up was actually one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, seriously, it was incredible for so many reasons and I really learned a lot.

Here goes…

1. Be clear about why

This shop was the final phase of a year long design process. Know Sugar is a movement made up of shops, products and services. We had to test a) the appetite for the concept itself b) gather feedback on our specific product and service ideas c) gather data to prove the need for Know Sugar and the potential impact it could have. This was not a trial, we weren’t selling anything, it was a proof of concept.

2. Enthusiasm attracts Enthusiasm

The overarching feedback we got from from everyone involved the shop, was that of genuine enthusiasm. We all really believe in the idea, and we really care about what Know Sugar is trying to tackle, you can’t buy that – never overestimate the power of genuine enthusiasm.

3. Plan, Plan, Plan

Deep down we all expected stress, drama, something to go wrong, that’s how it goes right? Well, not this time, the core delivery team and I planned it within an inch of it’s life – and I’m proud to say everyone knew what was happening when and where, it flowed beautifully. It was physically stressful in that our bodies and minds were tired, but everything went to plan.

4. Nothing beats bringing form to invisible things

This idea has been floating in several heads for months, the day we started to sketch, make models and bring things to life was a very important one. ‘Physicating’ is king.

5. A pop up shop is a shit tonne of work (and expensive)

Anyone who has ever taken over a physical shop space will know this; lighting, wifi, opening times, air conditioning, wall fittings, floor surfaces, permissions, copy writing, printing, building, wire framing, loading vans, unloading vans, scaffolding, ladders, rubbish, and ceiling tiles all add to the work load. We shouldn’t underestimate the number of man hours (and different skill sets) involved across prep’, build, deliver, and debrief. All of the above costs more than anyone will estimate it does.


6. Data matters

We had a really clear plan of what we were capturing and why. At the end of each day we regrouped and tweaked this accordingly. We used clickers to count the people entering and leaving; each volunteer had a different questionnaire tailored to their specific element of the experience; time was scheduled to gather all this data and then make sense of it; guidelines for photography and social media were set up before hand – I wish we’d had more time to play with the data afterwards.

7. People are wonderful

I still can’t get over the sense of community we created in such a short space of time, over 17 volunteers gave up their weekend to help make this happen. I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you! Each of them came for different reasons and they all took their roles and responsibilities seriously.

Early on in the process I realised I needed support on the physical build of the space and the products themselves. I brought in Akiko; an architect, and Nicky; a product designer and maker, we worked together with Alex to design everything.  I’ll be honest when I first saw that empty space I was shit scared, we had so little time and so little money. Alex, Nicky and Akiko and I pulled out all the stops to deliver and they were militant optimists throughout the whole process.




Alex and I driving up to Dundee from Glasgow on the big day…


Akiko and Nicky driving up to Dundee from Edinburgh on the big day


Akiko.  I’m so proud to call Akiko Kobayashi my friend. I’ve known her for a few years now but I’d never seen her in ‘architect mode’ before – boy is she talented, and I now see the skill set of an architect from a new perspective. This would not have been possible without her skills and abilities in working with the built environment.


Nicky. Nicky Hume can only be described as a legend. It doesn’t matter what you throw at her, she delivers, and she drives a massive van in a spectacular fashion. Nicky was our maker, she brought beautiful and functional form to my paper prototypes – any product design firm out there would be lucky to have her.


Alex. Alex Clarke is my production wing woman, we now communicate without speech, all kinds of brilliance. Alex and I spent many late nights together and every single physical and digital graphic, icon, and product was down to the talent and hard work of Alex.

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Mike, Louise, Hazel, Mike Press, Louise Valentine, and Hazel White; thank you for giving our team a place to lay our heads and keep us fed and watered. I’m so proud to be a DJCAD graduate, and your actions say so much about the genuine relationship you have with your students – I’m lucky to call you my teachers and my friends, thank you.


Gillian. Gillian Easson is a woman who is driving change in Dundee in remarkable, subtle, and impactful ways, she threw herself into this, bringing endless energy and belief in our idea!

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Nicola. We’d never met before, but Nicola Gilray dived straight in, she brought some Dolly Parton music to the shop, amazing! Great energy and incomparable people skills.


Hans. Quietly brilliant with the patience of a saint. Hans Tuteja spent hours studying how people were reacting to our window displays, and helping us understand what worked and what didn’t work.

Taylor and Andrew are a pair to be reckoned with. Both are in second year at the art school and volunteered themselves for the most complicated aspect of the whole shop experience – the Know Sugar scale. They were absolutely brilliant and are both very natural facilitators – I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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Chloe. Chloe travelled all the way from London to work with us, amazing! As a designer and a nutritionist, Chloe was a joy to have around and spent a lot of time talking through our idea of The Open Kitchen with people – an idea her mum toyed with a few years ago! It makes me really proud that the Know Sugar experience influenced Chloe’s decision to come and study on my programme at Hyper Island :)


Charlotte. Charlotte is wild, her imagination is off the scale and she dived into our kids corner, playing with giant sugar cubes and helping young kids understand the dangers of sugar. She also threw in a few cheeky sugar performances – gold dust.



Sarah. Sarah supported me to keep this project thriving whilst we were both running our business. She stepped in when I was out of the country to lead the initial phase of design research. This provided us with a solid foundation of insights to build upon. At times this project was a big stretch on our resources and to say it wasn’t good for our cash flow is an understatement. I couldn’t have done it without Sarah’s support to make it work for our team and our business.


Lucy. I’m proud to call Lucy my friend. Lucy’s such a fantastic listener and guided entire families through our digital feedback form, to capture their ideas. Her scientific lens to the process added value in capturing the data of the day.


Professor Annie Anderson. As a Professor in Public Health Annie was a great resource throughout the whole process, she educated our whole team on many of the dos and don’ts of sugar, and the myths that are out there. She spent time having one to one coaching sessions with visitors who wanted some time with a Know Sugar expert. Her knowledge and experience gave our idea depth and evidence, her support inspired all of us.


Chris. Well she’s my mum, she’s awesome. My mum has a superpower, the power of making human beings feel safe, and to come and get involved in Snook’s crazy ideas, she definitely delivered over this weekend.

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Ewan. Ewan has been part of this project since the beginning, I want to be like Ewan when I grow up, enough said. I’ve learned a lot from working beside him during this process and his ability to make the numbers add up, and make sense, has me in awe.


Andy. Andy has been part of this project since the beginning and as someone who has lived through the journey of being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes he has been forced to get to know sugar. Andy’s our extreme user, his story and passion really helped our visitors understand the seriousness of what we are dealing with.


Eilidh. Eilidh has been part of this project since the beginning too. As someone who suffers from various conditions that make food shopping a tough challenge, she has contributed so much value to how our ideas have developed. Although circumstances prevented her being there as much as she’d have liked to during the days of the shop, when Eilidh arrived she got stuck right in immediately and had some really informative in-depth conversations with visitors.


Jenny. Jenny Marra is the Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament for North East Scotland, Shadow Minister for Health, Well-being and Sport. Her support helped us rally a crowd, and some press. It was fantastic to have someone like Jenny there to show the public she believed in the potential of our idea.


Amit. We’d never met before but Amit Garg has such a powerful story to tell, about his mums battle with sugar, and it was great to watch him use his story in such an engaging way.


Kathryn. A talented photographer who creates beautiful imagery absolutely effortlessly. I made a new friend in Kathryn over these couple of days and it’s been brilliant watching her journey since then. If you ever need a photographer you know who to call.


Michael. Michael is part of the Design in Action team who funded this project. He is an excellent designer and he asks the questions no one else thinks to ask. It was a pleasure to see him in action with his academic hat on, and I wish him every success in his PhD. Oh, and he has immaculate handwriting.


Brian and Dawn. Another pair to be reckoned with. The Design in Action duo pounded the streets telling local shoppers about the shop and taking #knowsugarselfies. Brian pulled out all the stops to help me get all the equipment we needed for this weekend. We absolutely could not have done it without them.

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Dale. The boy who lived inside the giant fluffy heart, he made everyone laugh and was a brilliant heart!


Barry. Barry provided us with graphic design support when we were stretched to our limits – over the wonders of the internet he made the materials we needed to start advertising the shop! Amazing support.


John. The man in charge of the shopping centre who looked after us and saw the value in what we were doing. John invited us to keep our window displays up so we can hopefully return before October. Thanks for believing in us John.

8. Design is the difference

The relationship our country has with sugar is a problem our government and national health service are grappling with. Many experts from the public sector have shared their positive impressions on what we created and are keen for us to share how we did what we did. The difference in how we approached this problem was design. We co-designed the solutions from the outset and crafted the whole experience – from prototyping to business modelling – using service design methods and an over arching approach of human centered design. We know for this concept to scale we have to work closely with all stakeholders and we are continuing to talk to organisations like Diabetes UK and Action Against Salt to figure out how to make this happen.

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9. Finding the true value

The big learning we took away from this prototype was the value of our idea. And most importantly, what aspect of the idea was the most valuable. We prototyped four product and service ideas as well as the digital element. We learned the digital element is the weakest and of the least value to our target customer. Over 85% of our visitors weren’t active online and very few even had an email address they checked regularly. We learned the ‘shop’ aspect is the most valuable and has the most potential. People engaged and we collected evidence that their experience in the shop, albeit limited, had an impact on how they think about the sugar they consume.

10. People make ideas happen

Put your ideas out into the world. To quote Seth Godin:

“Ideas in secret die. They need light and air or they starve to death.”

I’ll end from a quote from Mike Press… and here is a Storify of the day.

” This event was a great demonstration of how well considered and executed service design can engage with people, build their awareness over a health issue and challenge behaviours. The design values were well evident, the tools very well designed and the whole concept well developed. However, without volunteers who were confident, clear and adaptable, the project would never have succeeded. These are my photos of these great individuals all doing a very effective job. Well done to the whole team. “

This project has attracted interest from several private investors and I’m on the hunt to find the person who will take Know Sugar to the next level. If you are interested in getting involved drop me a line.