Updated: Jul 29
The rhythm and harmony of retail design
The relationship between music and art has long been a topic of discussion. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the 19th-century French Neoclassical painter, said to his painting students, “If I could make musicians out of you, you would profit as painters.”
A compelling musical score, or a captivating work of art, both have the ability to move emotions, alter one’s state of mind, awaken distant memories, and soothe the soul.
Analogously, the rhythmic flow and structure of music can be associated with the rhythmic flow and structure of architecture. Much in keeping with the tenets of musical theory, architecture reaches a three-dimensional reality based on the constructs of rhythm, harmony, texture, proportion, and movement.
Inspired by the elaborate architectural edifices springing up across the German landscape, and the structures he encountered while visiting Italy, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the 18th-century German writer, waxed poetic about the inherent bond between music and architecture when he declared, “Architecture is frozen music.” Robert Browning takes a somewhat opposite view of Goethe’s hypothesis in his poem Abt Vogler, implying that music is liquid architecture.
There is pattern and fluidity to music and to any design discipline, whether it’s architecture or environmental design. While music and architecture both feature dynamic measures of movement, architecture captures these seemingly ephemeral gestures in one representative moment in time.
Both music and architecture are tools of communication born of a beautiful common cultural heritage. While most music is pleasing to the ear, and most architecture pleasing to the eye, both are pleasing to the spirit and soul. Moreover, whether it’s classical, contemporary, or futuristic, the two reflect upon every facet of knowledge and study, including the humanities, science, the social sciences, and the human condition.
Retail design at its best is a conduit of communication. The experience of walking through a store informs visitors about information that the retailer wants them to learn. In effect, the store designer is an educator. The curriculum is broadened when working in a space or within the architectural confines of a building, as consideration is given to rooms, areas, or departments within a larger narrative, as visitors move through and about the entire selling center.
Going forward in a constantly evolving world, one must realize that effective store design isn’t merely an exercise in engineering or an application of the fine arts, but rather a social responsibility and community service. Today’s customers demand that retail design demonstrates a genuine sense of concern about the lives of those for whom the store is ultimately built. Now as we march deeper into the digital age, one must consider new rhythms and beats, and where the structure and movement of architecture and in fact, store design, is headed.
Those skilled in communication, and gifted with a talent for design, speak poetically when advancing a branded environmental concept. And where pencil used to touch paper, now it’s digital manifestations of creativity and imagination that excite, inspire, and compel. And when today’s retailers charge their in-house design teams, or one of the many retail design consultancies, to develop a conceptual design package to further their brand image, the designer must consider the silent client with whom there wasn’t a consultation: the visitor, the user, and the loyal customer.
Retail designers are in the business of fashion, and while both music and fashion can be ephemeral, store design must also be as fluid as the changing times. Designers must understand the shifting wants, needs, and demands of an evolving demographic. Shoppers no longer buy based on the logotype in front of the brand, rather, they buy based on the purpose, values, soul, and emotion behind the brand.
In the final analysis, the shared parallels between music and architecture are clear; they communicate through the language of rhythm, texture, harmony, balance, and repetition. It should be noted that architecture is so much more than the clever arrangement of materials, shapes, and forms. The overarching commonality between music, architecture, and design is the movement of emotion.
Music is the highest form of art due to its inherent ability to instantly move emotion and alter the way one feels. Effective store designers must reach for the elusive high C. They must nudge, push and move the emotions of the silent clients for whom they ultimately work; those who engage the processed space.
Before the unveiling of a newly designed selling center, those charged with the design concept must ask, “What has been done to create something new? Has the design solution made things better? Does the space positively impact people’s lives? Does it change their lives for the better? Will visitors be inspired by the built environment? Will they derive a sense of desire and aspiration from all that they see and touch? And ultimately, how does it make people feel?
Maya Angelou tells us, “People will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This thought piece was originally shared in January 2023.
Revisiting This Thought
AN UPDATE FROM THE AUTHOR
The movement of emotion is the single most important catalyst that transforms a mere craft into the realm of art. Music is the highest form of art due to its inherent ability to instantly move emotion and alter the way one feels. Both music and architecture communicate through the language of rhythm, texture, harmony, balance, and repetition. The overarching commonality between a compelling musical score and a captivating architectural edifice, is the ability to move emotions, alter one’s state of mind, awaken distant memories, inspire dreams, and soothe the soul.
Retail designers are in the business of fashion, and while both music and fashion can be ephemeral, store design must also be as fluid as the changing times. Designers must have their fingers on the pulse of society; they must understand the shifting wants, needs, and demands of an evolving demographic. In keeping with the great composers and influential architects, they must reach for the levers of emotion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ERIC FEIGENBAUM, MEDIA RDI
Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience. His career includes working in four different sectors of the industry. As a retailer, he served as Corporate Director of Visual Merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a Division of Federated Department Stores, for fourteen years. In that capacity, he played a key role in the design and development of seven new stores and ten major renovations. He also served as the chair of Federated’s Visual Directors’ Team.
On the design side, he was the Director of Visual Merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design consultancy located in New York City, specializing in retail design worldwide. In that role, he helped bring visual merchandising to Asia and South America and was involved in the design of stores in South Korea, Japan, Chile, and Peru. He was also a key contributor in the application of WalkerGroup’s proprietary service Envirobranding®, which promotes the physical store environment as an integral component of a company’s projected brand image.
In the educational sector, he was the Chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College in New York City from 2000 to 2015, where he created the first four-year BBA degree program in visual merchandising, and the first masters degree program in visual merchandising. A pioneer in advocating an eco-friendly approach to visual merchandising and store design, Feigenbaum is responsible for conceiving and designing the state-of-the-art LIM College Green Lab – a sustainable materials lab and research center. Additionally, he was an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Currently, he is the president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design. With many responsibilities, he also works in the editorial sector as the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD Magazine, and the Director of Workshops for WindowsWear.
Feigenbaum has been the recipient of numerous prestigious industry awards. In 2012, he was awarded the industry’s highest honor, the coveted Markopoulos Award. Professor Feigenbaum has lectured all over the world on visual merchandising and store design including presentations at the World Retail Congress and the National Retail Federation as well as presentations in Seoul and Ulsan South Korea; Fukuoka, Japan; Santiago, Chile; Hong Kong; Sydney and Melbourne, Australia; Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil; Dusseldorf, Germany; Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, Canada; Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City, Mexico; Madrid, Spain; Lima, Peru; Bogota and Medellin, Colombia; and Milan and Ancona, Italy.
Feigenbaum is also a founding member of PAVE Global (previously known as, A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education) and is regarded as one of the top experts and visionaries in the Visual Merchandising and store design industries.