By Taylor Engle

The cannabis industry has expanded significantly throughout the past few years, and with that comes an increased need for brands, dispensaries, and other retail locations to establish a winning identity that stands out amongst the growing herd.

This is quite a contrast from years past, when dispensaries did their best to blend into the shadows. For that reason, more operators are relying on architectural designers to bring their visions to life in a way that appeals to a wider net of consumers.

Based in the heart of Los Angeles, Caisson Studios brings the perfect combination of elegant aesthetic and practicality to a variety of residential, commercial, and hospitality clients throughout California – and they’ve recently turned their talents towards the cannabis industry in a way that will define how dispensary design is approached for years to come.

Caisson Studios' design for Kush Alley (C) Caisson Studios

As The Industry Becomes More Visible, So Must Retail Locations

Today’s cannabis culture is one of curiosity, transparency, and inclusivity. The industry enjoys a wide variety of consumers who each have a very unique relationship to the plant, and people are increasingly comfortable with talking about their cannabis use in a very public manner.

While this newfound atmosphere is beneficial for the industry and much less intimidating for cannabis newcomers, it’s in stark contrast to how cannabis culture operated just a few years ago, and many consumers and operators are still adjusting to this new approach.

“The days of darkened dispensaries are gone. Now, dispensary owners want their stores to be visible from the street and representative of their target demographic and brand identity,” said Alice Kuo, Founder and Principal Designer at Caisson Studios.

Because of this, operators have brought interior designers into the cannabis space, fusing their approach to aesthetically-pleasing design that is attractive and inviting to an industry that has been used to hiding for several decades.

Caisson Studios' design for Project Cannabis in Downtown Los Angeles (C) Caisson Studios

Caisson Studios is one such design firm. The team first got into the cannabis space in 2017, when an investor they were working with needed help designing a cultivation and retail location.

Since then, Caisson has completed about 25 cannabis-related projects, including cultivation facilities, retail stores, and consumption lounges. The team prioritizes a balance of aesthetic appeal and function, bringing practical designs that are both beautiful and friendly to every type of budget.

“Aesthetics are important for brand identity – presenting the location in a way that represents what they’re about and really speaks to the audience they’re trying to attract,” Kuo said.

“However, function is key for success. A functional location determines the profitability of the store by keeping in mind the products that sell best and how everything should be laid out so customers can navigate the space with ease and enjoyment.”

Model design for Alternative Herbal Health Services Pasadena (C) Caisson Studios

Remaining Competitive in an Oversaturated Market

This approach to design is increasingly important in the industry, especially as it continues to be oversaturated with new brands that all promise to be the best. In order to remain competitive, operators must focus on establishing a location that is welcoming, organized, and representative of who they are and what makes them stand out in the community.

There’s no denying that the pandemic had a massive effect on how every industry operates, and cannabis was no exception.

As lockdowns hit every inch of the globe, brands and dispensaries were forced to pivot their sales approach, shifting into e-commerce mode practically overnight. This change had a lasting effect on the industry, and while most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, many consumers decided to stick with this new way of purchasing.

However, this hasn’t had as damaging of an effect on physical locations as one might assume. Instead, designers are reimagining spaces to make room for every type of consumer: the in-person browser, the person who ordered ahead online, and everyone in between.

“Again, this ties back to functionality, which is the #1 source of profitability for our clients. It’s essential to come up with an efficient layout, using human psychology to display the product in a way that creates maximum flow of circulation,” Kuo said.

Model design for Savant (C) Caisson Studios

“The first thing we do with clients is sit down to really understand their sales strategy in order to come up with an appropriate layout. Some operators want a design that is similar to a jewelry store, with a high amount of customer service and very little chance for consumers to touch the product before purchasing. Others prefer limited interaction with clients, and an increase in self-service and informational kiosks.”

Pandemic or not, the entire retail world is undeniably moving closer to limited-interaction sales, especially as Gen Z comes of age and brings their digital-forward way of shopping to the forefront.

Keeping that in mind, Kuo believes the future of dispensary design will be one that prioritizes the consumer demographic, allowing that to really inform brand identity, product selection, and overall store layout.

“We allow clients to have their own design aesthetic vision, and we pair that with our expertise within the cannabis industry and out to inform how that vision will be realized in the space. However, the client’s vision has to be driven by the target demographic or customer – not larger industry trends,” Kuo said.

“I’ve seen clients try to appeal more to female consumers based on the greater industry, but since their demographic is mainly millennial males, their sales fell way below average. It’s definitely helpful to look at industry trends and how they apply to your business, but operators must make sure that’s properly balanced with the needs of their specific demographic, or they won’t be successful.”

Model design for House of Trees (C) Caisson Studios

For more information on Caisson Studios, visit

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Featured image: Caisson Studios' design for Neon (C) Caisson Studios