From Hong Kong to Montreal and in between, Toronto-based dkstudio
has been helping global retail and corporate clients create spaces
that stay true to their brand while respecting cultural sensitivities.
1. Some retailers see their stores as a space to experience a brand. How do you design an experience without it feeling too showy?
In retail design, it is generally accepted (and quite important I would add), that the stores are extensions of the brand. The mood and feel of the spaces need to support the product and its target demographic. So yes – it is important that the space talks to not only the products it contains and features, but also the specific brand’s groups of customers.
As for designs feeling too showy, the key is really that the store is there to support the product and shopping experience. If the store design becomes too showy, it overwhelms the product. If the design is too flat, the shopping experience becomes dull and lacklustre. It really is about finding a balance. Some brands actually like showy as this is in line with their culture. Many others prefer not to overshadow the product. There are so many stores and brands screaming for attention, so there are signature themes, materials, displays and artwork that act as signposts – you know where you are, without spending too much time consciously looking at the design of the store.
2. In terms of store design, how do you balance the continuity of a global brand while respecting each cultural context?
Most brands have a clear design identity for their stores that gives a sense of cohesion to the brands globally. You know instantly when you are in a Vuitton store, as opposed to a Prada, Jimmy Choo, or Dolce & Gabbana store. Store design carries the brand identity and DNA. What is even more interesting is that when the global concept is strained or even starts to fail, it means that it is not speaking to a certain demographic. We are embarking on a design concept overhaul for a brand in Asia where the USA concept, recognizable to North American shoppers, does not speak to its Asian patrons. It is like speaking a different language. The design needs to be reimagined to be able to speak to the Asian shoppers in their own language. The shifts may appear subtle but they are an important part of the brand experience in a local context. And that’s part of the fun of design!
3. Give two examples of brands that you worked with whose stores into a foreign market failed and why.
We are currently working with a US brand (we cannot disclose the brand at the moment) who has an important presence in Asia. The original concept was geared to the US consumer, and was based on the concept of a garage. While this was quite cool and a hit in the brand’s home state of California & across the US, it did not quite register in Asia as most people do not own garages and cannot really relate to this concept and its translation into store design. We are currently re-imagining the design of the stores based on a variation of the concept that speaks more directly to the Asian customers.
4. Which brands have you worked with that believe in total design, where they want their identity to go from interior to exterior?
There are many brands that believe in total design. We work with Louis Vuitton, whose stores are a perfect example. The facade is always an integral part of the store experience, and acts as both an extension of the inside as well as an exquisite, and oftentimes ephemeral enclosure. Facades are usually custom designed and specially fabricated to reflect the precision, extremely high craftsmanship and standards of the product.