Apple have operated their own retail stores since 2001. As with their electronic products, the company aims to better control the user experience and attract new users with their stores. The same care, rigor, and compulsion that go into the design and branding of their devices go into the aesthetics and image of the retail spaces.
One of the most extreme examples of Apple’s design rigor is the 4th Street store in Berkeley, California. The store boasts a rigidly controlled symmetry from the interior stone floor tiles to the glass storefront panels down to the new sidewalk tiles. The interior stone tiles set the dimension that the glass and concrete follow. The symmetry is not obvious yet is attractive since the human brain is partial to symmetry. The following diagram points out the extraordinary design measures meant to attract customers.
Below are a few of the trademark (and in a couple cases, trademarked) elements of Apple stores and the design lessons they provide:
The all glass staircase (patented by Steve Jobs)
The transparent central stairs are more than just a beautiful object; they create an experience and a feeling. The staircase is meant to sweep the customer to the upper floor. Who doesn't want to test a glass step and then keep going?
The material palette
Bead-blasted, matte stainless steel (from Japan) and semi-polished Indiana limestone (from the US) reinforce brand consistency. By reflecting the brushed metallic and bright white aesthetics of the company's devices, the stores are undeniably Apple.
The glass cube
The iconic cube, trademarked in 2010, exhibits Apple's commitment to constantly improving their design. Apple reevaluate and redesign their stores the same way and at the same time as their computers and devices. Retail designs that started as literal applications of look-alike fasteners from their computers have evolved into sleek, bold architectural features that emphasize the Apple experience.
The most recent example on the East Coast is the renovation of New York's 5th Avenue glass cube. An early rendering of the new, improved storefront reveals 15 panes of glass compared to the original 90. The supersized panes, which will measure approximately 32 feet long by 10 feet wide, are possible due to new glass technology pioneered by Apple’s Shanghai location.
Besides simplifying the design of the glass cube by reducing the amount and appearance of hardware, the huge panes of glass will look cool.