Ahead of the Store Design in a Digital Age panel during NYRIW, PSFK interviewed Hollwich Kushner architecture and design office CEO Marc Kushner to learn how leading retailers are creating memorable, brand-specific store experiences for customers

Today's retail goes much deeper than the transaction, product or service: Contemporary brands have become defining elements in people's lives and identities, says Marc Kushner, partner at leading architecture and design firm Hollwich Kushner, and stores accordingly are increasingly serving the roles that galleries and museums once did.

Ahead of speaking on the Store Design in a Digital Age panel, part of New York Retail Innovation Week, PSFK caught up with Marc to glean insights into what consumers want most out of in-store shopping today, and how Hollwich Kushner helps brands from Casper and Uniqlo to MINI build unforgettable cultural experiences.

Could you describe any consumer or retailer trends in retail design that you're leveraging or responding to in the work that you do?

Consumers want much more than simply convenience. Shopping has always been fundamentally social—it's about seeing and being seen.

What's new is that brick-and-mortar stores are now beginning to provide immersive brand experiences, helping consumers more fully engage with the brands they fell in love with through social media and advertisements. This is why the oft-trumpeted “retail apocalypse” hasn't happened. Ecommerce is convenient, but it simply can't provide the kind of total brand experience that a well-designed physical space offers.

What motivates or inspires the work that you do at Hollwich Kushner? Are there particular unmet consumer needs you wanted to meet, or gaps you want to fill?

Courtesy © Michael Moran /OTTO

We make places for people. Our spaces are designed to bring people together, empower them to engage with one another, and generate connections between people and the places where they live their lives. This is what we believe retail design is all about—creating stores that generate unforgettable experiences.

In-store retail has undergone a lot of changes in an age of ecommerce, and now serves different purposes for retailers. Could you speak to this at all, and how you think store design can best serve current retailer's needs?

Online shopping is convenient, but there's so much that gets lost when you buy products online rather than in-store. The social aspects of shopping, as well as the total and immersive brand experience consumers look for, is something that only physical places can provide.

We see retail as one of the primary ways people engage with culture. Brands have become such a defining element of our lives and identities. We talk about their favorite subway ads and follow our favorite companies on Twitter and Instagram.

Stores are increasingly serving the roles that galleries and museums once did. They're places where people come together to engage in a shared cultural experience. You see that in some of our earlier work with Uniqlo and MINI, where we created spaces that—more than just selling products—offered a place for people to have memorable experiences together.

Courtesy © Michael Moran /OTTO

You worked with mattress brand Casper to design its Dreamery experience, an activation that we've covered before at PSFK. Could you describe what it was like to build it, and how similar experiences can serve today's retailers?

Courtesy © Michael Moran /OTTO

The Dreamery was an extraordinary project to be a part of. We worked closely with Casper to truly understand their brand identity and translate it into a physical space. Everything about the design—from the star-lit entry way, to the serene check-in space and the sleep pods themselves—was designed to reinforce aspects of Casper's identity and create a place that was uniquely their own.

Courtesy © Michael Moran /OTTO

That collaborative process is the key of retail design. The success of these spaces depends on how well you're able to channel and express a brand's established identity. If its not right, consumers will notice.

We see a lot of digitally native brands looking to enable experiences like the above. Do you work with a lot of DTC, or digital native clients? What insights do you have into how retailers are looking to use stores in their retail strategy today?

We're currently working with several more exciting digital-native brands to create their first brick-and-mortar presence. We're passionate about this type of work, and we're excited by the challenge of getting to know a brand so well and then translating its personality into a physical space. The excitement these spaces create—just look at the response to the Dreamery, for example—is undeniable. Consumers like to be able to visit a place that embodies the brands they've grown to love on social media.

What do you hope to share during the ‘IRL Retail Design in a Digital Age' panel at NYRIW?

Courtesy © Michael Moran /OTTO

We've been working with innovative brands for ten years to create unique retail experiences. We hope to share what we've learned over that decade, and how we've seen the retail landscape change. More, we hope to talk about the process of working with brands to create spaces that feel unique to them and offer consumers the kind of total experience they're looking for.

How do you think store experiences and design will continue to evolve over the next few years? Or, alternatively, what do you hope it will become?

We're going to increasingly see that young brands grow up on digital platforms like social media, establish a strong identity that people then fall in love with, and make the jump to a physical store. These stores are going to have to offer an experience they can't have online. They'll be about much more than just selling products, they'll be places where—like what we achieved with the Dreamery—people can have a unique, memorable and brand-specific experience.

Hollwich Kushner

Come listen to Marc share more insights at the IRL Retail Design In A Digital Age panel, part of New York Retail Innovation Week. The 45-minute discussion will explore the process of converting retail trends into living and customer-facing storefronts, and more broadly the store experience in the age of screens and other digital interfaces. Tickets available here!