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Is Retail Design Served Better with 2D or 3D?

Author: Kuldeep Bwail
by Kuldeep Bwail
Posted: Sep 28, 2018

Retail drives our world today – our homes, what we have at home, where we work, how we get to work, what we wear and where and how we spend our leisure. The scope of retail design, therefore, is of paramount importance for retailers. The influence of retail design begins from the moment you walk near the entrance to a retail space right through your entry, or non-entry, to the culmination of buying, or not buying, a retail product. Traditionally, retail design was managed in a 2D environment. A few years ago, the advent of 3D design brought about a host of changes to the effects of retail design. Consider which works better for retail design.

Firstly, what is retail design and what does a retail designer do?

From the shop window and entrance, its interiors, check-out counters to displays, retail design plays a vital role in customer impressions. Primarily, retail spaces promote brands and increase sales. The customer experience at retail stores is critical – they must find the environment appealing enough for a repeat visit and conducive to buying products again and again. Retail designers must be well acquainted with the company’s branding and marketing schemes while:

    • Collaborating with the client designing in 2D or 3D
    • Creating computer-aided design (CAD) 2D sketches of scaled technical drawings and 3D models
    • Producing layouts, furniture designs, displays, graphics and signage, with colours, textures and costing
    • Incorporating construction, installation and fit-out requirements, considering the materials used
    • Being aware of green materials and sustainable technology

The retail design experience begins at the threshold of a retail space. Known as the ‘decompression zone’, the space a few feet inside the door is the first spot that customers enter within the store and experience the ambience of the store. Shoppers have already started to judge the space – expensive, affordable, noting colours, lighting, fixtures and displays. Most customers turn right by default and face the first wall or ‘power wall’, which needs to make a lasting impression of the product display. The customers are led on a walk with the clever use of furniture, racks, counters, displays, etc. on a clear path, receiving maximum product exposure, increasing the chances of a purchase. These items also control the flow of foot traffic. ‘Speed bumps’ are deliberately inserted in the form of signages, special displays, merchandise outposts or attractive product grouping, encouraging impulse buys. Eye-level displays typically consist of high-demand products.

A consumer behaviour expert coined the phrase ‘butt-brush effect’ that mainly women experience when they avoid reaching for products displayed on an aisle where they could possibly brush against another person’s posterior or have their own body parts brushed. Ensuring that aisles, floor layouts and displays allow sufficient personal space is therefore an important facet of retail design. Comfortable waiting areas encourage non-shoppers to accompany shoppers. Seating should be spacious, comfortable and facing the merchandise. Check-out counters should ideally be placed at the front left corner so that the customer walks full circle around the retail space and so that retail staff get a good view of the whole retail space.

Using 2D and 3D CAD drawings and visualisation can help retail designers design the features required by smart retail design before the actual process of setting up a retail space begins. Mechanical and functional components can be part of the full details of any retail design using 2D and 3D drawings and models.

2D Drawings

Retail design drawings depicted in 2D can include anything that can accurately calculate core schematics, pipework and plumbing. Two-dimensional objects, such as rectangles, circles, triangles and squares, which have height and width, are 2D objects supported in CAD (computer-aided design) software. Drawings generated are line drawings, product drawings and construction drawings. Line drawings consist of simple sketches. Product drawings are CAD drawings made by a 3D model and has vast amounts of data attached. Construction drawings depict floor plans, installations and MEP (M&E) systems.

  1. 2D Features
    • Flexible design – Allows accurate and realistic reproduction of the finished piece, showing how every element would fit together and how the space would be used. The major benefit of using 2D CAD is that it’s very easy to amend.
    • Time-saving – Analysis and simulation is easily possible, calculating key features quickly.
    • Error-free – Since manual calculations are reduced, there are less errors. Various features are calculated and automatically included in the design while it is being created. Mechanical components and furniture dimensions can be altered easily and accurately.
    • Cost-effective – Since many calculations and drawings are completed in a short time, the professional services of a draughtsman is reduced, saving on expenses for their time. Designing a concept plan is fast with 2D CAD, saving money.
  2. 3D Modeling
  3. Architects and designers use 3D modelling and 3D visualisation to design efficient and aesthetically appealing structures, which is especially important in the world of retail design. How does it work? A 3D design will depict a retail space realistically and with depth, using accurate scale models for all fixtures and fittings, which can then also be used in images or animations.

Using tools such as BIM means that retail designs, which usually feature a high level of repeatability, are easier to schedule and therefore apply a cost measurement. This is an important part of retail design and return on investment at store level is key to determining the success of a new outlet.

There are certain advanced forms of 3D visualisation that involves spectator involvement with the scene and experience, known as virtual reality, which can also be used in 3D retail designs for marketing purposes. The art of producing 3D images depicting the architectural design of a space is called rendering, which can be used to evaluate, analyse and change proportions and scales, simulating lighting, colour schemes, textures, internal furnishings and brand images.

Why use 3D?The use of 3D in retail design helps designers, customers and other stakeholders communicate seamlessly and collaborate easily. Designers can work on designs in real time, while looking at different options, editing and sharing their thoughts using efficient 3D software, such as Revit. Reliable and versatile modelling and rendering software include SketchUp, Rhino, VRay, Maxwell, Mental Ray and AutoCAD. Designers can get a clear understanding of the nature of the retail spaces being designed. The rendered 3D retail images can be used effectively as a marketing tool, for planning and to improve designs.

Many feel 3D modelling, rendering and architectural visualisation are the future of retail design. Architects who work with Revit Architecture in a BIM (Building Information Modelling) environment find that this methodology helps them render realistic views. Though some cases require hand-drawn or 2D drawings, retail BIM modelling is a more complete package to present a clear understanding of the project idea. Many changes and improvements to design are realised and implemented when viewing 3D images. Comparing 2D and 3D Design


Generally, 2D CAD is useful to draft plans, sections and elevations. Three-dimensional images can be developed with 2D CAD, using traditional techniques of perspective.Using 3D design processes, the designer can model objects and produce a variety of retail design views by rotating the model in 3D. Two-dimensional drawings can be developed from the 3D images.


Virtually all computers are able to use 2D CAD software.Several 3D CAD programmes require a high-performance computer.


When only the basic functions, such as layers, line types and line weights, are required, many find that 2D CAD is all they need.A designer can use functions such as 3D arrays, reference views and many more in 3D programmes.


Rendering is not possible with 2D CAD software. Views must be exported to a separate programme for rendering.A majority of 3D programmes can render photorealistic images.


Since it is more advanced, 3D CAD is much more expensive than 2D CAD solutions.

The benefits of using 3D visualisation over 2D CAD seems to open the design process to greater efficiency and improved aesthetics. Retail designs can expand and innovate. Experience has shown that 3D design results in time, cost and material savings. Processes and the quality of retail design is improved with 3D design, and retail designers can be more creative and accurate.

Why Moving to 3D Design is Beneficial

Fast Approvals – Management/customers’ approvals on designs are vital to proceed with a project, but this can be slow. Using 2D drawings, non-technical personnel may not understand the details depicted — especially for complex designs. This can delay approvals, whereas the clear and detailed depiction of retail design in a 3D view fosters quick understanding of the design concept and its overall final view, speeding up the time taken for approvals.

Quick, Easy Design Changes – Using 2D, each design change would need time-consuming, complex manual updates, which would have to be made on multiple views. This could lead to human errors. Working in a 3D environment makes changes easy and quick, reducing the chance for errors and making the process faster.

Animations, Renderings – Using 2D, it is not possible to create aesthetically pleasing and accurate images for marketing purposes. Customers, managers and partners can view how a design concept functions using renderings or animation through 3D visualisation. Catalogues and other realistic images of multiple views can help the sales and marketing teams.

Analysis – A 2D drawing cannot help analyse design concepts or simulate design behaviour. Using 3D visualisation, designers can analyse a design or modify it to improve performance, save material and save costs.

Attractive Proposals – In the case of RFQs (request for quotations), a 2D drawing is ill equipped to compete against 3D images and animations full of useful information. Increasingly, companies prefer considering proposals in 3D.

Manufacturing – Typically, an engineer must convert 2D drawings into 3D models to develop the tool paths on a machine tool driven by a 3D programme, which is a relatively slow process. Designing in 3D means that a design is ready to be taken directly to manufacturing.

The move to detailed retail design is projected to be a move to greater success, which ultimately favours retail BIM modelling over using only retail design drawings. Pluses include faster design approval, greater innovation, attractive sales and marketing material, appealing proposals, faster development of manufacturing designs and detailed analysis that will ultimately save material, time and costs. Retail giants have experienced significant returns on investment (ROIs) after moving to 3D design, improving the efficiency and aesthetic appeal of retail spaces while promoting the brand image.

About the Author

Kuldeep Bwail, Director at XS CAD, providing 3D Architectural Modelling,3D BIM Modeling to Homebuilder, Architect

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Author: Kuldeep Bwail

Kuldeep Bwail

Member since: Dec 02, 2013
Published articles: 50

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