CanonLAB: A Branded Retail Environment

Erin Ryan

Goal: To design and model a branded retail environment, located in Pittsburgh, aimed at garnering brand interest and engagement from a specific audience.

Client: Canon


  • Must be able to lock up at night, must have some protection from the elements
  • Footprint can be no more than 300 sq. ft., and up to 15 ft high
  • Possible Locations: Schenley Plaza, Market Square, or Southside Works Town Square
  • Can assume that there will be access to electricity

Phase 1: Research

Insights from Initial Research Phase:

  1. Canon’s vertical product integration allows for high quality cameras, printers, monitors, and software for a seamless imaging experience.
  2. Canon is re-establishing itself as a brand innovator with a line of new products.
  3. Canon users can transform themselves from novices to experienced photographers through hands-on demos.

Phase 2: Retail Design

I began by coming up with verbs that could connect to the Canon brand story, inspired by Canon’s most successful advertising campaign in recent years — “See Impossible”.

“See Impossible” focused on the incredible images that could be created with Canon, images that went beyond what the human eye could see. However this campaign was often supplemented with images from places many average people wouldn’t have access to — under water, the African Sahara, and more. While I was interested in the idea of Canon allowing you to see more, that a camera could expand your vision, I cared less about dramatic travelscapes, and more about capturing everyday life in a way that felt special.

To me, in marketing material Canon often focuses on the same story, directed towards the same, general audience. I saw the pop-up shop as a way to tell a new story, towards a more specific, younger audience.

Possible concept tagline: Make the everyday extraordinary.

Initial Form Exploration Sketches

Many of my initial form sketched and models invoked the physical form of a camera, or of other imaging devices. At first, I was unsure if this was an interesting gimmick, or if it was tacky. I decided that it was an interesting route to pursue when courting a demographic that has shown itself to be somewhat obsessed with gimmicks and novelties.


Based on my chosen audience of college students, I decided that Schenley Plaza would be the best location for my Canon pop up. Schenley Plaza is located between two universities — Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, and so it attracts many college students on sunny days. On weekends it’s also frequented by families with children, who while they were not my primary target, may also be interested in the pop up and what Canon has to offer.

Schenley Plaza

2 Initial Concepts: Focus Your World and Frozen in Time

During critique it was brought up that this concept could unintentionally bring bad attention to the brand, because Canon has been critiqued before for not being innovative enough with their digital photography products.

Concepts: Left + Middle — Focus your world, Right — Frozen in Time

During critique it was brought up that the Frozen in Time concept could unintentionally bring bad attention to the brand, because Canon has been critiqued before for not being innovative enough with their digital photography products.

“Focus Your World” sketches

Notes from Critique on Focus Your World:

  • With the way the lenses are drawn it doesn’t feel like you’re learning anything about how the lenses work — wouldn’t it make more sense for the different lenses to be facing outwards? For example a telephoto lens looking down Forbes Avenue, a close angle lens looking at something beneath the structure?
  • More interactive, immersive of the two ideas

Moving forward I decided to expand my idea to the concept of the structure itself being like a massive, human scale camera. By blowing up the individual elements of a camera like the lenses, the spaces asks the visitors to play around and ask questions to achieve the results they want, an experience that will hopefully translate to their actual cameras at home — transforming their digital photography experience from point and shoot to a more artistic, skilled, and knowledgeable process.

Possible Inspiration: Cathedrals

I began to look into ways that the physical form of the pop up could mimic qualities of a Canon Camera. I saw cathedrals — not only their curved arches that could be used to represent the curve of a lens, but also the tradition of building churches with plans in the shape of a cross — a direct formal connection to the subject its purpose was based around.

From this I played with the idea of the plan of the pop up roughly representing the shape of a camera, and potentially incorporating circular elements into door or window shapes.

Initial Parti Diagram

My current idea for the space would be a series of large scale lenses installed in the walls of the popup that would distort what the visitors would see when they looked into them for a large scale experience that gave insight into the mechanisms of a camera. In this iteration it also included a touch screen at the side of the lens that would allow you to distort the lens in a way that mimicked the changing of settings on a camera.

Change in Form

After talking to classmates and my professor I realized that my form was miscommunicating the process of using a camera. When you’re using your DSLR, you aren’t usually interacting directly with your lens, you’re interacting with your viewfinder, the screen of the DSLR, and the setting knobs. As it stands now my concept was incorrectly drawing the connection that by moving and playing with the lens you can change your settings and the type of image you can create, when the reality is that while the type of lens you use affects your image, most of the settings you’re interacting — aperture, shutter speed, white balance, etc. — with deal with other mechanisms within the camera that affect the lens, but don’t change the lens.

Also as I began to think about the actual size of the space, it became clear that my initial parti diagram assumed that there was a lot more space than was actually present — I needed to find a more effective use of the space than the literal translation of the body of the camera had produced.

Headline Challenge

When our class took a trip to tour Deeplocal, one of the things they really stressed was that all of their projects had an easy to understand, simple idea and story at their core. And because a lot of the appeal to their work is that they intentionally make things that will go viral, it was important that the idea be easily sharable; The project should be able easily summed up in a headline. For example, one of their most famous projects had the headline “Netflix Socks Pause Your Show For You When You Fall Asleep”.

This made me think about what the headline for my pop up currently was, and what I wanted it to be. After my realizations about the issues in my concept earlier in the day, it felt like my headline would probably be “Canon Makes Room Full of Confusing Pieces of Glass”. I wanted it to be “Canon Makes a Camera Out of A Room”, or “Canon Will Make You Want to Pick Up Your Camera Again: Check out Their Camera Room”. In doing this it also made me think again about the form encasing this interaction. Is there something I can do to make it more specific than “Room”? How would the message change if it was “House”, or “Museum”?

Focusing In on Camera Interactions

Question: In the pop up, should you be able interact with the top wheel of pre set conditions with associated settings? Or should you interact directly with the settings to learn about the conditions they’re appropriate for? Or both?

Cameras have a lot of settings, all of which are packed into a tiny screen or dial with only basic icons to tell you what they’re actually for. This can be really confusing for novice users, and it can lead them to leaving their camera on automatic. While automatic and similar built-in modes are helpful tools, only using them can be a waste when compared to all of the potential the camera has, and the depth of knowledge a user can gain from utilizing its settings freely.

Further form sketches

I went back to sketching out ideas for my physical model, still with the idea of incorporated visual connections to the physical form of a camera, but more abstract and streamlined than before. One of the comments I got on the top sketch was that it was reminiscent of a film canister, or the box it came in. While that was something that interested her, I decided to move away from that direction as Canon isn’t a leader in film photography, and that wasn’t something I wanted to invoke in the form.

Initial Storyboarding
Initial Moodboard


In talking about ways to experiment with the settings, one of my classmates began talking about the way they give you eye tests at the obstetrician, and the different lenses that they have you test. This led me to look for more kinesthetic interaction in addition to the primary screen. It also led me to strengthen the framing of my pop up. I wanted to use the language and potentially visuals of science and lab experiments to reinforce the purpose of my interactions, and my pop up as a whole — to encourage experimentation with Canon, and therefore educate visitors on photography with Canon.

More form explorations

After more sketching and sketch modeling, I settled on a physical form that incorporated the lens like tunnel and curve of a camera handle, that still allowed for open internal space for interaction.



In creating first person visualizations of the spaces interior, and thinking about ways to solve the problem of communication between the interior and exterior space I realized that it made much more sense to switch the visual language I’d been thinking of for the inside and outside of the space. By making the exterior black, and therefore more cameralike, and the interior more bright and colorful, not only do you allow for more ways to enter and exit the space (now that lighting is less of an issue), but you make the “inside of the camera” an exciting and bright place — that speaks to my concept of making learning and experimenting more with your camera’s mechanism an exciting and interesting process.

Updated Moodboard

New Interaction

If my primary interaction allows visitors to freely experiment and adjust all the different settings a Canon DSLR has to offer all while standing in the same place, I wanted a secondary interaction that allowed users to be able to experiment with one setting while moving around.

My original thought was to put glasses with lenses that mimicked the different lenses Canon sells in the space for visitors to try on and experiment with, but I later decided on something less expensive, that visitors could take home with them.

Playing with the Color Balance and ISO on your camera will not change the content of your photo, just how it is stylized. I decided my secondary interaction would be a rack full of glasses similar to the disposable cardboard 3D glasses you used to get at movies, these ones with lens either tinted with color to allow users to understand a particular color balance (why it looks better inside than it does outside) or ISO (and how different ISOs make what you’re seeing more or less granular). The glasses are printed with the CanonLAB logo and the settings the lenses recreate.

First Iteration of Elevations

When designing the visual language for the pop up, I knew I wanted to expand Canon’s color palette. Right now, the black, white, and red are very corporate, and while they’re appropriate for their product line, they aren’t as adequate for visual design meant to attract a younger audience. In my explorations on potential visual language for the pop up, I expanded the traditional red and white of traditional Canon branding to include purples, oranges, and blues for a more enticing retail look while still remaining on brand.

I realized that my first iteration of my exterior design, while colorful, wasn’t backed by any meaning or connection to the brand in any way other than color. So I decided to go back and do some research on Canon advertising and Canon products to look for shapes, patterns, and compositions that could translate to the the design of the interior and exterior walls.

Visual Language

Problems to Solve:

Exterior Screen Design: The exterior screen looks awkward as it is just in the middle of the wall, I wanted a way to relate the screen to the form of a camera. I decided to make the screen circular, and base the wall surrounding it based off of the concentric circles that surround a lens. Part of the issue with the exterior wall was that it needed to let those around the pop up, posing or just people hanging out in Schenley, that they were on camera. I made sure that the lens was highlighted through the design, and made sure the most prominent text made this clear.

Final Exterior Wall

In finding connections to create between the product and the design of the interior of the pop up, I looked at the frames often used in Canon advertisements, and the pattern of the grip on the lens and how they could be translated onto the walls.

Process for wall designs

Touch Screen Interaction

An important question I had early on when thinking about the design of the screen based interaction was whether or not it should be purely free form adjustment of the different settings, or rely more on the different modes already designed into the camera. I was interested in having the physical wheel of the camera knob as a physical interaction used with the screen, but leaving the modes as options might make users more inclined to just use the modes provided, instead of exploring on their own.

I decided to use the dial as more of a guide — to give visitors a starting point that they could then experiment off of, so that finding the perfect image wouldn’t become a frustrating process for visitors with little to no experience using a digital camera.

Pop Up Takeaways

Left: front, Right: back

When visitors to the pop up are satisfied with their composition and have adjusted the settings in the way that they’re satisfied with, they can capture their image, and then print it on a Canon printer to take home with them. The back of the photo is printed with the settings used to create the image, a QR code that brings you to the Canon website where you can purchase the DSLR models the pop up interactions were based on, and a call to share their creations on social media using #CanonLAB.

In designing the photo takeaways I wanted to incorporate the visual aesthetic and colors of the pop up along the border and back of the photo as a way to make it distinctive enough to merit holding onto, while ensuring that the photo would continue to be something the visitor associated with Canon, as opposed to it just being another photo on their wall.

3. Printing Station
Photo Takeaway

Final Elevations

Physical Model

Final physical model made using foam core and conservation board.

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