Guiding Principles For Place Design

Link to original article.

Date: July 242012

Published in: Retail TouchPoints

Written by Alen Puaca, Creative Director, iQmetrix

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 08:03

For a retailer, knowing exactly what makes a space inviting and popular begs the question: How can I transform my own store into a Third-Place” – style destination?

Walt Disney invented the Imagineer,” the visionary technical professional who created the immersive magic of Disneyland through artistic and mechanical wizardry. The everyday retailer might not be an Imagineer, but anyone who owns a retail space can benefit from their example. In this article, we will focus on universal principles of human space design that retailers can apply to their own stores.

To ensure a successful design process, a retailer must have defined his or her store’s brand, culture, and mission before a single blueprint is drawn up.

1. Theme and Structure:

Once retailers define the concept of their space, they need to divide and conquer. Unless visitors break into atoms upon walking through the door, they cannot be in every part of the store at once. Therefore, different sections of the space must be designed for different tasks and experiences.

Simply reproducing the online shopping experience for the visitor won’t work, as visitors don’t expect to shop sitting down at a desk when they go to a store. While elements of online retail can certainly enrich retail place design, the physical place needs to offer something greater.

How can a retailer make sure the store’s brand is reflected in the entryway, in the shopping area or in the checkout area?

Individual elements or chapters” of the store’s greater story are built into the space’s layout, so customer flow within the space is logical and uninterrupted. Patterns can be used to make the design intuitive to the visitor, such as circular paths for the flow of foot traffic; visible grouping of elements, signage or products and proximity to related items and tools. Building a physical narrative into a retail space helps the visitor feel more comfortable, safe and efficient.

2. Sequential Experience

Even the simplest acts can be broken down into sub-steps: 1) awareness or attraction to the experience, 2) the main experience itself and 3) post-experience events. The concept that even simple acts are comprised of subparts can be built into the design of your retail space. A successful space guides the visitor in a carefully planned chronological path that creates an ideal cascade of emotional reactions to your space and product. For example, consider your local Starbucks. First, the awareness or the attraction to the experience: you might be pulled in by an attractive, comfortable interior, by a teaser sampler in front of the store or by the lure of beverages you have already tasted. Then, the main experience itself: sipping your coffee in a comfortable armchair, surfing the web on free Wi-Fi or chatting with friends.

Finally, any number of follow-up activities: tossing your business card in a jar for a drawing, downloading a free song from iTunes, or getting a Starbucks gift card for your friend’s birthday. Now think about Disneyland for a larger example. Take Space Mountain. The awareness and attraction to the experience includes the facade and the queue, where the theme of the ride is introduced. Even standing in the queue itself as it snakes through the building feeds the visitor’s anticipation by introducing a story line and developing excitement. Then the ride itself: a linear pulse experience. Finally, the post-show, where exhilarated visitors exit through the gift shop” where they can further participate in freeflow activities while still under the impression left by the ride.

Retail owners can design flow-of-experience elements into their stores too, no matter the size. Any visitor to your store must 1) first be attracted to it, by promotions, new arrivals or live events, 2) be able to explore potential products using convenient and effective design while in-store and 3) finish the purchase through an efficient point-of-sale process. The key take-away is that the most memorable parts of the customer experience are the peak of the experience and the end of the experience. If you keep this in mind, you can develop a successful sequential experience for your visitors while optimizing your resources at the same time. The least attractive scenario for your visitor? A single countertop that siloes every part of the shopping experience where your customer is forced to wait in line and work through a salesperson for all inquiries.

So it’s not (department) stores’ size or location or physical capabilities that are their problem. It’s their lack of imagination -- about the products they carry, their store environments, the way they engage customers, and how they embrace the digital future. Ron Johnson, J.C. Penney CEO and former senior VP of retail at Apple

3. Visual Communication

The vast majority of the information humans take in from the world around us is through our sense of sight. The principle of visual communication proposes that intuitive visual elements and clearly defined media are necessary for visitors to process in-depth, relevant information in a manageable way. Visual communication helps the visitor’s flow of movement, enables his or her clarity of action and prevents confusion or sensory overload. It is essential that these visible elements are incorporated into the overall store design from both a functional and a branding perspective.

A visitor needs signage that is readable and strategically placed in order to find key information. A retailer requires signage that is designed according to its branding guidelines and complements the primary content within the space.

Visitors to your physical space have a limited amount of time in which to experience your digital and interactive media. Decreasing the time a customer takes to determine how to navigate your store increases the amount of time spent engaged with your brand and product. Using recognizable patterns and familiar user interfaces, and repeating these elements whenever possible allows visitors to use their time in your store in a comfortable, engaged frame of mind.

Your staff plays a large role in driving the success of your store’s design. For example, a distinctive uniform (think of the bright t-shirts worn by Apple Store staff) helps visitors clearly recognize staff and their role within your retail space.

Today, the virtual extension of the physical space is more important than ever. A website, an app, the social network or in-store digital media must be considered as extensions of that space. Any virtual extension of a retail brand should offer the same level of practical benefit as the physical (learn about the product, look at it and buy it), but should also introduce complementary experiences unique to the virtual medium.

No matter what, these elements must be intuitive and user-friendly. Confusion or frustration will turn a visitor off in an instant. Instead, focus on creating a comfortable and safe environment where a visitor can be fully immersed in shopping for and buying your product.

4. Participation

Participation is a direct result of successful visual communication. If you’ve successfully created a clearly defined place with a clearly defined audience, your space will provide its visitors with engaging methods of participating with their environment and with one another:

  • A relaxing environment where visitors can be absorbed by what’s in front of them. Or spend time with their friends. Or, if they like, time with staff.
  • A variety of contextual activities within the space, with different media and levels of interaction. In the case of wireless retail, for example, the customer shouldn’t solely be presented with mobile phone product information, but should also experience other content: exciting news from the world of mobile communication and technology, news on community events taking place at the retail location, new mobile apps that connect him with local sports teams, etc. Expand your brand beyond the products on the shelves.
  • Friendly and knowledgeable staff on site to advise, educate and build a good relationship with the customer -- not to push sales for a commission. Choosing the right in-store tools can help establish that relationship, developing the honesty and transparency of information key to building trust with customers.

Alen Puaca is a Creative Director at iQmetrix, a leading provider of retail management software. He has worked on visual media and experience designs for virtual, online and physical spaces for nearly two decades. Puaca was part of design teams that delivered attractions and exhibits on a global scale, including the Canadian Pavilion at EXPO 2005, BC Canada House at Torino Olympics and Al Khobar Science Centre, the biggest science center in the Middle East. He also worked with the DAE-VANOC core design team that delivered the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Ceremonies.