Debi Ward Kennedy has been an active retail stylist and designer for over 45 years, serving a wide range of clients and employers in the retail industry. Her resume' includes employment as a Visual Merchandising Specialist for the Walt Disney Company at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, and contributing to seminars and publications in the retail/wholesale and lifestyle/home decor industries since 2002.

She provides freelance retail design services to independent artisans and businesses across the country, assisting them in creating successful visual impact in their stores, show booths, studios, and creative spaces. Her visual styling and store design work has won awards for some of her many independent business clients, which include retailers in the wine, antique/vintage, fashion, home decor, gift, garden, and art markets. Through space design, visual merchandising, and thoughtful brand-centric choices, Deb helps clients 'Tell Their Own Story' in their environment - enhancing customer experiences while increasing loyalty and sales.

With articles published in top retail industry publications, she is  a quoted ‘retail expert’ in magazines and web sites. Deb has filled seminar rooms to record-breaking capacity across the country, and in 2007 she produced a six-video series for the (now defunct) Gift + Home Channel. Five of the videos are now hosted on YOUTube.

my retail design philosophy:
"The thing is, retail design is driven by psychology.

It is by manipulating space, visuals, lighting, sound, smell, and mood
that we influence customers to enter, stay, browse, buy, and return. 
It is an endless exercise in change, endurance, growth, education, and imagination 
that enables retailers to stay on top of their game and at the forefront of their customer's minds. 

Yes, what you sell IS important - 
but even the very best merchandise won't sell at full price if it's presented 
in torn boxes on dirty shelves in a store that is too crowded to turn around in. 
Visual impact is a huge part of business,
and utilizing the principles that have been proven to work can help you build a better business."

~ debi ward kennedy, professional retail visual designer + stylist

In all of her award-winning store, trade show exhibitor booth and showroom design projects, her focus has always been on helping her clients reach their ‘Visual Impact Potential’TM. Deb creates a visual design concept plan that includes the retail environment, merchandise presentation, and visual brand image of the business - each plan as unique as the business itself, building impelling visual narrative for each client she serves. As a lifelong artist, that perspective guides more than just her design process...

One of Deb’s most popular published articles is ‘The Art of  Display’, which appeared in Country Business Magazine  in 2005. Comparing the methods of display in a retail store to the way art is displayed in museums and galleries, this article led to a seminar presentation with similar content, met with rave reviews.The concept, Deb says, is about knowing how to apply the visual principles of art to retail merchandising:

"It’s a simple way for shop owners to see why it’s important to plan for product presentation.These concepts have existed and worked successfully for decades – why not learn them, personalize them, and capitalize on them?

Throughout her life, Deb has studied both the Walt Disney Company and other benchmarks in retail, and she uses their successful methodology to assist retailers in creating the same ‘experiential’ shopping environment. Their influence drives her design philosophy:

To begin with the process of design is to follow in the footsteps of some very wise and forward-thinking businessmen and women, like CoCo Chanel and Walt Disney.
Walt drew the visual aspects of Disneyland long before he had a business plan – and I love that! If you can’t imagine something first, you can’t create it in reality." 

That includes a store, product displays, and an entire business brand. Deb explains her core service this way:

"I help people visualize their stores and the experience that their customers will have in those stores – and then I give them the tools to make it a reality.

Debi’s clients see immediate results and increased revenues following integration of her design concepts to their business environments. By providing expertise and resources, Deb guides retailers in choosing the right materials, elements, styles, words, and images. She effectively mentors their creative thinking:

As an artist, I enjoy the act of creation. As a visual designer and consultant, I enjoy helping clients create their businesses from a visual starting point, maximizing their visual impact potential.”

Deb's most recent addition to her service roster is 'Artful Makeovers' - Deb re-designs studios, workshops, classrooms, and other creative spaces for makers, artists, and crafters.

More of Her Story:

Debi Ward Kennedy has been an artist all of her life.

Blessed with natural artistic ability, Deb recalls spending many childhood hours building Barbie houses from cast-off materials, and re-arranging her own bedroom every month to create a new look. She has practiced and studied art in various mediums all of her life, and won a citywide art contest at age ten.

At the age of thirteen, she took the initiative to begin creating window displays for her mother’s gift shop in a hotel across the street from Disneyland. Debi discovered that her natural creative talents easily combined with her art education, and enabled her to create 3-D masterpieces using gift items in the place of various art mediums. It was a defining ‘light bulb moment’ for a young girl, and it changed her life focus: that realization led her to look at things around her from a new perspective.

Growing up in ‘the shadow of the Castle’ and having had family members involved in the creation of attractions at the Park, Debi spent many hours at Disneyland throughout her life. Unlike the many children and young adults who delighted in the rides, this girl immersed herself in the visual aspects of the Park:

She studied the way color, light, scale, sound, and theme were used to  create imaginary places and times – surrounding visitors with an experience. She noticed the perfection attained in the displays of products, and how well-stocked and organized the merchandise always appeared. The subtleties of how space was arranged – how it directed both the guests’ viewpoint and path of movement – were noted. (Deb says that she’s learned more about retail from just walking through the Magic Kingdom than from any professor or textbook!) This knowledge informed her own philosophy about retail merchandising and visual impact.

By her senior year in high school, Deb was creating the window and store product displays for the Jeans West chain of mens’ clothing stores in three major malls. The following year, she designed a Hickory Farms Holiday store and re-designed the hotel gift shop for her mom.

This exploration of 'the art of arrangement' and design set Deb on the path to helping thousands of retailers with the design of their product displays, stores, and brands. In January 2014, that journey came full circle when Debi was hired by the Walt Disney Company, to work in the Disneyland Resort retail division. In June, 2014, she became a retail visual specialist at the resort.