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Johnathan Sanders and Tatyana Murphy: Propped Up

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Create impact in your cases with judicious use of props.


The point of any visual presentation is to create an aesthetically appealing, visually effective stage to showcase a product. Many retailers choose a safe route of neutral palate and clean lines. While this can suffice, it has distinctive drawbacks. A monotone color palate suggests boredom and cannot clearly identify areas of importance — be it a new line of merchandise, a bridal collection or your special deal of the month.

While there are several ways you can address this problem, the easiest, and often the least expensive, is the use of props. Props allow you to build creative solutions while keeping in mind your brand identity. Used improperly, props can become an eyesore and detract from your merchandise. However, well thought-out props can greatly enhance the visual impact of your display.

The first rule of thumb is “less is more.” Props should never compete in color, texture or complexity with the jewelry. The “special” piece (or pieces) you choose to elevate above the rest should be surrounded by negative space, with distinct breathing room between it (them) and the rest of the merchandise. To create visual interest, consider sharp contrasts or items in the same vein. Rough-hewn bracelets wrapped around a piece of a branch are an example of similar visual association of the prop and the merchandise. On the other hand, placing elegant single gem jewelry against a piece of raw pipe, or the same branch, is an example of sharp visual contrast.

For strong impact, consider using unusual objects as display elements inside a single museum case or vitrine. Props like a giant clothespin, a crystal flute, or a mound of pillows are great examples of artistic display well suited for singled-out presentation. But please remember, high impact displays such as these should live alone to prevent them from sliding from an art form into clutter.

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When thinking about props, consider if they’ll be a distraction or if they would magnify the visual impact. The best way to control “visual clutter” is to use one small element and repeat it. This provides a rhythm in a neutral ground that merely adds interest, not mess. Consider letting display pop out of the neutral ground of repeated small scale props: Pebbles, flower petals, a mound of small boxes, satin bows, etc.

Think of small-scale unusual items that can become a foundation for your display. Rocks, glass gems, or similar items under a riser can give a great break for the eye. Please remember, holiday ornaments are trickier than simple uniform items. Consider using small ones of repeated shape and high quality so that you don’t cheapen the overall look. And what do you think of sod? Fake sod, of course! It is a great option to highlight a new spring into summer collection.

The last and final rule that best suits a presentation with props is Edit! Edit! Edit! If you are unsure, create a mock-up presentation in the back of your store and come back to it in a couple of days. If you still love it, it is time to unveil it to the world!

Johnathan Sanders is vice president of creative and business development for PACIFIC NORTHERN — a full-service design, manufacture and logistics firm — and Tatyana Murphy is senior creative designer. Contact them at (972) 512-9095 or pacificnorthern.com.

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