Oil Toppers

A unique twist on the classic oil packaging.

Package Design · User Experience

Oil Topper Mockup

Oil Toppers

The idea behind this case study originated from a challenge that I was faced with during a class. The challenge was simple: to improve upon an existing packaging to try and create new affordances or to try to tap into a new target audience.

My original idea was to create a "spill proof" container and an easier, more accessible graphic node. I wanted to break into an audience that maybe hasn't completely broken into the "do-it-yourself" target persona but isn't necessarily opposed to the idea. A more welcoming package might help push them to become proactive about it. I decided to use Pennzoil as the example throughout simply because I loved how the yellow stands out.

Redesigning The Package


The longer spout helped create an easier pour, and the package was shaped in a way to prevent any oil being trapped in a corner. The graphic was simplified by removing unnecessary nodes and redundancies. Each piece on the label means something and is laid out in a sort of hierarchy in that you read the nodes from top to bottom, left to right. On the downside, the longer spout uses more shelf space and it doesn't really innovate on anything. Because of that, when I created and pitched this original idea, I didn't really like it. 

I thought more about the packaging and ended up thinking really deeply into the shelf space debacle. There's plenty of large, gallon-sized containers and quarts but what if there was something even more specific? How about a package that could easily be brought anywhere, stored anywhere, and could easily fit on any shelf? I found myself digging deeper into smaller-sized packaging and what could benefit from such a sized oil container.

Small-engine, gasoline-powered lawn equipment is a gigantic industry. The lawn mower market size alone was valued at nearly $30 billion in 2016. This gave me an idea: how about an oil topper - a smaller amount of oil in a smaller package that would be used for topping off the oil reservoir for smaller gasoline-powered engines? Not only these, but this could also be used for cars that have higher oil consumption and are low on oil but are not due for an oil change just yet. It could be used to keep the oil levels up to par in just about any type of gasoline-powered engine. 


Re-evaluating The Redesign

With this completely different approach, I had taken the idea of a squeezable plastic bottle commonly found in cosmetic care and brought it to the motor world. Standard with an internal suction cap to keep the oil in even with the external cap open, this form-fitting package can be taken anywhere and stored anywhere. The small form factor creates easy shelf space for companies looking to stock the product and leaves room for hundreds of bottles.

The concept works off the original packaging I had taken a picture of for vehicle motor oil. I wanted to keep the simplistic hierarchical design I had previously designed. There are no redundancies on the packaging; everything is important and means something. I made sure to use thick bold lettering so each piece could be easily seen from a distance. The font used for the bulk of the type is "Gomme Sans Bold Italic" with the liquid quantity at the top being "Helvetica Regular".


Creating a Mockup

I kept the original yellow color from the original container as the bottle color. It is the classic package color of Pennzoil, so I thought it should remain. The cap borrows the nice dark gray used in part of the label gradient to help tie the elements together. 

Oil Topper Mockup
Oil Topper Mockup

Color Palette

I wanted to keep the design palette industrial and sharp. Because I went with Pennzoil to work with, I wanted to use the classic yellow that is used on most of their packaging to keep brand identity strong. The majority of the label utilizes blacks and grays with a nice blue gradient to accent the special kind of oil that it is. For the type I went with classic Helvetica as the primary font and Gomme Sans as the supporting font.

User Testing

I conducted an interview with 10 different users, all within the realm of being mechanics or people who regularly use small engine tools/vehicles.

Key Conclusions

  • 9 out of 10 users interviewed agreed that the small packaging would help transportation and be convenient in unintended situations

  • 4 of 4 mechanics interviewed agreed that oil toppers would be convenient in the event that a vehicle needs a small amount of oil added during a job

The Takeaway

An idea that started off as a simple package addition for ease of access quickly became an interesting exercise in problem solving a completely different idea. While the concept of a small oil package designated towards "topping off" high oil burning vehicle engines works as a whole - I believe that it is more suited to be marketed towards small engines such as lawn mowers. 

Pop the cap open and squeeze. That's all that's required to use this new packaging. A small, easy-to-store package design creates a product that not only can fit basically anywhere but can be stocked anywhere in abundance. The less industrialized packaging could be used to help attract new customers that might be scared away from the more complex, bulky packaging that current oil is regularly in while still maintaining a serious demeanor. The main objective of this redesign became that of "How could I redefine a product without redesigning the wheel?" I think it did just that, and it became something genuinely unique.