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Drawing on the World: Retail in India

Recently my colleagues Alison Carr, Smita Gupta and I accompanied our retail client, ColorPlus, and our local architect partner on a whirlwind tour of retail centers and historic sites in four major cities of India, allowing our team to get a good sense of the local flavor and the current state of the global retail scene in this country of 1.2 billion.

That number is staggering when you think about it, and it’s growing rapidly. In fact, this trip actually brought back many memories of previous retail research trips to Bangkok, Thailand, in 1995, and to India in 1997. On those trips it was striking that there were plenty of malls and shopping centers in Thailand, and yet none in India. Fast forward to 2012, though, and India has already changed dramatically with even more construction everywhere. International brands have established footholds in India’s major cities, and they do seem to have a strong appeal for the growing class of customers with money to spend on foreign goods. There are no signs of slowing down, and naturally the pace of our own tour was quick.

Our first stop in Delhi was a special treat for me because we were able to experience first-hand the grand plans of the British architect, Edwin Lutyens, including the India Gate, the Parliament House, and the immense circular layout of the Cannaught Place—one of the prime retail locations in Delhi, which offers a unique, historic double-height space for one of the ColorPlus stores. It’s inspiring to see this link between Delhi’s history and its future in a single space—something that’s rarely so tangible in newer U.S. markets.

Mumbai was next, a fascinating mix of extreme rich and poor, and an incredible array of sights, sounds, textures and smells. I’d visited Mumbai in 1997, but today I could sense an even greater sense of energy—not to mention more traffic. There are thousands of three-wheeler vehicles, towers and swaths of slum housing, with glimpses of the Arabian Sea in between.

Chennai is our client’s headquarter city, so the next day we participated in a series of rich and valuable vision sessions, gaining a better perspective on the ColorPlus brand, setting initial project objectives, discussing competitors and exploring the client’s history and tradition. Traditions matter a lot in India, and can manifest themselves in very unique ways. For example, if you look closely in the shops of Mumbai you will find talismans made from red peppers and a lemon suspended above or next to shop doorways—hung for good fortune and good luck.

Our last stop was Bangalore where the local Gensler staff resides to provide support on a full range of Gensler’s international projects. This day’s highlights included the tour of a retail fixture manufacturer’s factory, where we learned about the Indian version of “lean manufacturing” and their attention to detail and craftsmanship.

On Sunday we rested. Struck by the bucolic scene, I painted the view of green vegetable fields and palm trees from our hotel. We also enjoyed our own version of retail therapy at a wonderful store, FabIndia, which specializes in traditional handmade goods from local textiles—a fantastic combination of old and new. A quick nap and Smita and Alison and I were boarding our flight to Dubai, back home to the Bay Area from there.

Reflecting on the trip now, India’s emphasis on welcoming customer service stands out. Even the friendly tone of a message I received from IndiGo Airlines after I paid their magazine a compliment is evidence of that gracious hospitality. The fact that so much is new to India, and yet they remain focused on their roots is remarkable too; there may be some lessons in there for the rest of us. Every aspect of this trip was inspiring—the global perspective we’re able to gain has a gigantic influence on the work I do back at home, and sketching along the way ensures that the memories will never fade.

Note: All sketches were done on my iPad; follow my future illustrations here and on my personal blog, Drawing on the World.

Virginia Pettit
Douglas Wittnebel is a Principal and Design Director for Gensler’s San Ramon office. With over 29 years of design and management experience, his work is characterized by his creativity, expressive sketches and ability to translate ideas into functional design. Contact him at douglas_wittnebel@gensler.com.

References (3)

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    Education makes a person better by teaching him values and lessons that makes him more humble and considerate towards people. It also makes him ponder about the purpose of his life and maintain a balance in his life to attain inner satisfaction.
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    A reason for e-learning and popular sources of learning and education through the internet are getting famous is because people find it much safe, comfortable as well as economical and time saving to study from home while it does not involve any travel too.
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    French open is a Tennis event . You can get all the updates and schdules from here.

Reader Comments (14)

These are great! The talisman is my favorite.
It was great to meet you brieflly in Delhi!
03.12.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie Sen
Doug, these are really great and with the context of the story really paint a full picture! I can't wait to see what you design for the client.
03.14.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Becker
Doug, you got the eye and the hand! Love the images...
03.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris Ahn

You are an amazing artist who can create such wonderful images of the world in so many different mediums.


03.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKina Ingersoll
Hey...these are great images and travelogue. Take me on your next trip!

Doug (PL)
03.15.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Wright
Hello to Bonnie, Doug, Chris, Robert and Kina, Thanks for the compliments and thanks for the comments. Will keep on keeping on with the works!!!
03.16.2012 | Unregistered Commenterdoug wittnebel

Thanks again for the link to your travels and wonderful drawings. The scene outside your hotel window was incredible. I could see snakes in the grass. Just saw a CNN international news piece about pythons in Florida. Lots of pets getting loose - about 100,000.

I am reading a nice booked called "The Education of Happiness" and half of it is about the life of Tagore an Indian poet who you may know already or might enjoy. The other is Hesse. It seems both made drawings.

I am still teaching ( 25 years now) and enjoy it very much. I think we are both doing what we love. I am writing a good bit as well. It all began at Tulane in 1975! Your talent was evident right away. Education can only foster inborn talent not create it. I hope one day you can meet a group of my students in Blacksburg or Switzerland where we have a center in Riva San Vitale just south of Lugano. I hope to teach there for a semester in the fall of 2014.

All for now.

Great lines and colors Doug!

take care,

03.17.2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Weiner
Hi Doug,

Mary O’Connor shared with me this link and the sketches of your India trip. I enjoyed them very much as I travel to India often and am frequently in those cities. You have captured the essence of India in a colorful and creative way.

Do you use sketches like that in your visioning sessions with clients? I would love to learn more about your approach with clients as I think that Gensler offers something unique. It would be great to learn more or even experience one of your sessions in order to be better able to connect you with some of our clients.

I hope you'll do more sketches on your upcoming trip to Chennai! It is one of my favorite cities in India!
03.17.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPam Keefe
Your article captures the essence of your travels, especially with your graphics. It is always a treat to see (on paper) what is inspiring you today. Reading this inspires a future trip...
Always a fan,
03.19.2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Mielke

thanks for your wonderful note and reference from Mary. Good to hear that you are in the Indian region often, I suspect on Haworth special missions!!! Let me try to answer your question. Yes, I do try to use sketches like the ones you see for our visioning session, but in my opinion, we should try to do it more than we currently do. I think that we should be balancing our heavy focus on realism and hyper-realsim, with more of the digram and illustration sketches and paintings that can capture and display messages in very effective ways. When you come back to the Bay Area, I would love to meet and show you some samples of Gensler visioning materials. Or maybe I can meet you if I land or pass through Singapore this year.

03.19.2012 | Unregistered Commenterdoug wittnebel
Doug -

Thanks for the link and for including me in the conversation. I too recently returned from a whirlwind visit to India and China (Bangalore, Shanghai and Dalian) and really do love the culture of India. It is amazing what is going on there - I am a "the world is flat" guy and the impact of and on the growth of the Indian economy is incredible.

Thanks for the diary and the pictures - it was great to connect - hopefully will see you somewhere on the planet soon!

Best regards,
03.23.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRandy Dalia
And I finally got some time to create a video of the trip,
04.6.2012 | Unregistered Commenterdoug wittnebel
hi Doug ,

nice sketches , love to see more on your blog. You may like to mention the Chennai treat on Dosa's ( rice crepes ) . Restless to see the wonders you guys are going to create for the India's own iconic brand ColorPlus .

04.14.2012 | Unregistered Commenterrobert
Remarkable drawings Doug! Let me know when you are headed in that direction next and I will be happy to share some hidden gems in Delhi.
04.24.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSumita Arora

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