The reason why retail design matters.

Alex Forsyth

Creative Lead

Not everyone has heard of retail design, and it’s certainly a misunderstood field. So, let’s delve a little into why it matters. After all, we live through it all the time, whether we realise it or not.

You can view retail design from two perspectives; through brands, pushing to achieve their targets and wider business goals, and through consumers, looking to fulfil a need or want in their life with the full marketplace in front of them. Let’s take a look at brands first.

The brand’s perspective.

Meeting with clients and discussing a project, we see a recurring theme at the start of each project. We sit in a meeting room, or a bar, or a coffee house and we have a brief presented to us, outlining a set of goals, a vision, the restrictive parameters by which we need to work and a desired outcome. Sometimes these are clear and well thought through, more often they’re not.

We were reminded recently, whilst watching Blair Enns deliver a keynote speech, that our role as a retail design business is to diagnose the issue at hand, and refrain from idly working through a project with a self-prescribed problem. It’s really important to step back and seek the larger perspective – Resulting in drawing up a new brief with the client and aligning more closely to the brand as a whole. A more efficient brief with a more effective outcome.

This is a key learning to understand the true value of retail design from a client’s perspective. All brands will have goals, targets or a vision, but they all need to be tested and talked about to ensure that everyone’s energy (and money) is being pushed in the right direction, generating the desired results.

When a brief has been written between the brand and the retail design business, then the working relationship is clearer, and all parties can more confidently go about their respective work. In short you will have worked out what you are doing, and how you are going to do it, but there’s still one ingredient missing, and that’s “why?”. That’s where looking from the consumer’s perspective comes into play.

The consumer’s perspective.

When we visit retail environments as consumers, we can be in a number of mind-sets. We might be purchasing with real purpose, looking for a very specific item, we might have an idea in mind and be curious to see if someone can fulfil it, or we might be happy to meander through stores lead by happenstance. There are countless moods and states of a buyer’s mind, but one unifying function of retail design is evident.

Really, the purpose of retail design is to attract people into a store, engage them and convert that to a sale, or a “like” or a positive experience – To enhance the customer’s experience and expectation of a brand. The challenging part is connecting with the consumer and answering their subconscious question; “why should I care?”. At the core or our work as retail designers what it comes down to is – the “why?”.

The critical point.

When it’s done right, the design process will allow you to clearly articulate the ‘why’, and both the experience and end results are fantastic. It’s great to see the client and consumers alike excited by a space in equal measure, and even more rewarding to see that, over time, the brands’ goals are being met while consumers are still engaging with the environment.

So, why does retail design matter? It matters because when it’s done right, it puts the consumer first, giving them reason to believe and engage, and through that, with careful planning, it will work with the big picture vision of a brand, spearheading their success, and getting them to where they’re going, through retail.

Can I have some more?

One of the most important aspects of your store design is often ignored. Did you consider it?

In a recent meeting, I got talking about cash wraps. An odd topic of conversation, but when working within retail design, one that doesn’t seem surprising. What I did find surprising, however, was just how insightful my knowledge on the subject was for the client. As I have learned, there’s more to the cash wrap than meets the eye.

How do you provide a really great retail experience every time? Focus on the staff.

As retail designers we are often drawn to consistent patterns in creating new store designs, formats and experiences. We naturally focus on finding the right material palette to communicate the brand and its values. We scrutinise the layout of each site and analyse the best possible paths for customer journey, sell-through, and penetration into the store. We seek to find new ways to “wow” customers, resulting in phones coming out of pockets to fill social media feeds with what’s new.