Q: Can a chain introduce in-store graphics in certain departments without introducing an overall theme?

A: Yes. It's just a matter of emphasis.

Unlike many contemporary grocery stores, the 13-unit, Sacramento, Calif.-based Bel Air grocery store chain has chosen to stay away from theme design and has opted instead for individual graphics for the various departments.

We at King Design recently were involved in the redesign of a 40,000 sq. ft. Bel Air grocery store in Sacramento. Store executives were very clear in the direction for the design. At the outset of a redesign program, store executives told us that they believed that the older, more reserved community served by the store would respond better to an exciting and colorful graphic design rather than a theme design that might seem too faddish.

The final graphic treatments include large signs with distinctive graphics and rich accent colors. Different department signs use different typefaces and shapes. Unity is maintained in the way the colors, lighting, materials, shapes and textures play against the store's off-white walls and ceilings.

The departments now have definition within a familiar setting and without over-theming.

Christopher Studach is design director at King Design International, Eugene, Ore.