Visibility First

By A Balasubramaniam

A recent job ad on an Indian website for an ‘International Product Designer’ announced  ‘Indians and NRIs (non-resident Indian) need not apply’. After a facebook uproar and a mail from the professional designers body ADI, the ad’s words were changed to ” Expats preferred”.

This post is not about establishing bigotry.

Why will a tile manufacturing company, based out of Gurgaon, near Delhi look for expats for their design team? Is there a crisis of confidence here that the design community should look into? Are we not ‘good enough’ for an international assignment, even within India? Even if we have been trained in international institutes and worked along with global designers? Or are we ‘invisible’?

When the Delhi Metro wanted signage designers they went to London to ‘international’ designers. In 2002, Tata went to Turin, Italy to get their Tata Indica designed. The now famous example of India’s capabilities, the TATA NANO was also designed by IDEA in Italy.  Fashion has always been dominated by designers who do not belong to India. Even the government of India favours foreign designers. When the ruling DMK government in Tamil Nadu, wanted an assembly building, they appointed architects from Germany. It is almost always fashionable to advertise the names of foreign architectural firms in big ticket infrastructure projects.


I am not arguing for ‘reservation’ here, but surely, Indian design communities are being  sidelined by the established global businesses in India.

Businesses should be told about the benefits of using Indian design talent. Design Research in London would have been stumped by the fact that there are at least 15 different languages spoken in Delhi? That all signages are available in Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. Will a German design firm understand the Dravidian Tamil legislators in white veshti and angavastram, while designing the building? Will Turin ever understand how the Indica is used as taxies and the luggage space is woefully low?

When you understand the target users, you will be able to deliver to their unique requirements. Which is why KFC in India has a vegetarian menu. And Pizza Hut serves tandoori paneer pizza to a delighted audience. Which is why Big Bazaar has the most foot-falls in retail. To understand your audience, you need designers with ‘local’ flavours who empathise with their users.

Design community in India is still being quantified. Recent calculations show that there could be about 15,000 practising designers across different design verticals. Hopefully, many are doing meaningful work that affects us all. But it is not visible enough.

NID is celebrating its 50th year of existence. Most design-related institutions in India have been set up the graduates of NID. So, in effect, this is like the golden jubilee celebrations of ‘ Design in India’. The impact of design in India must be measured. The moment has come for stock-taking. To do an introspection.

To become visible for all to stand up and take notice.


  1. sir once again its a refreshing thoughts… we need to do something., i feel responsible., now i am in Italy, i have all my plans to come back to INDIA and work., we need to do this., i always thought this., i always thought this about PIZZA, when an Italian can come and sell his product in INDIA PIZZA with an Indian flavor, and Japanese comes to sell his SUSHI all around the world why cant we do so…? we are 1.2Billion.. is it a serious attitude problem? what can we do ? we need to change…? the world is the market., but our own local markets dont understand the need ? what do we do? i get these kind of questions., and especially after all your articles i get more such questions., we need more brain storming., we as in the design community should get more active and educate the rest as well., i feel a designer job is equally important to educate the user and surroundings, that cannot happen by one person like you., more hands should join. we need to have more design shows, design meetings., across the country… make the feel for the designers,.. i dont know how many of them know how many fields are there in the Design… as you wrote in the previous article by steve jobs Design is not all about making it looks beautiful its all about blending the function along with aesthetics.


  2. Nicely articulated. It is indeed an issue. But the design community also needs to be careful of assuming that if he/she is an Indian then by default he/she understands the needs of the people. Many times we misread the requirements as our own biases color our interpretation. Designers from the German, Italian or UK firms bring their own biases so the risk is present there as well. But as they are dealing with a foreign audience they might spend more time recognizing those biases and paying attention to the actual needs of the customer. This argument is definitely not a justification for handing “them” design projects instead of the local design community but it does illustrate a perspective that often gets overlooked.


    1. You are right Chandan. My argument was about overlooking Indian design talent without understanding the possible advantages. Your point ton individual differences is well taken.


  3. that the govt would go for foreign design firms is understandable. they dont care two hoots about the eventual design anyway.most only want to make money from anything they sanction. so an indian design firm can possibly charge a decent fees in rupees, a foreign firm will do it in dollars. the minimum difference is 10 times generally if you compare costs. also, and this ive seen. the bigger foreign design firms have figured out the maths with govts well. the money goes out of the country and the govt’s commission stays out of the country. so all’s perfectly organised.
    now see the three advantages together, 10-50 times more money can be made for the people sanctioning it (design fees and even design implementation costs, air india re-branding as example), money leaves the country legally and lastly, they look serious because theyre getting in a world renowned company to do the job.

    now, why tata’s and other indian companies harping about design and maintaining expensive designers and studios for decades still go to international design firms for all their real projects is something i cant understand.


      1. and i forgot to mention the obvious that your articles are really well written. on the other hand do excuse me for shooting off the hip like a cowboy which sometimes may not even make sense but it will always be a honest opinion based on personal experiences only.

  4. very true. loved your blog. Also we need to see why we are not being able to collectively put our point across as a community and build trust. I feel the primary reason is that we do not have strong associations based of democratic principals. IDC is a nominated body and is hence not answerable to anyone. I still dont know if IDC represents the government or the designers, as it certainly cannot represent both. I think the need of the moment is to have a strong elected design body that first enjoys credibility (like FDCI) with the design community and then represents us in the industry as well as the government.


  5. I agree with the posting I have been a follower of Design in India group for the past 5 years and I have done my M.E in Product Design and Engineering from NTTF Bangalore. Even I get annoyed when I see advertisements from Indian Design Agencies mostly advertise looking for designers from NID’s and IIT’s and why not Institutes like NTTF, MSRAS, etc., are not even in considered in the first place. Firstly when I saw the thread in the group creating lot of comments in thread I wanted to post my comments. In that case people might think I am against NIDians. Henceforth I have posted my comments here. Hope this will open the a pandoras box in our own design community who look for talent among the pool of designers and not from any particular institutions.

    Shankar Ganesh C
    M.E Product Design (First Batch – NTTF, Bangalore)


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