Canadian Design Firm Reveals Innovative Marijuana Dispensary Design

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Ahead of marijuana being legalized in Canada, innovative Toronto-based figure3 has designed a retail model that leverages research from the cognitive sciences along with their own primary design research to transform how consumers experience medical marijuana.

The Liberal Government will introduce legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana in Canada this month. It’s expected to become law by July 1 of 2018. While retail distribution hasn’t been formalized, it’s anticipated that legalization could involve the dispensary model, where product is distributed through smaller neighbourhood retail stores specifically dedicated to cannabis product.

Toronto-based design firm figure3, known for gaining deep empathy and evidence as to how people experience design, set out to create a retail model based on how consumers fundamentally understand medical marijuana – both consciously and unconsciously. Their first store is already open in Florida, and figure3 expects a similar approach will be required  to successfully design for the medical marijuana consumer in Canada.

Image: figure3

Tyler Gilchrist, vice president of design research and strategy at figure3, explained some of the surprising findings in the firm’s consumer research that inspired the design of its refreshing store design. ‘Connection Point’ research allowed figure3 to uncover the unconsciously held frames customers use to understand medicinal marijuana.

Positive understandings included ‘Nature, Connection and Compassion’ while negative frames were reflective of ‘Big Pharma’, ‘Science’ and negative ‘Transformations’.

Armed with its research, figure3 sought to trigger feelings of connection, compassion and nature; all neatly evoked by referencing healthy, natural food prepared by compassionate people. People naturally connect over food and as such, a kitchen-like design was created with a ‘kitchen island’ located to the right of the new space, with the product, or ‘garden’ located to the left. At the back of the retail space is a semi-private consultation area that can be likened to a ‘dining room table’.

All design decisions were strategically focused on activating the positive ways people think about medical marijuana by using a wholesome food frame as a mental shortcut. Like organic, natural food prepared lovingly by compassionate people, figure3’s Surterra project provides access to medical marijuana in a way that helps caregivers and loved ones connect.


Research indicated that traditional cannabis dispensary design can be intimidating for many purchasers, and ends up inadvertently triggering more of the negative frames people use to make sense of medical marijuana. Recognizing this, figure3 sought to create a comfortable environment that also normalizes purchases.

In figure3’s ‘Seven Principles of Retail Design’, its principle of ‘open & social’ is reflected strongly in a design that encourages the social behaviour of purchasing cannabis. By making behaviour inside the store open and visible – counter to conventional design within the category – figure3 leverages ‘social proof’, peoples’ innate tendency to mimic the behaviour of others in situations of ambiguity.

The design is already changing consumer perceptions, according to Mr. Gilchrist. Design has a way of changing minds and Mr. Gilchrist noted that patrons coming into the space, including those who may have been apprehensive about making purchases, are finding comfort in an unpretentious design that is reflective in a positive food retail experience.

Taking a thoughtful approach to retail design is protocol for figure3, which has designed a number of award winning projects. The company has been involved with retailers such as La Maison Simons, has designed the flagship BMO branch, and most recently created the remarkably designed Penguin Random House store in downtown Toronto, which has a functionality many times greater than what’s in its 158 square foot space.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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