“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

So wrote George Bernard Shaw.

Great retail shop design, formats, digital integration and sensory experiences are all outputs. Outputs of a well crafted insightful retail strategy. And it’s our designers who are the touchpoints or conveyors to customers of this strategy.

The more I travel and see retailing throughout the world, the more obvious becomes the role of retail designers to innovate, consider their client’s uniqueness and really get it – from cathedrals to kiosks, the need to be unique and cut through the “omnichannel noise”.

Yet with some exceptions, many retailers presented a look that was not markedly different from the direct rival a door or three away. This prompted me to wonder how innovative, ‘fit’ shop design and implementation can rise above the norm and how this needs to work in partnership often with the centre, landlord and retail tenant.

There are many wonderful and notable exceptions around the world – but by and large, standard ceiling treatment, flooring, lighting and shopfront pretty well defines the usual treatment of a retail shop, as do fairly standard fixtures and fittings, layout and point of sale presentation. However they don’t capture the brand “story” or vision of the brand.

Equally there are some extremely talented shop designers out there. But too often they are hamstrung by strict shopping centre design guidelines.

Is defining what not to do putting the brakes on innovation – and fuelling the homogenous approach? Are today’s shopping centres being dumbed down? Sure, malls need standards, but I do wonder if negotiations over a shop design might have, on occasion, left the uniqueness and innovation on the cutting room floor.

Who out there is breaking some of the rules or at least bending them slightly? What is the best way to drive innovative shop design these days? Is it the mall managers, the retailers or the shop designers or the drawing technology they use? Who holds the balance of power in this relationship to deliver truly innovative shop design?

Has function dominated form in many retail design and fit outs? How do we best create a captivating space that is boundary-less in transporting a customer into the very essence of our brand?

Our next CEO breakfast in Sydney will have Neil Arrow smith from Greater Group join us to discuss global retail design and innovation – a leader in global experiential shop design.

As we know, great design is an expression of great strategy, we will look at the stories expressed by many of the world’s great retailers.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group and can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or brian@retaildoctor.com.au.

First published InsideRetail on July 13, 2017