International design visionaries Diego Burdi and Paul Filek of design studio BURDIFILEK have been at the centre of luxury retail, with nearly 25 years of experience transforming retail spaces such as Holt Renfrew to a series of Neiman Marcus stores across the US. These design partners have won over 150 internationally recognized awards for creating shopping experiences all over the world from New York to Korea. 

It is true that social media and online shopping have changed the way retail works, but we asked Burdi and Filek about how retail space design has evolved in the last two decades and their take on what designers need to consider when creating retail spaces. 

Helen: How did Burdifilek get started?

Diego: We met as design students. We stayed in touch after graduation and eventually started Burdifilek.

Describe your personal design aesthetic.

D: Classic modern with an unexpected, almost eccentric twist.

Paul: Minimal, modern, pared back.

Can you break down your design process?

D: Our design process starts with understanding the real problem at hand and identifying the opportunities within the project from a global point of view.
P: Our studio designs holistically as a team, which means the designers aren’t broken into specialized groups by sector. We find clients benefit most from the shared learnings across our studio.

How do you balance personal aesthetic with clients?

D: We design spaces to reflect the quality, sensibility, and performance of a brand and its product. Since no two brands are the same, I strongly believe a good designer appreciates every form of design and understands how to bring the appropriate design language to their clients. Our clientele is drawn to this design approach and sensibility in our work, so while my personal visual aesthetic does not extend into my client’s point of view, the principles of careful consideration and editing that underscores my personal aesthetic does resonate throughout the work.

P: I agree – the principles of consideration are shared across my aesthetic, Diego’s aesthetic, and client’s aesthetic. It takes on a different visual expression for each client, but the level of consideration remains constant.

How have retail spaces evolved in the last 2 decades?

D: Retail spaces have evolved because the retail industry itself has evolved. Retailers have become more focused on what they are trying to offer the consumer, creating a more multi-faceted experience from a lifestyle point of view to celebrate their product. We are also more design aware as a society, and since consumers have so many options available to them now, there is a growing appreciation for the physical retail experience as a platform to attract consumers. A confident brand experience is becoming more and more important for the end user.

P: First and foremost, retailers are evolving because they are faced with more competition now than ever before. International competition is a big challenge for local and national brands. The successful retailers have become much more focused on targeting who their client is and they are becoming much clearer on what separates their brand identity and offering from all others. Retailers are all looking for that point of differentiation.

Is there a specific vibe people gravitate to now? Are people more likely to walk into a store that’s Instagram-friendly?

D: People gravitate toward authenticity and originality. We all seek things that speak to us.

P: I don’t think there is a specific vibe, but brands are recognizing the power of mood and atmosphere and embracing a unique point of view that is curated toward a specific customer. Shopping is a necessity, but the physical environment is also part entertainment so we are seeing more cues from the hospitality world intermingling with retail. Ideas around “interactive” and “experiential” come from hospitality.

How do you design a space that caters to a social-driven lifestyle?

Shopping is socially-driven and retail is entertainment. We don’t design spaces specifically to cater to a social-driven lifestyle because life is about being social. We design for life.

Explain society’s need for instantaneity through the lens of design visionaries such as yourselves? Is this aspect difficult to infuse into your design?

Everyone is hungry for newness because there is so much happening at once. As a designer, we are constantly looking for ways to recreate the newness. Our society is bombarded with everyone shouting at 120 decibels. We are looking for new ways to cut through the noise and distill the design in a focused way that leaves a point of memory amidst the noise.

What makes someone walk into a store they don’t necessarily already know about?

P: When the confidence of a brand and product is appealing, then someone will be motivated to walk into the store. There is a curiosity in finding something new that resonates in terms of product quality and experience.

D: When the retailer’s program, offering, and point of view is strong from the lease line. A clear and focused message about their value and brand experience. When the product and environment are cohesive, one frames the other and the offering is focused for the consumer.

According to your expertise, what are some design strategies that retailers can employ to generate more sales?

A more focused program. Trying to be everything to everyone, and this just does not work anymore. In the times we live in now, where everything is available to consumers, a clear and confident point of view is what will make a brand successful.

Mark Lash

What are some common mistakes retailers make when designing their space?

Brands often seek a trendy visual language to sell cool. Piggybacking off the success of another brand’s design is a mistake because consumers are looking for the uniqueness in each retailer. “Monkey see, monkey do” does not work.

Most important physical elements to consider when looking to change a retail space?

D: Do not underestimate the importance of materiality and lighting in retail.

P: I think the most important physical element is to maximize the opportunity of the actual space itself. From the site selection, shop entry, or customer flow through the environment, every new location requires the brand experience to be optimized for each new space. Forcing a pre-set design into a new location removes all consideration for the brand experience.

What do you want people to know about designing a retail space in the current market?
A retail space is a continuation of the brand story, and there must be a strong connection back to that. Look for the differentiating brand factors that will set you apart. A space is a continuation of the story – like another chapter in the storyline – so it needs to be cohesive.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Retail is becoming more complex, and brands are hiring various consultants to help navigate the landscape. As a result, there are many new considerations and concerns in the front and back of house that accompany the launch of a shop beyond design. A strong retail program acts as the backbone for design and creates a canvas for the best possible experience. The whole experience must be well prepared and well thought out. The most successful brands do not show up in the mall with stock and leaving the experience up to chance. Every touch point is carefully crafted and considered.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.