Are we there, yet?

 I was reviewing a piece I had written for POOL magazine  a couple of years ago. It’s amazing that it still makes sense.

A Balasubramaniam

Anyone who has taken road trips with children are familiar with the query, “ Are we there, yet?” It comes from children who are excited, eager and impatient at the prospect of reaching someplace. Design industry in India is in a similar predicament. We are constantly soul-searching, checking with each other to see if Design in India has arrived.  We know that we are definitely headed there but can’t seem to wait to get there.

Design in India is a very old activity but a very young profession. Like all young people, the profession is also impatient: we just can’t seem to wait to grow. And like all things young, the profession has several faces. There is the face of professional industrial designer, competing with global designers in increasingly global markets in making better cars and phones. There is the face of the graphic designer creating Brand India. And the social entrepreneur putting his design skills to create lasting value in society and the environment. There is the craft designer who is re-interpreting traditional crafts to suit international markets. There is this software and UI designer who is piggybacking the IT revolution. There are also designers becoming brands that are slowly making progress in marketing their names on products and services. Emerging in the horizon is the thinker-designer who is seen to be increasingly applying the process for bettering hospital administration and making drinking water, safe.

Collectively this plurality of faces in the profession is something that is unique to us in India.

This is the result of the design education in India that is inherently generic. Design education in India began with the National Institute of Design (NID, Ahmedabad) in1961. Fifty years on, NID has progressed from creating the most number of designers to most number of institution-builders. Several early graduates have gone on to head different design schools and design-led institutions. Major institutes like the IDC at IIT Powai, Institute of Crafts & Design, Jaipur, the Accessory Design programmes at NIFT, BCDI- Agartala and a lot of private initiatives in design education like Amity, IILM, etc., have all been led by NID graduates.

So, what next? Are we there, yet?

As a design collective much needs to be done.  We need to build a design-conscious constituency in this country that will demand good design. We need to raise the collective consciousness by educating everyone about the benefits of design.

Design education itself needs to go through a major churning with the emphasis shifting from being a form-giving activity to a more in-depth, analytical process-driven exercise.

There is an urgent need to revisit the design curriculum. Design thinking needs to be emphasized beyond the formative years of study. We need to bring back the broad-based, inter-disciplinary approach and give a huge impetus to design research.  We also need several new design institutions. A new crop of design educators need to be developed. We need to find patrons beyond the Government of India to shell out for design research.

Which reminds me: The Government. One needs to form focus groups that will only concentrate on educating the powers-that-be to use design. Opportunities like the Commonwealth Games are being withered away as the government is still indifferent to design.  If the Government decides to use design services and pay for them, there would be no dearth of projects for generations of designers.  We would also have bus stops, better berths in trains, and better health-care services for people.

A recent convert in the government is the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium-scale enterprises.  An announcement on subsidising design projects made by the Ministry of MSME may just be a game-changer.  The scheme subsidises a major portion of expenses incurred on design exercises and hopefully, there will be a groundswell of design assignments that can bring in the change that is much required for this sector.

Such schemes will have to be ably supported by professional designers who need to formalise alliances that will work towards our cause. Designindia is probably the only forum that has successfully brought together designers of all hues under one umbrella. It has the mandate.  It now needs to transition to becoming the legitimate voice of design in India.

The India Design Council that has the mandate to steer the profession has also been constituted which should bring about the much-needed facilitation.

To become a force, we must also get the business on our side.  How many businesses call design consultancies when they have a business idea? Most industries call on designers only to firefight in the market, instead of partnering with them in co-creating products and brands.  Industry associations should be persuaded to sponsor research and education, to support innovation and to emerge as a catalyst that will drives the  change.

In Design, we are getting there. We all need to work together to get there: Industry, Government, Education, Professional Associations and the people.  And work towards the common good of design.

I recall a sequence from the film SHREK, where Shrek is taking a road trip with his wife and Donkey to meet his in-laws. When Donkey keeps asking all the time: “ Are we there, yet? “, an irate Shrek, replies: “ No Donkey, we are going to a place, called Far, Far Away! And it is far, far away!”

We are getting there in design. And hopefully, it’s not far, far away.


One Comment

  1. Communication Design or advertsing communication design is rather degenerative. Hindi written in English. Who is meant for Hindi audience; those who can read will read in Hindi script too. Those who cant, wont in English either!


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