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She’s Creating a First-of-Its-Kind Masters in Retail Design Program

Curriculum to address how design is part of the new retail experience.

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Jennifer Schlueter
Jennifer Schlueter
All the World’s a Stage

You’re starting a dynamic new first-of-its-kind curriculum – Master of Professional Studies in Retail Design – at the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD).

We want students to focus on the future of retail, but not only in an academic way. CCAD isn’t a business school or a research institution, we’re a school for making and creating – not just learning. So the program will address how design is part of the new retail experience. We’re interested in nestling students’ design acumen into what the customer experience is and what it needs.

You’ve put together a strong advisory board.

We believe so – people from retail organizations, research firms, branding firms, design firms, consultancies. Many of our board members have ‘creative’ as part of their titles. Chuck Palmer, my partner in this program, is the owner of ConsumerX Retail here in Columbus, Ohio. (Don’t miss their session, “RED is the New Black: Developing the Next Generation of Retail Experience Design Talent,” at IRDC (irdconline.com) this fall.)

The timing of this launch seems perfect. Hopefully, we’re coming out of a pandemic, stores are reopening and there’s a ton of damage residue to deal with.

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Yes. Plenty of retailers are currently reimagining what their in-store experiences will be like post-pandemic, and we want our students to jump onto that. But not just in store. We want students to grapple with the part design plays in the retail experience, but we’re going to be channel agnostic. We’ll be looking at all the ways the consumer interacts with the retailer; in the store, but also in e-commerce and via social media. We want everyone in the program – students, instructors, and guest lecturers – to think of the industry as a whole, in all its myriad facets.

You’ll be starting and ending in January. That seems strange, right in the middle of the academic year.

It’s intentional. Normal graduates come out of school in June, right in the middle of retailers’ strategic planning processes, cleaning up the first two quarters of the business calendar and preparing for Christmas. January comes after the rush of holiday, all the post-mortems about the previous year and strategic planning for the year to come. It fits in better with the industry’s needs and hiring needs.

Your background is in theater.

Yes, all facets of it. Some performing, but mostly writing, production, direction and management. Before I came to CCAD, I taught in the theater department at Ohio State.

And how do you think this relates to retail design?

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Because, like the theater, retail design is storytelling. [It’s] grappling with how people’s brains work and employing storytelling to make them want to come to your store, go to your website, engage with your brand. We’ve had focus groups talking about what people coming into this industry both have and lack, and what keeps coming up is: ‘They can draw, they understand lighting, they know what is beautiful, but what they aren’t prepared to do is the persuasion and storytelling aspect.’

How big a class are you shooting for?

My goal is a robust and well-curated cohort of 10 in the first program. Because this is our first group, we want to make sure they get the needed personal attention and one-on-one mentorship that we want this program to be known for. Nothing in education is as important as the way a teacher can see each individual and develop them, inspire them and support their potential.

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 Amazon.com. 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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