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Checking Out: Amanda McAllister

ChangeUp’s new, 33-year-old Creative Director is eagerly heading into retail’s challenging future. But she also honors the grand traditions of her retail clients.




Amanda McAllister
Sonic Boom

Is there a particularly satisfying project for you?

The Sonic Drive-In ‘Sonic of Today’ reinvention turned out so hot, visually and functionally.

As the original drive-in, Sonic has a huge heritage play. The challenge was to modernize and stay relevant without losing that heritage. Throughout the experience there are classic design cues like tapered angles, cantilevered structures and neon signage. A neon cherry is suspended in the drive-through tower as an homage to Sonic’s iconic Cherry Limeade, and also our nod to the ‘cherry on top’ spirit that makes Sonic unique.

It was a soup-to-nuts project – strategy, identity, brand design, experience, architecture – which in my mind is always the best because it provides a consistency across all touchpoints.

What about the car-hops on roller skates?

We never thought about getting rid of the skates. In fact, we created some really badass skate designs.

Always wanted to be a store designer?

Actually, yes. I know it’s a cliché, but as a young girl in Cincinnati I used to go to the store with my mother and rearrange the displays.

So you went to the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) to study . . .?

Architecture. After a quarter, though, I realized, ‘I really don’t love this,’ and transferred to interior design.

Tough decision?

I think I always knew my heart was in interiors, but I convinced myself that architecture would be more prestigious. Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe were among my early heroes. But interior design was what made me happy.

And would be your career.

Yep, and a pretty varied one. After college, I took a job at a local boutique retailer, High Street, as a visual merchandiser and jack of all trades. After a year of that, I decided, ‘Okay, let’s start my career.’ I went to work for Macy’s space design team on the Herald Square renovation, which was an amazing experience! As that project wrapped up, I was eager to work on a variety of brands and thought agency life might be a better fit.

Is that when ChangeUp came along for you?

Yes, in 2013. I thought the variety of agency work would appeal to a person like me who gets bored easily. I liked the quick nature of agency work – a new project, a new client every month.

But so much has changed about the work, hasn’t it?

We’re now ‘environmental designers.’ The power of branding hadn’t become the industry’s focus yet, and I certainly didn’t go to school for branding. (Though now, it’s my favorite part.) I remember someone saying to me, years ago, ‘We need to think of the store as the product, not just the vehicle to sell product,’ and that just blew my mind. It completely changed the way I thought about the store environment and the physical experience. It’s a more strategic way to think about space design.

And now you’re Creative Director.

Yes, the training wheels are off. I’m still designing every day, but it’s a lot more direction and delegation, and more client engagement – super exciting. Understanding the retailer brand, the whole idea of walking into Target and feeling different, feeling that the product has a certain value. The power that that holds is fascinating to me and gives me my greatest satisfaction.

As a journalist, writer, editor and commentator, Steve Kaufman has been watching the store design industry for 20-plus years. He has seen the business cycle through retailtainment, minimalism, category killers, big boxes, pop-ups, custom stores, global roll-outs, international sourcing, interactive kiosks, the emergence of China, the various definitions of “branding” and He has reported on the rise of brand concept shops, the demise of brand concept shops and the resurgence of brand concept shops. He has been an eyewitness to the reality that nothing stays the same, except the retailer-shopper relationship.



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