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Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the
competition, in which an esteemed jury
identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear,
compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design
thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on
CODA Automotive, a privately held all-electric car company headquartered
in Southern California, sought to unveil its nontraditional vehicle in
an equally nontraditional space. Instead of a
conventional, sales-focused automobile dealership, CODA wanted to create a destination
for visitors that would accomplish multiple tasks:
CODA wanted to do all this in a shopping mall space (just 892 square feet) in
order to communicate with audiences not specifically focused on buying a
car, and to be more accessible to the everyday life of American
Shook Kelley was tasked with helping to define this complex problem and
creating a design solution that could respond to these challenges. Due to the limited space available, environmental graphic
design was emphasized as a key factor in communicating the story of the
company, cause and product.The Shook Kelley design solution breaks sharply from a traditional
automobile dealership format, favoring a more immersive, accessible
and engaging experience. The evocative environmental graphics and
targeted interactive technologies communicate the story of CODA’s cause
and its technological capacities. The space also doubles as a community
gathering destination for like-minded people, including both customers
and employees, to engage in relevant conversation about the future of
transportation and the environment.
Because no CODA stores or centers exist, and this is CODA’s
first vehicle, directly applicable research wasn’t possible. However,
CODA had conducted market research on potential audiences that Shook
Kelley considered in the design of the project. In addition, Shook
Kelley’s research included a set of in-depth interviews with CODA
executives, visits to automotive trade shows and visits to other
electric vehicle dealerships.
A deeper understanding of how to approach the project was derived from
comparative models of similar brands facing similarly complex
challenges, from Burt’s Bees and Whole Foods to IKEA, Kashi, Muji and
The Body Shop. Innovative store and customer relationship sites were
studied, especially the CarMax used car sales site model. Shook
Kelley found inspiration from other pop culture sources that sought to
simplify complex social messages, both through humor (e.g., “The Daily
Show with Jon Stewart”) or earnestness (e.g., the “Dove Campaign For
Real Beauty”). One last set of models included brands without physical
presences who have recently found ways to create spaces, including ING Direct.
Many of the biggest challenges faced by Shook Kelley were immediate and
material. The shopping mall format at Westfield Century City mall in Los
Angeles was quite small, especially for showcasing an automobile.
CODA’s budget was limited to just $270,000 for the store. And because
CODA is an unknown brand with a new product and technology, the
number and complexity of messages Shook Kelley had to
communicate made the project challenging.
The design team had to be
inventive, resourceful and efficient in using the limited space and
telling evocative stories that could capture a conversation. The first
goal was to make the store easily identifiable as a place where people
learn about a new electric vehicle. A second goal was to simply
communicate a series of complex messages, such as the range of the
electric vehicle and the benefit of driving electric. A third goal
included initiating discussions and getting people excited about the
vehicle, beginning with an evocative store exterior and carried
throughout the rest of the store experience.
The more challenging issues were intangible in nature, and this required
the design team to have a deeper understanding of the product, the
brand, the cause and the psychological and cultural dimensions of the
audience. After all, the underlying problem of trying to help CODA
market and sell a new electric vehicle is wrapped up with perceptions,
including misperceptions and ingrained perceptions that people have
about this technology. At the outset of the design process, Shook Kelley
engaged the client in a “discovery and strategy” process to help uncover
the complex sets of questions that Americans are asking about electric
vehicles today. These questions included concerns about this new technology,
The questions also stemmed from the new company and brand that had
to be introduced:
CODA’s responses to these questions helped designers set an emotional
tone for the store that would respond to the audience’s psychological
mindset. The challenge was to ensure that the space would not simply be a
church for the already converted, but a more open-minded community
space that could help people rethink what an EV is and how it could
play a more realistic role in their everyday life. For some people, the
conversation revolves around the environment. But many others are
interested in whether they can go to and from work, pick up their kids
at school and go grocery shopping, all in one charge. Still others want
to know about style and color options. The challenge was that there was
no single “ideal” customer, but a range of potential visitors who would
need to be engaged.
Shook Kelley took CODA through our uniquely tailored “strategy and design”
process. Beginning with a research phase that studied the electric
vehicle industry, Shook Kelley’s research led to an examination of other
brands and places that engage people in a wide range of often-complex
questions. The key question for the Shook Kelley team was not What
would you like this space to look like? but How would you like people
to behave in this space? Due to a number of factors outlined above,
Shook Kelley saw a pressing need to rethink the relationship between
visitors and CODA. The shaping of this relationship became the strategic
The overarching strategy was to get away from the traditional car
company, and toward a driver/customer relationship. This meant finding a way to be
the anti-car brand from the anti-car company. Shook Kelley sought to
reposition the store conversation from what people are getting with
CODA, to what they are not getting: tailpipes, exhaust, exhaustion,
emissions, petroleum industry support, ego-driven ad campaigns and the
rest of the automotive industry agenda. Instead of focusing on
traditional car company sex appeal, the CODA store would tap into a
psychology of care and concern, rational thought, sensible choice,
alternative ways of living and self-confidence.
In an effort to break through the traditional model of car dealerships,
the CODA Experience Center would be a more welcoming, leisurely shopping
mall space.The solution breaks sharply from the look and feel of
traditional dealerships, in favor of a lifestyle experience design.
Instead of pressure sales and showy ads, the store strives to pique
curiosity, create engagement and inspire the possibility of positive
energy. Shook Kelley accomplished this through evocative environmental
graphics, compelling spatial layouts, the targeted use of interactive
technologies and carefully-crafted storytelling communications.
In order to help visitors more easily learn about the car and its
technology, Shook Kelley designed a set of compelling and entertaining
learning experiences in the space. The store features an EV Lab with
iPads for customer exploration, a battery display to showcase CODA’s new
technology, a range map to illustrate the distance the car can travel
with one charge, a customization wall showing options for purchase and a
graphics-enhanced test drive space in the parking garage below the
store, where visitors can actually take the EV for a spin.
Reflecting the environmentally consciousness and eco-friendly intent of
the new company, Shook Kelley made use of sustainable and
environmentally-friendly materials in the space, such as reclaimed
“picklewood,” formaldehyde-free plywood, energy efficient lighting, low
VOC paints and natural concrete floors.
While many retail spaces are evaluated on sales, the CODA Experience
Center is somewhat unique in that nothing gets sold there. Potential
customers can learn more about the vehicle and employees can help them
begin the process of purchasing the vehicle, which actually happens
online. That said, CODA has been pleased with the attention the space
has received and the amount of interest created there. The sales team
explained that they receive many reservations every day, and a solid
number of people are now coming in to request test drives.
In a world of increasingly oversaturated media messages, CODA’s space offers a rare opportunity—one in which a brand invites people into a conversation
that is more engaging and real than another media ad. The space is
immersive and creates the opportunity for relationships not possible
through other media.
The ultimate measure of effectiveness for CODA is a greater sense of
clarity and purpose, as well the opportunity to create a community for
The purpose of the store was not to sell cars, but drive traffic, drive
interest, create engagement and get people talking about the brand. In
the end, the store is a tangible reminder of what this new brand is all
Learn more about the jury’s perspective on the competition and their
rationale behind the selections.
Section: Events and Competitions -
AIGA’s national design competitions celebrate exemplary design and
demonstrate the power of design.
Section: Events and Competitions -
The integrated promotional campaign for this unusual contemporary art exhibition succeeds in capturing the imagination of the public, shattering attendance projections and engaging new demographics.
Section: Why Design -
Competition, Justified, advertising, branding, print design
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Section: Why Design -
Design for Democracy, election design, design educators, students
While first and foremost about the creation of a new visual identity system for the University of California, this case study also reflects on the controversy that exploded around the new logo and its impact on the in-house team’s broader communications strategy.
Section: Why Design -
Competition, Justified, advertising, branding, design research, editorial design, experience design, graphic design, identity design, nonprofit, print design, user research, web design, education, strategy, digital media
External Resources (cont.)
BSR Collateral System
Second Story Interactive Studios