Like a lot of things in today’s world, the way we shop, and view retail outlets has shifted. Stepping into a store is drastically different now than it was two years ago. With this, what people want out of retail is changing. The traditional commercial or retail centres are shifting to incorporate more engagement, collaboration, and cultural exchange, whether in person or online. This means, space creators must also be space curators.

Consideration around the design of these spaces and product curation has been elevated, especially with the notion of a “tele-everything” world on its way. People’s digital relationship has deepened as our connection with technology extends to uses in our work, education, health care, daily commercial and retail transactions, as well as the most common, our social interactions. With this renovation of thinking happening right in front of us, we wanted to join the conversation, sitting down with David Waldren, Head of Design for Vicinity Centres, Shy Tay, Principal at Arkhefield and Mark Burgess, Director at Place Design Group, to understand their current thinking as we move into a new design era that acknowledges connection at multiple levels. 

Mark Burgess_Headshot
Mark Burgess, Director at Place Design Group
David Waldren
David Waldren, National Head of Design at Vicinity Centres
Shy Tan
Shy Tay, Principal at Arkhefield


How do social-economic issues drive your thinking when reimagining and designing retail and commercial spaces?

Over the last few years, we have shifted to make sure we make data led decisions. When we look at our centres, we look at who goes there and importantly who is not going there. We use data sources as well as community engagement to ask people what they think the opportunities for change are. By identifying people that don’t come, when demographics and geography would suggest they would, we ask the question of why. Understanding what people want to see and how they want to use the space is a key factor in our thinking and curating a centre.
- David Waldren

When we put user needs and desires at the centre of the design process, we make decisions based on how people can, need, and want to engage. As the inequality gap widens, inclusivity becomes an important consideration. I believe successful retail and commercial destinations welcome people of all backgrounds, abilities, ages, genders and cultures.
- Shy Tay


What trends do you see on the horizon? How might things look different in the next few years?

For a while now we have seen a general trend towards “experience” as a key attractor to retail destinations. Overseas, particularly where we have worked extensively in Asia, this trend has moved towards providing a range of activities and options that are not necessarily directly linked to the retail providers. For example, the creation of open and inviting play areas has been very successful in bringing families out to major retail centres. Once there, people often will buy a meal or go to a movie or shop for longer. This trend will most likely continue as we move forward to a possible future where the retail outlets are there to provide the “tactile” element of the experience and people will simply order and have the goods delivered, either at the store or when they go home, meaning the importance of a point of difference or key attractor will become more critical to success.
- Mark Burgess

Post-pandemic we are witnessing a rise in edutainment (education + entertainment) in brick-and-mortar retail environment. Consumers are looking for an engaging experience they simply can’t get from online retail. Engaging knowledge hungry consumers with memorable in-person experience increases sales.

I see a shift in focus from selling products stacked on shelves to a showroom experience where products are brought to life, demonstrations, tips are offered, and product knowledge is shared to deepen the consumers understanding. I am also intrigued on the prospects of augmented reality technology being used in retail space. As the technology matures, more retailers will explore ways to use it to enable shoppers to customize products and experience.
- Shy Tay


What are some of the considerations, when looking at the public retail spaces to ensure greater activation and community connectivity?

A key factor when considering the design of such spaces is the creation of flexible and adaptable spaces. Flexibility in the range of activity, such as market weekends, stage/ performances, and retail publicity events. Adaptable spaces attempt to cater for all these uses while trying to envisage a future that is different to now, so a space that can be changed as needed is critical. Adaptability also needs to be considered for users having some say in the way a space is used. This can be a simple as tables and chairs that can be moved to create larger or smaller groups - this creates a sense of ownership and connection, which continues to draw people back.
- Mark Burgess

Understanding a place - the demographic, geography, what is special about the area is important to create connection with a local community. Celebrating the culture and history of a locale will determine what goes into the space. For example, Chatswood Chase would be different to a more suburban lifestyle in Morely, Western Australia. They are different places – we think about our design teams, we think about our leasing profile and we think about the current centre and what it could be, with the lens of ‘what is special about this place’, how do we celebrate that.
- David Waldren


How do you create the retail mix to ensure it is achieving the right outcome?

The idea is to get to the core of what you think a place should be, we base this on our data and demographic studies. Our retail leasing team then take this information to match the best retailers to work in with that scenario. With experience top of mind for consumers, the journey from the front door, the walk-through retailers and amenities, entertainment, food and beverage and then back out the door again, are all key considerations for each centre.
- David Walkdren

Understanding the market and exploring the different levels of consumer needs is critical. What are their pragmatic needs (e.g. value for money, comfortable physical environment) and deep needs (e.g. socially responsible brands, a sense of community)? It’s about curating a positive engaging experience by giving consumers something new and exciting, but familiar and authentic with a deeper drive towards positive outcomes for all.
- Shy Tay


How are these spaces between the places being designed to create connection?

The whole idea of connection is interesting. The way we physically design spaces to create the opportunities for interaction is the key to a successful project. The desire is still there for human interaction, in many ways the rise of online further creates a need for spaces that people can engage with. Spaces that delight or that can create and keep interest, spaces that allow for people to meet and engage with others, are spaces that people will want to visit and return to.
- Mark Burgess

It is about creating the place around the community, understanding the wants and needs, as well as the patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place. By supporting the ongoing evolution of a local centre and having community input is essential, because you can’t pick up one solution and apply it everywhere. The demographics and surroundings are different in each location.
- David Waldren


With the rise of online shopping - do you have a sense of how important a physical presence will be to the future of a consumer retail business?

Covid has engrained behaviours. The frustrating part of the online shopping or bricks and mortar conversations is that they are presented as binary alternatives – one or the other. If there is one thing, we have learnt over the last 18 months, is that nothing is binary anymore. It is both. The question is, how do they complement each other – online to bricks and mortar, and bricks and mortar to online. We are looking at how our centres can be part of the logistics of online, or part of the ability for people to experience what they are interested in buying. Whether that is trying it on and seeing it in person, then buying it online, or buying it online, then have it delivered from a local place. I’d like to reframe the thinking, from online being a threat, to it being an opportunity – a whole new world opens up on how to think about a place and what it means to people with the conversion of technology.
- David Waldren

Humans have a desire for real life engaging experiences and face to face interaction. Consumers now have the world of shopping in the palm of their hands and hence are looking for the experiential side of retail that can’t be replicated online. Demand for experiential retail with a social aspect will rise over product-focused retail. Comfortable and engaging spaces for people to meet, eat, shop and be entertained in are now the norm, not the exception. This is the moment for retailers to be a great host!
- Shy Tay

Place Design Group