Jesse LeCavalier

 

On his book The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment

Cover Interview of November 30, 2016

A close-up

The book includes a 16-page color section that is a kind of visual overture of the project. This section uses a series of drawings and diagrams to address the main features of the book, including the ways of looking that attend the logistical mindset, Walmart’s corporate history and current reach, detailed drawings of the company’s main building types, maps of its locations and strategic positions, as well as images of its operations centers. With the exception of two images, these are all original drawings that synthesize a range of information in order to present an image of Walmart that emphasizes its high degree of technical sophistication as well as its coordinated geopolitical efforts. Since the material for the book comes from a range of sources, I was interested in synthesizing it not only through text but also through image. As a more visual learner myself, I find this a more natural way to bring diverse material together.

Much of the book’s text is guided by analysis of visual material related to logistics and Walmart, including architectural drawings, patent documents, real estate diagrams, and promotional material. Based on an idea that constructed images reflect conditions beyond their authors’ intentions, a closer look at Walmart’s presentation of itself reveals a number of implicit beliefs. For example, while the company in popular media was often presented as small town retailer, its internal publications, especially its annual shareholder reports, tell a story of a highly sophisticated and technology-driven company. By analyzing some of these images in greater detail, certain aspects of the corporation emerge more clearly. Likewise, by assembling a range of information into a graphic format, surprising patterns can appear. For example, by plotting Walmart’s growth by type and number of stores, it is clear that a rate change occurred when the company introduced its new format, the Supercenter. While the growth rate slows, the number of Supercenters increases. What in fact was happening was a rapid rollout of this new store type, often by quickly expanding and renovating existing stores, suggesting a process more like a software update than a building renovation.