Eureka Moment Design was started in 2006, by Ratan Batliboi, Shanoo Bhatia and HS Grewal, as a multi-disciplinary design consultancy. We caught up with the founder directors to learn more about their work, especially with regard to what they do in the visitor experience centre space.
CI: Tell us about Eureka and the three of you.
Ratan Batliboi (RB): Shanoo, Gary and I have known each other for almost 20 years. Shanoo has studied communication and exhibition design at National Institute of Design (NID); Gary has done industrial and furniture design also from NID and I’m an architect, though my background is primarily design. At Eureka (which was started in 2006), we do anything that requires any design thinking or application. We collected talent and specialists, and eventually we realised that people were coming to us for what we did holistically, and not just purist communication, industrial or architectural design.
The interesting areas that we’ve tried to get into are retail, because that has a sense of space, brand, product showcasing and communication experience. Another area we’re strong in is visitor experience centres. We started doing that probably ten years ago – for Tata, Reliance, Satyam and recently for Manipal University. We did our first corporate showcase, so to speak, for the Tata Group where we represented seven of their sectors, and probably 30 of their companies at that time. We took a client through 10,000 square feet of space that we had designed as an experience centre, introducing them in a multi-dimensional fashion. So we had all the components of interiors, lighting, technology, film, media, graphics, touch-and-feel, and also interactivity. People remember the story, they don’t necessarily remember the facts and figures, but they don’t remember that from a Powerpoint either.
We’ve sold the idea to several people, and tried to sell it to others, but it’s an expensive proposition. It deals with space, you can’t measure the output per square foot on that space, there is no buying or selling that happens.
Our experience centres don’t go from film to film, or content to content, but they’re integrated and immersive. We’re just finishing one of them which has 28 movies playing off devices in a 3,000 sq. ft space. We’ve done a lot of exploration in media itself. 7.1 Dolby, projectors that project on round walls. It gives us a big high because we’re up to date with technology.
HS Grewal (HSG): The whole show (we call it that, eventually, because it’s triggered) is programmed to lead you from one space to the other. You don’t need somebody guiding you; the show makes you move with the help of lighting, doors opening and closing.
RB: Something like this is a standard fix, it’s up to you how you take it forward.
CI: Is technology like this also being used in retail these days, are clients asking for it?
RB: It depends on who you’re engaging with at the client’s end. If it’s the management, they are very clear about what they want and don’t care about a couple of lakhs more. If it’s the marketing guys down the line, they tend to think more about their marketing budgets. Any new technology or device is at an extremely expensive entry point. It’s good to have a client with guts who has the faith in what we do.
CI: In retail, which are case studies you’re proud of?
Shanoo Bhatia (SB): One of our most outstanding retail contributions was for Jammu & Kashmir Bank. We managed to involve the craftsmen from the region in a modern retail environment. It was a beautiful confluence of modernity and traditional design, where the latter didn’t suffer with the use of engineering or technical expertise to bring it to the table in a faster time-frame.
RB: The brief for J&K Bank two or three years ago, was that it was changing from a feudal bank, to a service-oriented product. We took it on, studied everything that we could, made trips to Jammu & Kashmir, and tried to figure out what the bank needed, what the visual references are, and how true is what was told to us. We found some interesting things: 10% of the space was for customers, and 90% was for the bank employees. We suggested some radical changes in terms of the layout, the functioning and the positioning. The chairman bought it straight away, and then we took it to the next level in terms of designing the space in detail. When we did that, we involved the craftsmen of the region. We did jaalis, khatamband work, inlays in stone, and we created all those as motifs which we incorporated into our bank in a contemporary idiom.
The bank’s image is different in the rural and urban areas of J&K and metros. There are on their way to building probably 100 banks, and 500 as retail centres. They are now engaging local craftsmen to create all this stuff, sell it to the bank, and deposit the money they earn back with the bank. It’s a lovely circle that’s also being done as a CSR project. That’s the kind of value creation that we believe in.
HSG: If the local people walked in, they could relate to the new design immediately, because these were motifs that they had at home or all around them. We stayed with earthy materials and colours, and it worked beautifully.
CI: You’ve also done work on HUL and Lakme. Could you tell us about that?
RB: HUL came to us when they were changing their brand image to Hindustan Unilever. They had a very intricate, involved, 23-motif “U” that was becoming part of their identity. They had just redone their offices at Churchgate, and they were feeling uncomfortable and wanted to bring in vitality and energy. We did a huge campaign, where we changed their interiors with environmental graphics on the walls, changed the furniture around, repainted the ceilings and so on. There were different voices created within that space.
That gave us inroads into Lakme.
SB: Lakme is ingrained in the Indian woman’s mindset over so many years, and has been the narrator of beauty secrets. For the Lakme salon, the intent was to not allow retail to dilute that Indianness, while embracing modern trends. We really went into deep research to find out what motifs represent the Indian woman; the one that was liked most by the client was that of the ‘mandala’, which represents wholesomeness and balance. We adopted that geometry as the source of inspiration for Lakme, and then had fun with it. We also introduced new concepts – we brought the hairstyling stations in the centre of the space, so that each service could be visible, and removed the demarcation between the reception and service zones.
HSG: Because of us having opened the whole thing up, the flow of people through the space was dictated by the design. We did two pilots, one in Mumbai and one in Delhi, and the rollout was handled by the company thereafter.
CI: Is the space you’re in still niche? Are you up against the ad agencies for the services you offer?
RB: 10-15 years ago, we’d go in for a pitch, and our competitor would be the ad agency. When we quoted an amount for that project, we were told the ad agency could do it for free. Those days have changed. The fee that ad agencies can get on commission has reduced considerably; it’s now more of a level playing field. Today there’s much more maturity and specialisation sought in terms of the expertise for retail.
SB: One of the areas where we have been able to create a niche is service design. We truly believe that while India is evolving in terms of aesthetic, our service needs to keep pace, and that can only happen if service design is integrated into the creation of experiences.