Gas-station convenience stores, supermarkets and big-box retailers don’t need to show products to get people into their stores. So, they post window graphics that advertise specific brands or discounts. In malls and shopping centers, window-filling images enable passers-by to see what type of store it is even from a distance.
Fashion and luxury-goods retailers use trendy, artistic window displays for visual merchandising. Older, big-city stores with enclosed window display cases often feature a mix of merchandise, fixtures, window graphics, props and backdrops that support a specific theme. In some cases, these window displays resemble stage sets or art museum installations.
The big glass facades of newer stores make windows an integral element of overall store design. Simple, elegant lettering on the store window can entice viewers to check out the beautiful merchandise displayed with an uncluttered store that looks more like an art gallery.
As brick-and-mortar stores evolve to provide a seamless experience with e-commerce sites, some retailers are re-imagining storefront window displays. While digital print will continue to play a major role, retail experiential designers are researching cost-effective ways to use interactive and dynamic graphics in storefront windows as a compliment to print.
Let’s compare the experiences and services of two design-focused print service providers (PSPs) known for visually striking window displays.
Duggal Visual Solutions
Duggal Visual Solutions produces oversized, complex visuals and fixtures for image-conscious clientele, including world-class museums, global retailers, event planners, Fortune 500 corporations, art galleries, nonprofit organizations, photographers, visual artists and designers.
Founded more than 50 years ago, Duggal has always been an early adopter of imaging technologies. In 1992, Duggal was the first PSP in New York to print a building wrap for a major retailer. Today, Duggal operates more than 17 wide-format printers and seven digital presses in 250,000 sq. ft. of production space in the New York area and Portland, Ore.
Duggal crafts captivating window installations for some of the world’s largest flagship stores. In collaboration with retail teams, Duggal designs and manufactures custom fixtures, lightboxes and displays, and uses a combination of window films, photographic backdrops, CAD-cut vinyl, digital signage and interactive multimedia touchscreens.
Meanwhile, the Duggal InnoLab team educates retail, museum, hospitality and experiential designers how to envision and anticipate the latest trends in visual communications. In the 12,000-sq.-ft. InnoLab showroom and creative space, a diverse group of technologists, 3D animators, industrial designers, retouchers, photographers and multimedia experts show designers myriad possibilities for both printed and digital media, including next-generation OLED displays.
“We are always exploring how to stay relevant and connect with the next generation of consumers,” explains Glenn Rabbach, vice president and creative director of Duggal Visual Solutions. Duggal’s creative team gives retailers practical advice on implementing more options than a single digital signage vendor can.
“The U.S. retailer teams know they need to be experiential, but don’t know how to go about it,” says Blaze Gregorio, design consultant. “Our InnoLab is a youthful team and we’re aware of all the technology out there. Experiential is second nature to us.”
After conducting dozens of InnoLab tours and symposiums, Rabbach says retailers are starting to activate displays with dynamic content. But they are still concerned about how to justify the costs, scale the technology for multiple sites, keep the content updated and incorporate digital displays in a way that blends into the store environment.
Since costly video walls and cutting-edge dynamic signage are beyond the budgets of many retailers, Duggal’s InnoLab devised a method that uses animated LED backlighting to add fluidity to static fabric graphics in silicon-edge frame systems.
In a system Duggal calls LUMIPIXELS, individual pixels of LED lights are grouped on tiles and programmed to intensify or fade out to create the illusion of movement behind key elements of the fabric graphic. Unlike digital displays that require a constant stream of fresh content, LUMIPIXEL lightboxes can be periodically refreshed by changing out the fabric graphic and uploading a new animation.
Iconography Studios is a full-service vehicle wrap, custom sign and graphic design business. They distinguish themselves by creating original, high-quality designs that increase their clients’ brand recognition.
When Sarah Naccarato and her husband, artist James Naccarato, founded Iconography Studios in 2008, they promoted James’ vehicle-wrap design skills. But many local businesses that wanted branding vehicle wraps also wanted branding graphics for storefront and interior windows, doors and walls.
Today, Iconography Studios produces window graphics for Los Angeles-area boutiques, banks, car dealerships, spas, restaurants and corporate clients such as U.S. Bank and Viacom.
Iconography Studios use 3M or Avery adhesive materials on its two Roland eco-solvent printers: a 54˝ Roland SOLJET PRO III XC-540 printer/cutter and 74" SOLJET PRO III XJ-740 printer.
For window-graphic projects, Naccarato says, “The clients are typically already working with an architecture firm or store designer. So they usually have a clear vision of what they want. But these clients are drawn to us because we can enhance their images, make sure the graphics stay true to their vision and see that vision through to execution.”
Clients also trust Iconography to provide consistent quality and brand colors on graphics for multiple sites.
Iconography works with a network of professional vehicle wrap installers who can install big, multi-tile window graphics. Smaller, short-term window signs for multiple stores are printed on window films designed for easy installation and removal by store personnel.
For most window projects, Iconography’s design team chooses clear, white or perforated window films with the right combination of durability and ease of installation for a specific job. For window designs that simulate the look of etched glass, Naccarato asks clients to choose the material they prefer. Like inkjet art papers, etched window surface films can replicate many different looks.
One of the shop’s biggest window-graphics projects involved printing branding graphics for U.S. Bank branches in multiple states. They designed and laid out graphics for each building’s window configuration and printed panels ranging from 8x85 ft. to 20x40 ft. Naccarato says some of the branding graphics installed five years ago still look great.
Now that architects and interior designers use digital displays along with printed graphics, the Society of Environmental Graphic Designers (SEGD) has become the “Society of Experiential Graphic Designers.” The SEGD helps create content-rich, emotionally compelling, experiential spaces for retail stores, museums, healthcare centers and educational campuses.
Former SEGD Director of Education Craig M. Berger is currently director of development of CD Pathways at New York’s FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). He says, “Window display designers have to be incredibly creative. But they have to realize their artistry is being applied to a money-making enterprise.”
Right now, he says retailers are finding it difficult to determine the ROI of different types of displays. Berger believes that retail windows are still more likely to use physical elements and mechanical motion than digital displays. As more technology is used within the store, Berger believes windows with tactile displays can counteract a shopper’s sense of digital overload.
Window displays in urban areas might also differ from those in re-imagined malls and small-city shopping districts. “In New York, Christmas window spectaculars still reign supreme,” Berger says. In smaller cities, retailers are investing in pop-up stores at events that draw crowds.
With the growth of e-tailing, stores are no longer simply about selling things. Stores today function as showrooms, gathering places or distribution centers. Even brands and e-commerce companies recognize the value of having a few of their own pop-up or permanent physical stores.
Advice for PSPs
Right now, retailers are testing many design approaches. Shop can help by serving as innovators, consultants and execution partners. Follow trends in retail store design, display technology and window-graphic materials.
Companies such as Arlon, Avery-Dennison, Clear Focus, Continental Graphics, FLEXcon, Mactac, 3M Commercial Solutions, LINTEC of America, Contra Vision, LexJet and Nekoosa — among others — offer dozens of materials for window displays. LexJet sells perforated vinyls, low-tack polyester films, PVC-free clings and self-adhesive fabrics from Avery Dennison, Avatrex, GBC, General Formulations, HP, LexJet and Photo Tex.
According to LexJet’s Shaun Jaycox, retailers equipped with aqueous-inkjet printers can use LexJet’s Crystal Low-Tack window film to print short-term graphics for the inside or outside of store windows. Many retail designers favor frosted surfaces, because the graphics can be backlit to make storefront images visible at night.
Window displays can also include banner-stands, printed fabrics, hanging signs and rigid backdrops with layered printing. Plus, the printed graphics can be used in conjunction with digital signage.
“Retailers are beginning to see storefront digital signage as an integral part of their brand,” says Steve Bayer of Daktronics. “These displays provide a dynamic canvas for pictures, graphics and video that capture attention. In some cities, in-window digital signage is easier to permit. So, each store location needs to explore what’s possible.”
On the Windowswear website, you can see images of more than 110,000 windows and displays from more than 700 brands. Window design teams visit Windowswear to see what’s trending in stores in New York, Paris, Milan, London, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Tokyo and other cities.
In LINTEC of America’s white paper “Decorative Digital Interiors for Today’s Retail Spaces,” Jim Halloran and John Coyne encourage architects and store designers to use decorative window films both in storefront windows and elsewhere in-store.
“While many retailers are experimenting with HD screens, interactive displays and other digital devices to attract the attention of window shoppers, digitally printed window graphics and window frosts continue to be one of the most popular ways to attract customers to a store interior,” says Jim Halloran, VP of sales and marketing for LINTEC of America. He notes that advanced window films can change the opacity of glass depending on the viewing angle. So, as a shopper passes by, a frosted window suddenly reveals the featured merchandise.
Although many store designers know about the many materials available, they still want guidance on how to create amazing displays within defined budgets.
“When clients come in, we’re not just order takers,” says Glenn Rabbach of Duggal Visual Solutions. “We’re not afraid to offer new concepts.”
“Ultimately, technology alone won’t pique the interest of most customers,” Hallaron says. “The right combination of technology and design will determine how well retail stores fare in the future.”