Putting technology toward timeless design Question of the Month: How do consumer trends affect store design? Why are America's youth and fast-track families having such a strong influence on the way stores are conceptualized, planned and designed? To what extent has the information age affected retail design strategy?

Consumers today want a one-stop, total shopping experience. They want convenience, quality and entertainment all wrapped up in an environment that is safe, welcoming and comfortable. In today's world, technology provides at-your-fingertips accessibility to the Internet's world of information; consumers are more informed and have limited leisure time with which to explore the world around them.

The information age continues to drive consumer trends and influences retail design strategy. Consumers -- after being bombarded by information (often from competing sources) -- know what they want and where they should buy it before even stepping out of their home.

Mail-order catalogs, and home and Internet shopping make it all too easy to purchase goods from the comfort of a living room. With that in mind, designers must seek to create exciting retail concepts while staying aware of the growing options consumer have.

As designers, we're responsible for forging environments that capture consumers' attention. When we put ourselves in their place, the overriding question should be, "How does it make me feel."

Whether in a shopping center, prototype store, movie theater, gourmet grocery store or a sports facility, consumers no longer buy into gimmicks. They want something that is real; they want to visit places that make them feel delighted, entertained and intrigued. Customers remember those places, and they end up going back because the environment is compelling enough for them to return.

As a demographic always in search of entertainment, America's youth sharply influences the way we conceptualize, plan and design retail environments. In a world that is increasingly filled with intangible, mass-produced images, today's youth find themselves drawn to places that give them a feeling of belonging, that offer value and that provide a sense of stability. Architecture, signage and graphics that use an eclectic mix of fixtures and colors can add intrigue for today's younger shoppers.

While today's design must elicit a sense of harmony and timelessness, our work comes right down to creating a unique "feel" and integrating it into every aspect of a store.

Research, analysis and proven retail formulas are important tools in designing projects that will entice shoppers out of their homes. And, ironically, in designing for the information age, industry professionals can conveniently harness today's technology to investigate consumer demands and new directions. We can make the information age work for us as we take retail design into the next century.

* Favorite retail store(s) Anthropologie and Yardware: "Anthropologie's design offers a wonderful sense of discovery. Yardware's fixturing is simple and creative, and continues the mood set by the merchandise.

* Favorite restaurant design Il Fornaio: "Each restaurant is clean and simple, yet has interesting details, lighting, colors and finishes."

* Most improved retail image Aaron Brothers Art & Framing: "The store had gray carpet, fluorescent tube lighting and merchandise perched on deep shelves. The stores now more directly appeal to the customers' creative side."

* Most admired industry figure(s) "There are a number of retailers I admire. To name only one would be to discount the accomplishments of the others. I admire retailers who are willing to experiment with the power of good design."

Kiku Obata, Kiku Obata & Co. 5585 Pershing Ave., Suite 240 St. Louis, Mo. 63112 (314) 361-3110

* Number of years in the industry: 24

* Recent retail project(s): Conceptualization, design and development for EduNation, Albuquerque, N.M.; identity and store design for Aaron Brothers Art & Framing, City of Commerce, Calif.; and architectural prototype, signage and identity design for national and international movie complexes for AMC Entertainment Inc., Kansas City, Mo.

* Upcoming project(s): Prototype designs for The Mills Corp., TrizecHahn Centers and several new specialty stores.