Retail Design

By Bruce Brigham, FASID

Retail design is a somewhat narrow term to describe a very wide and intriguing practice area of interior design.

Retail design encompasses the design of specialty stores, medium and large footprint retail businesses, department stores, factory-outlet stores, discount retailing, retail malls and shopping centers, service businesses both large and small-virtually any commercial enterprise engaged in hands-on customer commerce. A big field indeed! (Today, even healthcare and corporate designers are using retail design principles to better "connect" to their customers and clients.)

The field of retail design continues to change on a daily basis, because retailing is a moving target of its own. One fundamental change looming on the very near horizon will be of special importance: the need to fully integrate all methods of selling-bricks-and-mortar retailing, catalog selling, contract sales, and e-commerce-into a completely unified and holistic program: one brand, one message, one complete and seamless, extraordinary experience.

Retail designers are not in the business of creating "pretty stores." While pretty environments are nice, pretty does not necessarily create sales-per-square-foot or a stronger brand. And these are the two, simple and fundamental goals of all retail clients. Design for such clients, then, is a strategic tool and not simply a cosmetic indulgence. Designers who successfully practice in this field must be strategic brand consultants and must truly understand how great retail designs are developed.

As customers, emotion drives virtually every type of retail purchase that we make. It does not matter whether we are buying jewelry, an automobile, a can of paint, a new watch, or a restaurant meal. We buy with our hearts, and then justify those purchases with our minds.

As customers and "experience guests" in the retail world, we look for environments that match the personal image we hold of ourselves. Our favorite places are simply mirrors that reflect our own personal "aspirations." They are environments and experiences that make us feel special, that make us feel extraordinary about ourselves. We buy to bring these feelings home with us, so that the emotions of these brands can linger in our lives. After all, we are not simply buying goods and services, we are buying complex clusters of intangible elements wrapped around those things, intangible emotions and values that make us feel special.

When this "emotional mission" can be clearly enunciated for a specific client, a specific customer base identified in terms of its lifestyle aspirations, and a set of product intangible values identified around which we can tell fascinating and compelling stories, then and only then can we develop a truly effective retail design.

This is the process employed to create compelling and memorable retail environments today, as we rapidly move into the era of the experience economy.

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