Retail Architect takes on karma.

Marcela's Yoga BoutiqueMarcel’s Yoga Boutique,

has turned out to be one of our most sophisticated designs. Recently completed, it was featured in the Old Town Crier, and we were also happy to answer some questions posed by Cindy Laidlaw, Principal of Laidlaw Group, the marketing communications firm who does the blog for the company who manufactures the shelving system. The content is especially informative for anyone thinking about a new retail project so I am posting some of it here along with links to the articles.

Question: Where and when did the idea for the studio start? Answer: Marcela came to me on the recommendation the local Small Business Development Center. As it turned out, my office is exactly across the street from her shop. Talk about Karma?

Question: What is your background? Answer: This is the bio that I use in many blog post. Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-Accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and has a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction.

Question: What was the vision of the project? Answer: Marcela had a vision that centered around the lotus flower. It is part of her logo and where we started to design. I liked the water element inherent in the lotus environment and aimed at suggesting this by the use of curved glass shelves as a feature in the shop. There is a mystique attached to the idea of yoga and one way of visually representing the calm is with open space – not so easy in a tiny shop. By merchandising mainly the walls we were able to define really nice site lines that terminate in beautiful merchandise displays while at the same time maintaining the “karma” of open space.

Question: What inspired the design? Answer: The lotus flower.

Question: In addition to Rakks, what other materials were used? Answer: We used a rustic piece of wood, with the shape of the tree still in its profile, to anchor and complete the feature wall. The effect is very organic.

Question: How long did the project take? Answer: It took about 4 months.

Question: What were the installation challenges of the space? Answer: The building is old and the exterior walls are plaster directly on furred out brick. They were totally out of plumb, to the extent that, in order to use the wall mounted Rakks standards, we had to build a drywall stand out in front of the existing wall.

Question: What is the history of the building? Answer: The building is in the historic district of Old Town Alexandria, VA.

Question: Where can I find out more about the products on display? Answer: Marcela’s Yoga Boutique

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Retail Architect: billboards store design

Retail architect are always looking at design features that can make a store stand out, or differentiate, from its neighbors in the mall scape, leading to a design idea that I may, or may not, have mentioned previously; namely mall storefronts are being treated like billboards. Compare, for example, the type of merchandising that is going on in the Aldo store with that of the Buy Paris Collection below. On a practical level this may not be a very fair comparison as Aldo has rallied all of its substantial store planning resources around supporting and marketing their brand, while the shop in the Paris airport is marketing multiple brands, probably with considerably less resources. That said, this discussion is academic and I am using the contrast between the two shops to demonstrate a design technique.

Clearly, Aldo has used every inch of wall space to deliver a marketing message about their product. It is a message being delivered to virtually every potential shopper with a view of the store no matter where that shopper happens to be located. The desire to accomplish this is nothing new. The installation of billboard size images on every available inch of visible wall, on the other hand, is a fairly new trend. I expect it is only a matter of time before the message, actually creeps onto the ceiling, and I am sure examples of exactly this can easily be found.

By comparison, the Buy Paris Collection casts its marketing net into a much smaller visual pond simply by dint of scale. Certainly good design practice is employed. The high contrast between the white illuminated sign on the black background along with the brightly colored banner are attention grabbing features. The interior signage, illuminated graphics and nicely displayed merchandise all follow the store planning rules, leading me to ask; is one of these techniques more effective that the other?

The question is one of relevance. The retail environment, always competitive, is ever more so now. Pressured on one side by online competition and the other by indirect competitors for the attention of the same customer base, retailers are feeling compelled to enter the context of entertainment shopping. It is a fluid environment where relevance is everything.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Retail Architect: pattern, color and scale that delivers a marketing message

BBW store
I took this photo of a new Bath & Body Works store in a recently renovated local mall because the project is instructive on several levels. First there is no doubt about who the retailer is. The name is perfectly highlighted on the front of the main entry fixture, again above the wall display, and of course on the storefront sign, there but not shown. Some landlords try to limit the number of times a retailer can repeat their logos in the line of vision. As a Retail Architect, I find that, recently, this practice has been giving way in favor of more flexible design guidelines, possibly in response to tighter retail markets. Either way, repetition is good for the brand.

This project is about more that the name though. It is about delivering a marketing message, which is done here by the clever incorporation of text into the very context of the store. Let’s consider the context first. The checked wall covering is extremely busy and could have, in a different application, gone totally wrong. It is working here because the high contrast both attracts attention and supports the message in terms of scale. In fact, it functions as a connection between the blocks of small merchandise and the actual text messages which are all offset in large solid color fields. These solid color blocks show up as more that just backdrops for signage. They are used in the back of displays, as plain color coded markers used to define categories of merchandise, and even as fat text turned into color blocked display fixtures. The result is interesting and completely readable.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Unbrand Store Designs

Is this the face of the "Unbrand?"

If you are a sometimes visitor to this site you may have seen me ponder the impacts of “unbrand” in previous posts. With this recent article on “AdNews” I find myself again bestirred on the subject. The gist of the article is that “Unbrand” is a “Movement” initiated by Gen. C (connected) values, resulting in a shift in market focus from the designer to the designee. When considered in the context of the currently “logocentric” shopping place this shift could, in the design sense, prove to be profound. In short, how does/will/should an “unbrand” look? The temptation to present the obvious was too strong, leading me to alter the photo above to match the idea. Of course, no one has actually come to me and said, “I am opening a new store. I will be selling shoes. The store does not have a name. Please design the prototype.” That does not, though, stop me from trying to envision such a shopping experience.

toys dress

carOr maybe stores should rely on large format graphics and photos with generic labels to identify their products. It is, after all, how it is done on http://etsy.com. Either way, there are no answers here, just explorations. You will find the article here: AdNews: THE ADNEWS NGEN BLOG: The challenge of ‘Unbrand’.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Store Design: Materials

I was researching another project when I ran across these book stores. I was looking for examples of how different building finish materials can change the perception of merchandise quality in a store design, and as these views are void of brand signs, they allow for a fairly objective comparison on a store planning level as well. The examples were good enough to turn into an article as follows:

Store 1
Store 1

Store 1 – This first store reminds me of Strand Bookstore in New York City, locally famous for used books, which should not come as a surprise as the plastic on the windows, mismatched fixtures, cheap but effective fluorescent lighting and existing brick walls and wood floors all suggest, not only extreme economy, but also sustainability. The chairs and wide aisles suggest a comfortable and possibly entertaining shopping experience. In NYC this equals “shabby chic.” Anywhere else it risks being just shabby.

Store 2
Store 2

Store 2 – The actual fixtures used in this store, likely high quality painted wood, display the merchandise for maximum advantage and provide storage as well. Nevertheless, carpet and acoustic tile floors and ceilings are strictly utilitarian, as is the lighting, which is adequate but stylistically dated as it is used here. The monotone, high foot candle light level removes the possibility of any particular focus or feature areas, as does the “many evenly spaced rows” type of layout. This ambiance is all about volume and possibly crosses over to discount.

Store 3
Store 3

Store 3 – This appears to be a high profile, historic, urban environment that is possibly a destination unto itself. Efforts have been made to help the store fixtures disappear into the location. Wood shelving and display tables match existing architectural trim and carefully placed invisible light sources outline perimeter merchandise walls artfully tucked under the balcony. Like dancers in a grand ballroom, table top displays nicely present the merchandise to main floor shoppers. A polite, public mood prevails.

Store 4
Store 4

Store 4 – This is another example of how existing buildings can drive the retail ambiance of a space. Exposed structure, skylights, stone walls, and distressed concrete floors identify an industrial loft type environment made relevant by the addition of colorful art lights, and a bit of modern ceiling material. Tall store fixtures made of construction grade wood emphasize the soaring ceiling height and merge into the prevailing aesthetic. One might be surprised to find that this trendy store, like store 1, is also selling used books.

Store 5
Store 5

Store 5 – Perhaps the most unique of the stores, this is defined first by the the top to bottom wood finishes and then by the contemporary parkitecture, including the shelving units carefully incorporated therin. Visions of everything from Hoss Cartwright’s Ponderosa to Bilbo Baggin’s Hobbit Hole are conjured. The place practically invites the shopper to enter a mysterious world of fantasy.

Store 6
Store 6

Store 6 – Finally we have the shop of no finishes, except of course the books, representing the weighty world of gold bound illuminated manuscripts and classic volumes read and reread over time in days when they had more than just historic value. This is the revered library showing up in Patrick Rothfuss’, The Name of the Wind.

Finally, it is of interest that, in spite of differing book sizes, the shelf heights have been maintained to form continuous horizontally aligned rows of books in all of these stores.

All photos on this site belong to the author, are used under Creative Commons or with permission from the photographer. The source may normally be found by following the link attached to the photo.

Bridget Gaddis, of Gaddis Architect, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

The Benefits of Emphasizing Design for Small Business

Design for Small Business

In the excellent book, The Strategic Designer, author David Holston makes the following astute observation about a reality of doing business in today’s world:

“Businesses, like designers, need to be in a constant state of ideation. Design gives firms a competitive advantage in overcrowded markets by identifying unique value and connecting audiences, as well as reacting quickly to social trends.”

Holston goes on to talk about process, which is essential to design and no less important to businesses. Businesses that are succeeding in standing out and attracting clients are effectively incorporating design and design thinking/process in their own business culture and customer engagement strategies.

Design cannot change an organization’s core principles or philosophy, nor does it alone constitute a business strategy. A company still must provide quality, affordable goods or products and responsive, friendly customer service. Design can, however, amplify these efforts and reinforce these and other positive aspects of an organization’s brand. Employees with a design-oriented background are increasingly in demand by businesses for strategic business-focused roles because designers are inherently question askers and problem solvers.

In admiration of some of the most successful firms and brands in the world that have used design as a key component of their business growth strategy, the business world is, in large part undergoing a shift in the way design is considered as a formal part of business strategy. An emphasis on design or design thinking is not appropriate approach for every industry, but even if your firm or organization cannot emphasize design, you should seriously consider embracing it. Based on my own research and observation, here are three ways that a shift to embracing design and design thinking can positively impact an organization:

Dialogue: A Culture of Creative Problem-Solving

Design can be leveraged to establish or reinforce a culture of creative problem solving. Using techniques central to the design process, such as agile team construction and methods, the narrow, team or individual-based system can give way to a more collaborative, open-source way of tackling issues. This can in turn, benefit communication and solidify ideas or perhaps push them even further. Ideas can be conceived and explored quickly. User-focused experience is included in development. Embracing an open-source problem-solving method can bring more quality ideas to the table and yield interesting results and opportunities. This, in turn, can improve and reshape the creative culture or an organization as waves of new thought and ideas flood the business process.

Diversion: Create Delight and Escape

Design can be used to help stimulate creativity in employees. It can shake things up within your organization in a good way by positing problems that require creative solutions. It can also actually stimulate innovation and ideation that spills over into other aspects of the operation. Lastly, design can just help to break up the monotony of office life. It can create wonder, joy, and offer a place to escape to. Sometimes we just need to take a break and enjoy beauty, man-made and natural. Design creates and facilitates these opportunities.

Distinction: Rallying Cry

Design can also provide a rallying cry, a “standard”, as in a flag used in battle. This is often in the form of a strong visual identity, underpinned by real values. Along these lines, design can be used to unify, in a modern work environment where roles, salaries, organizational structure and specialization and outsourcing may divide and marginalize. Also, in helping to create a strong, recognizable visual brand and consumer touch points, design helps to distinguish one organization from another. People respond positively to the brands they see and know. Design can aid in this effort.

Embracing design and design thinking is a good for business! In ways great and small, it lifts spirits, unites, challenges and creates opportunities for small businesses to stand out and grow.

Reggie Holmes is a child of the early 1980′s, a native of Richmond, VA who expressed an interest in design before he even knew what it was. A graduate of the University of Miami with a BFA in Graphic Design, he returned to Virginia after school and worked in several different creative (and non-creative) positions before forming Enthuse Creative in 2013. His goal is to develop a strong solo design practice that contributes locally and influences globally through branding and design while inspiring others to joy and creativity.

Source: The Strategic Designer, 2011, How Books/F+W Media
Image Source: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_thinking

Crossing Over the Line of Confusion

This is an instructive exercise on two levels. First lets consider the impact of merchandise placement in the black and white photo. It is quickly apparent that the main show, directly in the line of view as a customer enters or passes by the store, is an indecipherable patch work which says little about the products being sold. Also, there is actually some secondary “visual cognition”going on as our eye looks for clarity and finds it in the higher contrast which appears on the side walls where individual items or groups of items have been carefully framed by the surrounding architecture. This can be an effective technique when used in the right location; nevertheless assigning center stage to a confusion of merchandise is risky and could easily send customers searching for more understandable views in an adjacent store.

There is more to this particular story though as the second lesson is about what happens when highly saturated color is added to the mix. Suddenly what was a wall of confused merchandise becomes a high visibility focal point standing out in and being framed framed by the mid-tone world. Now the wall of merchandise has attracted attention sufficient to cross over the line of confusion and land squarely on the side of interest. Very interesting indeed.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Design Thinking: Understanding Creative Process for Small Business

According to Ellen Lupton, author/editor of Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, “The concept design thinking commonly refers to the processes of ideation, research, prototyping and user interaction (p. 5).”

Design thinking is what really fuels what we might call the “creative process”. I am personally a proponent of the phrase “design thinking” because it rightly places the emphasis on “thinking.” Consider the term “brainstorming.” Often, the focus is on the “storming” and not on the “brain,” especially when it comes to creative professionals. Designers have not helped their own cause by sometimes lording over the design process as if it were a sacred ancient ritual.

Often the creative process is something that is, in my opinion, unnecessarily shrouded in mystery to clients and consumers of design services. I have found, in my short time as a professional creative serving small businesses and organizations, that transparency into the design process is good for me and for my clients. Upon entering the field as the owner of a creative services operation, this was something I was encouraged to do through books and other professionals. I was, however, reluctant to change at first. Many potential clients I now speak to are surprised to learn how much creativity is systematic rather than just spontaneous. Successful designers recognize the need for both.

A creative process is beneficial to both parties. Process allows the designer’s creativity to become reproducible and marketable and it provides a measure of trust and confidence for the client. It is reminiscent of some of those complicated, higher-level math problems from high school calculus. Of course, we want to deliver a successful design solution at the end of the process, but we also need to be able to show our work. Often, how a problem solver arrived as his solution is as valuable as the solution itself.

Unfortunately, an attitude that I sometimes encounter goes a bit like this: “Can’t you just sit down at the computer and make something eye-popping happen on the screen in a flash!” Yes, it should be expected that professional designers work efficiently and effectively, but value in design for business is created and sustained by communicating a message consistent with an established brand strategy. A solution may, upon viewing, elicit oohs and ahhs, but fail to function well as a form of business communication. This is what sets graphic design, as communication-centric art, apart from fine arts, which champions individual expression. The deliverable can’t just look good, it must communicate well.

Creative problem solving has value for all types of businesses. That being said, all aspects of the creative process are valuable. Designers and other business creatives must help clients understand the conceptual aspects of what they do and business leaders must respect and appreciate the vital conceptual components of the creative process. Innovation has always been powered by designers who think and thinkers who design.

Most small business owners and employees have heard and likely used the expression “back to the drawing board” when an idea or strategy has proven unsuccessful. For creative problem solvers who are trusted by businesses and organizations to create valuable communication tools, the “thinking” is as important as the “drawing.”

Sources: Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming. Ellen Lupton, editor. Princeton Architectural Press, New York. 2011