A Designer and a Gentleman

H Kumar Vyas passed away this morning. A devastating news for the design community in India. He can be truly called the first industrial designer of India. He was also responsible for putting together the first programme in industrial design at NID, Ahmeedabad. Every new programme in Design in India has its roots in the course he put together. Every design student in India owes it to him, for giving the design courses an Indian ethos.

image

As a graduate who is from the early generation at NID, I had the privilege of knowing him personally. But for a short programme, he did not teach me directly at NID. But he knew me well. Well enough to recommend me for a teaching job at a design institute, while he was heading the jury. After the job interview, he called me across and asked me about PRIDE, an institution of design for small industries, I was conceptualising. I offered to show him the institution. He did not have any problem in travelling for 15 kms in an auto in Delhi with me. He saw the place, offered suggestions for improvement and decided to take an auto back on his own. No airs about travelling by an auto. No complaints about the discomfort. Ever encouraging.

Years later, I met him again at NID. He remembered every detail of my project and was keen to see how the project panned out. And in his characteristic candor, talked about the pitfalls of institution building.

I was disheartened to see his failing health, when I visited him on his birthday last year. He was frail but his mind was agile.  He tried to place me, seeing me after so many years. When he finally realized, one could see the spark in his eyes.

Design was his life. His contribution to design education was largely unacknowledged by the powers that be. That did not deter him for working tirelessly for the cause of Design. He was the thorough gentleman : a quality not seen much in the flamboyant world of design.  I personally believed that he deserved the Padmashree for his work. It’s an opportunity missed.

I salute you, Kumar. You were one of a kind. You’ll be sorely missed.

Advertisements

Design engendered

It’s the International Women’s Day and it is time to celebrate womanhood in all its glory. Fortunately for us in Design and especially in India, women constitute 50% of our profession, if not more. The profession sees no gender biases and many women designers are vocal, visible and successful in India.

I am writing to bring to the notice of buyers of design, about bringing gender nuances to products and communication which will make them more gender-neutral.

When we were asked to design a range of craft kits or hobby kits for children, we were asked by the client to make kits for girls. When we enquired why, we were told that crafts are a girls’ domain. To educate our client and therefore the end users, we designed a series of kits that were specifically gender-neutral.

So we did a kit where you learn to make and fly kites. Or make props for play-acting. Or making stuff to celebrate Halloween and Diwali. We had, in the process, educated our client and ensured a new set of happy customers for him.

While working on products for children was easy, working on gender-specific products for women, was not. When a client approached us to design a device for women to stand-and-pee at restrooms and other places, we were completely at sea. We realised that designing for women is not such an easy task. I remember as a student, I was discouraged by my teachers, when I wanted to design a delivery table for women. I was told that it is unfamiliar territory. The same male teacher, however, had developed a ‘pill-dispenser’ for sexually active women, which indicated safe days for coitus.

How often do we see products and spaces developed exclusively for women? By men? In a free-wheeling conversation, a fellow designer mentioned about Taj Hotels’ disastrous attempt to create a ‘Women’s only‘ floor. A nifty idea to begin with. But the spaces were designed with pink walls and flowery bedsheets and stocked with women’s magazines and cookery books. This was clearly a man’s idea of a woman’s space!

Why are women’s razors pink and curvy? Who ordained it this way? A quick image search shows all of girls’ bicycles in pink!

Why should girls’ bicycles be in pink with a flower basket in the front? Why are there more men’s toilets in public spaces? These stereotypes are still going on, mainly because of the fact that men decide for women in most such cases. While there are enough architects and designers who are women, we are yet to see the gender-neutrality getting into our psyche.

It isn’t enough celebrating successful women on every 8th of March. We need to march towards a gender-neutral society. We need to be not just inclusive. We need to focus our energies on designing exclusive products and systems and spaces that are for women and women-friendly. With a lot of empathy. And this has to be done with the sensitivity it deserves, so that design gets engendered. Otherwise, it will definitely, get endangered.

Design makes a big impact in small industries

I am just back from the National Workshop on the Design Clinic Scheme that was co-hosted by the Ministry of MSME and NID Ahmedabad. The meet was an eye-opener.

This is nothing but a big revolution. Design is steadily making inroads into the Micro, Small and Medium-scale Enterprises, all over the country. From Sikkim to Salem, from Mangalore to Morbi, seeds of design has been sown that is reaping rich dividends. Whether it is a better microscope from Ambala, a better chaff cutter from Jasdan, a new wooden tea-infuser from Gangtok and baby warmer from Pune, design is slowly and steadily making inroads into the interiors of the country.


15776811_10157936227505591_2107892186720973461_o

Pic Courtesy : National Institute of Design

It is by far, the most impactful scheme. Industry after industry, designer after designer have been sharing their experiences that makes one realise that the scheme is one of the best examples of a well-deployed government programme.

In the last 7 years of the scheme, some 200 odd projects have been implemented, besides conducting several hundred awareness seminars for a variety of industry clusters. The results are positive and the excitement palpable. It’s heartening to see small industrialists talking about the benefits of design.

And, for once, it was not designers talking to designers on the benefit of design.

Team NID and team MSME have been working in tandem to make the scheme a success. And the fact, that its been given a larger outlay and a bigger allocation shows that the canvas is getting bigger.

As the year comes to a close, it gives a warm, fuzzy, feeling to the design fraternity.

Just Design

An interesting design episode has been reported by the online magazine Scroll here.

Government of India, confronted by a petition in the Madras High Court, has  claimed that the use of the Devnagari numerals on the new note design of Rs 2000 is nothing but a “design” feature.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-8-31-44-pm

Pic Courtesy : Scroll

By this, the government probably means that this is an aesthetic element that bears no functional value. This is a definition of ‘design’ that the Centre has to revisit.

All frivolous forms are not design.

Design is not frivolous.

There’s more to design than just aesthetics.

Kindly note.

 

Design-discordant Notes

The 8th November de-monetisation, has by now affected very individual in India. The day also saw the launch of the new Rs 2000 notes, all pink and new. While the whole issue of de-monetising is being discussed threadbare, I would like to focus on the designerly issues that surround it.

The design of the Rs 2000 note is badly done. From the choice of colours, to the size and use of mis-matching fonts and the decorative elements used make one want to scream. It is really pointless to blame anybody as the note is the most gaudy and amateur work, I’ve seen in the recent past.

Network18, has explicitly put out what’s wrong with the design. The design community has predictably panned the new design.note2k_design_dissection

Pic: Network18creative ( Copyright acknowledged)

But there’s more to design than graphics and aesthetics. Design thinking in handling the issue could have eased the whole process and made the transition smoother, without pain points. The issues are systemic and needed a holistic professional like a designer to deal with it.

By filling Rs 100 notes in each ATM, the government has dramatically brought down available cash. The new Rs 2000 has been designed in a different size requiring the 2 lakh ATMs to be re-calibrated! It is mandatory for cash vehicles to have an armed gunman, who are few in numbers, resulting in fewer vehicles carrying cash to the ATM. The old notes are being exchanged for new higher denomination notes, thereby increasing the need for more small change. This is clearly a case of systemic design failure, something a designer is trained to handle. Designers are trained to do human-centric design and this is one area they could have contributed.

The government, meanwhile is busy inaugurating another new NID at Kurukshetra this week.

15027876_1116250458429591_556147213586474563_nIt would make a lot of sense, if they understand the capabilities of a designer and use the capabilities for better design of products and systems for governance.

Until then, the design community will always strike a discordant note.

National Design Guru Day

It’s something that’s long overdue. We need to recognise and celebrate the first generation of Design Gurus, who kick-started the design education in India. What better day to do this, than M P Ranjan’s birthday? Ranjan was a true believer in the power of design. And he would brag about it to anyone who cared to listen.

f-cover-photo_mpr1

Pic Courtesy : Sudhir Sharma

Some of us got together and decided that it’s time we honour our teachers, without whom we would not have any professional standing. The objective is two-fold: To honour and felicitate the role of Design gurus who taught several generations of design students and acknowledge their role. And to remember Ranjan’s birth anniversary as an event to celebrate design teachers. Ranjan was true to his role: loving and giving. He once told me, ” Never miss an opportunity to either educate or learn”. Powerful words that stuck with me.

Today we celebrate Mahendra Patel, the father of Indian Typography. He is winner of several international awards. He is also loved by students around the world for having shared his love for typography. From Baroda to Basel, Pune to Paris, Mahendrabhai has had an impact on students all over the world, where he has taught or learnt.

event-upload-mcp1

For those in India’s National Capital Region, here is an opportunity to acknowledge his contribution to Indian Design education. We are felicitating him at the Sushant School of Design, Gurgaon, Delhi NCR, India and show our love and respect for the Design Guru. It is time.

Design’s healing touch

Mihir Shah, an entrepreneur based in Philadelphia, was one of the speakers at the recently held Pune Design Festival. He presented to the predominantly design audience a new device for detecting breast cancer early amongst your loved ones. Mihir‘s device called iBreastexam is non-invasive, portable and easy to use in the privacy of one’s home or office and can therefore, help detect early signs of breast cancer. Mihir’s story is not just about entrepreneurial success. It is also about Design’s contribution in the health care sector: The sector that so desperately needs design inputs in India and abroad.

iibreastexam

Designers in India, early on, have contributed to the health care sector. When the first of the corporate hospitals, Apollo Hospitals, set up shop in Madras, senior NID faculty, Dashrath Patel was invited to design it’s interiors. Dashrath chose to do up the walls of the rooms in pleasant colours, instead of white. He also added that each room will have an original painting by an artist. His logic was that the environment should be pleasing enough for a patient to heal. Design can help contribute in faster healing.

An idea, that is confirmed by the Manchester‘s cancer centre that has given it’s architecture a healing touch. Tree-lined exteriors, comfortable seating areas and natural lighting all contribute in making the environment pleasant and is dubbed as a ‘home away from home’ that fosters healing to the patients suffering from cancer. This establishes the fact that design can have a serious role to play in the healing process.

greenhouse-Foster-and-Partners-indiaartndesign

PIc Courtesy : indianartndesign.com

Just like environments, design of medical products need to be designed with the empathy it deserves. When I had a fall in the recent past, I realised that X-ray machines are so badly designed for patients with a hip fracture. Transporting the patients in ambulances that are make-shift trucks is another practice that is hardly noticed. Stretchers don’t fit, transfer of patients are done manually and all equipments are designed for more disasters.

Satish Gokhale, product designer and owner of Design Directions, a studio based in Pune, has several successful products to his credit. He has ventured into medical product design early on and has worked with various organisations that manufacture diagnostic equipments. From ambidextorous ultra-sound machines to instant blood analyser, his firm has brought style and sophistication to products that are used on suffering patients.

1

Pic Courtesy : designdirections.net

Investing on healthcare is a state subject. Governments need to understand that investing in design goes a long way, not only in the healing process but also saves precious funds that would otherwise go into fire-fighting epidemics. One such initiative was recently reported in the Washington Post. Incubis Design, a firm in Delhi run by Amit Krishn Gulati and Sabyasachi Paldas, had along with Tilak Lodh, designed and supervised execution of the prototype clinics that will soon dot the landscape in Delhi. The team has made inroads into the sector that is bound to benefit with this design intervention. It gives shape to an idea that makes sense: socially and financially.

13131095_10153592860735754_2349163661124701763_o

Pic Courtesy: Amit Krishn Gulati

The article in Post also talks about a fantastic new product Swastya Slate, that enables a quick diagnosis of a patient’s well being and makes the para-medical professional to take action. Developed in USA by Kanav Kahol, for developing countries, this product is presently being used in Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi and is the result of systems thinking by designers, technologists and health care professionals.

There’s a surprising lot of work being done by Indians, here and abroad, on developing products and systems for the healthcare sector that will benefit the massive populations. My firm, January Design, also has to it’s credit a systems project of designing hospital trolleys. The project resulted in making all trolleys into modular sections that will help both the manufacturer and the client hospital.

PDTCTrolley_003 PDTCTrolley_004

But, governments are slow to recognise the benefits and worse, do not find it fit, to pay for design. Governments must be convinced of Design’s contribution to the health sector, so as to make them invest in design exercises that will bring succour to the millions.  Patient-care systems, medical products and public healthcare facilities are woefully inadequate and badly designed. There is a malady in successive governments, of spending on fighting epidemics than pro-actively investing in better products and systems and a healthy environment. Design can be the prescription to bring about the much-needed change.

It’s time to wish the government to get well soon.