Students Create Retail Designs for Culturally Diverse Businesses

This fall, retailers in Marshalltown learned new ways to market their wares, while 33 interior design students from Iowa State University got a taste of designing for a diverse group of businesses.

The students were part of an interior design studio taught by Interior Design program faculty members Lisa Bates and Amy Mikovec.

“We worked with 14 retailers in Marshalltown on Main Street and within their local mall from the end of August to the end of September,” said Bates, who is also part of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Community and Economic Development program. “A wide variety of retail work this semester included two ethnic grocery stores, an upholstery store, a local bike shop and a local liquor store.”

The Marshalltown Central Business District sponsored the project through a grant from the Marshalltown Development Foundation. Jenny Etter, director of Marshalltown Main Street, “was instrumental with locating and recruiting the local businesses and did all the legwork to find those to participate,” according to Bates.

“We decided to make it a communitywide project, not just downtown,” Etter said. “We wanted to include the mall because even though the stores are newer they still need help — it’s all about marketing and presenting their businesses.”

The students visited with the individual retailers to better understand their needs before developing design proposals.

“Not all of the people spoke real fluent English so there were some challenges, but the students seemed to take it in stride,” Etter said.

Jon Wolseth,a community development specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach, was on hand to interpret between Spanish and English speakers as needed.

“The project in Marshalltown was an eye opening experience for me in relation to my future career as an interior designer,” said Katie Law, an Iowa State junior interior design major. “It gave me a lot of insight as to how impactful design can be on a local economy and on small business owners.”

“Diversity was another aspect of this project that was highly influential for me since my partner, Joelle Swanson, and I were working with Zamora Fresh Market,” she added. “We directly dealt with cultural differences [within] Marshalltown and were challenged with how we could balance the authenticity of the market with a design language that was aesthetically pleasing with a higher percentage of local shoppers.”

Claire Wolbers, a junior interior design major, also valued the experience of designing for different cultures.

“3rd Generation Upholstery has years of experience with fabrics, furniture and custom sewing. Their master of craft taught me how to display merchandise in a new way for customers in the local neighborhoods,” Wolbers said. “Thanks to 3rd Generation Upholstery and Marshalltown, I am now better able to design for varying cultures and commercial businesses exhibiting their unique art.”

Another challenge that students had to address was the limited resources available to their clients. As a solution, students created both short and long-term design proposals for each business owner.

“Some things that need to be done cost money — that was the only deterrent,” said Etter. “The students did a good job of coming up with ideas that didn’t cost anything — for example, rearranging product or highlighting certain items. The store owners were impressed with the knowledge that [the students] had and felt that they were really listened to. I have seen already that some of the suggestions have been implemented.”

The class presented their final designs to the participating retailers on presentation boards and in report form. According to Bates, the store owners offered positive feedback and were excited by the process.

Etters has indicated that people would like to have an annual project, and mentioned the possibility of starting a local development fund to pay for some project implementation.

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