The Single Fundamental of Retail Design: Lighting


Retail is undergoing a period of intense change, with consumer buying habits varying each month. Buy now pay later, D2C, click and collect, retail-tainment – there is an ever-growing list of factors that retailers have to use correctly in order to stay competitive.

However, nothing represents as great a challenge as enticing consumers back to high streets. Quite rightly up to this point, retailers have focused mainly on making our shops as safe and secure as possible. From layout to ventilation, managers must ensure their shops are capable of meeting new requirements and new customer expectations.

While safety will always remain key, the next phase of retail will go beyond making it viable. It will focus on making stores as enticing, engaging and interactive as possible to drive attendance. Post-pandemic, shoppers will need to be motivated to return and be confident it will be worth their time.

Fundamentally, brand and instore experience will surge in importance. While over the last year UX and CX have stolen the headlines and sales, instore design will take centre stage over the next.

Retail design moves at an ever-increasing pace, but one element remains constant. Lighting is the single critical factor to every shop’s style, at every stage of its lifespan. Getting it wrong undermines the aesthetic and by extension brand sentiment, while finding the perfect light is key to creating the best possible environment for customers. Simply put, it’s the one non-negotiable when it comes to creating the perfect customer experience.

While space and layout are constantly discussed, light remains under considered and underrepresented within the design community. However, a space can be completely transformed by altering the intensity, placement, and colour of light, making it the most powerful tool in the designer’s toolbox.

As any lighting designer will tell you, there are many considerations that must be taken to maximise the space at all times, no matter the use.



 Interior design, at its essence, is about combining different elements in a way that allows them to complement one another. Colours, materials, textures, and features – everything should be perfectly balanced and working harmoniously to create the desired experiential effect.

The key element required to develop this level of sensory cohesion is lighting. It is critical to style, and overall style must be considered when beginning to design a lighting scheme. To maximise and elevate customer experience and perception, the right lighting is vitally important.



Functionality is one of the most critical roles of light. In design, all lighting must serve a purpose and play a role within its wider scheme, whether you’re looking for full room illumination or only in particular areas to focus attention on a specific display.

To achieve the right light, one must understand that different spaces have different lighting requirements. We all, even if intuitively, understand that offices need bright light to help with reading or working at a computer while a restaurant needs a softer, more forgiving lighting scheme. Retail spaces are no different.

In very simple terms, lighting function tends to be driven by quantity and power. Too little light and it’s impossible to perform necessary tasks, too much and it risks undermining aesthetic and in extreme circumstances causing eye discomfort.

Critically, retailer should make sure they have complete customisation capabilities and an intuitive system. By doing so, they can ensure they can change the scenes throughout the day or to meet specific needs without calling in a specialist.


Mood and atmosphere

 Lighting has an instant and dramatic effect on our mood and perception of a space and can help to creative a positive emotional response to the space in question. Given it’s such a powerful tool, it must suit the shop itself and the ambiance required. Having a system that includes a couple of different schemes within one space can singlehandedly change the perceived use of a space – from a store in the day to a promotional event venue in the evening. Having pre-set scenes means shop owners can become extremely versatile and create personal emotional connections within the same space, with minimal effort.


Health and Wellbeing

Lighting isn’t just illumination – it’s a powerful tool that supports well-being, comfort, productivity mood, and can impact decision-making. Cleverly designed artificial lighting could play a role in ensuring employees are working efficiently and effectively, while also creating a positive environment for purchasing.

Good lighting should focus on the individuals and their needs, and we need to look at the totality of the lighting requirements including biological, visual, non-visual and emotional responses – including retail staff and customers.



Aside from using light to emote, lighting design can also be used to highlight specific details of interior settings or products. Directional lighting, for instance, ensures consumers eyes are drawn to specific pieces and can even provide physical guidance.

Lighting is also a vital tool for visual storytelling, where a designer uses light to express specific moods and elements. These key aspects can be anything from an intriguing wall panel filled with textures, to unique items on sale.


The future is light

Instore design is soon to become a critical factor in retail, with lighting a fundamental part. The right light transforms a space, making a room feel comfortable, dramatic or atmospheric. It can highlight offers, create targeted bright areas for eating or drinking, and performs countless other tasks.

Light has the power to either undermine or elevate the retail experience to the next level. The key to its successful implementation relies on an understanding of light’s role within its environment. Modern lighting proves its versatility in brightness, colours, and schemes to enable retailers to create the perfect environment within their shops, and meet the demands of the modern consumer.