Retail designer

 13 March 2013

Retail designers aim to create a positive consumer experience in retail spaces. They design shop fronts, interiors, point of sales and displays.

The consumer experience is all-important. Image: University of the Creative Arts
The consumer experience is all-important. Image: University of the Creative Arts

What does a retail designer do?

Retail designers can be involved in all aspects of retail design, including shop front, interior, point of sale and display design.

Stores help to create and develop brand awareness and therefore maximise sales.

They need to create an appealing environment that consumers want to visit and return to. The consumer experience is all-important.

Retail design is often closely linked to the company’s branding and marketing strategy. Retail stores have an important role in helping to communicate a message about the company.

Stores help to create and develop brand awareness and therefore maximise sales. The retail sector includes traditional stores as well as concessions and pop-up shops.

Your work will usually involve:

  • Working closely with the client to interpret the brief and to develop design ideas, both 2 D and 3D.
  • Preparing 2D sketches and using computer assisted design (CAD) to prepare detailed scale technical drawings and sometimes 3D models.
  • Presenting ideas to the client including layouts, structures, storage, display, graphics, signage, colours, textures and costings.
  • Working with the client to help them understand the final solution and its benefits.
  • Considering the requirements of construction, installation and fit-out with an awareness of the properties of materials.

Having an awareness of green materials and sustainable technologies is important within retail design. You will also need to ensure that the designs and building work comply with building and health and safety regulations.

Retail designers often work alongside other retail experts including specialists in marketing and retail merchandising.

Some jobs combine retail design with project management, which includes:

  • dealing with external contractors and shop-fitters
  • organising the logistics of installation
  • progress chasing
  • managing budgets.

You might work for a retail company or for a design or branding agency. Freelance work is possible once you gain relevant experience.

How do I become a retail designer?

You will need:

  • A strong client focus and good commercial ability.
  • An awareness of colour, texture and the spatial environment.
  • An understanding of retail customers, their preferences and buying behaviour and retail trends.
  • The ability to work well in a team and independently.
  • Creativity and imagination.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills in order to present your ideas to clients and colleagues.
  • Good organisational abilities and the ability to work to deadlines under pressure with conflicting priorities.

Retail design is a very competitive given the challenges facing the high street from online retailers. Visit as many stores as you can for research, focusing on designs and brand strategies.

Relevant school subjects include Art and Design, Graphic Design, Photography, Design and Technology, English, IT and Business Studies.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Most retail designers have a degree. You can progress to a degree after A levels, or after relevant further education qualifications taken in a college.

Further education qualifications include:

  • BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design, Interior Design) Level 3
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Architecture, Interior and Product Design
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design, Technology and Interior Design)

The BTEC level 3 courses last for two years full-time and are an alternative to A levels. You will need a minimum of four GCSE A-C passes or equivalent level 2 qualifications, such as the BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design.

The BTEC level 3 courses can lead onto higher education courses, such as HND, foundation degree or degree courses.

It is also possible to progress onto a level 3 qualification from a level 2 qualification such as a BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design.

Degree courses

Degree courses in interiors are listed on the UCAS website. Titles include:

  • BA Retail Design
  • BA Retail Design Management
  • BA Spatial Design
  • BDes Fashion Marketing and Retail Design
  • BA Interior Design/Interior Architecture.

Some courses are more business-orientated and relate to the management of retail interior design. Others are more art and design-based, so thorough research is essential. General courses in 3D Design may also include retail design. Always visit the university open days before applying.

Degree entry requirements

The entry requirements for a degree are a minimum of two A levels or equivalent, plus a portfolio. Some universities may ask for three A levels, often at specified grades, or a UCAS points tariff.

You will normally need a good portfolio of designs as part of your application for retail design courses. If you can demonstrate 3D and 2D skills then this is an advantage – admission tutors will be looking for evidence of your creativity, drawing ability and your original ideas. You can include:

  • freehand drawings
  • conceptual sketches
  • photographs
  • CAD designs
  • paintings
  • collages
  • models
  • at least one sketchbook.

Be selective about what you include and check requirements with the art college or university you are applying to.

Another route to degree courses in Retail Design is via a one-year foundation course in Art and Design. You will need a good portfolio of work and a minimum of one or two A levels or equivalent.

HND courses in 3D Design are also available, as well as foundation degrees such as Interior Design – Commercial and Residential.


Apprenticeships in retail design are sometimes available. Look at the government website:

Vacancies may be found in the 'Design' section of 'Arts, Media and Publishing'.

What will I earn?

Junior retail designers can expect to earn around £18,000 to £25,000.

Experienced retail designers may earn between £26,000 and £32,000. Very experienced retail designers can earn between £45,000 and £60,000.

Salaries usually vary according to where you work, and earnings are generally higher in London.

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