Interior Design Career Options: Working as a Retail Space Planner

Effective interior design is all about creating attractive, human-friendly spaces that also serve functional needs. Successful designers blend creativity with technical precision and balance their own ideas with the specific goals and needs of clients.

Interior designers work with spaces of all shapes and sizes, from factories to condos, luxury homes to restaurants, cruise ships to hotels.

Retail space planning is a popular interior design career within the commercial sector and a key competency taught in design training. In typical interior design programs, students must study commercial design concepts and strategies and produce their own original design project for a commercial space.

What exactly goes into retail space design, and might this be the ideal career path for you after design training? Let's take a look.


What is retail space planning?

Retail space planning focuses on how merchandise is organized and displayed in a store environment, and the overall layout and design of the space itself.

There are many kinds of retail environments, including:

  • Clothing, shoes, and accessories stores 
  • Book, stationary, and gift stores (like Chapters Indigo, for example)
  • Food stores (baked goods, cheese, meats, produce)
  • Electronics stores

Of course, one of the primary goals of retail space planning is to sell merchandise. Competition is very tough in this market, so stores often hire space planners to optimize their product displays to attract more customers and make more sales.

The layout of a store and the way merchandise is organized and presented has a tremendous impact on revenue—as well as on the brand identity of the retailer and the overall customer shopping experience.


What exactly does a retail space planner do?

A retail space planner first meets with their client to discuss goals, budget, the intended function of the space, and the overall scope of the project.

Using CAD software, the designer presents floor plans, elevations, and merchandise display ideas to the client. These plans would include 3D models that show the arrangement of display furniture, lighting, and other fixtures—or a digital "walk-through" of the entire space.

The retail space planner also advises on the selection of colour, finishes, and materials, and includes these details in the design plan.


Key skills for retail Space planners

Strong knowledge of design software (AutoCAD, SketchUp, etc.) is a must for space planners—as it is for any type of interior design work.

Another key skill in retail space planning is an awareness of marketing and branding fundamentals. For example, the colour scheme a planner selects for a store should be aligned with the client's existing colour palette and logo.

The store layout, and the way products are highlighted, should match data collected on consumer preferences and the client's sales goals. Space planners must analyze existing store planograms (the way products are displayed on shelves) in terms of sales, profitability, and inventory productivity—what is or isn't selling and why? How can the designer improve these results by optimizing the planograms?

Overall, retail space planning requires a combination of technical design skills and an understanding of shopping psychology. These assets combine to help space planners develop highly efficient store designs that make excellent use of space—and are also very appealing to customers.

IKEA is a good example. The store flow is designed to move customers through each department, along a kind of "yellow brick road." Whether or not you intended to visit the lighting section, for example, you will end up there by following the pre-determined path through the store.

IKEA products are assembled and displayed in ingenious ways, helping customers imagine the items in their own homes. The store itself is decorated in the iconic IKEA style, further reinforcing the brand experience as shoppers move through the space.

Increasingly, store owners recognize the immense value and profitability of good space planning. In order to maximize profits and truly stand out among competitors, retailers are turning to talented space planners who can take their store design and product displays to the next level.


Interested in pursuing an interior design career?

Explore the interior design diploma from Herzing College. Click below to browse a detailed course list, request free information, or chat live with a friendly advisor. We're here to help!

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