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Humanism and the Future of Design

Updated: Jul 29, 2023



Imagining a better world

Albert Einstein famously told us, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” The future of retail will be defined by imagination, creativity, and innovation. They are the drivers of prosperity and the engines of success.


Today, we’re crossing the threshold of a global community, facing great political change, ground-breaking technologies, and difficult economic challenges. Moving forward, we can look to the past with an eye on the future, recalling a period when varying forms of cultural expression came together in response to the conditions of the day.


In 1919, soon after World War I, Walter Gropius introduced the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. The movement was influenced by modernism and constructivism and had a significant impact on architecture, graphic and industrial design, fashion, music, and even store design. A few years later, the period between the World Wars and the uncertainty of the Great Depression spawned and fueled the Art Deco movement, perhaps the most influential period of art in the 20th Century, with a dynamic impact on design, including visual merchandising and store design.


While the future is unknowable, we are faced with the indisputable certainties of climate change, social unrest, and uncharted political upheaval. Great designers will respond to the conditions of the day; they are not just observers watching the future unfold, but rather they are the authors of what comes next. Retail designers who wait passively for the future to find them, will be hopelessly mired in the past.


The Italian Renaissance was an awakening, producing movements in art, architecture, and philosophy that inspired the world. Among the many transformative elements of this period of enlightenment was humanism, a philosophy centered around the dignity of the human experience. With the existential challenges now before us, it should be noted that the art, architecture, and design of today, can be a conduit for awareness and enlightenment tomorrow.


The next generation of artists, architects, and designers will respond to the challenges of modern life with a new humanism, where environmental space, whether residential or commercial, will be designed to human scale, for human consumption and human interaction. The biggest challenge facing retail today isn’t the economy, the aftermath of the pandemic, or the integration of technology, but rather it's the humanization of the process. Retail designers must add the human touch.


Community is becoming the centerpiece of effective design along with inclusion and diversity. The design process, as well as the design product, will foster all three thereby enhancing the human experience. Going forward, design must be a welcoming portal and an agent for change.


So as we bow to the temples of technology and are shepherded by myriad devices that we hold in our hands, can we somehow chart a new direction for growth, understanding, and hope? Can social responsibility be as compelling as “buy one, get one free?” Can retailers use the new tools of connected commerce as new tools of connected conscience? Can we do more than just sell; can we also teach and connect?


It must be noted, and in fact celebrated, that transparency is a by-product of the challenges we face in today’s world. The new retail order is an open book. It tells the customer who you are, what you have to say, and how you say it. So, the message here is quite clear: Stand for something, have a point of view, and make a difference.


Einstein charted the path to the future with a single word, imagination. Through design, we can imagine a world that is just, equitable, and inclusive.

This thought piece was originally shared in September 2022.
 

Revisiting This Thought

AN UPDATE FROM THE AUTHOR


Retail evolves in lockstep with changes in society and movements in culture. Faced with myriad challenges through the years, retail designers have traditionally responded to the uncertainties of the day by embracing new concepts, new ideas, and new technologies. In so doing, many buzzwords have entered into the retail vernacular. The three most important words today are imagination, creativity, and innovation.


Successful designers will respond to the conditions of the day not merely by being observers watching the future unfold, but rather, by being the authors of what comes next. The next chapter in the book of design will be defined by humanism, empathy, and social responsibility.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ERIC FEIGENBAUM, MEDIA RDI


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.


 



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