Design pays

There was an interesting nugget of design-related news this week that made one’s eye pop. It was about a young design grad of my alma mater NID Ahmedabad, who managed a mind-boggling annual salary package of INR 38 lakhs in the campus placement. Of course, he was picked up by TOSHIBA for its overseas posting. Even then, a starting salary of US $ 70,000 per annum is not something to sneeze at.


One swallow does not make a summer, though and it is early days to say if this will be  a trend. But it does raise some important pointers.

To begin with, the professional education programme is finally being given it’s due by the industry and the graduates are finally being sought after. That’s good news. For far too long, generations of designers have been either panned or given the short-end with regards paying for design. While the industries have believed in using design, they did that at the cost of using designers, by paying a pittance.

I do not know if this means that the average expectation levels of the students of design will go up dramatically. That could be bad news for design firms and industries trying to recruit fresh graduates. Already there is a murmur in the community about how un-affordable NID designers have become an this may escalate.

This may also see a whole lot of graduates competing for higher and higher pay-packets. When money is the incentive, then everything else becomes secondary. Will we still see someone like a Sandeep Sangaru working with bamboo artisans or would they now be compelled to opt for fancy pay packets? Will we see a Neelam Chhibber, who set up a large design-led foundation for crafts? Or a Kiran Bir Sethi, who transformed the world by educating the children about the design process? Or a Meghna Ajit, who set up a co-operative for craftspersons,? Or a Parthiv Shah, who set up a media organisation that celebrates culture? Or a Gargi Sen  who set up a foundation for documentary film makers or a Poonam Bir Kasturi, who is working on leveraging household waste and doing something about the earth? All these are graduates of NID,  who measured success by what they did than what they earned.

We do need designers to make nice, new products for Toshiba. But we also need designers to make life better, safer and sustainable. And that comes from working on projects for health, crafts, grassroot innovations and other social sectors that do not give anyone fancy salaries.

Will social design be relegated to the sidelines and commercial, made-for-profits design rule? Maybe not.

The best thing about NID of yore was that there were students of all hues. For every wannabe-corporate warrior, there was a bare-foot designer. For every student who wanted to make money, there was one that wanted to make sense.

I sincerely hope today’s NID is just as multi-coloured.


  1. Dear Bala

    Wonderful post. Many great questions. The issue is not just the design school such as NID In Ahmedabad but also all the other design schools that are being set up in all corners of India. I am sure that the champions of our many design sectors will stimulate interest in each of them by the examples that you have listed in the few names. WE will b]need top chronicle the work of hundreds of designers who have been struggling here in India across these very sectors and share what has been achieved so far which is outside the scope of industry and I do not expect industry to fulfill the needs of our society. Much of the design challenges lie in the Government sector and towards good governance.

    Today I experienced first-hand the great India election process, a huge design exercise if any. However a lot of design is left in the breech and a few elements of this process have been designed to perfection while the rest of the process is best described in the great India tradition of jugaad, not perfect but make-do and just in time. The laws that govern this process too need to be tweaked along with the administrative processes and the numerous parts of the enormous systems that make up the whole process will need to be designed to suit our times and our aspirations. The electronic voting machine is but a small part of this whole and the service design opportunities that exist here needs government funding and they need to invest in design at the systems level if we are to have an elegant and effective process put in place where all the stages and components work in smooth synchronisation.

    Each of these stages need the unfolding of new imaginations and alternatives from which the citizens and their elected leaders can choose the best paths forward and that would be the design challenges of the future. Do design schools teach this kind of design today. That is a big question. New design schools such as the School of DEsign at the Ambedkar University in New Delhi have been set up on the premise that design is no longer a technology and aesthetics play as it was conceived in the 50’s but an activity that would address the aspirations of our people and do this with the deep understanding of their needs that would come from the use of sociology and anthropology as knowledge tools and the principles of design to create the new imaginations that would help transform our society in the days ahead. I hope that the other schools too will recognise this huge change in our understanding of design in the 21st century.

    M P Ranjan
    Design Thinker and author of blog Design for India
    Professor – Design Chair, CEPT University, Ahmedabad


    1. Thanks Ranjan for the thoughtful response. I agree that design has a larger role to play and not all of them are entirely paying. I have had varied reactions to the news about the placement. One of them is that this raises the bar for the profession. It definitely does. But my worry is not entirely unfounded. When money is the yardstick, the number of students opting for alternative areas of work will reduce.


  2. I agree with you on having the yardstick of long-term impact rather than short term financial gain – It’s also the ‘make sense’ vs. ‘make money’ (or “if you’re so smart then why aren’t you rich?”) contradiction – One can always do both, however, balancing personal choice, aptitude / ability, deep social conscience, ‘return on educational investment’, preparing oneself to be in a fortunate position (“work hard being lucky”) and entrepreneurial mindset (vs. a propensity towards “employeeship”) all play dynamic roles… of course, not all social initiatives deliver results or the right kind of outcome…how does pedagogy help build a mindset that allows professionals to make these choices and root them in social/ national/ ecological good? How does one decide “how much (money) is enough ?..also, there is some measure of relativity in perspectives that needs to be considered…for instance, has Grameen Bank delivered more than mPesa? ‘For-profit’ organizations often prove to be more resilient contributors to poverty alleviation/ employment generation though the business model may be founded on greed (McDonalds),trivial pursuit (Coke and other purveyors of sugary drinks), vice (ITC and the Tobacco industry), unsustainable fossil fuels (Toyota), planned-obsolescence coupled with gratification / distraction (Apple?), large scale conflict (General Dynamics, Boeing) and so on…the examples here themselves prove that there are no easy answers and generalizations can be dangerous…. The Gates Foundation is powered by the immensely monopolistic cash-generation engines of Microsoft (and Coke), Neelam Chibber’s Mother Earth is now aligned with Kishore Biyani and many social entrepreneurs do need/ eventually-accept Venture Capital (and profit orientation) to generate reach and scalable influence. So this debate can easily extend to a Capitalism / Laissez faire vs. Socialism / Communism conflict and design politics issue! Designers are great at escalating any event into a “life and the universe” issue which only a particle-accelerator can settle and I guess I’m guilty of the same flaw


  3. Dear Bala, Interesting post.

    Probably as a current first person account at NID I might be able to share a different perspective. Whilst your article does attempt a neutral tone, I read a slight lean towards against the 2 who were offered those jobs at Toshiba. Or maybe, a broad hint that now everyone would run after those pay packets.

    Why does a good designer have to be a “starving” designer? Or why is good design JUST social design? Or most heard on campus – why is – design in “my time” much better than today? I accuse no one but I see the Toshiba phenomenon bring a big change – self belief or rather belief that our chosen profession is rewarding as well. Surrounded by cynics, the biggest problem is not of good design, rather it is of, well, simply put – optimism. It is the intense pessimism and fear psychosis that is doled out at the watering holes that makes the students scurry for the first morale boosting – higher pay – zero content job.

    Maybe it helps that we mention a few names of the initiatives that we have run that could facilitate a more balanced view. A few of our current faculty initiatives: the low cost sanitation project (Abir Mullick & Gourab Kar) , the maternal mortality project & Design for affordable health (Bhaskar Bhatt), the mapping of indigenous innovations project (Shashank Mehta), the water purification project (with Sarvajal), Agriculture and occupational health (with SSVT, Bardoli), occupational health project with SEWA for BOP (Bhaskar Bhatt), Size India – Anthropometrics for Indian populace (Dr.Subir Das), Sustainable Urban Mobility (Praveen Nahar & Dr. Ranjit Konkar) etc etc.

    I think that for every Toshiba, there is always a sensitive soul who chooses to work with the social sector. Each has a place under the sun & both are important to us.

    No offence meant, just stating the counter-view.


    1. Dear Bhaskar,

      Thanks for the reaction. Glad to hear of all the project, you and your team mates are working, which would go into contributing for a better world. That reinforces my belief. All these projects seem to be professional assignments by faculty. Dp students willingly join these projects? More importantly do these projects pay? My point of this post is the dilemma an average student goes through and the choices he makes.

      I am happy for the students who have effectively raised the bar for the profession.

      My worry is about the effect it would have on such students who would like to work on social projects. Even if money becomes the yardstick, I am hoping these students will remain motivated to work on projects that help solve the problems of the world. And kudos to you and your team mates who continue the good work at NID.


      1. No Bala, None of these are industry engagements. It is a combination of self initiated, sometimes self funded, sometimes externally scrounged funded efforts. we don’t get a single dime out of these. But it makes me smile to say that we have received a huge response and outpouring from students when these initiatives have been announced. Not everyone is enthusiastic though, but everyone is concerned nonetheless.

        I see our biggest challenge here as awareness of how to do, rather that what to do. Most students want to take these issues up but do not know where to start. The only way to counter that is to bring as much collaborative projects and problems into the classrooms as we can. This would only increase the awareness about the intense issues surrounding us.

        I have always said that our greatest responsibility is to open to ‘right’ windows to the world. We are trying hard and we are beginning to see the results slowly. But rest assured – we have never lost sight of that single minded mandate to make the society a better place to live in.

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