Retail space design – Web and at the Mall

Ben’s last post got me to thinking… How do you design a selling space from scratch?  The first half of his advice is to clarify the business and develop a narrative.  I’d like to think of this is nurturing and expressing the personality of a business.  We’ve talked before about a website being a message / personality delivery device.

Developing the message – Clarifying the business – allows a business owner or a designer to make something that expresses or delivers that message.  No clear message. No clear business. No lovely website.  No loyal and profitable customers.

commerce vs eCommerce

Someone told me that it’s okay to simply drop the ‘e’ from in front of stuff.  eCommerce is simply commerce.  eLearning is simply learning.  The novelty of shopping or learning online is gone. We can drop the ‘e’.

But, as a person who designs spaces for buying and selling on websites, I find myself asking

  • How are real life, ‘brick and mortar’ stores designed – like walmarts and Belks [a department store in the South]?
  • What user research are they doing when re-designing a McDonalds or the burger joint down the street?
  • Who is innovating? Who is lagging behind?
  • Does the design process look anything like designing a selling website?

I’m thinking that retail space design is very similar to eCommerce web design. And, that the user centered techniques are showing themselves valuable to the retail designer while ‘throwing into sharp relief’ the problems with using older patterns and methods of retail design.

Ah! Smell the Paradigm Shift

The way we are buying is changing.  That’s pretty clear.  Circuit City closes.  I saw an empty husk of a  Best Buy on the highway this week. And, a bright and busy Best Buy Mobile micro shop in a mall.  And, how the hell is Radio Shack still around?  New and innovating retailers are thriving – Apple stores and IKEA, are examples.  Department stores seem dead and dry – until the holiday season rolls in.  Walmart is a juggernaut that has crushed KMart and Target… hmmm.

What makes Target different than Walmart?  Radio Shack from BestBuy?  Perhaps they are following the path of Ben’s advice… Clarify the business and develop a narrative / nurturing and expressing the personality of a business.  Target has the design dog with the spot. And, Walmart is cheap as hell.  Radio Shack … gadgets and phones. What is the personality of a Radio Shack?  It’s funny but I think of experts and geeky technology builders.  But that’s really not what’s there in my experience – but the brand identity is strong.

How do we figure out a personality of a business?

It’s in how they appear to us.  It’s how they interact with us.  Here’s a few pictures of a website front page and real life store pics.  I think they are good examples of how a business has a cohesive personality between the web and physical space.

an Austrian bakery… don’t ask how I found this.

Website of that bakery – Notice the same color palette and simplicity

And a bakery you are prolly more familiar with…

Same colors and vibe… all in the good vibes

Links and Such

artica – A retail design and production company in Europe.  They also do website design.  And keep a retail design blog at – A blog highlighting window display trends in New York City.  Window displays are a great place to look for inspiration for website visual design.  It seems a window display is a ‘front page’ image.  Sets a tone and expresses the personality of a store. And, I think the blogger has nailed the portfolio site.

Alan Penn on Shop Floor Plan Design, Ikea, and Dark Patterns – This is from Harry Brignull the UX’er who is focusing on UX Dark Patterns and skimming this post is what really got me thinking about Retail design and user research.

Home – A.R.E. – source for store fixtures, visual merchandising & retail design – The Association for Retail Environments is a non-profit trade association advancing the retail environments industry.

Brand and Branding – Is that what we are talking about?  Certainly, Brand and Personality can unify the space design and web design or any of the messaging of the business.  If all that stuff doesn’t all fit in a cohesive and understandable whole, then the customer may be confused and drift off to the next place.


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