Microsoft Retail Eye Candy

Apparently I don’t get out much, but when I finally was allowed to leave my studio earlier this week, I found myself at the mall with my family. We needed new dishes, so we stopped by Pottery Barn and found something we liked. It would be about a half hour to pull inventory and pack our two sets of dinnerware, so we had some time to kill. After the kids tossed a few wishful pennies in the fountain (ah, the simple things in life….when’s the last time you did that?) we aimlessly wandered around the corner and found ourselves in front of the LEGO store. The kids were happy. Their father, on the other hand, kind of dreaded the thought of having to buy more LEGO’s, not because of any aversion to small building blocks (I love them, and play with them, to this day) but rather because both young boys just had birthdays and received plenty already. Across the way though, something caught my eye.

You guys go check out the LEGO store, I’ll be over here” I offhandedly directed to my toddler wrangling partner, and I walked across the way.

In front of me stood the simple shiny white facade of the Microsoft store. I knew these stores existed, but never really thought to find one in the Cleveland area. Has the concept been around so long that it finally filtered its way down to our area? Who cares. It’s here now.

Before I even stepped inside I was smitten by the large lifestyle graphic panels that ran around the perimeter of the store. “That’s awesome“, I thought to myself. I liked the seemingly backlit color and images. I like how it seamlessly went from wall to wall in a 4′ tall band.

Then the graphics changed.

Whoa” I mouthed silently to myself.

What I was actually looking at was not back-lit graphics but rather one giant, extremely long, video screen. It took a moment to comprehend. I mean, I’ve seen all kinds of similar, and even more extraordinary things like this before, but not on a somewhat “mass” retail scale. And a part of me probably recalls reading or seeing this sort of thing in trade magazine or something. Hell, we used to draw this kind of idea all the time but it never made it past a shiny computer rendering.  Back in the day I thought it’d be cool to use video screens instead of printed signs – never have to ship another piece of seasonal signage again, just upload it. But here, live, in front of me was something I guess I never would have expected…or at least not expected to see during a trip to go pick up plates and coffee mugs (albeit a different store obviously).

It was pure visual retail porn.

Without hesitation I stepped inside. I basked in the glow of my newly discovered wall of visual ecstasy. Watching fields of grass in one section, the time and date in another….over there a competitive comparison…all on one screen…like two hundred feet long…that turned two corners.  I wanted to shake someone’s hand. Somewhere out there was a very proud design team who made a very compelling case to someone with there wear withal to make this happen.  Very cool.

The video wall, made up of dozens of smaller monitors, wraps the store.

The video wall, made up of dozens of smaller monitors, wraps the store.

I was promptly greeted by an Microsoft sales associate. We chatted a bit. I owned up to the fact that I was just looking around. I did not use the words “porn” or “ecstasy” in case you were wondering. There I was snapping photos with my phone (I won’t mention the brand…let’s just say it was ironic), like a kid in a candy store….or LEGO store. I walked around, not really interested in the product. I only had a few minutes, so it’s not like I could do a complete deep dive on this retail visit. I was just winging it.

Towards the back I was eyeing the Xbox gaming area when another associate and I started talking. She demonstrated how guests can try out the latest games using controllers tethered to small posts. Gaming screens appeared within the larger screen display that wraps the store. The area is surrounded by simple full faced software displays and large format graphics informing guests of new releases. Also, at the front of the store is a floor to ceiling gaming demo space, that I’m sure draws in mall visitors. The day I was there they had a, yet to be released, Xbox One showing off its impressive graphics capabilities. Very cool indeed.

The gaming area in the back corner of the store doesn't require separate monitors, it utilizes a portion of the video wall. Note the simple merchandising.

The gaming area in the back corner of the store doesn’t require separate monitors, it utilizes a portion of the video wall. Note the simple merchandising.

The Microsoft store facade. At the far end is a game demo area.

The Microsoft store facade. At the far end is a game demo area.

The topic then switched over to computers after I asked what the space behind the registers was for. They have a small classroom to teach guests how to use their new computers. The space features contemporary tables, benches and a very large monitor. On the main sales floor there are various areas to learn about the different computers and other products the store has to offer. All are done in relative simplicity and feature clean contemporary lines. Guests are welcome to sit while shopping as stools are plentiful; something that is in contrast to competitive stores I believe. Personally I found myself smitten again as my Microsoft expert companion explained the pros of picking up a new Surface computer, complete with stylus and portable keyboard. Alas I didn’t have a spare $800 burning a hole in my pocket, but at least now I have something to dream about.

There is an open area in the back of the store for classroom sessions and meetings.

There is an open area in the back of the store for classroom sessions and meetings.

Surface tablet with keyboard and stylus. You would think I would have drawn something more interesting on the screen when I was trying it out.

Surface tablet with keyboard and stylus. You would think I would have drawn something more interesting on the screen when I was trying it out.

Simple, straightforward displays allow the focus to be on the product and features.

Simple, straightforward displays allow the focus to be on the product and features.

As I walked out of the store I noticed the deftly executed backlit window sign. Actually I had seen this from across the aisle, where I left the family earlier, but the video wall had usurped this window sign in my giddy excitement. Now I examined the window sign closer. It was really well done. Graphically it tied into Microsoft’s phone software. The edge  and back lighting were flawless. And the sign artfully suspended itself visually as if in mid-air (it actually sandwiches the store window, but your eye couldn’t care less about the glass window).

I love this simple backlit window sign.

I love this simple backlit window sign.

In my imagination and experience as a designer the window sign and the highly technical video wall were both visual delights, that borders upon being downright mythical in my opinion. I was very impressed.

I would say that the store is doing its job. At least for me. I went in with a few minutes to kill and left with visions of Surface tablets and the Xbox One dancing in my head. I will definitely plan another trip to the Microsoft store to take a closer look. Honey, if you’re reading…you might want to confiscate my credit card before I go back.

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