Monday 17 July 2006

David Davis Spearheads Energy Division of Minale Tattersfield

David Davis
joins Minale Tattersfield Design Strategy as partner in charge of the energy sector. David brings with him an expertise built over 13 years covering 23 major Roadside Retail projects in 30 markets worldwide.

In this exclusive interview David gives an insight into his past successes and keeps his eye firmly focused on the future of the forecourt.
Why have oil companies tended to lag behind the other Retail sectors in terms of the level of service and comfort offered to the consumer?

"Decision makers within oil companies have been principally preoccupied with core activities such as refining and view retail as a slightly 'softer' discipline. The tendency, however, has been for oil companies to appoint senior retail experts from non oil-related businesses in order to address this in-balance."

Are you saying going to a service station is the same as going shopping in the high street?

"In principal yes because both are forms of retail and are governed by the needs of the consumer.There are of course significant differences; due to the 'distressed' nature of fuel purchase or the 'fuel-indicator-reading-zero syndrome!', motorists will, from the outset, be slightly ill-disposed to entering a service station."

"The challenge for service stations is to achieve the status of a 'destination' purchase location where the motorists, or for that matter pedestrian, is enticed into a modern, well-designed shop/convenience store stocking a wide range of products, foods and services. Service stations should aspire to become oases for the tired motorist at the same time as offering 'pitstop' car service facilities."

Which of your past projects do you consider most significant?

"The BP Horizon re-imaging programme in 1987 launched many careers including my own.By the end I felt satisfied I had made a significant contribution to a design that has become a benchmark within the industry. BP's business dealings since have shown that being a leader was more than skin deep. I was therefore not totally surprised that BP would attempt to extend their lead."

"The ultimate challenge then followed on winning the Shell tender to re-image their network, the biggest in the world. With Shell it was not so much about achieving revolutionary change (by this stage they were already leader in many markets), but achieving consensus amongst the multitude of regional operating companies. As ever each region had its own agenda and individual needs. The argument for applying a consistent standard across a diverse network was strong and eventually prevailed but not without a great deal of effort. Working with Shell's engineers allowed huge economies of scale to be achieved by taking advantage of their massive buying power. To some extent this redefined the signage business which had previously been of a smaller and more artisan in nature. Rejuvenating the Shell symbol by simply redefining the colours and sculpting the shape into three dimensions whilst preserving the original artwork is the detail I am most proud of. In this case, Less is more!"

What differences have you come across in dealing with regional players across the Globe?

"There are too many to list individually but I would have to site my experiences in Asia as indicative.A different management style combined with cultural and language differences mean it is even more invaluable to establish a clear brief in person, something I always endeavor to do with any client. To read the body language is as important as the written or spoken word. I suppose design is one of the less tangible sciences and therefore more difficult to express in absolute terms."

"This was particularly the case with Thai Oil where the chairman offered the design team a free reign but suggested we 'look at' the existing rhinoceros mascot as a starting point. Despite investigating a broad range of solutions, I knew instinctively we would return to that rhino. The challenge was to turn what was essentially a cartoon character into a corporate identity that could be launched on the international markets as well as be implemented in individual service stations. The Rhino horns energy mark did just that and also had the quality of adding a taste of the 'East'."

"To allow a company to be perceived as both local and global is always the goal. Petronas too, was determined to be a leader in their own Malaysian market as well as attain notable exposure abroad. The branding solution we arrived at achieved this in a simple but confident way which is precisely the mark of a leader. A consistent implementation programme albeit interrupted by a temporary downturn in the Asian market reinforces Petronas's respect in both the eye of the consumer and business."

"Competing against the majors was again a priority with Petron of the Philippines. Richness in colour researches well in all markets of the world but none more so than the visually vibrant Philippine market. The design solution for Petron adopts the strong national colour palette but with automotive-type metallic gloss finishes which also aspires to a modern international look. Local production is always an advantage and was achieved uniquely by setting up a partnership agreement with state of the art European sign company Colorlux."

How close to the cutting edge of form and function do you consider your designs?

"Many a project starts with the brief 'Give us the most radical station design'. Quite how radical is 'radical' is always the question. Some clients mean just a refined version of what is currently considered to be state of the art whereas others been truely far out. This was precisely what Italiana Petroli (IP) understood 'radical' to be; something that would match the space-age advertising campaign they had running at the time."

"The concepts produced for IP went to the limits of what is feasible and slightly beyond. At the concept level I feel it is unhealthy to be blinkered by what is currently viable as over time technology can be developed to allow a new way of doing things. For example, the spreaders on the Shell design are made by a pre-decorated deep-draw vacuum process not previously encountered within the sign making business. The skill is in judging how much development is required to achieve a certain look and whether it is actually worth the effort. In this respect having a close relationship with an innovative sign supplier is so useful. Some of the 'radical' concepts for Lukoil have to be measured against their ability to withstand loads of 3 metres of snow at -20°C for 6 months of the year as can be the case in Siberia. These sort of constraints do tend to rule out many options."

"At the other end of the spectrum, coping with the constant sun and heat of the United Arab Emirates posed an equally demanding set of criteria for the Abu Dhabi National Oil company. Their existing vinyl fascias suffered badly from the degrading effects of sun and wind blown sand. Going for a factory coil coated painted metal solution will offer far greater resilience and retain a quality image for longer. That leaves the issue of lighting which can be solved in a number of ways, direct lighting - usually a neon type source, or a discrete light source where light is seen after reflecting off another surface."

What does the future hold?

"Firstly it seems clear an ever more competitive market will prevail with less state owned monopolies and a further enhancement of the shop offer.Technologically there will be many developments offering greater environmental protection against spillage, more energy conservation ideas like BP's canopy-mounted solar panels, speedier payment devices utilizing smart cards or prepaid schemes through virtual web-based oil companies. Improved screens will allow animated/interactive messages to be used instead of or supplementing building fascias and signage. More reliable light sources will be available reducing running costs and maintenance. More revenue generating schemes will be conceived to exploit the large real estates owned by most oil companies like drop zones for web purchased products. Different fuel sources will be developed that we will be dispensed in automatically."

"The list goes on ..."

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