Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chicago NeoCon 2012

By: Anna, ACS Intern

Located at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, NeoCon is North America's largest design exposition and conference for commercial interiors. This year's event was my first chance to attend this incredible expo as a student designer. I was able to see thousands of innovative products and resources for all areas of commercial design. With more than seven hundred showrooms it was overwhelming, but there was so much to discover and learn. 

Arriving at NeoCon, the show room I was most interested in seeing was that of Herman Miller--I had a feeling their products would be presented in a beautiful and grand way and they did not disappoint. Along with the presentation of their newest concepts and designs, there was an excellent exhibit depicting the work of Alexander Girard. Girard was the Director of Design in the textile division at Herman Miller and held this position from the early fifties to the late seventies. His timeless designs were featured throughout the show room on artwork and upholstery displaying his ever modern work. 

The vast number of showrooms and products presented at NeoCon is far too much information to process in two days, and though much what I saw remains a blur, there were some specific trends that stood out to me: 

The first trend was felt. I have never seen this material incorporated into any commercial interiors, but at NeoCon felt was applied to flooring, furniture, acoustical panels, and numerous other products. Its use seemed limited only by the designer's imagination. FilzFelt is a distributer of wool design felt, and was the featured provider in several of the show rooms utilizing the material. The FilzFelt company has a large focus on custom fabrications in both the commercial and residential markets. 

Another trend that stood out was the repeated use of white boards within work spaces. While this is not a foreign idea to most collaborative work environments, I saw it used in several unique and innovative ways. Idea Paint was featured in several show rooms for their white board wall covering. They provide a finish that can be applied over any paint color, turning the space into a collaborative one. This is a creative way to encourage your employees to work together that is low cost and has little impact on the environment.  

A concept that was prevalent throughout the show was "more talk, less technology". This is the idea that technology has taken over social interaction and we need more face to face discussion and collaboration within the office in order to grow more complex, innovative ideas. This theme was largely reflected in the product design throughout several of the showrooms, and products such as Buzzy Booth’s, as well as collaborative work stations by Herman Miller and Hon all supported this movement back to literal collaboration.

NeoCon not only had great things to observe, but excellent hands on activities as well. At the ASID (American Society of Interior Design) booth there was an opportunity to design a pair of TOMS shoes that would later be distributed to children in need within the Chicago area. After hearing about this activity I could not pass up the opportunity and was able to design a small pair of shoes for a young boy. It was touching to see so many skilled designers coming together around a common cause and doing something to help those in the city around us. 

My experience at NeoCon was a great one. As I learned and observed throughout my two days there, I gained knowledge about products, companies, and materials that I will be able to apply in my future designs. My experience left me wanting to come back for more and I will surely be there next summer to do it all again at NeoCon 2013.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Space Planning

In continuing our series on retail design, this week I thought we would take a look at a few ways to optimize your retail space. Whether you run a small specialty boutique or a large discount warehouse, it is important to consider customer flow and product placement in order to utilize the space to its full potential and help drive sales.

There are three areas that are important to keep in mind when you are planning the layout of your store:

1. Entrance
2. Sales floor
3. Check out area

Specialty retail is a very competitive field and with so many other stores vying for a shopper's attention it is important to have an enticing entrance. Well executed window displays will often give a customer a nice glimpse of what they can expect to see in your store. Once you get their attention, it is important that the entrance be spacious to avoid the bottleneck effect that comes with funneling too many customers through an opening that is too small. While it may make sense to place your best products at the entrance, research done by Envirosell, a company that studies customer behavior, have shown that these items often get overlooked by shoppers eager to get inside the store. As people have the natural tendency to go right when they enter a space, better placement for these products would be about 15 steps in on the right side. This will allow the customer enough time to gain their bearings of the space and begin the shopping process.

When laying out the sales floor, it is important to consider the main circulation path that customers will take as they walk through the space. A well thought out path will lead shoppers through the most important departments of the store and prevent areas from being under-shopped. The type of circulation path that you use will depend on what your store is selling, but it ultimately comes down to making people comfortable as they shop in your store. If a shopper is confused and overwhelmed by your space, it is likely that they will turn around and walk out pretty quickly, leading to a lost potential sale. Customers that are engaged and find it easy to locate the products they are looking for will often shop longer and purchase more.

While there are a number of circulation path layouts that can be utilized, here are a few of the most common:
  • Pathway: This plan is great for clothing stores, as it easily moves the customer toward the back of the store on a path that is unobstructed by fixtures.
  • Hub and Spoke: This plan features a clear anchor point with pathways branching off into various areas of the store.
  • Varied: This plan works well in stores that primarily display their products on the wall, such as shoe and jewelry/accessory stores. It draws attention to special displays areas and showcases wall displays.
  • Straight: This plan leads the customer to the back of the store by dividing main areas with walls to display merchandise, making it great for a variety of stores.
  • Loop: This plan works great for grocery stores, as it leads the customer through all of the major areas of the store and encourages impulse shopping.
The circulation path you choose will often dictate where you place your check out area. Customers should have a clear understanding of where they need to go to complete their purchase, and in many cases, it is important to provide a sense of privacy during the transaction. As technology continues to evolve, many retailers are moving away from providing a physical cash wrap to complete the sale and equipping their sales team with hand held devices capable of doing the job of a traditional cash register--and often faster. This allows associates to move freely about the store, making them more accessible to the customer.

A few more things to consider during the space planning process...

1. Pace: In order for a customer to enjoy their experience at your store, they must be the one to set the pace at which they shop. Providing areas for customers who wish to shop longer and at a slower pace, as well as accommodations for those that need to get in and out of the store quickly, will ensure that everyone is satisfied.

2. Product Placement: The placement of merchandise throughout your store must make sense to your customer. However, what makes sense to one person may not make sense to the next and this is where cross merchandising--placing the same product in different areas throughout the store--helps to make products easy to find while decreasing customer confusion (and frustration).

3. Building Codes: As building codes can vary significantly from one city to the next, it is important to know the codes in your area before investing valuable time and money into a space plan that doesn't meet all of the requirements.

4. Market: Know the market you are trying to reach and set a limit on how much product you will display at any given time. Crowded stores often reflect lower prices, while fewer products on display typically gives a higher-end feel.

5. Flexibility: Make a plan that is flexible and can be changed around easily without tearing the entire store apart. This will not only save your staff time but will also save you money.

6. Privacy: Give your customers enough room to move. Avoid stressful situations for your shoppers by providing space that is out of the flow of traffic where they can make buying decisions without being interrupted.

What tips do you have on creating a successful retail space plan? Have you found that a particular type of circulation path leads to increased sales? Let us know in the comments below!

sources: one.two.three.four.five.six

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lighting 101

The design department at Advanced Cabinet Systems is currently in the process of creating a totally new—and awesome (in my unbiased opinion)—look for one of our biggest clients. We are extremely excited about the direction it is headed and can't wait to see the first store installed! As we wrap up the design process, I thought it would only be fitting to put together a mini-series on the ins and outs of successful retail design.
This week, I will begin with lighting. Unfortunately, this is often one of the most overlooked and under-budgeted aspects of retail design, but let’s face it people, it is so important. Let me reiterate, lighting can make or break your design. A well thought out lighting plan needs to be at the forefront of your design process, not tacked on the backend and thrown together simply to serve the purpose of providing light for a room.

While every space will present a unique set of lighting challenges, there are 3 basic aspects that should be worked into your lighting plan.

1.  Ambient Lighting
2.  Task Lighting
3.  Accent Lighting

Ambient lighting, also known as general lighting, provides the overall illumination for the space. The level of these lights should be bright enough to allow customers to walk safely through the store, but at a comfortable level to avoid creating a glare.

Task lighting is used to make intricate tasks, such as reading price tags or ringing up a customer’s purchase, easier for both employees and shoppers. Adequate task lighting should allow these activities to be completed quickly, while minimizing mistakes.

Accent lighting draws attention to special product displays and promotions, helping to communicate the store image. A good rule of thumb when planning for accent lighting is that the product you are showcasing will typically require a minimum of five times the amount of lighting to adequately set it apart from its surroundings. Higher ratios are used for feature displays or to add sparkle to jewelry and crystal, these can range anywhere from 15:1-30:1. Also keep in mind that accent lighting requires a lot of flexibility, making track lighting a perfect choice when the time comes to choose your lighting fixtures. 

If you are wanting to take your lighting plan to the next level and add even more depth and personality than the above categories can accomplish, consider adding the following lighting fixtures to your space...

1.  Perimeter Lighting
2.  Decorative Lighting

Perimeter lighting draws shoppers away from the main aisle and into the areas where merchandise is located. It improves visibility around the edges of the store, while adding to the overall comfort and ambiance of the location, both of which directly correlate with a customer’s desire to shop longer. Perimeter lighting can be achieved by recessing fixtures in a ceiling cove or positioning light sources close to the wall.

Decorative lighting adds a home-like quality and comfort to a retail space, helping to put customers at ease while also encouraging them to stay longer. This type of lighting can go far in communicating the store brand’s image to the customer by adding a unique style to the space. Lighting fixtures that fit into this category include pendants, sconces, chandeliers, lighted signage/graphics, and table and floor lamps.

As I mentioned earlier, each store presents its own unique set of lighting challenges but knowing what general category your store falls into will help you better access the lighting requirements of the space.

Category A: Large stores with high ceilings. This can include warehouses, discount merchants, and supermarkets. These types of spaces require a bright, uniform distribution of light that allows for easy navigation of the space.

Category B: Large open spaces, including department stores, specialty shops, life style shops, and higher end discount merchants. These stores offer more specialized, yet still competitively priced, products compared to Category A, and it is within these locations that you will begin seeing different layers of light that give the impression of a higher end shopping experience.

Category C: Smaller, upscale specialty shops, fine jewelry, and designer boutiques. These retailers require a unique presentation of their lighting in order to draw customers in and through their store. These locations often feature lower levels of light that provide the shopper with a more personal, home-like atmosphere.

Okay, now that we have covered the basics of lighting design, let’s take a look at a few tips and mistakes to avoid when lighting your retail environment.

Layer lighting where it counts.

If you are not working with a huge lighting budget, make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck by creating an attractively lit environment in areas that feature your money making items. A good example of this concept at work is in Macy’s department stores. Their designer labels, specifically in the women’s department, as well as their makeup and accessory areas feature beautiful lighting schemes that are multi-layered and very effective at creating a high end feel. Their children and teen areas are then lit with adequate ambient lighting and may feature the occasional accent lighting. While this may not create the most attractive environment throughout these departments, Macy’s has identified its best selling products and chosen to focus the majority of resources to those areas.

Make sure spotlights shine on the product and not in the customer’s eyes.

During a recent trip to the mall (let’s call it a research trip), I noticed multiple offenders of this mistake. It is a simple yet effective fix in your lighting design that will only add to the comfort of your customers.

Be careful not to over (or under) light your store.

While walking through the mall it was very obvious which stores were lacking in the lighting design department. The ones that were over lit somehow seemed to scream “cheap merchandise inside”, while those that were under lit felt a little too depressing. While I know that there are several shops that use bright or dim lighting schemes to appeal to a particular customer base, what I’m really trying to get across here is that it is obvious when a retailer has their branding in mind, or when poor lighting is a result of a lack of planning.

The color temperature of your lights is important.

Define what your brand hopes to communicate to the customer and then choose your lights accordingly. Are you trying to create a cozy, comfortable atmosphere? Warm light sources mixed with low levels of ambient light and high intensity accent lights are what you need. Does your store sell a wide selection of primarily low price goods? If so, stick with cool light temperatures as they communicate to the customer that they are getting a bargain. Along with color temperature, it is important that your lights are high enough on the Color Rendering Index for customers not only to be able to see a product’s fine details, but to clearly identify it from a distance.

While any lighting designer would tell you there is a great deal more that goes into creating a successful lighting plan, the above elements should give you a good start to creating a beautifully lit retail environment.

How much attention do you pay to a store’s lighting? Does it affect your desire to shop at certain retailers?

The Effects of Color on Design

Throughout the design process of our most recent line of retail fixtures, I was approached numerous times with questions pertaining to color; what color should the pieces be, the flooring, the walls? Choosing the wrong color for any of these elements held the potential to throw off the atmosphere we were working so hard to create.

Since color has the incredible ability of evoking an emotional response in most people, it plays a huge role in either making or breaking a design. A well thought through color palette can do wonders for mediocre design, while a poor choice of colors can put a damper on even the greatest of designs.

Let’s take a look at the feelings colors are able to stir within us, as well as a few great applications of color throughout the design world...
  • Excitement, passion, attention, love
  • Red can make a small room feel even smaller--try incorporating it on one or two accent walls.
  • Pairing red with bold prints and patterns can help tone down the saturation of the color.
  • Studies have shown that predominately red rooms may lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure.
  • Playful, energetic, cheerful
  • Orange has all of the personality of red without being as aggressive.
  • It pairs nicely with white, modern furnishings and bold prints. 
  • Orange is a hunger-inducing color.
  • When it is closer to peach in hue, orange has the ability to enhance some complexions, making it a great choice for a restroom or changing room. 

  • Sunny, tropical, safety
  • Yellow is a great choice for poorly lit spaces as it helps to brighten the area more effectively than white. 
  • Pair yellow with white accents for a cheerful, relaxed atmosphere. 
  • Yellow walls combined with black accents will create an unexpected modern twist in an otherwise elegant setting.

  • Royalty, wealth, intrigue, creativity
  • Purple combines the stability of blue with the energy of red.
  • It is believed that purple helps to develop imagination in children, making it a great choice for playrooms and classroom settings.
  • Like the majority of highly saturated colors, purple pairs nicely with an otherwise neutral palette.

  • Relax, inspire, nature, renewal
  • The relaxing qualities of green make it an excellent background color for meditation and tasks that require a high level of concentration.
  • Deep shades of green will produce a more opulent atmosphere, while lighter shades tend to create a fresh, lively setting.

  • Relax, refresh, inspire
  • While blue holds many of the same relaxing qualities of green, light blue can make large areas feel cold and bleak while may lead to distress in people confined to the space for long periods of time.
  • Mixing white accents within a blue room creates a light, airy atmosphere, making this combination perfect for sunrooms, reading rooms, and bedrooms.

  • Purity, cleaness, calm
  • White is the perfect neutral background for all other colors.
  • Under-stimulation with this color can lead to restlessness and difficulty concentrating, therefore, great care shoul be taken to balance a stark white room with enough color to add warmth and visual interest to the space.

  • Neutrality, stability, respect
  • Similar to white, gray provides an excellent neutral palette for other colors and textures.
  • Dark, saturated hues of gray can be used to create an elegant atmosphere, while adding warmth and sophistication to the space.