Places that Work: Apple Stores

Setting the right mood and sending the right message are keys to the success of any space, whether it’s your design for a holiday party or architects’ spaces for successful retail environments. The Apple stores, designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, do this extremely well. We know this intuitively. But let’s take a look at the location on Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue (while others blog about the newest Chicago store in Clybourn corridor).

On North Michigan Avenue the color palette and other design elements are generally restful. This is crucial to the store’s success. Always packed with shoppers, the space needs calming down or else the buzz could hurt sales. All those bodies milling around rev us up and the crowds could, potentially, make us tense. Instead, they are managed and calmed by the wide aisles that keep people from making physical contact with one another. While the products, displayed flat on large table tops, can be moved around on their tethers and help introverts (or anyone who might feel a little hemmed in) examine each item, without making eye contact with nearby browsers. This ability to test products freely and in privacy reinforces customers’ personal relationship with Apple.

The light inside, both natural and artificial, is warm, the kind of illumination that researchers say can induce good mood. And good mood, as other research shows, has been found to be associated with broader thinking, creativity, and positive social interactions. This is in line with the Apple store’s ability to intrigue imaginations about the uses for the products on display–another plus for sales. But most important for sales, the lighting, in general, influences the number of products people buy as well as the positive feelings they have about their purchases. Architect Peter Bohlin, FAIA, credits Steve Jobs for his visionary retailing instincts, in addition to his storied vision for Apple’s products. The architect likes to use such words as “entice,” “enable,” “open,” “transparent,” all of which, he says make the stores “magical”.

The famous staircase, with its patented design, reinforces openness to new experiences, high among Apple fans. While the many symmetrical, rectilinear design elements in the store are important for two different reasons: Those straight lines communicate stability and permanence. And so shoppers are cheered by the impression that they won’t be bereft of tech support when they need it. In addition, they feel in control of their own destiny; and the perfect rectilinear forms support their feelings of control. This is a place that works. 

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connections and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at 

Last week, Sally Augustin wrote about the Sackler Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Categories: Design, Uncategorized