Identifying and nurturing talent is a challenge for virtually every organization, especially in retail. Now in its sixth year, VMSD’s annual Designer Dozen makes that onus a bit easier by honoring the best and brightest of the industry’s up-and-coming stars, ages 35 and younger.
The designers, retailers and visual merchandisers on the following pages are making a name for themselves largely because of their devotion to excellence and dedication to their craft, but also from a desire to continuously evolve their education, and in many cases, that of others.
From a Vancouver, British Columbia-based retailer who realized his dream to create the ultimate pop-up to an interior designer who hand-painted designs for a client’s wallpaper when no suitable options could be found, our Designer Dozen honorees are working hard every day to make a positive impact on the experience of shopping in store.
We’ve watched past winners take their places among the most innovative and successful professionals in our industry, and we have no doubt this group will do the same.
Read on to meet the winners of VMSD’s 2017 Designer Dozen Awards.
Age: 27 \ Visual Display Specialist
Kit and Ace \ Vancouver, B.C.
Responsible for Kit and Ace’s global window strategy, design and procurement, as well as all in-store display assets and fixture designs, George Bevan’s ideas are incorporated across nearly 50 locations in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan and Australia. He and his team blend traditional design elements with more contemporary concepts that speak to the brand’s advertising campaigns and other seasonal initiatives. Bevan credits his architectural background for the ability to view projects from small- and large-scale perspectives, a critical skill in window and display design.
What project are you most proud of?
“I’ve worked on a number of shipping container projects, and none ever came to fruition. The Kit and Ace container pop-up concept, Eh-Frame (featured in VMSD, August 2016), allowed me to bring my vision to life. We took a 20-foot container and outfitted the interior with Kit and Ace fixtures, including copper rails and a glass roof, and added a framing system above to reflect the design of a classic Canadian A-frame cabin. The whole thing can be packed up inside the container, making it easy to pop up wherever.”
Age: 26 \ Interior Designer
Supervalu \ Eden Prairie, Minn.
Kelsey Jacobucci applies her passion for design to her grocery environments to improve not only the customer experience, but the employee experience, as well. She believes that bringing community and history into a retail design project adds character to the space and helps customers better relate to it. Working on locations in the South, East Coast and Midwest U.S., Jacobucci uses a range of techniques, from hand sketches to computer-aided drafting.
What’s the biggest challenge you face?
“Aggressive timelines and budgets; getting the most designs out in the limited time I have. Budgets are always getting cut, and often, design [or] decor is the first thing to go. Being able to keep the design intent while the budget is getting cut is often a challenge.”
Age: 30 \ Senior Designer
MNA \ New York
Andrew Lee thrives in the fast-paced world of retail: At architecture and design firm MNA, Lee works with a variety of brands and broadens his knowledge beyond architecture by collaborating with colleagues who practice visual merchandising and technology integration. His work includes the Patagonia store in New York’s Meatpacking District and the Club Monaco flagship in Washington, D.C., as well as projects for Lucky Brand (Los Angeles), Everything But Water (Orlando) and Color Siete (Manizales, Colombia).
What is a signature design element in your work?
“During architecture school, studies in urban design imparted [to] me the importance of context. When given the opportunity, particularly for projects on street locations, I try to draw upon the local neighborhood and community through extensive research of not only the past, but also the present. Gathering historic information and photographs, and analyzing local patterns in behavior, arms us with a great resource of information to better inform our designs.”
Age: 29 \ Visual Merchandiser
Artifacts/Art Haus \ Taipei, Taiwan
Ju-Chun Lo is tasked with creating seasonal and holiday windows for nine stores representing two brands. She began her career at Aesop (New York), where she learned both how to execute within corporate design guidelines and how and where she could apply her own creativity. Lo says she enjoys including humor in her designs and loves to evoke a wow factor in her work. If budget were no object, she says she’d build a multilevel transparent store.
Who has had the greatest influence on your work?
“My boss and my colleagues. Every time I encounter bottlenecks in my design process, I will chat with my colleagues, [and] often in the process of [discussing], there is a great idea there. My boss has always encouraged us to make the most impressive designs.”
Age: 33 \ Senior Designer
Tumi \ South Plainfield, N.J.
Over the past four years, Beatrix Nemeth has designed and project managed 600 stores on time and on budget. Notable among those many stores is the recent Tumi flagship at the World Trade Center (New York), as well as concepts for two airport kiosks that reduced a typical 3000-square-foot store into a 200-square-foot, modular shop, without compromising customer flow, product showcases or point-of-sale features. Nemeth says she loves how working in retail constantly challenges her as a designer and allows her to step outside her comfort zone.
How did you get into retail design?
“[With the help of] my longtime architect friend and mentor, I had the opportunity to join the store planning and design team at Liz Claiborne. There, I received a great introduction and foundation of retail design by my superiors and a glimpse of the vast possibilities of the retail industry. From high budgets to low, we worked on many projects in the U.S. and abroad and learned a great deal of retail culture that made me love this field.”
Age: 26 \ Senior Experiential Designer
Team Epiphany \ New York
Described by her peers as being passionate about narrative retail environments, Sayoko Osada believes in communicating the brand promise using multiple sensory experiences. She built, and now leads, the spatial design practice at Team Epiphany (New York). Osada describes her work as thematic and sequential, and says she enjoys creating drama around the product, beginning with display windows and continuing inside the store in a sequence of customer encounters.
Retail changes every day. What design trends have caught your eye recently?
“Since [Japanese artist] Yayoi Kusama’s rise in popularity in 2012, mirrors and patterns have been utilized in myriad ways with a primary goal of optimizing Instagram shares. While this trend is still strong, monochrome is the new immersion technique, in my opinion. In a visually busy world, what is more immersive than a quiet, single hue? It not only envelopes you in one color, it brings clear focus to the products.”
Age: 31 \ Project Designer
Joey Restaurants \ Vancouver, B.C.
Working in restaurant design was always the goal for Meghan Pitt. She says she’s been consistently intrigued by design that impacts public spaces, and in her role as project designer for Joey Restaurants, Pitt creates environments unique to the brand. She mentions the Joey location in Woodland Hills, Calif., the first of the brand’s restaurants to open in California, as the project of which she’s most proud. The design team conquered a steep learning curve and were challenged with new building codes and a different climate, to make a strong first impression in the market.
What’s the biggest challenge you face professionally?
“Finding a balance between the best design solution, the schedule and budget. I’m probably a rare breed of designer where I do have a strong left brain, as well. I am very interested in the practical management and execution of our projects. With that being said, the challenge then becomes working within these constraints without allowing them to hinder the best design solutions.”
Age: 32 \ Associate
CallisonRTKL \ Dallas
As head of the color, materials and FF&E selection at Seattle-based CallisonRTKL’s Dallas office, Jayme Schutt spends her days identifying and evaluating the critical tools that help designers set their environments apart. But what if the perfect finish or material is nowhere to be found? Schutt’s solution when the design team at Bloomingdale’s flagship in Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center couldn’t locate a suitable wallpaper was to design and hand-paint it herself, looking toward nature for inspiration.
What excites you most about retail design/visual merchandising?
“Creating an experience … with the hope of creating something memorable for the shopper. The way we shop has changed, [and] as designers, we are constantly battling the ease that online shopping brings to today’s consumer. The challenge becomes, what can we do to create a draw into the retail store? There has to be an experience worth coming in for! That’s why we design.”
Age: 30 \ Lead Designer, Owner
Susan Strauss Design \ Lakewood, N.J.
The integration of psychology in design drives Susan Strauss’ desire to push boundaries in her own work. Among her notable projects, she counts the challenge of once designing a fish market on a shoestring budget as particularly satisfying: The design included more than 10,000 feet of fishing chain hanging from the ceiling that became the location’s signature visual element.
What is a key design element in your work?
“The retail spaces I design are pristine and neat, with clean lines … those are the building blocks of visual design. These aspects are often relegated to be a mere afterthought in the excitement of working with colors, styles and building elements. It is of the utmost importance to bring them back to the forefront of our minds to make sure we get the simple things right before moving forward with the details. Like a lot of things in life, when something is done right, it becomes invisible to us, but when it’s done badly, it becomes an annoyance. If the simple part of the design – the basic structure, layout, presentation – is not done properly, it leaves the consumer with a poor impression of the brand and product.”
Age: 35 \ Creative Director
HWVisual \ London
Holly Wadsworth discovered the retail design industry by accident, when she was recruited to join the visual merchandising design team at Louis Vuitton (Paris). That opportunity led to four years of designing its global window displays and in-store events. Ten years later, her focus is squarely on the future generation: Wadsworth is also an associate lecturer in visual merchandising and branding at the London College of Fashion.
If budget were no object, what would you design?
“Having worked on many projects for luxury brands where the budget was virtually limitless, I don’t think having more of a budget necessarily makes a project easier or better. The higher the budget, the higher the expectations and demands. Sometimes a small budget can lead to the most creative solutions because you’re forced to think outside the box.”
Age: 35 \ Director of Architectural Design
Freshii \ Toronto
Overseeing the design and development of all 300 global Freshii restaurants means there is always something for Chad Webre to learn. He points to Freshii’s green hedge wall, or “fedge,” as it’s known, as the single element that appears in various iterations at each location – whether it’s on the ceiling, as a large-scale interior wall or as part of exterior signage. Webre believes that, through design, retailers can recapture emotions and build a strong connection with customers.
What design trends have caught your eye recently?
“One-size-fits-all approaches to design are no longer relevant within our industry, and consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their expectations. Working for a branded restaurant group, we learned early on that we had to take an individualized approach to the development and design of our restaurants. Even though customers want consistency in the product offerings, the experience of going to a restaurant needs to be unique and interesting. At Freshii, no two stores are exactly alike.”
Age: 34 \ Design Director, Brand Environments
Chute Gerdeman \ Columbus, Ohio
A few interior drawing classes in college were all it took to get Jeff Wietrzykowski hooked on a career in design. His work usually includes pops of color, which Wietrzykowski believes not only add energy to an environment, but are also a powerful navigation tool. He says that given unlimited time and budget, he’d make working in a client’s store or restaurant mandatory for the design team. The reason, he says, are the valuable insights they’d gain working side-by-side with employees and interacting one-on-one with customers.
Who has been the greatest influence on you in your work?
“My dad. He was the first person to encourage me to go to design school and always supported me along the way. Growing up, I saw how hard he worked as an engineer, but more importantly, I knew that he loved what he did. Once I realized this, I decided whatever career I chose, it needed to be something I loved. Fortunately, I became a designer.”
Click here to view last year's winners.