Design Social

Nov 2016. Here’s an update: Neelam Chhibber is now collaborating with IKEA, using her design and social entrepreneur skills to carve a new niche. Her story here:

There is a buzz in the design community these days ever since Sam Pitroda, Adviser to the Prime minister of India, announced thee impetus to set up design and innovation centres all across the country, to address the problems of the people in the bottom of the pyramid.

Designers in major Indian cities are putting their heads together to come up with concepts for innovation centres that will help meet the social and development targets, use design thinking to address the needs of the people who matter and kick-start a movement that will see the intersection of academia, industry and social organisations like never before.

Designers in India are most eligible to address the needs of the needy. Every designer who have gone through formal design education has either designed products for health, living and public use, or worked with artisans and craftsmen to create better products as well as generate livelihoods or worked on communication to put across basic concepts of social importance to a simple rural audience or the illiterate.

Not very long ago, NID alumnus and Industree Co-founder, Neelam Chhiber was awarded as India’s Social Entrepreneur of the year by Schwab Foundation of the World Economic Forum. It rewards and finally recognises Neelam’s untiring efforts in bringing livelihood opportunities to thousands of rural artisans of India. It also is an award that puts Design in the spotlight. Design thinking has a huge role to play in making life better and social entrepreneurship is only one of the many ways designers can contribute.

Neelam has quickly acknowledged the fact that this is also an award for design. How true! Design is potent enough to change lives as much as churning out pretty products. And happily for Neelam, she does both with style.

While focussing on making products that appeal to an international audience, she made sure that the artisans are organised, paid well, looked after and most importantly, remained in their rural environs. Industree managed to make rural employment schemes fashionable.

Coming soon after Kiran BIr Sethi’s  INDEX Award, this too illustrates the capabilities of designers in harnessing design thinking to make lives better. Kiran has successfully leveraged design thinking in not only educating her own school children at Riverside, Ahmedabad but also managed to create a generation of sensitised children all over the world through her ” Design for Change’ programme.

NID Ahmedabad, rated as one of the best schools in the world, has had a large role to play in moulding the thinking of the students.  There are many more examples.

Poonam BIr Kasturi another NID alumnus has set up Daily dump that addresses the problems of waste and comes up with a beautiful solution that is both sustainable and appealing.

(Pic Courtesy : Daily

Lakshmi Murthy, a designer based in Udaipur, works in the area of rural communication and has successfully implemented health and hygiene projects that affect the majority in rural India.

Sandeep Sangaru, a furniture design graduate of NID, brings never-before elegance to cane and bamboo furniture by partnering with artisans of the North East.

My own team at January Design is working with grass-root level innovators recognised by the President of India and helping their innovations better by introducing design concepts into their processes. We are doing this with National Innovation Foundation, the country’s premier organisation dealing with innovation.

Designers all across India are realising the potential for harnessing their design capabilities to make our country a better place.  This has been possible, largely because of the education at NID Ahmedabad.

While the powers that be is putting together a concept for setting up new Innovation centres or new NIDs, it is hoped that they would remember to build this soul into the proposed new programmes.  And this way, it will ensure that design travels to where it impacts most, from the top of the social milieu to the bottom of the pyramid.


  1. Dear Bala. Wonderful post and it does bring home some real concerns as well as draws attention to some significant achievements of the Indian design community. However we do need to make a comprehensive list so that we see the real contributions that I do believe have been hidden from sight all these years. I am indeed happy to see the action oriented moves by the Planning Commission under the leadership of Sam Pitroda and I do hope that design will finally find a place in the Governments plan of actions and investments in the days ahead.

    Government does need to substantially scale up its investments in design across so many sectors of our society that I wonder when we will ever begin these actions. The India Design Council and the Institutes of design education choose to continue to ignore many critical sectors of need and hark upon aesthetics and “Good Design” slogans when real design is ignored without any attempt to even list these and find out the vast body of experience that the Indian design community has built on its own initiative. Much of the Government investment in innovation is sucked out of the system by science and technology type R&D activities and institutions all over India leaving design without any form of support over the years. How long will this continue? Most of the awards that you have cited above are international ones and not by the recognition that our country has accorded to its design foot soldiers. Why?

    There is a long way to go befpre this imbalance will get corrected and I do hope that Sam Pitroda initiative will bring some real work and funds to the design activity in India.

    Prof M P Ranjan
    author of blog “Design for India”
    26 January 2012 ar 12.40 am IST


  2. Thanks Bala for the great post on these designers and the awards they have attained. It is especially exciting to see Indian women designers who think and design sustainably with communities they work with gaining recognition nationally and internationally. I agree with Ranjan about a more comprehensive list about hidden talents in India. We must highlight other indigenous designs from “designers” from other fields including grassroot designers/innovators and not just the formally trained designers of NID or other urban design institutions. For eg. innovative engineers, doctors, educators, crafts peoples, etc whose stories need to be documented and innovations scaled. Many across the world are now aware of Anil Gupta’s initiatives in Ahmedabad, where they have been documenting and supporting many rural grassroot innovators. Few however, are aware that often grassroot innovators have only been educated in indigenous wisdoms, which has lead them to more sustainable design thinking than the western knowledge we have been educated in. It is hence, great to learn about January Design’s work with these grassroot innovators. Keep the excellent posts and work.

    Uma V Chandru
    Director and Faculty of Art & Design
    IIACD, Bangalore


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