'Retail Vision for Bharat Petroleum Corporation'
This design project involved background research and defining corporate strategy for retail vision related to incorporating futuristic and experience driven designing for the 'Retail Outlets for Bharat Petroleum'.
The design team was responsible for the whole design process, which was implemented across all its outlets in India (4 to 5 thousand).
"Between two products equal in price, function and quality, the better looking will outsell the other".
While this has become a charter of faith for corporate branding in the last quarter of a century internationally, and in the nineties in India, these were words from one of the most distinguished industrial designers the world's ever known. Starting with designing the Gestetner machine in 1929 to designing the interiors of the Boeing aircraft, the interiors of a spacecraft for NASA, President Kennedy's Air Force One and of course, the latest variant of the Shell emblem (the "Pecten"), the French born Raymond Loewy ended up giving the history of brands one of its most compelling arguments.
It has been our endeavor to induct the factor of "better looking" as a decisive input into our conceptual designs, without in any way, using it as a superficial attribute.
However, "the motorist is not a fool" as Paddy Briggs, Manager for Shell's retail identity program (1990-95) asserts. So, looks obviously had to be combined with functionality and comfort. While forwarding the concept of "better looking", Loewy had simply assumed that these were a critical basis for any designing. But a lot of others don't.
Therefore, for "better looking" as a factor to survive (since looks do erode with time) we needed to combine Loewy's charter of faith with a few other design principles:
• Does the Design tell 'A Story'?
Sometimes, the most fascinating of designs vanish without a trace. The reason for that would have been their momentariness.
One way to build in a lasting quality into a design, like the way Satyajit Ray did with his 'Pather Panchali', would be to try and tell a story through the design. In other words, build in a narrative into the design.
From preliminary creation to becoming an object each product has its own track of development. However, the reason why a narrative is important is because only those products created with a story can display meanings. And out of these meanings can one draw metaphors and symbolism. Where this happens, the product becomes the story and the product designer ‘the story-teller’.
In the case of BPCL, there was a powerful ingredient already encrypted in its logo - the yin and yang. So, that gave us the theme upon which to build our storyboard. And chalk out the identities, defined as the sameness in the language of shape and form that links one object to another and holding a narrative together.
• Experience Designing - Product vs Process:
A narrative, therefore, necessarily implies that there is not just a product, but a process involved as well. This emphasis on continuity and closure got reflected as a paradigm shift in design in the nineties, partly driven by a consumer-pull logic rather than a producer logic, and partly by the availability of better cladding, lighting, printing and pre-fab technologies, that increasingly allowed companies to dream up corporate visions that foretold elaborate setups, increasingly more gay, more colorful and friendly and placed the consumer's mindset center stage and not in the rings, seemingly, forever waiting.
Under the earlier circumstances, it used to be that the designer made an object and walked away. Under the changed set of circumstances, designing an object alone did not guarantee giving the customer what he wanted. One had to design an experience, which in turn, called for a process. And which alone could guarantee a long-term relationship with the customer. So, the designer was now responsible not just to the product, but to the entire process.
While designing the program, we had to look at some of the elements that would, by necessity, degrade with age and vanish (landscaping, graphics, uniforms, etc.) while there were others that needed to last longer or forever (structures). We also found dealers expressing views that made them want to see designing happening in these modules (and not designing across the board) to reflect nature's tendency for variable rates of deterioration.
The question that evoked the most empathy with dealers was when we asked them if designing the RO as a total experience was worth the while. Should we make it evocative for customers to want to hang around for a longer time, for children and teenagers to want to make a fun trip down there, for the woman of the house to see the RO as a social space?
Ought there be more colors, patterns, activities unrelated to oil dispensing. Would they see these as unwelcome and intrusive? It came in as a slight surprise that the staidest looking of the dealers seem to feel that the day had come when people had to be seduced from distractions elsewhere, so what was in using a bit of color?
• From Mundane Activity to a Social Ritual:
Which brings us to the factor of social ritual. Experience suggests that to gain mindshare in a crowded market, it may be necessary to convert a commercially driven mundane activity (filling petrol in the car) into a social ritual. A great example of this would be Starbucks, which grew from a $25 million to a $1.5 billion business enterprise in the nineties, by converting a rather mundane beverage consumption activity, viz., coffee drinking, into a social ritual. BPCL has already been abreast with others in this game after its McKenzie-CUSECs 1996-97 findings that recommended "site value capture" and sought to draw the company's attention in increasing measure to activities outside of oil dispensing. Quite naturally to activities that were an extension of people's social space elsewhere.
To make an RO into an inviting social space, it would have to be made warm, comfortable and comforting, as well as groovy wherever possible, given generation X's propensity for an MTV short-attention- span culture.
BPCL Retail Identity Design Features:
• Interpreting Corporate Vision
• Design Approaches to Conceptual Solutions
• Alternate Design Solutions
• Scaled model prototypes
BPCL Design Process Downloads:
• Case Study - Retail Identiuty design for BPCL - pdf