How pop-up retail is making urban spaces more exciting


Emily Isenberg is the Founder & Creative Principal of Boston based creative strategy and experiential marketing firm Isenberg Projects. Founded in 2011, Emily has built Isenberg Projects into one of the Northeast’s go-to firms for fresh and exciting pop-up activations according to the Boston Globe and, in the process, has become one of the most respected voices thinking outside of the box in Boston’s retail and real estate scenes. Design Museum got the inside scoop into Isenberg Projects and the world of pop-up retail.

Design Museum: Emily, tell us a little bit about your background.

Emily Isenberg:  I studied design and communications at Lesley and initially developed a plan around a life in advertising… which lasted about 22 minutes (or maybe a year). I very quickly got engaged with contemporary art after college and built a career around building community and relationships around art. This manifested in galleries, museums and curating projects in Boston and on the West coast. It married a lot of things I am passionate about like relationship building, fostering community, design and marketing, logistics, programming and events, and bringing ideas to fruition.

DM: What inspired you to start Isenberg projects?

EI: Isenberg Projects was built on an idea to access a more creative and connected city. I initially hoped that by leveraging relationships with brands, properties and the world of creatives in this city we could make some cool things happen in Boston and beyond that people were hungry for.

DM: What excites you most about what you do?

EI: Bringing ideas to life and communicating the value of creative work

DM: How would you describe the retail scene in Boston?

EI: I think the retail scene in Boston has some challenging constraints, but in a lot of surrounding areas were seeing some exciting things and some rulebreakers.

DM:  Where does design fit into your process?

EI: Throughout our process, we do a lot of research, trend forecasting and find inspiration practically everywhere. That gets synthesized into how we ideate, and then how it all comes together. We are looking in a lot of places that most don’t, like grocery stores or dollar stores.

DM: How do you feel about e-commerce vs. brick and mortar? Where does pop-up retail fit into the equation?

EI: I think e-commerce is forcing brands to be more introspective about who they were and who they want to be. We live in a culture that is hungry for experience, and for a unique moment. Pop-up retail is an excellent way for brands to flex their muscles and start testing out what their retail experience might need to be. We need to make the shopper care, and pop-ups and short term activations are valuable ways to capture curiosity and get people off their phones.

DM: What retail companies do you think are changing the game right now?

EI: Shinola, Wildfang and Madewell and dozens of Cannabis shops coming to a corner near you.

DM: What is the future of pop-up retail? Do you see it expanding into other sectors?

EI: We have already seen it expand into hotels, and into restaurants in addition to financial institutions and healthcare. We live in a society that craves newness and we see businesses using temporary activations as way to quench that desire.


On March 15, Mare Weiss, Principal at Bergmeyer, will be continuing this conversation on pop-up retail and the changing retail landscape. Register today!