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.