As designers and retailers, we continually need to reinvent the idea of “holiday.” Most years, the same Santa comes out, the same colors, the same decor and music. Occasionally, we’ll see tweaked color palettes, new Santa styles and fresh versions of nativity scenes. So when I took on a volunteer project with the Old Worthington Partnership (Worthington, Ohio) to revamp its local “It’s a Wonderful Window Contest,” I knew the holiday themes would have to exceed past years in terms of excitement and draw, and be more than the expected. But there was one additional factor – they also had to resonate with the millennials designing the windows.
The past three years, the contest was managed and promoted by the Partnership, but it was primarily designed and implemented by local charities and served as a small fundraiser for them.
This year, by involving my creative direction at global retail design firm CallisonRTKL, the Partnership has evolved to focus on the artistry of the window displays.
From the beginning, I asked The Ohio State University’s Interior Design and Fashion and Retail Studies students to be the visual merchandisers, knowing that I would be leading them into eye-opening new challenges and giving them an opportunity to share their talents publicly. They were all millennials, and I knew what they expected of brands: to show purpose, connect with customers, gain customer loyalty and “do good.” I wanted the students to show how retailers can meet their generation’s expectations, even if it starts small, with window displays sharing the spotlight. I wanted to challenge the students to cross-merchandise retailers, showing how they can all work together and use the holiday season to unite otherwise competitors.
The holiday theme I developed for this year’s Wonderful Window Contest is “Share the Love.” The theme aims to celebrate the spirit of the holidays by highlighting how Old Worthington retailers support each other. Each window features product from a neighboring store in order to “give” space and “share” with another retailer. The host, or “star” retailer is the main feature, with a nod or wink to the “guest star” retailer. This provides an opportunity for each store to get double exposure on the block and draw customers in. Complimentary products, and simple nostalgic props, come together to form each magical window display.
As I write this, we are halfway through the project, and the students are knee-deep in glitter, paint and candy canes. As part of the project, they are creating YouTube videos to share their design processes, sketches to show their design intent and doing their best to thank the Old Worthington retailers for believing in their talents and loaning out their sacred holiday windows.
The installations will be up Nov. 4 through Jan. 1, and the students will be onsite Nov. 7 to celebrate, mingle and present their concepts. Come see some fresh creative takes on the holidays, and find out what the young minds of the design world have created in Old Worthington. Share the love by supporting the students and local retailers. I hope to see you there!
Faith Bartrug (Columbus, Ohio) of CallisonRTKL has more than a decade of experience in transforming national brands. Her background includes brand strategy, environmental design and visual merchandising for prestigious brands including LVMH, Starwood Retail Partners, Neiman Marcus and Kohls, to name a few. As an integral member of the firm’s retail practice, she creates visual statements that bring merchandise to life.