Understanding Design

Innovation for the road

Innovation for the road: how design works with new business & technology

Roadside auto repair is a huge unorganized business in India. How do innovative business modeling, technology and design create radical impact?

By Partho Guha, Director, Elephant

Roadside auto repair shops are mostly run by small entrepreneur mechanics, located in every nook and corner of Indian roads. They tend to serve neighbourhood car & two wheeler owners for simple and quick repair jobs. With the advance of auto industry these small-scale entrepreneurs are constantly redefining themselves and finding their unique proposition. Overall there are a huge number of road size auto repair businesses facing tremendous challenge in staying relevant in today’s market.

Repair Mechanic business is neighbourhood oriented. They are small scale operations where the owner usually is the chief mechanic playing multiple roles like procurement of parts from market, accounts, trainer, liaison and such. 

Repair Mechanic business is neighbourhood oriented. They are small scale operations where the owner usually is the chief mechanic playing multiple roles like procurement of parts from market, accounts, trainer, liaison and such. 

Autoji, is a young start up with a vision to create a differentiated business by making these auto repair shops to reinvent and be relevant. Taking up the role of being their support in re education, in-time doorstep supply and marketing their services. It is a technology based, scalable model to upgrade this demanding business.

Elephant worked on a Design led process to create “Autoji” along with R Sriram of Next Practice Retail & the AMG team. The team lent a language to the value proposition, brand, communication framework and design of retail space & expressions.

The process began with a deeper understanding of the auto repair shop and eco system. The team spoke with several repair shop owners, workers, fleet repair  workshop owners, existing retail to look at gaps in the needs, gaps & aspirations.

The final solution was a combination of tongue in cheek, street smart identity that lent respect to the service and was bold enough to be looked upon as a reliable service & supply partner, enlarged toll free connect, an application, a delivery van and an efficient supply space.

Trust was build through a series of icon-based communication. Many repairmen have low education or are used to local language & scripts. Using strong sense of visual icons and local script helped connect with the main customer base.

It is important that the language that is used and facilities for service connect with the key user segment.

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The retail proposition was kept simple and functional with a emphasis on organized appeal, appropriateness and lower cost proposition. Autoji is a good example for how design can be an enabler for the business and is not a cost heavy investment.

“Design is not always about fancy store fit-outs, flashy neon lights & marbled floors. Design is about creating a user aligned business proposition, its is about new, relevant and differentiated service offering that uses technology as a enabling platform. Core focus remains the user.”

Elephant is India’s Best Design Practice (ET-Brand Equity 2012-2014 ranking) with a multi-disciplinary experience of 27+ years having presence in India & Singapore and has been transforming brands, organizations & businesses using Design led Innovation.

PARTHO GUHA is a Visual Communication Designer, Co-founder & Director at Elephant. An alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, he regularly conducts workshops on design thinking & strategy. Partho is a passionate painter and divides his time between design process application, design led business strategy & roadmap and innovation.

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Creating New Auto Brand

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Automotive brand for India’s first Personal Utility Vehicle

While developing India’s first multi-purpose personal utility vehicle, Eicher Polaris approached Elephant to create the visual identity, it’s 3D avatar & livery.

The range of vehicles is named “Multix” after its extreme versatility and is being launched across 30 cities in India starting Jaipur this month.

As a ground-up innovation, Multix is designed as a concept that brings about a positive multiplier in the owner’s life, be it home, business or power.

Multix brand is inspired by the Indian concept of zindagi multiplied” aesthetics. The badge has been designed as a perfect geometry, and has layers to discover & identify with. At the first glance it is a happy bloom in cheery yellow, which is also the primary brand colour. But if you look again, it is an elegant enclosure to the multiplier symbol, which really is the essence of this brand. Multix is designed to be an enabler for unlocking & multiplying potential opportunities resulting in prosperity.

Typography is clean & contemporary, yet the lower case “m” starts the conversation on a friendly note with emphasis on technology & ending by reiterating the multiplier effect.

Colour palette is largely built around bright colours evident everywhere in India.

Elephant has helped build two significant automobile brands in its rich history of 25 years; rebranding of Bajaj Auto and then a distinction of being the only design consultancy outside Germany to have created a new brand for Daimler Group called Bharat Benz for their India-centric trucks. Multix by Eicher Polaris is the newest bloom and makes Elephant perhaps the only team in India to have three automobile brands on the road. 


Elephant is India’s Best Design Practice (ET-Brand Equity 2012-2014 ranking) with a multi-disciplinary experience of 25+ years having presence in India & Singapore and has been transforming brands, organization & businesses using Design led Innovation.

Need to gain disruptive insights

Changing consumer standpoint: Need to gain disruptive insights

Design research is gaining momentum for establishing good human factors. What are the trends that will impact the design research, how does new technology play a role in this new evolution and how does one reach out to the concerns of the new age end user.


‘Design Research’ is one kind of proficiency that uses an eclectic approach to understand deeper consumer needs. Empathy helps designers create products or services, which are best suitable for people needs.  It would be half a truth, if we consider Design Research as a tool used only by Designers. Consumer centric businesses also have the requirement to learn their user needs, which ultimately leads to a greater business opportunity.

There is a noticeable trend that more and more corporate brands are adopting Design is a tool to serve various business requirements whether it is about developing a new product or entering into a new consumer segment. This has also brought in more challenging opportunities to both designers & design researchers to create & refine methods to dig deeper and extract useful insights.

Buying is not just about buying

Working on a product, designers were looking out for a key question. Why does this consumer buy that product? A standard interview approach was not helping. We stepped back and realized that today buying is not about buying for a need, it is also about getting the best deal. Consumers are aware of the plethora of options available today. This is playing on their mind all the time.  We applied an interactive play tool for our research, which helped users to configure features that mattered the most, were willing to pay, why and what they valued as the best deal.

It is vital to make subjects think and reflect on their needs, a little play, story, a scene can open out people to a level of preparing prototype scenarios wherein consumers can make real time buying decisions based on their wishes.

Online vs. Offline

If we ask a present day consumer, how do they buy, they talk about online purchases, price & features comparison. People rate the best deal for them, and then they either buy online or offline. Today, consumers want a comparison between prices and products before they buy; but through a singular interaction, the way it happens online on a PC screen. In retail spaces, sales people help to compare but that is not always efficient. This learning was another eye opening trend that we observed.

People as consumers are changing. Online shopping has made them accustomed to make quick and sound decisions – purchase is just a click away. The greater responsibility for design research and designers is to explore these decision-making patterns used online and how it can be replicated in a brick and mortar scenario along with an enhanced experience.

Reassurance syndrome

If an alien were to visit a modern retail store, what will it see? People with their shopping carts, looking through numerous shelves and buying things for themselves. If one takes a closer look at this scenario, people are not only looking through the shelves, there is a lot of reading people do on and off the shelf.

One can imagine several hypotheses in such a scenario; like modern retail spaces are designed in such a way that products are more visible, readable even from a distance.

Clean up the space, make the product accessible to the consumer.

Another hypothesis could be people rely on their own subconscious thinking which keeps on alerting them while in a public space - “Am I getting judged because my shopping cart is looking less heavy than others”, “Am I picking the right pack or people around me are considering me an unhealthy junkie”, “I need to look smart so I must read carefully before any purchase”. Such thoughts are output of natural human behavior like; Mrs. Responsible, Mr. Righteous, neighbor’s envy, be no fool and so on. However, environments are also catalysts to evoking such reactions. And therefore, even while buying a regular brand, a shopper in a modern retail will not just look for a brand, but will read the Front or Back of pack to reassure herself about the content, health benefits, calorie contents etc. Yet another perception could be increased consciousness around health and appearance, which has led consumers to read a lot on the pack before buying. This is a trend; we cannot turn a blind eye towards. What is the story your product is telling, which will reflect reassuringly on the target consumer’s mind?

The new age consumer

Some of these consumer trends that we discussed, such as looking for best deal, online buying models or drivers to understand a product gives us a deep insight that the choices and preferences for buying have changed pragmatically. Influencers to these changes could be many like increased awareness, exposure, connectivity etc.

Here the interesting part is diversity and ambiguous patterns of consumer behaviors. Today’s consumers are loyal to brands at the same time, they are not afraid to express their opinions against it, if need arises. Even a basic experience about a product or service is shared or tweeted for increasing personal social quotient. Review based websites are flooded with feedbacks on minor inconveniences, not only for making use of the social platform but to express people opinion. It is the arrival of an aggressive age for consumers!

A consumer no longer is the unsung meek but rather a roaring warrior with multiple faces of expressions like the mythology figure, Ravana ( epic Ramayana ).

Marketers, researchers or business strategists have to become more sensible to understand the deeper grieve and eventually win people by addressing best solutions tailored for their needs but also value at affordable prices.

To understand today’s consumer and to dig more into their minds one has to take a diverse approach in the study. It might not be enough to make few handful people sit in a discussion and probe them for feedback. Such practice may or may not lead to unfeigned insights. One has to customize methods that are best suited to the intent of the study, right from clustering consumer cohorts by their behavioural patterns or to deploying interactive tools, which will help consumer express themselves freely. The social presence of the consumers cannot be ignored. Articulations based on people opinions on social media will provide added knowledge about people’s both offline and online life. A disruptive insight is a denouement, which is best achieved with help of tailored user centric approach and tools.

KRANTI VANJARI is an Asst. Manager, Subject Expert, Strategy & Design Research at Elephant. She has a graduate diploma in Mechanical Engineering, WCE and a Post Graduate Diploma in Strategic Design for Business, MIT Institute of Design, Pune, India.

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What works in Design consulting

What works in Design consulting? 

Ashish Deshpande takes a pause, to reflect upon the journey of 26 years at Elephant and describes the 3 parameters that keep Elephant to remain relevant & a value creator across years, for itself and its clients in Design Consulting.

Elephant over the past 26 years succeeded in establishing Design Consulting into an important element of business growth in India. It was not as though design practice did not exist in India before, but Elephant can be credited to put across one of the most professional & scaled up practices to emerge. The practice has over years inspired design entrepreneurship amongst a generation of designers. What is it that worked? Was it the brand play at work, polished over years, was it the caliber of people who tirelessly over years lent their effort & wisdom to the pachyderm of design or was it age, was it a moment of opportunity or pure destiny?

If I have to isolate one value that has been the hallmark of Elephant, it has been the quality of delivery. Our quality benchmark has remained consistent across projects, domains, years and clients. We consistently delivered quality projects as per customer expectations. This ability to consistency deliver projects has endeared us to clients as trusted design & innovation partners in their growth.

There are three key parameters that we use at Elephant to manage the consistent quality delivery of projects.

#1 Understand Empathise

#2 Craft = Life

#3 Time = Great Value

#1 Understand is to Empathise

Most designers, by the very nature of their talent tend to be self-focused when it comes to delivery of design concepts, solutions or ideas. Designers rely strongly on their intuitive ability, many a times loose sense of client objectives and even comfort. A professional practice needs to understand its stakeholders. They are one way or the other, users of design.    

Understanding comes through keen listening of what people have to say, summary of what that has been heard and then sharing for response.

During a boardroom presentation of concept for a medical analyzer, a junior service engineer made a remark that the service opening needs to happen from the top. Since, placing screw heads on the top was definitely an ugly proposition it was quickly shot down by the design team. Later one day, when the concept turned into prototype and it came up for testing. The Jr. Service Engineer promptly upturned the device to access the screws at the bottom. The top surface of the prototype was badly scratched by the time he finished test of the assembly. We had learnt an important lesson that day. The product was modified but we should have listened on day one.

People are always saying, giving clues, feedback and a design team must go beyond passive listening to critical & empathy based listening, write down the learning’s and share it back with the stakeholders.

Key here lies in empathizing in someone else’s shoes. Design action on these learning’s play a “flippant” role in creating relevant & acceptable solutions.   

#2 Craft is your Life

Delivery requires knowledge of a craft and skills need to be honed all the time. More important is the effort, designers or design teams put in a project, day after day. Design is about extreme sensitivity to small details. The continuity of a surface, the spacing between letterforms, fineness of the texture or be it the specific tone of a colour. There is nothing short of perfect. Perfectness is that very moment wherein a sensorial assembly gives you the goose bumps.

Robert Staples, Staples & Charles, while working on one of Eames projects narrated the meticulousness that went behind one of the Aluminum office chairs. He hand formed and filed the handle master, a good seven times, before the handle form got accepted.

As designers and professionals delivering the new, striving for excellence has to be integral to our soul. The quality of our craft has to be the essence of our life.

#3 Time is of Great Value

When clients commission projects, they believe that you are completely committed 8hrs a day for the period of the project. When projects are commissioned on the basis of time bound value, firms & professionals are expected to devote to thinking 24 x 7 period of the project. Yes, clients want you thinking about their concerns all through the period of engagement.

Professionals in design need to manage time, utilize the timeline in the most productive manner.

There are 86400 seconds in a day. As a professional in practice, it is important to understand how we distribute the time and what is the level of output that we generate in this period. This is true at individual level and also with teams.

Ask a student the value of time for the 1 year she missed, or value of 1 month to a mother who delivered premature or 1 week to the editor of a weekly or a commuter who missed his train by 1 min or a pilot who averted a disaster by a second.

At Elephant, much of our praise from clients is for meeting time targets. Breaking down tasks, aligning timelines, checkpoints, clarity in responsibilities during team activities is critical for reaching timeline milestones. However, these are basic principles of time management. How do they differ for a design consulting business? Design, as we know is an iterative activity. Any timeline can be described at best as approximation. Design managers need to be sensitive to nature of the project and extent of iterations than may come into play. Design as processes gains from failures and failure mode needs to be built into the design timeline.

UCT is the basic philosophy of design practice at Elephant and something that has withstood the passage of time. It is simple three point rule that will ensure that your talent is always supported by great service and business sense.

ASHISH DESHPANDE is an Industrial Designer, Co-founder & Director at Elephant. An alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, he is a keen Design Thinker, a member of India Design Council & Jury for India Design Mark.

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