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The International Retail Design Conference presented by VMSD  magazine returned to an in-person format in 2021, bringing together a variety of retail design pros at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, Sept. 21-22.

Celebrating its 21st year, IRDC 2021 explored the idea of “rethinking retail,” focusing on how changed shopping behavior will impact the role of the physical store.

Attendees heard from a speaker lineup with a range of expertise, also taking part in networking opportunities including the Iron Merchant Challenge, an annual fixture of the conference. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the photos here for a sampling of what you missed.

Keynote speaker and digital anthropoligist Brian Solis kicks off IRDC with a look at the future of experience design and how to survive “digital Darwinism.” For more on his presentation, check out our Day 1 coverage.

Carly Shelby, Senior Manager, Marketing – Store Design, Innovation & Experience, Walmart and David Sheehan, Senior Strategist, Experience, Landor + Fitch, spoke on how Walmart’s development of “Swipe Up” allowed the brand to transform and disrupt the industry by becoming more than a physical store but a mobile-first shopping destination.

Roundtable Lunches are an annual networking opportunity where attendees can take the time to discuss important industry topics in a relaxing lunchtime setting.

Jennifer Acevedo, Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher, VMSD, and chair of IRDC, shares her opening remarks with the audience, welcoming them back to the first in-person IRDC held in two years.

Toni Roeller, SVP of In-Store Environment, DICK’S Sporting Goods, joins Jennifer Acevedo, Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher, VMSD, for an engaging, off-the-cuff conversation about how experiential design is driving the future of physical retail.

Bevan Bloemendaal, former VP Global Environments & Creative Services, Timberland will explore the use of restorative elements like biophilia, lighting, scent and materiality to have a positive influence on the human experience and consumers’ health and wellness, a potentially critical differentiator for retailers in our post-pandemic world.

Carolyn Rickard-Brideau (seated), Partner/Corporate President, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting
and Bill Browning, Partner, Terrapin Bright Green, participating in the general session, “Rethink Retail Therapy: Designing Healthy Spaces.” The discussion prompted attendees to consider the use of salutogenic design principles in their own projects.

Emily Hamilton, VP, Brand Strategy and Marketing of Nelson Worldwide, discusses how brands can leverage customer expectations post-pandemic in her session, “Pivoting to Meet New Customer Demands: Creating a Brand Extension.”

Also a part of the session, “Pivoting to Meet New Customer Demands: Creating a Brand Extension,” Nelson Worldwide’s Account Director Aaron Ruef explains the importance of brand extensions in a post-pandemic retail landscape.

ZenGenius co-founder and CEO Joe Baer connects with fellow visual merchandising professional Damian Alfaro of Oregon-based cannabis brand High Quality Compassion.

Mannequins from Fusion took center stage during IRDC’s perennial favorite, The Iron Merchant Challenge.

Students from Colorado State University participated in this year’s annual Iron Merchant Challenge, allowing them to network with soon-to-be industry peers.

Students from Colorado State University were recognized during the opening remarks for the 15th annual Iron Merchant Challenge. Students were incorporated onto each team so they could work side-by-side with industry veterans and get some hands-on experience.

Participants in this year’s Iron Merchant Challenge donned Tyvek suits (paint is messy) and created a window display that communicated a message of inclusivity through the medium of street art.

Iron Merchant participants work furiously to beat the clock during IRDC’s Iron Merchant Challenge – a mashup of improvisation, creativity and design science – plus one secret ingredient guaranteed to shake things up!

Creativity knows no bounds when the retail industry’s most creative minds gather together to compete for the grand prize … the coveted Iron Merchant sash and accompany bragging rights.

Teams utilize materials they’re able to quickly grab at the beginning of the competition into their displays, which range from the practical to the fantastical.

This year’s Iron Merchant Competition marked the debut of new displays, custom-designed to our specifications by sponsor Axis Display. The new displays are lightweight, easy to transport and repair/maintain and best of all, offer competitors a dimensional space to work their magic.

The Purple team from IRDC 2021’s Iron Merchant Challenge, led by Sharon Lessard, formerly of Under Armour.

The Green team from IRDC 2021’s Iron Merchant Challenge, led by Harry Steen of UNFI.

The Red team from IRDC 2021’s Iron Merchant Challenge, led by Garrison Lattimer of Green Thumb Industries.

The Blue team from IRDC 2021’s Iron Merchant Challenge, led by Jay Highland, formerly of Chute Gerdeman.

The Yellow team from IRDC 2021’s Iron Merchant Challenge, led by Christen Soares of Field Paoli Architects.

Jin Fan, Founder and CEO, ClearLED introduces our closing keynote speaker at IRDC 2021.

Murray Kasmenn, VP and Group Brand Director of VMSD, welcomes the audience to IRDC 2021.

Gabby Rosi (left), Chief Retail Maven & Founder, The Gabby Collective led an engaging panel discussion on the evolution of sustainable consumerism and the role of feminism and their critical role in designing retail environments of the future.

Panelists Michelle M. Collins, Founder & President, A Non-Agency, and Kyle Hjelmeseth, President, G+B Digital Management, participated in an exploration of social media influencers’ role in creating popular retail engagements moderated by VMSD columnist Brian Dyches.

Adam Moon, Executive Creation Director, Fusion, was joined by Phluid Project CEO Rob Smith for a sponsor breakfast case study session on inclusivity of all types.

Miguel Yelos San Martin, Principal, YSM Design, shares two compelling case studies with retail brands Philipp Plein and Jeep on the value of design.

Paul Chapuis, CEO, OnQ, speaks about how retailer Madison Reed is using touch-interactivity and its strong connection to customer engagement during a sponsor breakfast case study presentation.

In “What is the Future of Restaurant Design,” Andrew Bellow, VP of Architecture and Design for Inspire Brands, examined the importance of drive-thru design and how it impacts the customer experience.

VMSD Managing Editor Carly Hagedon presents Brandon Boston of Target with his 2020 Designer Dozen award during VMSD‘s Luncheon Awards.

VMSD Managing Editor Carly Hagedon presents Jalpa Patel of ZenGenius with her 2021 Designer Dozen award during VMSD‘s Luncheon Awards.

VMSD Managing Editor Carly Hagedon presents Mark Scherrer of BRR Architecture with his 2020 Designer Dozen award during VMSD‘s Luncheon Awards.

VMSD Managing Editor Carly Hagedon presents Jessica Kim of BRR Architecture with her 2021 Designer Dozen award during VMSD‘s Luncheon Awards.

VMSD Managing Editor Carly Hagedon presents Kylie Wendell of Arc Worldwide/Leo Burnett Groupe, with her 2021 Designer Dozen award during VMSD‘s Luncheon Awards.

A local artist, Laura Phelps Rogers, helped create this painting during the Iron Merchant Challenge that spelled out “LUXURY.” Created partially with audience participation, these canvases were auctioned off during the VMSD Awards Luncheon to benefit PAVE.

The Blue Team took home the win for this year’s Iron Merchant Challenge. During the morning after the challenge, attendees vote on their favorite displays.

Holly Cline, Professor of Design Thinking and Department Chair of Radford University, explains the instructions for her and Bruce Parons‘ (Assistant Professor of Design Thinking, Radford University) interactive workshop, “Rethinking Retail: Connecting Through Design Thinking and Storytelling.”

Declan McCormack, Retail Client Leader, BHDP Architecture, offers retailers long-term solutions to current and future challenges through the lens of data from shoppers across the U.S. surveyed three times in the past year.

Reginaldo Reyes, VP Brand Experience and Environmental Design for KNOCK Inc., led a panel discussion, “Purpose-Driven Design for Community Based Projects,” featuring Jill Renslow (shown), EVP, Marketing and Business Development for Mall of America, as well as Betsy Vohs, Founder and CEO, Studio BV and Design Forward.

Zach Duenow, Global Director Brand Building + Creative Excellence, GSK, closes out IRDC 2021 with a heartfelt exploration of  how organizations can become blinded by addictive thought patterns that kept them recycling their awareness of the world.

Zach’s keynote session ended with a beautiful acoustic rendition of an original song he wrote and performed for the audience.

PHOTOS: Retail Design Pros Converge on Denver for IRDC 2021

PHOTOS: Retail Design Pros Converge on Denver for IRDC 2021

The International Retail Design Conference presented by VMSD  magazine returned to an in-person format in 2021, bringing together a variety of retail design pros at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, Sept. 21-22.

Celebrating its 21st year, IRDC 2021 explored the idea of “rethinking retail,” focusing on how changed shopping behavior will impact the role of the physical store.

Attendees heard from a speaker lineup with a range of expertise, also taking part in networking opportunities including the Iron Merchant Challenge, an annual fixture of the conference. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the photos here for a sampling of what you missed.