Retail Without Walls: Kiosk Culture

Assistant Professors of Interior Design Liam Colquhoun and Matthew Holmes-Dallimore presented a dissemination of their research ‘Retail Without Walls: Kiosk Culture’ at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art from 1 to 11 April, 2012.

Funded by a VCUQatar Faculty Research Grant, the project came about as a direct result of their teaching a retail design studio together every year for the past eight years. Retail is a massive sector within the commercial design industry; however despite the plethora of information concerning retail design in general, there is very little material about how designers typically approach small, ad-hoc retail opportunities like a kiosk. For Colquhoun and Holmes-Dallimore, this was an invitation for further exploration.

They found that having students design a mobile kiosk was a good introductory project for the class, forcing them to consider some of the core considerations of retail design, such as identity and functionality, but on a fairly compact, manageable scale. In an effort to provide some supporting information for VCUQatar students, Colquhoun and Holmes-Dallimore began to collect their own data about how people design environments that support a simple transaction, which raised questions that had not previous been considered about exactly what makes a kiosk successful. Subsequent research asked the question: ‘What are the core properties common to impromptu retail opportunities in different cultures and how might they be used to inform contemporary retail kiosk design?’

A series of grants supported research in Dubai, Boston, Marrakech, Mumbai and Istanbul, and allowed Colquhoun and Holmes-Dallimore to look closely at how these structures varied and shared some common characteristics. These observations, in turn, informed new kiosk design projects undertaken in the retail design studio that started the whole process. Their efforts to make steps in this direction are not intended to be a definitive checklist of “what makes a good stall or kiosk”, but rather an opening comment in what they hope will become a fertile discourse among retail designers and other interested parties.

The presentation at Mathaf was the culmination of 18 months of work but Colquhoun and Holmes-Dallimore have plans to continue the research further, perhaps exploring the phenomenon of un-manned kiosks, and how identity plays a larger role in the design of western kiosks.