Manhattan, and the new retail store, both off the grid

ManhattanThe design of Manhattan and the traditional retail store layout share a similar approach, implemented in the 19th century, and based on the grid. This rigid architecture, and its obvious efficiency that has worked well in the past, seems to be under review by city planners as well as retail store designers.

Experiments on the streets of New York and in the aisles of Stop & Shop are creating environments that are more casual, perhaps more democratic and certainly more interactive. In both cases the planners are responding to an interest in making their spaces more humane, and more enjoyable for the casual pedestrian to stroll, to relax, and shop.  

Look at the street map of Manhattan at left. It looks a lot like the traditional grid structure of most Wal-Mart stores. Notice the casual line that snakes from the upper left to lower right, that’s Broadway, mid-town Manhattan’s only concession to informality. These same kinds of informal swathes are being experimented with by most retail planners.

New York’s new transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, has a grand plan to make Broadway a series of pedestrian plazas and bike paths, inspired by what has happened in Copenhagen in the last decade. An architectural review of this effort, by Nicolai Ouroussoff, is in the New York Times today.

I see a lot of similarity between the experiments of city planners and the efforts of retailers to make their spaces more humane, and to borrow a technology term, more user-friendly. Most retail stores are experimenting with ways of making the shopping experience more personal and less programmed, planning spaces that allow shoppers to wander in ways that their interests of the moment and personal shopping lists take them.

TimesSquareIn fact I wonder if the lessons learned about the way we use the internet is influencing any of these decisions. It will be interesting to see if the way we use, and personalize, the web and other forms of communication influence other areas of our lives. These two examples may be the first of many instances where rigid social structures are giving way to more informal user-directed environments.


The Times Square photo above is by Damon Winter for the New York Times


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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2 Responses to Manhattan, and the new retail store, both off the grid

  1. Ted Hurlbut says:

    Very interesting analogy. Broadway most resembles the diagonal main aisle found in most of CVS’s newer stores.

  2. Thanks Ted, I will look for one of the new stores, sounds like an interesting concept. Does seem like B’way.

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