An interview with a Retail Designer – Lior Koren

A talk with Lior Koren about his form of work and unique approach to store design, the changes that have taken place in retail over the past decade and their impact on design.

  • March 2015
  • Archijob Magazine
Hatzi Hinam, A cheese deli at the Hod Hasharon Branch

Lior Koren, a graduate of industrial design at the Holon Institute of Technology, designs unique commercial spaces, stores and display complexes.

Koren designs the shopping experience in the complex as a tool to increase business revenues. His professional vision places at the center of the design, the planning of the buyer’s route from the moment he enters the store and all the way to the shelf, and with his background in industrial design he is able to fully address all of the design components.

Lior, together with the Koren Visual Solutions team, are responsible for the design of the Hatzi Hinam chain store branches, which are well known for their invested shopping experience, the Binyamina Winery Visitor Center, the Joy Gym, the Yashir Group chain, the Panopharm chain, and a variety of unique stores and facilities.

We met with him to discuss his form of work and his unique approach to store design, as well as to talk about the changes which took place in retail over the past decade and their impact on design.

[In the photo, Lior lectures at the 8th Israel Mall & Chain Store Conference in Eilat | Photo by: Itzik Biran]

How did it all start?

As a child I used to take apart and assemble devices, building myself toys, and later on selling them to my class mates. Years later, in my third year at design school, I established the business. After executing several projects for companies such as ‘Epilady’, medical equipment companies and high-tech companies, I was drawn to the retail field, because in these projects I was able to handle all the stages of the project, and due of my innate connection to the field of sales as well. I started with display fixtures and at the beginning I did it all by myself. When the scope of the work increased, I gradually established the team of Koren Visual Solutions. With the experience and trust placed in me by the customers, I moved on to treat entire areas in stores – stalls, supermarket categories and as such. Today, the company handles large scale projects, interior-industrial-graphic design and project management.

What is the difference between industrial design and points of sale design?

Leading industrial designers around the world design sales complexes, among which are Phillipe Starck and Karim Rashid, with amazing results and an apparent difference in approach. As far as I am concerned, I am primarily a sales person and then a designer. Design is the tool I use to create the right shopping experience for each business, and my dialogue with the shopper is not verbal but rather visual-sensory. I interpret each compound as a selling machine with many components which aim to connect between the products and satisfied customers with minimum effort and personnel.

Having a background in industrial design enables to handle a point of sale up to the last of the fixtures, design customized carpentry items, technology integrated facilities, unique light fixtures and more. Many interior designers plan the shell and select items, furniture and shelving systems from what already exists in the market, which is more eclectic and a staging in my view. My freedom of design is higher than that of someone who relies on a finishing composition and accessories from a catalogue, as well as having the ability to develop innovative solutions.

A product such as a checkout line for Hatzi Hinam is an example for the retail understanding which led to a complex design solution, and which by professional execution created an excellent point of sale. No eclecticism could have given this solution or achieve similar revenues. This product won the “Star of Israel” Award for Innovation in 2011.

Checkout line at the Hatzi Hinam chain store

Designing a supermarket, visitor center, pharmacy and a gym – what do they have in common?

The same rules of the game apply to any point of sale of a product or a service. One must identify the differentiation of every product/complex and the shopping experience which will provide value to the customer and lead to the success of the business. Professional design and planning of a facility or a store is critical to its success. One must connect to the brand and build the right narrative which will sell it, design a planogram and a customer route according to the conditions of the area, and maintain continuity and a uniform message on the path between the customer and the product.

I have encountered many beautiful businesses that failed, and retailers who have invested a great deal of money in a design which did not take sales and the ongoing operation of the business into account, such as paying attention to the entrance and exit, storage facilities, signage, shelving system components, reducing depreciation, safety, durability, modularity and more.

Cumulative experience is if immense importance, as well as being able to be constantly updated on orientations, trends and technological innovations.

Visitor Center design – "Binyamina Wineries"

Unlike design and architectural firms, you mostly execute your own projects as well. Why?

In this way, it is possible to guarantee that the project will be executed according to our standards, and make sure that the client receives exactly what was promised to him. A client who sets out with a set of plans – in most cases doesn’t know what’s ahead for him. He must supervise the work himself, or appoint a project manager, locate consultants and subcontractors, synchronize between them all and hope they meet the limitations of schedule and budget. Professionalism and experience are required in order to execute projects, in which several contractors interact in a good manner and without compromising the design.

Poor execution can impact the design. I am often frustrated when I see a design which is not meticulous, improvisations made by suppliers on their own accord without the customer knowing to supervise, delays in opening the store, going over budget, and impacting the final outcome.

When we are responsible for the project, it is possible to control every aspect of it. A project manager is assigned to the entire project and works closely with designers and planners, consultants and subcontractors. The fact that the production is executed by us as well, obligates the studio to execute meticulous planning, out of commitment that no problems will be created with the production and installation.

The graphic design contributes a great deal to the shopping experience as well, and it is done in our studio as part of the complex design.

Reception desk at the Joy Gym in Sharonim Mall

Changes in the retail market and changes that the field is required to address

A significant increase in online shopping changes consumerism habits. Retailers who do not keep up will lose a large share of the purchasing power due to reason. Those who will know to provide a significant shopping experience, a good product and service – will survive. The development of 3D printing also impacts consumer products. It will be possible to manufacture products at home instead of buying them, provide clients with custom made products at the stores and more. There are many fields that will undergo a revolution due to that fact.

Changes in legislation and regulation affect the retail market and especially supermarkets and large stores – the Food Act no longer enables a leading brand in a certain category to invest in its visibility while emphasizing the brand itself. Usually in this way the sales in the entire category increases, however the new law no longer allows it.

The balance of power between large businesses and medium-small sized businesses is on the agenda and changes gradually. We feel it in the dialogues with clients and the type of projects, and adapt ourselves accordingly.

Hair color category at a branch of Hatzi Hinam

Regarding the gap between the training of designers in the academy and requirements in the field

Academically speaking, there is a distinct division between industrial design and interior design, although in the field they are mostly required to integrate. Many industrial designers work on a small scale and find it hard to think at a larger scale. Some graduates have insufficient formative development abilities – in my opinion, and design schools must place an emphasis on this. I stumble across designers who work only on the computer and are unable to express an idea in freehand sketching – which is the basis in my view. In the studio we work with freehand sketches in order to communicate between ourselves during work processes, and at times it is even presented to the client in this manner – hand drawn illustrations have a wonderful effect.

During their studies, interior designers are not sufficiently required to formative development, and receive superficial training in the design of furniture items. Too many portfolios contain only straight lines, a composition of squares and white spaces – boring. As far as I am concerned, it is at this stage where the work is just beginning…

Retail design is learned while working and gaining experience. Design schools hardly address the issue and that is a pity – it’s a professional field rich with insights and technologies that are constantly updated, and of high importance to business owners and the economy.

Eye glasses stand at the mall, designed for Halperin Optical

How do you learn and keep up to date?

By attending professional conferences and exhibitions both in Israel and internationally. I read professional articles, magazines, blogs and professional websites on a daily basis, as well as general material which may be seemingly unrelated but in most cases becomes relevant – from podcasts in the fields of science, history and economy (while walking the dog) and up to financial newspapers. I watch movies as a source of inspiration, I test new ideas on my children – the consumers of the future, and I keep myself updated with all that is happening in their media – computer games, applications etc. This is a two sided dialogue, sometimes I hear my son analyzing what works and what doesn’t in a store he walked in, and find myself pleasantly surprised by his insights.

Design of an aquarium store, Aqua Studio

How do you approach working on a new project?

“Interpretation” is the word that defines the beginning. A combination of what the client says, what he means, and that which is right for the project. These are the most exciting moments of each project. I think that I am addicted to this stage.

What do you enjoy most in your work?

The ability to positively impact the success of a business, which provides value and a meaning to what we do.

The constant changes in the field; the market changes, and I develop personally and so does the company, with each project in a field we have not done before – it is never boring. I am hyperactive and need interest in my work, therefore I mostly enjoy the changes.

I am also a satisfied customer in the supermarket and stores we designed, working out in a gym we designed and more. While I am there I make sure that everything is working fine, and I enjoy keeping in touch with our clients.

Bench design at the Sharonim Mall
Lior, giving a lecture on the 8-th Mall Committee in Eilat