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Words to Work By

Three days at IRDC provide a year’s worth of inspiration and ideas



If designers think in pictures, then editors think in terms of quotes. The notebook sitting on my desk from the 2012 VMSD International Retail Design Conference (IRDC) is filled with pages of facts, statistics and some paragraph-stopping good quotes.

Some make me smile when I read them and think back on our three days in Chicago this past September. “It’s the special extraordinary moments that catch our attention,” announced Joe Baer, founder of ZenGenius, before unveiling this year’s secret ingredient in the Iron Merchant Visual Challenge.

Some will keep me pondering for months to come. “The person who designs the experience is the person who understands the customer best,” Francesco Cordua, director of retail design at McDonald’s USA, told the audience during his closing keynote on the fast-food chain’s efforts to transform its multi-billion dollar brand.

Many of the discussions at this year’s event, from the keynote and breakout sessions to the always-chatty networking roundtable lunches, centered on the idea of experience.

“It’s about how I feel when I walk into your store. The products are just the souvenirs,” Bob Phibbs said during his opening presentation, “Yesterday’s Gone: Thriving in Store Design Today.” His point: People, not prices, make us excited about retail, and it’s up to the designers and creative minds in our industry to keep the fun alive.

It’s certainly at work at Macy’s Inc., this year’s VMSD/Peter Glen Retailer of the Year. “When we think about bringing a store to life, we think about the energy,” says Amy Hanson, Macy’s executive vp, property development and credit and customer services. Case in point is what’s going on inside the retailer’s top-to-bottom renovation of its Herald Square flagship.


Many of the ideas and lessons shared during the IRDC case study presentations rallied around experience, too, from Liverpool’s elegant, modern flagship in Interlomas, Mexico, to Target’s new CityTarget concept. Among the innovations at the Chicago site are the amped-up visual presentation and introduction of mannequins – the latter being a first for the big box retailer. So, why now? “It’s one way to elevate the experience for our guests,” says Eames Gilmore, architectural design manager for Target.

From Target to McDonald’s and every retail sector in-between, today’s focus on elevating experiences is the most important and relevant tool at your disposal. After all, “If you’re not connecting with the customer, being good at everything else doesn’t matter,” says McDonald’s Cordua.

Words to design and live by.



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