3 Questions to Help Define Your Retail Design Experience Strategy

In designing retail spaces, our choices are consistently driven by the same set of factors: location, tenant mix, budget, and schedule.  While these critical elements are always taken into consideration, understanding what the retailers want their customers to experience is an important component that is frequently overlooked in the design for the built environment.

The approach of designing around experiences is often difficult to define, and the intent is not always clear to both the owner and/or the designer, so to help bridge this gap, a method we find effective is to create a design experience strategy that includes a series of segmented vignette sketches depicting preferred experiences, from large scale ideas to specific moments.


Defining Your Design Experience Strategy

A design experience strategy involves uniting as many touchpoints with the brand, both digitally and physically, to create an optimal experience that keeps customers engaged and ultimately impacts revenue.  Vignettes enable the client and the designer to identify and visualize experiential opportunities at an early stage.  By illustrating the desired customer experience, it becomes clear to all stakeholders how the customer will experience the brand across all stages of interaction.

Note: These quick vignettes should take no more than 5 minutes to complete.

3 Questions to Ask Pre-Design:

  1. How is your customer interacting with your brand prior to entering the physical store?
  2. How is your customer engaged once at your store?
  3. What do you want your customer to experience once inside?

How is your customer interacting with your brand prior to entering the physical store?

Discuss the types of technology customers may be using to get information about your brand, either through Omnichannel marketing or through traditional methods.  Are they looking for specific events, deals, or product trends?  Are there special apps or other types of social media that incorporate brand specific elements?

How this helps:

Designers can take away from this discussion the key elements that are important to the client and how technology can be integrated into the design. By understanding what and how the users are engaging the brand can help the designer seamlessly integrate those key components from the digital to the physical environment.  Brand specific logos, colors, and even the overall feeling they experience can be identified at this stage.


How is your customer engaged once at your store?

What is going to ignite the senses of your customers when they approach or walk by your store?   Is it upbeat with music or is it calming with scented air?  Is it more classical in design or does it take a more trendy approach?  Most clients have an understanding of what they want their customers to experience, but might not be able to clearly express those ideas. 

An easy way to help you identify these items is to develop two scales of vignettes that depict both broad, larger views and smaller, personalized experiences.  This stage engages the conversation to identify scale, important brand impact touchpoints, and wayfinding opportunities.

Broad Scale:  Broad overall vignettes should quickly relay big scale items such as overall massing, lighting, transparency and entrance points. Elements to identify within these views are any signage, wayfinding, and other branding elements.

Small Scale:  Smaller scale vignettes can identify material patterns or personal experience elements.  Specific items such as fixtures that might integrate beacon technology or sales associate podiums at the entrance. 

How this helps:

This stage can identify sensory, focal, and materiality experiences and features.    


What do you want your customer to experience once inside?

Are the customers greeted by sales staff as they enter the store?  Are there user interactive displays?  Will the sales staff utilize tablets for checkout and inventory control? 

This is a perfect forum to understand how and what types of technology are integrated into the interior design, and vignettes can quickly depict preferred locations of user interaction areas, cash wraps, and other featured elements.  Items to consider showing are lighting, scale, uses and even online pick up areas.

How this helps:

These vignettes depict the major touchpoints retailers want the customer to first experience and identify intended emotional experiences that can shape the design of the entire space, including the preferred adjacencies, and use of space. 


When beginning your next project, discussing and incorporating a design experience strategy and utilizing vignettes can help identify and define how and what the preferred desired experiences are.  Read more about this topic in New England Real Estate Journal where Shawn Bland, Senior Associate at Phase Zero Design, answered the question of the month, Can a design experience strategy help retailers and developers engage the user?