Retail Rock Stars

Introducing VMSD's 2020 class of Designer Dozen winners
Posted June 8, 2020

Cultivating young talent is imperative for the future success of every industry, but most organizations are challenged to identify and recruit up-and-comers at that critical stage in their careers.

For that reason, nearly a decade ago, we created VMSD’s annual Designer Dozen awards program to recognize the retail industry’s rising stars, ages 35 and under, who have begun to make their mark on an industry that’s in a state of continual, and often rapid, evolution.

These multidisciplinary designers, architects and visual merchandisers were nominated by their peers for their dedication to design excellence in every aspect as well as their contributions to their respective organizations, spearheading key initiatives and inspiring fellow team members. Our Designer Dozen winners are working hard to further innovation in retail design and visual merchandising and to help reimagine the in-store customer experience.

It’s our honor to introduce the exceptional winners of VMSD’s 2020 Designer Dozen awards on the pages that follow. Keep an eye on these rising stars!


Photography: Chris Leonard, courtesy of Gensler

Alexia Beghi 
Age: 31 \ Architect, Senior Associate
Gensler \ New York

Why her?
A natural team leader, Alexia possesses expertise in interior architectural design, retail strategy, consumer behavior and trends. She is solutions oriented, has a keen eye for storytelling and understands the importance of preserving the historical legacy and acknowledging local context in her designs. Alexia has partnered with the ACE Mentor Program of America to guide high school students interested in pursuing careers in design and construction. At Gensler, she teaches and develops the curriculum for the internal gConnect program, which focuses on professional development for next-generation leaders.

Photography: Courtesy of Harman International

What place that you’ve visited has made the biggest impression on you and why?
“On a trip to Marseille, France, my husband and I stumbled upon a boutique concept store [called] Jogging. The unassuming exterior transitioned into a seemingly crumbling stone and wood beam interior. The shop owner led us up a set of rickety stairs to a gallery of local artists’ works interspersed with the latest men’s streetwear collections. After giving us a list of local restaurant recommendations, she invited us back for dinner, a tasting menu in the open-air courtyard in the back of the store. To this day, the simplicity in design, warmth in service and hospitality, and ties to the local community all housed in one small space informs the experiences I wish to create in my designs.”



Photography: Courtesy of FITCH

Brandon Boston
Age: 30 \ Associate Design Director
Fitch \ Columbus, Ohio

Why him?
As an Associate Design Director, Brandon functions as a “design director-in-training,” leading the design effort for Walmart Experiential Marketing. A strong believer in the notion that good design can be beneficial for both business and society, he wears multiple hats, leading client communication, interfacing and coordinating with client service, collaborating with strategy as well as leading the design team in his group.

What’s the biggest challenge you face professionally?
“Balancing speed and great design – two things often intrinsically opposed to one another. Yet, when we work for world leading consultancies for the world’s largest brands, speed is not a compromise anyone is willing to make. Simplicity at scale has been a hot-button phrase for our team recently. Delivering on that sentiment is my greatest challenge.”



Photography: Courtesy of Gensler

Wilson Diaz 
Age: 31 \ Associate, Senior Designer
Gensler \ Los Angeles

Why him?
Wilson is responsible for the design and creation of the Maker Lab and Digital Experience Lab in addition to his role directing and leading new prototype store designs at Gensler. A dedicated coach and mentor, he hopes to convey a full understanding of the retail design process to future designers. His work with local non-profits includes involvement in the Spark mentorship program; Para Los Niños, a community-based program for elementary school students; and the ACE Mentor program, a free after-school program designed to encourage high school students to pursue careers in architecture, construction and engineering.

Photography: Ryan Gobuty, Los Angeles

If budget were no object, I’d…
“Put more time in the process. The speed in which technology has changed the production process has been incredible in so many ways, and it has allowed me to showcase my work in ways that better help the client fully understand the overall design before construction begins. We find ourselves working as fast as possible to get into the construction phase of the project that we lose sight of the fun we all truly have in the conceptual stages. Being able to do a couple more sketches, research some new materials, visit the site and have more conversations with the client can lead to a much better end result.”



Photography: Courtesy of Bergmeyer

Catherine Keywan 
Age: 28 \ Designer
Bergmeyer \ Boston

Why her?
Known for her team-oriented approach, Catherine often extends her expertise beyond the typical design services, jumping in to assist with the installation of furniture, fixtures and visual merchandising to bring a project over the finish line while adding new skillsets to her repertoire. As part of a project with Samuel Adams, for example, she directed local artists in Boston and Cincinnati to develop custom murals, floor graphics and other visual elements specific to each location’s brand experience.

Photography: Lawrence Anderson Photography, Los Angeles

Where do you tend to find inspiration?
“By observing people interacting in their environments. As designers, we can influence how consumers engage with one another and the space around them. In a recent taproom project, one of our key layout strategies was creating different zones for customers to experience the space differently. While one zone was inspired by a chef’s table to allow conversation between drinkers and brewers, other corners were inspired by living rooms for groups of friends to claim territory. The behaviors of our customer profiles inspired our design by creating an environment all guests feel connected and comfortable in.”



Photography: Jeremy Kramer, Cincinnati

Haley Kunka 
Age: 29 \ Associate Design Director
ChangeUp \ Dayton, Ohio

Why her?
In her role as Associate Design Director, Haley leads client work – creating strategy, branding, digital expressions and in-store experiences for retail brands. Haley’s passion for art, fashion and culture gives her a distinct vantage point for trendspotting, and she brings that sensibility to each of the brands and spaces she designs. As a co-op mentor, she supports aspiring designers and regularly visits university design programs to speak about what it’s like to be a designer in the real world.

Photography: Richard Cadan, Fairfield, Conn.

What’s the biggest challenge you face professionally?
“Like many women, I’m used to hearing that I should manage my expectations and wait my turn. While I feel lucky to work for a company that empowers me, there are longstanding roadblocks for women in our industry, and navigating them is difficult. I’ve stopped telling myself that there is only one path – the one that had been paved before – and learned how to off-road instead. Most importantly, I’ve learned how to advocate for myself without apology. I hope that modeling that ambition will arm the next generation with the tools to do the same – especially the women I mentor.”



Photography: Courtesy of CallisonRTKL

Anna Leach 
Age:  35 \ Associate Vice President
CallisonRTKL \ Seattle

Why her?
As a member of CallisonRTKL’s specialty retail team, Anna translates design sketches into built stores, thriving in the world of fast-paced retail projects and the realities of construction. She’s charged with ensuring that fidelity to the initial design is maintained through the translation into buildable documents and then to a completed store, and looks for ways to bring the concept through in the details. Anna is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ Women in Design Committee and was recently accepted to the AIA Leadership Academy, a three-year program for emerging leaders.

What’s the biggest challenge you face professionally?
“The lack of representation of women in architecture is a challenge – I’m not always the face people are expecting when ‘the architect’ shows up. I’ve had only one project in my career where all three primary members of the owner-architect-contractor (OAC) team were women, and it was one of the best projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on. It’s been exciting to start to see more women stepping into high level leadership roles throughout the industry, including at CallisonRTKL where Kelly Farrell, AIA, has been CEO since 2019.”



Photography: Courtesy of Big Red Rooster

Mason Miller
Age: 31 \ Senior Designer
Big Red Rooster – a JLL company \ Columbus, Ohio

Why him?
Mason excels at creating design opportunities that place customers at the heart of the project. As a Senior Designer he leads complex retail design initiatives for a variety of Fortune 500 clients. Clients say they value Mason’s creative guidance and seek his expertise throughout all stages of the creative process. Never one to stand still, he’s committed to continuous learning and improvement through his involvement in the design community.

What’s the biggest challenge you face professionally?
“I tend to be more of a generalist than a specialist, so I thrive when I can experiment within different roles to solve design problems. Trying to break the notion that a defined role or creative background limits how you can contribute to the overall process has been my greatest challenge.”

Photography: Steph Grant Studios, Dallas

If budget were no object, I’d...
“Probably ask for a budget, otherwise I’d most likely get overwhelmed by all of the possibilities. I feel most creative when I have constraints that I have to work within.”



Photography: Courtesy of FRCH Nelson

Lisa Nolte
Age: 33 \ Senior Graphic Designer
FRCH Nelson \ Cincinnati

Why her?
While many designers are known for being outspoken, Lisa is able to speak intelligently about her designs without overwhelming a client, gaining trust in the process and facilitating more open, honest feedback and direction. As a Senior Graphic Designer, Lisa primarily works within the retail practice, executing various graphics projects throughout all phases of design. She’s skilled at creating memorable, engaging experiences within every built environment.

Photography: Lesle Lane Studio 13, Indianapolis

How do you see the role of physical stores changing in the future due to COVID-19?
“The past couple months have required retailers to think differently about their business model, operations and how they serve their customers. As we transition back, I expect many of those new services to carry forward, as customers have grown accustomed to this new level of convenience and safety. Physical stores could begin positioning themselves to serve a larger number of pick-up orders, functioning partially as fulfillment centers. For me, the interesting challenge will be maintaining the perception of approachability in an environment that creates more physical space, and even barriers, between consumers and employees.”



Photography: Courtesy of Zen Genius

Jalpa Patel
Age: 33 \ Interior Architect, Senior Visual Merchandiser
ZenGenius Inc. \ Columbus, Ohio

Why her?
In her role as Interior Architect, Senior Visual Merchandiser, Jalpa provides creative direction for retail environments, brainstorms ideas and concepts, creates renderings and schematic production files, designs custom fixtures, visual merchandising tools and oversees design development from concept to production rollouts. Her diverse portfolio includes visual merchandising, fixture design, store design, window display design and experiential space design for brands throughout North America, India, Singapore, Dubai and Italy.

Photography: Richard Cadan, Fairfield, Conn.

Share a bit about your creative process with our readers.
Retail is a melting pot of various factors. I find my inspiration in all the beautiful places I’ve traveled to and explored. Travel teaches a lot about human behavior, local art and culture, and unexpected experiences. When I take a new project, I start with brainstorming and extensive research about the brand and its core values. I romance the brand until I fall in love and put my heart and soul in the creative thinking process to develop a solid concept. In any relationship, the foundation needs to be strong, so as in retail design, the concept forms the core. Once the concept is finalized, I move to the next detailing phase. I play with materials and textures, schedule specifications that result in delivering experience-rich, well-executed spaces.



Photography: Courtesy of FRDC

Mayur Raiyani
Age: 35 \ Associate Creative Head Retail Design
FRDC \ Bengaluru, India

Why him?
Mayur’s portfolio includes a diverse range of work in retail design, from designing entire duty-free retail spaces to independent brand experience stores to flagships. He creates complete retail experiences including visual merchandising, in-store communications, advanced retail lighting and retail technologies, fixture designs, and interior and architectural services. Colleagues say his eye for detail and lateral senses within store design give him an innate ability to transform conceptual design ideas into futuristic and visceral retail executions.

Photography: Praveen Sundaram, Bengaluru, India

How would you describe your design sensibility?
“I believe in the human-centric design approaches that are about the people you design for and providing solutions that meet their needs. In retail, helping customers through retail therapy is my biggest inspiration! All our projects at the design studio follow the collaborative design process. We begin by defining the design strategy and critical elements that answer the customers’ needs. We then design spatial elements and propose a design approach, followed by developing design concepts and delivering effective brand experiences.” 



Photography: Aaron Lindberg, Kansas City, Mo.

Mark Scherrer
Age: 33 \ Principal and Vice President
BRR Architecture \ Overland Park, Kan.

Why him?
Colleagues describe Mark as “cool, calm and collected” – a quality that serves him well as a Principal and Vice President. Mark collaborates with clients on a regular basis to discover their vision for a project and execute the design for their needs. He has a passion for green buildings that extends into past and present projects and worked diligently with client Whole Foods Market and the Green Building Initiative (GBI) to achieve GBI’s Green Globes green building certification for multiple projects.

Photography: Alistair Tutton, Kansas City, Mo.

How and why did you get into retail design/visual merchandising?
“Ever since my first opportunity working on grocery store design, I’ve had a passion to create spaces and layouts that have an impact on so many people. And to affect such a necessary routine in life is pretty inspiring.”

What drives you to design?
“Observing the way people think, and shop, in a grocery store. What is intuitive, what is challenging, and how can we solve for that with more creative solutions?”



Photography: Courtesy of TSUM Kyiv

Krystyna Yura
Age: 28 \ Senior Creative Department Specialist
TSUM Kyiv \ Kiev, Ukraine

Why her?
Krystyna leads a team of in-house designers at TSUM Kyiv and is responsible for creating new concepts for both seasonal decoration and for the various retail zones in the department store. Design deliverables include displays and visual merchandising elements, façade decoration and promotional zones. Her team’s goal is to create a unified concept for the in-store decoration for all eight floors of the 45,000-square-meter department store, windows and façade. Krystyna is always searching for new visual approaches, and she strives to create designs with great emotional impact that increase social media visibility, serve to educate and sometimes even deliver a bit of humor.

What place that you’ve visited has made the biggest impression on you and why?
“The Venice Biennale 2019, a contemporary visual art exhibition in Venice, Italy. I was impressed by the dissonance of contemporary art and the old-style architecture of the city. Architectural buildings show history and the past, and the art inside of these buildings shows the most important and hottest topics of today. This trip inspired me to create FW 2019 concept for in-store and windows decoration for TSUM Kyiv in collaboration with local Ukrainian contemporary artists. We invited famous Ukrainian artists to make a collaboration of fashion and local art, creating a big event afterwards.”