Rodney Fitch has looked into Hong Kong's eyes and has adjusted the picture accordingly. The British designer has raised the chairs so customers feel less threatened by staff looming over them and side lighting is being installed to show off the high-design features on spectacle frames. Fitch is the man behind the makeover of the Optical Shop, where a soothing new blue and green colour scheme is gradually being introduced to its 39 branches in the territory as well as those in China, Singapore and Macau over the next three years. The street-front stores, Fitch says, are more 'self-confident, more thrusting' because they have to compete not only with the busy traffic but also with rivals in the vicinity. Branches in malls will be more modest, with smaller signs and a less in-your-face presence. Inside, soft-colour finishes and natural materials have been combined with bright lighting to enhance the displays of frames. Cherry wood fixtures are matched with blue and green which, he explains, reflects light and lends a watery feel. 'It's light and it's fresh,' says Fitch, whose other clients include Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Delta Airlines. Chair and counter heights have also been adjusted for better ergonomics. 'There is never a perfect level, of course, because all people are different, but ideally the chair should be about [34.5 centimetres] high,' Fitch adds. At the moment the stools are about 28cm high, which means the staff tend to dominate because they are so much higher than the customer. 'They may be standing up or leaning across the counter, and seem threatening. We have tried to remove that for much better eye contact across the counter,' Fitch explains. He has also introduced adjustable counter mirrors designed 'so that the service person can seem in control of what is the best reflection for the customer'. 'There must seem to be a tremendous amount of help, assistance and guidance going into the process.' Stores are also being remodelled to correct impractical layouts. For example, rooms for testing eyesight and fitting contact lenses have been moved to the rear of the shops to give greater privacy and separate the different service functions. 'When I set about designing a store, I need to know from my client and from research who I am designing for. I am the handmaiden of his customers,' Fitch points out. After identifying his audience, design becomes a question of assembling fabrics, finishes, colour and materials into a shape and space that customers will find welcoming. 'Colour can have an important effect on people's mental state,' Fitch says. 'In a small store like the Optical Shop, the last thing anyone wants is to feel busy and oppressive.' Aside from an attractive ambience, the idea behind the new Optical Shop design is to make customers feel the staff are knowledgeable and professional. 'The interior needs to look efficient.' The same concept will not work in stores in other parts of the world, says Fitch, a veteran of optical shop makeovers in Spain, Britain and Italy, where the focus is almost always on customers selecting the frames before consulting shop staff. Because of the different emphasis, Fitch explains, customers have free access to displays and are encouraged to wander around the store. In Hong Kong, Fitch adds, 'there's a quasi-medical quality to buying glasses'. 'Here, the ethic of being helped by professional staff in pleasant surroundings is the focus The Optical Shop wants. 'In Europe, that focus might be pleasant surroundings but with a help-yourself ethic. It's all about accessibility, about making the interior transparent so that people feel comfortable about walking in and out and not buying anything,' Fitch says. Customers walking out empty-handed may not be the retailer's dream, but that unpressured access encourages a familiarity that is likely to pay off when people do eventually decide to buy. The best stores, Fitch says, will have equal advantages for customers and shop owners.