Category Archives: Process

Locale: Research

Mustafa Visits: In the search for the Unique Selling Point

Before visiting the site, I conducted some secondary research on Mustafa:

  • 24 hour shopping mall
  • 22 years old; opened in April 1995
  • Located in Syed Alwi Road, Little India
  • 37,000 m2 retail floor area
  • Over 300,000 items sold

On the 2nd of March, I walked to Mustafa from Farrer Park MRT, entering via Entrance 3. One thing I immediately noticed was how crowded the streets and mall were. This was probably because it was Friday evening, one of the peak timings, as I would later come to find out.

The mall is surrounded by Indian restaurants, which makes sense because the mall is located in Little India.

At the entrance, there was a small monitor showing the occupancy to warn shoppers when it’s unsafe to enter. At that time, the occupancy (probably an average, for a certain amount of space) was 259, with the maximum load being 431.

Upon entering, I saw the pharmacy section. Upon seeing all the overwhelmingly numerous different types of medicines sold, I decided to note down the broader categories of products sold instead of being more specific, like noting down pharmacy instead of cough medicine, ointments etc.


Brief overview of items sold on each floor

B2: Electronics, Electrical Appliances


B1: Menswear, Womenswear, Children’s Apparel, Jewellery


L1: Health & Beauty, Baby food & Milk Powder, Pharmacy


L2: Supermarket, Fresh Produce (F&V, Meat, Fish), Grocery, Perishables (most crowded)


L3: Supermarket, Household Products, Car Park


L4: Stationery, Hardware, Household items (least crowded)


Unusual products?
In my quest to note down the different products sold, I noticed some rather unusual products being sold, most of them being of the food variety.


I conducted interviews with two employees. First, I interviewed Jasbee Kaur from the sunglasses section.
As I did not have a unique selling point yet, I just asked some general questions.

Q: How long have you been working here?
A: From 2000 till now.

Q: How familiar are you with the place?
A: I know all the places, so I’d say pretty familiar.

Q: How’s it like working at Mustafa?
A: I like it! The boss is nice. There is no target I need to fulfill, no nothing. For every 100 customers, 95% are okay. Most of them are tourists from India and Bangladesh.

Q: What are some pros and cons, or pet peeves?
A: A pro is that all items can be found. But there are no seating places and baby fitting places. Some new staff might point customers the wrong way.

Q: When are the busiest times?
A: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from about 11.30 am to 7 or 8 pm. On public holidays it goes up to about 10 pm.

Here’s my second interview!

Continuing on, I realized that I started to get more and more overwhelmed. Mustafa is very visually tiring on the eyes after a while, with really tall shelves and bright, saturated colors. My eyes started getting really fatigued from the repeated patterns in the shelving. Even though it was organized in a way, there was a lot of cramming into spaces that didn’t really seem big enough.

I also started getting very, very lost. Thankfully, the signs pointed me to different sections.

Inside the mall, there was also a bakery. Here, I sampled the spinach pizza. It was pretty salty and I didn’t particularly enjoy it (probably because it was cold and slightly hard), but it was definitely not terrible. I could see someone really craving pizza coming here for pizza at 2 or 3 am.

Very geometric shapes, with both strong straight lines (for example, rows of items) and curved lines (from circular “hole” in the middle surrounding which floors are arranged – see below).



Really bright and saturated! They are also repeated in recurring patterns.

Leaving the mall, I tracked the number of people passing through different entrances per minute, as well as the racial profile, as I noticed that there seemed to be more Indians in the mall than other races.






















Walking along the other side of Mustafa, I also noticed how there was in-house restaurant. Here, I sampled the tater tots. Again, it was pretty salty. However, it was still an improvement over the pizza from earlier because it was hot.

After the visit, I found some unique qualities about Mustafa.

1) It sells some really weird and unique items, that you wouldn’t think would be sold under one roof, or could even be found in Singapore. Most of them are of the food variety. I considered analyzing the weirdest food items I’ve seen there and maybe do a review of them as well.

2) How it is a one-stop place for literally anything you could need at any random time of the day. I thought that this could be translated into an infographic with a clock, and showing what you might need at different times of the day can be found where specifically at Mustafa.

3) It sells a huge variety (brand-wise) of certain items, like rice and spices (see below for rice varieties).


4) It’s method of organization seems to make sense, but also can be really bizarre. The items are arranged in a sort of nonsensical way, like for example there’ll be cereals over fresh fruit.


After the discussion with Joy, I narrowed down my Unique Selling Point to Mustafa being an organized mess. My task would then be to find out how people react to this mess, shoppers and staff alike.

Visit Two: Unique Selling Point identified. On to further research! How do people react to the organized mess?

Going into Mustafa this time, I had a much clearer idea of what I was looking for. I came up with a set of questions beforehand.

Questions for staff:
1. How did you make sense of the place?
2. How long did it take you to make sense of the place?
3. How organized/messy do you find Mustafa on a scale of 1-10?
4. What are the most busy times? When are the least busy times?

Questions for seasoned shoppers:
1. Profile: Age, gender, how long have you been shopping at Mustafa?
2. What do you come to Mustafa to buy?
3. How do you navigate? (Stairs, escalators, lifts?) (Start from bottom floors upward? Which sections do you visit first?)
4. How long does it take you to navigate? Do you spend more time navigating or shopping?
5. How did you make sense of the place? How long did it take you?
6. How long do you spend here? How much do you spend usually?
7. How organized/messy do you find Mustafa on a scale of 1-10?
8. What would be the best strategy for a new shopper?

Questions for newbie shoppers:
1. Profile: Age, gender, how long have you been shopping at Mustafa?
2. What do you come to Mustafa to buy?
3. How do you navigate? (Stairs, escalators, lifts?) (Start from bottom floors upward? Which sections do you visit first?)
4. How long does it take you to navigate? Do you spend more time navigating or shopping?
5. How long have you been here?
6. How organized/messy do you find Mustafa on a scale of 1-10?

Below is an interview I managed to record with the help of a friend.

Field Ethnography

I also did field ethnography in that I shadowed my mom as she shopped. I wanted to play this video during my presentation but technical difficulties arose, sadly! I initially tried shadowing a random shopper on one of my earlier trips, but they noticed me and told me to stop following them so I decided to just accompany my mom on one of her shopping trips. She is a seasoned shopper. I’d previously accompanied her for short trips, but never had really analyzed how she navigated through Mustafa. This below video does that.

Staff behavior to mess

I also walked around trying to observe the staff’s behavior towards mess and captured this video of a staff conscientiously picking misplaced items out of a pile during the peak hours.

The above videos illustrate some research I didn’t manage to cover during my presentation. My presentation can be found below (it also covers some other research methods I did not talk about in this post, cause it’s already on the slides)! I organized my slides according to the unique selling point, the organized mess, hence splitting the presentation into two parts: the “organized” and the “messy” aspects. I also summarized the results of my interviews with 10 employees, 10 newbie shoppers and 10 seasoned shoppers, and explored other sensory and physical impacts.


Project 1: Image through type

(Click to enlarge all images)

Overall idea:

I wanted to show both the good and bad sides of a job – even though jobs may look fun on the surface, they often come with their own difficulties. When I was brainstorming for my four jobs at first, I looked at jobs I actually want to do after graduation. So in a sense, this project was my own weighing of the jobs against each other for myself.

I do this through a layered experience – with each of my four jobs, separate sections reveal the additional layer of meaning. This mirrors the whole surface level/deeper level concept I’ve got going on.

Art direction

I had a lot of trouble coordinating the colors across all four compositions, so I decided to adopt the color scheme of Oliver Jeffers. in particular, this work.

I extracted the colors and textures out from that piece, and made my color moodboard.

I really enjoy the contrasting textures – I think it makes the work interesting to look at and was something I wanted to emulate. I used a variety of mediums, with watercolor, acrylic, color pencil and even printing out textures (for the flight attendant piece).

Here are some previous color schemes I did digitally,  before I thought of using a unifying color scheme.

Job 1: SIA Flight attendant

For this work, the good side of being a flight attendant is that you get to travel. I tried to show that in the first composition with the airplane jetting off. However, with this jetting off, you come to miss family occasions as well. I decided to depict this drawback after reading accounts by former SIA hostesses: (Number 6 talks about missing important occasions because you are overseas.) The two compositions are unified by the use of the kebaya pattern on SIA stewardesses’ uniforms, as well as the airplane.

Use of letterforms:

  • I used the rounded letterform of the lowercase b to my advantage to manipulate the sister (in orange) into a b shape.
  • An uppercase A is implied with the mom and dad. The empty chair contains letters L and A.
  • Hence, in this composition, I treated the uppercase A as both a curvy shape for the parents, as well as a sharp, angular form for the chair.
  • The tinsel (to indicate an occasion, possibly Christmas) spell out bala in cursive. Here, I treat the lowercase letters as round forms.
  • I matched the land in the earth shape to shape with the underneath letterforms with tracing paper. The layers, hence, reflect each other.


Initially, I did not think of using the tinsel to form letters, but Joy alerted me to this possibility. Also, I did not think of manipulating the girl to form a lowercase b, but that possibility also came up during consultations. Here are my sketches!

I also did a digital mockup:

Improvements after critique:

  • More could have been done with the airplane and the smoke!
  • The smoke could have formed a more obvious lowercase L. Right now, it forms a cursive lowercase L upside down, but it is not very clear.

Job 2: Sushi chef



For this work, I wanted to show how although being a sushi chef might be glamorous with very aesthetically pleasing sushis (I tried to make the sushi as “good-looking” as I could), being a chef is actually very hard because you have to power through your fatigue, which could result in cuts and accidents. I got this con from, specifically con number three. It’s also reflected in Masterchef episodes where the chefs do  injure themselves quite often. I thought that this could happen with sushi chefs because sushi knives  are so big and sharp.

Use of letterforms:

  • A lot of this work plays with the transition from uppercase to lowercase, and vice versa. For this, I looked closely at the letterforms as shapes.
  • In the “good” composition, there is an A in the sushi plate on the top right. This sushi then becomes a lowercase ‘a’ with the blood in the second composition.
  • In the same platter, a lowercase ‘b’ becomes an uppercase ‘B’ with the addition of blood, again. Here, we see a transition from lowercase to uppercase, compared to previously where there was a transition from uppercase to lowercase.
  • In the sushi platter to the right, the lowercase to uppercase pattern is repeated with the smallercase ‘a’ becoming an uppercase ‘A’ with the addition of blood.
  • I capitalized on the angular nature of the ‘A’ and ‘L’ letterforms by manipulating them into cuts onto the chef’s wrists.
  • I capitalized on the rounded nature of the ‘B’ letterform with the cross-section of a salmon fish.
  • An uppercase ‘L’ is formed in the sushi plate to the left.
  • I used the edge of a sushi knife to make an angular uppercase ‘L’ with blood in the ‘con’ composition.


A lot of my sketches dealt with the placement of the sushis, how to manipulate the sushis, and getting the perspective correct.

I did a digital mockup for this as well:

Job 3: Homemaker

For this piece, I wanted to show how being a homemaker might seem like a cushioney job, just taking care of the kids and cleaning the house. However, when my mom was a homemaker, she had to handle a lot of stuff; cleaning isn’t as easy as it looks!

Use of letterforms

  • Lowercase ‘a’ in washing machine handle
  • I looked at ‘A’ as being very imposing and grounded with the wider base, and used it as the central mom figure to give a strong centre of focus to the piece.
  • I manipulated the arms of the mom to cradle the babies with a lowercase ‘b’ and an uppercase ‘L’.
  • An angular uppercase ‘L’ is formed with the right angles of the stove.
  • An uppercase ‘A’ is formed with the ironing board stand, capitalizing on its angular nature.


An important insight I gained from consult was that I could manipulate the arms to form the lowercase ‘b’ and uppercase ‘L’, whilst previously I hadn’t in my earlier sketches. I used a lot of tracing paper for this work because I had to make sure the appliances in the background for the ‘con’ composition fit exactly with the existing composition underneath.

Digital mockup:

Job 4: Singer


For this piece, I thought about how the privacy of singers is constantly invaded. Paparrazzi invade their private spaces and experiences and scrutinize them for the world to see. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to handle all of that, and wanted to bring light to this issue.

The interactive element works like this: The CD (containing B and A in the soundwave alphabet) would be slotted out of the album cover (containing L and A), forming BALA when extended. The CD can then be detached, and the flap behind turned over, to form a magnifying glass which then would be passed over the back of the same A4 piece of paper.

First, I looked at the word associations from earlier, and decided to incorporate the sound alphabet in my work. However, the soundwave alphabets I found were too complicated and unclear, so I simplified it and made my own, referencing the ones I found online.

Soundwave alphabet Source:

My own reinterpretation of soundwave alphabet

I then traced the outline of this silhouette, to fit the items of a household around. 

Letterforms can be seen within these household items themselves. I was having a lot of trouble fitting them around the silhouette, but Joy gave me the idea to use clothes and other little messes to round the forms out, because that essentially mirrors what the media does to singers – pick at all their flaws, even how clean they keep their houses.

Word associations for brainstorming, and other initial ideas

Behind the scenes photos!