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Sense & Sensibility

Image © Maeve Larkin

"You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." Walt Disney

This quote inspired me to become an interior designer, and made me believe that good interior design can enhance life experiences. In all my designs, I visualize how people will use the space, and then inject it with design elements that will make the interior come alive.

Through investigating the benefits of creating a sensory branding experience, I realized the important role the five senses play in the design of interior spaces. The senses can create emotional ties between a brand and a customer, not to mention an experience the customer will want to re-enact.

Image © Maeve Larkin


Sight is the first and most powerful sense used in merchandising. It catches a passerby’s attention through window displays. It attracts customers to different parts of stores. And it can be achieved just by creating something visually striking. Scientific research affirms the importance of sight: Half the brain is devoted to processing visual images and as high as 80% of learning is based on visual input. This means sight is incomparable to any other sense; it’s the first and most important element by which retails environments can get the attention of customers.

In January of this year, Selfridges department store on Oxford Street began a No Noise campaign. The campaign focused and getting rid of the visual ‘noise’ in retail design and gave birth to a Silent Room and the sale of Limited Edition Products with no brand names. Compared to the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, the Silent Room was immediately refreshing. The simple interior was designed by Alex Cochrane, with low lighting levels and limited use of materials creating a beautifully serene mood. Customers have to remove their shoes and turn off all mobile phones and music devices before proceeding down a dark corridor, through a gap in the wall and into the space. The whole journey and approach creates a space which feels secluded and silent, but background noise from the store did manage to creep in. The Silent Room was created as a space to sell anything but as a place for people to escape the madness of the outside retail world. It’s a space for people to relax and think of what they actually want without the influences of advertising or sales staff. After this experience, customers then move on to the Quiet Shop. Visually speaking, this is an exciting experiment resulting in the majority of items still being easily identifiable even without being named. Taking the visual ‘noise’ out of the retail experience is thoroughly refreshing, and considering most retail interiors are becoming visually busier and busier it is refreshing and almost calming to see products sold like this.

The interior design of the new Mini Store in Westfield Shopping centre, Stratford, London, is another retail interior which visually attracts customers’ attention with really good design. If the big red mini on the wall of the exterior isn’t enough to entice you into the store, the beautiful backlit product display stretching up the wall and over the entry ceiling might work. Having previously owned a Mini, I was surprised by the amount of products available, many of which I had never seen. Everything from bags, clothes, and jewellery, to parts and accessories were available for purchase. When it came time to try on some of their cute mini branded clothes, I was welcomed by a touch based interactive mirror which allowed me to ‘try’ on products without taking my clothes off. The brilliant use of innovative technology really gave the space an almost futuristic feel. The design of this interior is bold and exciting, mixing different products types within creative displays and incorporating ingenious interactive section and simple navigation.

Image © Maeve Larkin


Touch can spark many different emotions, and these emotions can be evoked by different cues with touch being the most emotionally charged. Touch is one major sense which retail interiors can offer while increasingly popular Internet or digital shopping forums cannot. The Internet may be able to show the look, shape and colour, but touch is the only way to experience the texture, weight and feel. This weekend I was shopping in All Saints. Having checked out their website and ruling out most of their autumn offerings, I decided to try on a dress. The fabric was to die for and, of course, once on it looked great. I immediately had to have it. This deeper experience with a product (actually wearing it) sparked further emotions.

One challenge inherent to online shopping is that while some sites even go to the extent of having a catwalk model strut in the outfit, you can never see how it will look on you. And since that is going to be its primary function, it seems absurd not to try it on before buying it. I say this even though I have to admit I have done much shopping on the Internet. But if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that my choices are always better when I take the time to go into a store to shop. In an effort to embrace this, it’s vital that the retail interior design allows for such interaction to take place. Shelving should be at an attainable height and display items should have a touchable option nearby. These little details can allow stores to build on the emotions touch can evoke. This is a simple way to building strong relationships with a product and in a world that is being more and more reliant on Internet shopping it’s something the retail interiors must embrace.

One good example of a retailer embracing touch is Ted Baker. This retailer has been building up its brand over a number of years, and now in one retail space they offer Fashion, Shoes, Ted Baker Workshop, Sweet Shoppe, Male Grooming Spot, Female Beauty Spot, ‘Second Scent’ range and ‘In Bed with Ted’ range. Having discovered the benefits touch can have on our emotions it’s a very impressive marketing tool to contain a beauty spot beside a retail spot. Thinking how good I feel coming out from a nice pampering, I can imagine I would be much more likely to splurge on a brand new dress. This fashion brand has created a full ‘Ted Baker’ experience which by appealing to all the senses expresses the brand lifestyle superbly.

The Cloth House is a cute little fabric store on London’s legendary Berwick Street which is famous for fabric shops. The interior of this space is perfectly designed; there is an extensive selection of fabric on ground floor and basement all easily accessed and touched by customers. Large wooden tables are in the centre of the room for staff to cut desired amounts of fabric as required, the mood is relaxed and functional and makes it feel like you’re just popping home to you mothers for some beautiful fabric.

I’ll explore the importance of the other senses in part two of Sense & Sensibility.

Maeve Larkin is passionate about life; she loves style, people and places. A lifelong cosmopolitan, she has travelled worldwide and worked in Dublin, Sydney and now London as an Interior Designer. Her flair for fashion keeps her on top of all the latest trends. Individuality in design is something she seeks out and aims to achieve in all her projects. Hugely inspired by the close relationship between the retail and hospitality design—a combination of two of her great passions—she believes their integration is the way forward for Retail Offers. Currently she is a team member of Gensler London’s Retail and Hospitality team. Contact Maeve at Maeve_Larkin@Gensler.com.

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