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Kiku Obata

Following retail's future



If genetics have anything to do with it, we could safely assume that the daughter of a weaver and an architect would also have artistic inclinations, although Kiku Obata says she briefly considered studying Constitutional law.

But don't discount environment. Growing up in a St. Louis suburb in one of the area's only contemporary houses (“My dad designed it — it was only 20-by- 40-feet with hardwood floors, white plaster walls, huge expanses of glass and modern furniture — I loved it,” she says), the family entertained a steady stream of creative visitors: architects, photographers, artists and designers.

At 14, Obata was already in her first industry job — working in the graphics department of her father's architectural firm, HOK (he's the O in HOK). Today, she is president and creative director of Kiku Obata & Co., St. Louis. Most recently, the design firm handled identity, signage and environmental graphics, specialty architecture, interior design and retail consulting for the 1.4 million-square-foot Concord Mills retail and entertainment center in Concord, N.C.

She says there is nothing about her that would surprise other people, but she also admits to enjoying all types of retail, including junkyards and barnyard sales. “It's all about finding things to create a feeling or a mood,” she says.

Where do you find the most beauty?


Rocks and plants.

What do you like best about your job?

The successful collaboration with energetic people, delving deeply into a project, learning about a client's business and creating a solution that works. Making things simple, intuitive and relevant.


Air traffic delays.

What will retail be like in 10 years?


We'll be able to get anything we want really fast and at the price we want to pay with the quality of service we expect. Stores will be places for all five senses to explore, not necessarily to buy. They will be places of interaction or to simply decompress and alter your mood. And each store will need to have a focused approach to retailing, including a distinct brand and an exposed soul!

Are you sick of being asked about the Internet?

No. Its power is just beginning — as a tool, resource and connection. It will become the dominant channel. However, it will increase the need for the face- to-face human interaction stores offer. Former “commodities” that are now part of our lifestyle, such as Starbucks coffee, will become “necessities.” It's the act of detaching for a few moments, not only coffee that we crave.

What are some common mistakes made with in-store graphics ?

Bombarding the customer with incomprehensible messages. Simple and direct messages with compelling imagery work best.

What was a fashion mistake you personally made?


Perm, 1985.

What makes you laugh hysterically?

My daughters.

What was your best Halloween costume?

When my daughter was eight, I turned her into a FedEx package.



MasterClass: ‘Re-Sparkling’ Retail: Using Store Design to Build Trust, Faith and Brand Loyalty

HOW CAN WE EMPOWER and inspire senior leaders to see design as an investment for future retail growth? This session, led by retail design expert Ian Johnston from Quinine Design, explores how physical stores remain unmatched in the ability to build trust, faith, and loyalty with your customers, ultimately driving shareholder value.

Presented by:
Ian Johnston
Founder and Creative Director, Quinine Design

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