How to design a shop window display
Choosing window display props: design factors for shop window displays
Before you choose which merchandise and props you will use for your retail window display, you will need to decide whether you will have an artistic or merchandise focused display, and what the theme of your display will be. This is discussed in further detail in part one of our window display series, in which we also explain how to select which products you want to promote. The style of display should help inform which props you choose, however, considering the design factors outlined below will affect how you use those props. Additionally, our guide to window display essentials at the bottom of the page should also generate window display ideas.
Firstly, all window displays should have a focal point. This is the dominant element of your display, and often the main merchandise on show, for example a dress on a mannequin positioned prominently against props and other merchandise. Alternatively, an unexpected prop could be used as the main focal point in order to grab attention and direct it to your products.
Decide on what your focal point is going to be and begin to construct your retailwindow display around it. Merchandising expert Tony Morgan suggests that a good rule of thumb is to balance window displays with two-thirds prop to one-third merchandise .
Optical balance is an important consideration when generating shop window display ideas. Symmetrical (or formal) balance can be pleasing to the eye, creating an order that the brain can instinctively process. Conversely, asymmetrical balance is an informal style and has the element of surprise.
Asymmetrical displays can grab interest better, encouraging viewers to examine more closely. Symmetry, or the lack thereof, can be used to create rhythm and eye movement. Symmetry does not just refer to two identical products side by side, but can be represented by products of similar colours, textures and weights, for example, or even completely different products that are lit in a symmetrical way.
Depth and layering
Smart window dressers will employ depth and layering to their displays to help draw the eye and make them more visually appealing. Varied textures and adjustable lighting is an easy way to enhance this.
The type of retail window you are displaying in must be considered first though, as an open backed window will allow customers to see right into the shop.
This can help to draw the customers' gaze further in; however, retail window display props and lighting must be positioned carefully so as not to intrude into the main shopping area. A closed back window may allow for more artistic compositions due to freedom over backdrop.
Grouping styles for shop window display
Whether it is products or props you are arranging in your window, these will tend to be grouped in various ways (as opposed to scattered randomly). There are two main forms of grouping that are most commonly used: pyramid grouping and repetition grouping. Pyramid grouping is the most common form of this as it encourages natural movement of the eye, and this grouping style can be seen in many shop windows. Repetition is also a highly popular display method in window dressing. This is a great style for emphasising a specific aspect, but must be done carefully so as not to detract from your focal point.
Props and products are grouped into a pyramid style, with the intention of quickly drawing the eye to a main focal point, then leading onto the surrounding display items.
Multiples of the same or similar products are placed together to create a stronger impact. With this style however, focal points must be considered thoroughly.
5 key retail window display supplies
Below, we have compiled a handy list of the top 5 types of retail window display supplies to help your products stand out. While all of these aspects are important to contemplate when designing a window display, merchandisers must ensure that they don’t attempt to use too many retail window display props at once or this could overwhelm the customer and put them off. Merchandisers should avoid clutter, or the excessive information is received as a ‘high cognitive load’, which will create avoidance behaviour in the viewer .
1) Plinths, cubes and crates
For many businesses, plinths and display cubes are a key part of their window display props as they are ideal for displaying products or mannequins.
Try using these in different materials for different themes, e.g. wood for rustic decor, wire for an industrial quality, or acrylic for a modern and sleek look. Use bright colours for a fun, modern and youthful style.
Fabrics can be draped decoratively, or hung down for window display backdrops. These can be bought cheaply and attached easily using a staple gun.
Fabric is perfect for quickly changing the appearance of the floor and for draping on window display props. Consider colour and style carefully; choosing a fabric which makes the window display products stand out.
3) Posters and signs
Posters and signs are important for conveying essential information such as opening hours, store rules, sale information. Late opening or small businesses can benefit from using an LED open sign to brighten windows.
Window posters are also a great chance to display attractive graphics and promotional information to draw in opportunistic bargain hunter types.
4) Cable and rod displays
These are increasingly popular in many business types due to their ability to display multiple images at once, maximising on display space. While they are traditionally popular for showcasing properties in estate agencies, they are also often used by hairdressers, beauticians and travel agents to attract customers using images of services or destinations offered.
Cable and rod window displays are often available with LED lighting to make sure the display has a really high quality attractive appearance at all hours.
LED-lit multi-poster signs are great for businesses which have visible window displays at night-time to ensure they get noticed no matter what time it is. LED-lit window signs can help to give a warm, inviting glow to a business which is ideal for attracting footfall during winter.
Mannequins are an important part of any window display supplies, often used in garment retail as it is important for customers to imagine how the garments might look on them. Customers can more easily picture themselves or their family wearing clothing when it is displayed on a mannequin which is depicted participating in a relevant activity.
For example, sportswear displayed on a mannequin fixed in a running position or yoga pose might appeal to the sportswear shopper more than if the mannequin were just stood stiffly upright. Or a display of pyjamas may be more appealing on mannequins displayed sat, or lying, on a bed with appropriate window display props such as a book or lamp, or sat by a fireplace with hot chocolate. It is this reason why mannequins are available in such a wide variety of styles.
How often should you change your window displays?
- Most sources will recommend that window dressings should be changed at least once per key season, however, changing them too often can be costly and confusing.
- There are some low or no-cost ways to refresh displays in between major dressings, such as rearranging some of the key items. This can be done as regularly as every week, or every day.
- Repositioning a single prop or adding new accessories to a mannequin is enough to freshen up the display a little so as not to bore everyday viewers.
So they're in-store, now what?
It would be too easy for merchandisers to spend all their time, effort and budget on outdoor advertising, and end up neglecting their in-store point of sale. Making the in-store experience match the expectations that have been built from the external signage should be a high priority. This includes the shop theme and atmosphere.
If specific products or offers have been advertised outside, you must make sure that these items or services are easy to find upon entering the store. Also, consider cleverly routing the customer pathway in the store to ensure that they pass more enticing merchandising displays and add-on items on their way to the checkout.
How to design a shop window display summarised:
Designing a successful shop window display involves more than just picking the right products to focus on. Various design elements must be considered carefully in order to ensure that your shop windows are the right levels of attractive, informative and inspiring. Focal point, optical balance, grouping styles and depth all play a large part in the overall appearance of your retail windows.
Additionally, we have pointed out 5 key window display props that are ideal for creating a stand-out shop window, regardless of your budget size. These include plinths, poster holders and mannequins, and we've outlined the primary reasons that these make great props for retail window displays, as well as how to use them.
Check out our next article for more information about the future of window display, more window display supplies, how often they should be updated, and other ways you can utilise your store exterior to attract more customers to your business every day.
Window display props
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1. Morgan, Tony, ‘Visual Merchandising: Window and in-store displays for retail’, (London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2016) p.68.
2. Oh and Petrie, ‘How do storefront window displays influence entering decisions of clothing stores?’, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Vol 19 (2012), pp. 27-35.