Women in Design

Today is International Women’s Day.

Women have a way of bringing new nuances to whatever they do. It’s the same in Design. Women designers have brought such richness to the profession in India, that they deserve a mention here.

I was attending the much-admired Pune Design Festival, a few days ago and couldn’t help noticing that the number of women presenters were too few in comparison to male presenters. While lamenting the idea, I couldn’t help noticing that of the lot, two presentations that moved the entire audience for a standing ovation, were made by women.

Kiran Bir Sethi’s ‘ Design For Change’ has brought the sticky idea of using the power of design to empower school children. It has been done with such finesse and detailing that is characteristic of women.141030_800x600

Swati Ramanathan’s Janagraha made a presentation on designing of roads and related systems, that was equally mind-blogging. Using systems thinking, she goes about solving Bangalore city’s vexed problems, which no man would dare getting into. In the process, she takes on the municipality, the road-making mafia, the city’s dwellers, the successive governments, only to emerge successful and triumphant.

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The power of women’s thinking is something, we have not leveraged enough in design. In my professional life, I have been influenced by many women and their work. Fortunately for me, my profession has a lot of women, who bring about an influence in my work, that is distinct and different. I want to mention a few, whose work I have admired.

Nilam Iyer, one of my early teachers in Design, who introduced the idea of using product design, to better the quality of life of artisans. She used design as a means to bring change. She also drilled into me, the uncompromising need for precision and quality.

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Rashmi Korjan, who partnered with Grishma Dave to start the first-ever, all-women, design firm has also influenced my professional attitude. She helped me tackle everything with humour, a life skill that is so required to survive in the profession. And when she went after the government with Vision First, I learnt how to be tenacious.

Jaya Jaitley, President of the Dastkari Haat Samiti, with whom I have done several design projects, has also influenced my work. I learnt another life-skill from her: grace. To be graceful in giving people their due.

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Women have a way of influencing you with new ideas and pioneering new concepts. Aditi Ranjan is the true-blue design educator. Neelam Chhiber introduced the idea of social entrepreneurship, through Design. Poonam Bir Kasturi believed in the power of the common man to usher change. Her Daily dump is  good example of Design democracy. Jyoti Thapa influenced the media and business, through graphic design. Kripa Ananthan, got into automobile design to design the toughest cars in the market. Sujata Keshavan Guha, was audacious enough to go global with her work. Akila Seshasayee challenged the status quo, when it came to graphic design.  Suhasini Paul is pioneering the profession of Toy Design. Ragini Brar is a pioneer in educating children through 3D animation.

Maria José Barney, Carol Wills, Jolly Rohatgi, Julie George, all believers of Design, nurture the design projects, although they are not designers themselves.

Many, many women have taken to teaching design and continuing to inspire the students. Many toil in remote villages to give artisans the power of design.

So many to acknowledge, so many to thank for.

Thanks to all the women in my profession. You are all so integral and important to the profession’s advancement. You bring joy!

Season of Love for Design in India

It’s the season of love. While Valentine’s Day, week, or month is celebrated world over, India is on an overdrive to celebrate it’s love for design. It’s visible and in-your -face at least in the Mumbai- Delhi circuit.

Suddenly, you are spoilt for choice.

February saw the launch of yet another edition of Auto Expo that celebrates India’s contribution to the global automobile design and manufacturing, by showcasing all the indigenously manufactured cars, buses, bikes and the like. Concept cars, that show cased the talents of young Indian designers were exhibited for all to see.

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One may want to take a look at emerging design talent, in the exhibition 20 under 35 by Design x Design. This is carefully curated exhibition of designers’ work that show promise and chutzpa, was inaugurated this week. It works as a launch platform for new designers, who are looking to establish their work and puts the much-desired spotlight on new work.

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Designers whose work borders on art are chosen to exhibit and sell at the now popular Kala Ghoda festival in Mumbai, that is currently on this week. Designers and artists have known to use this platform as stepping stone to international fame and fortune.

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Also launched this week in Delhi, is an ambitious India Design ID, that focuses more on the furniture-space-lighting domain. New designers exhibit work along with established ones in the show. A symposium on Design with keynote speakers like Tom Dixon and Suzanne Khan, set the tone for the show this week. An interesting aspect to this, is the open houses at the design entrepreneurs’ shops and studios, where people can get a first-hand feel of how designers work.12710903_1016069261798434_4936616498754768690_o

In a slightly smaller scale, but worthwhile all the same, is Dastkar’s bazaar that helps artisans  get their products designed and marketed at their outlets. Dastkar also helps designers who work with artisans to launch their own brand. It’s a good place to go this week in Delhi and appreciate craft design.12671812_10153946363613979_3594470031411850874_o

Of course, the Surajkund Crafts Mela, in the out-skirts of Delhi is the ultimate medley of crafts, culture and design. This two-week festival which is a Haryana Tourism initiative has been successfully doing this every February for the past 30 years. Visitors can enjoy a day’s trip and return home with souvenirs from India.

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Launching today in an un-precedented scale in Mumbai is the 5-day ” Make in India” event. Design is also being showcased through workshops and exhibitions by ADI, India Design Council, CII, India Design Forum and the like. There is a concerted effort to showcase Design expertise that is both global in outlook and local in context.

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This will hopefully trigger more opportunities for Indian designers and businesses. The month concludes with a two-day get together of Designers from India and abroad at Pune Design Festival. Organised by the Association of Designers of India, the PDF is on its tenth edition and has grown from strength to strength. This year’s focus is on the exponential power of design thinking. The conference promised to be cerebral and inspiring.

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February cannot get any more exciting. If you love Design, like I do, make sure that you are a part of this celebration. Visit, participate, buy, write, review all things design. “Love is all you need”.

Padma awards for Design

Today’s list of Padma awards are out and there is no designer, still, in the list. I blogged about this, last year as well. The government finds it fit to recognise Ajay Devgn’s work as worthy of an award but not any of the design stalwarts, who used design to bring about long-lasting changes in society and the profession. To provoke a discussion on the subject, I present here, my list of Padma awards, deserving for design. This is of course, only the beginning. There may many more that I may have missed.

H Kumar Vyas, Design Educator, Ahmedabad kumarvyasH Kumar Vyas deserves a Padma award for pioneering Design education in this country and giving a distinct Indian touch to the curriculum that was launched at NID, when the design programmes began. He continues to influence and contribute to design education, through his books and research.

M P Ranjan : Design thinker, Ahmedabad

imagesRanjan’s contribution to spearheading the cause of design is well-known. He deserved this even, when he was alive, as he had the audacity to project Design thinking as a tool for solving all the country’s problems. A believer of the power of Design, he truly deserved to be recognised for his contribution.

Poonam Bir Kasturi, Daily Dump, Bangalore:

NH-dailydump_ART_GA_148659ePoonam deserves to be in this list, for making Swachch Bharat, her mission, even before the PM did. And chose to use Design thinking to develop an entire eco-system for waste management. She is a firm believer in the power of design to effect change.

David Abraham & Rakesh Thakore: Fashion Designers

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Long before NIFT was even conceived and even before fashion design became a household name, David & Rakesh, early graduates of NID, set up their studio to do path-breaking work in bringing Design to the people. They set up Abraham & Thakore and the label grew up to become the epitome of international fashion with Indian sensibilities.

Surya Vanka: UX Leader, Microsoft, Seattle

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Academically brilliant and suave, Surya deserves to be in this list for the fact that he rose in the ranks of Microsoft, to become the head of User experience, in Seattle. UX may now seem like  fashionable term, but Surya had pioneered in this much before anyone else, from India.

Geetha Narayanan: Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore

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Geetha’s vision to create an alternative school of thought in design education is legendary. She broke out of the NID mould of design education, yet retaining the essence of a fresh and bold new pedagogy. She has been singularly responsible for bringing a fresh load of talent to the design pool.

Kiran Bir Sethi: Design for Change, Ahmedabad, India.

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Kiran’s Design for Change is a much-written about process of empowering school children to solve their own problems. That this idea, panned out to different schools all over the world is also well-known. That she believes in the power of Design and leveraged it with school-children, make her a candidate for the award, too.

Jaya Jaitly, Dastkari Haat Samiti, New Delhi:

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Jaya Jaitly should be credited with believing in the power of design to restore and rejuvenate Indian handicrafts. Whether it is introducing typography to artisans, or teaching them colour schemes and encouraging artisans to use design to further their crafts, Jaya managed to leverage design for Craft design.

There are obviously, many more who deserve the awards. It’s high time the government woke up to recognising designer’s contribution. Next January, perhaps?

 

The Design Experience

If you want to see true celebration of Design and experience it first hand, then you must come to NID, Ahmedabad on the convocation day.

I am posting this just hours before the actual event is scheduled to begin. There is a palpable excitement. Two students working on a tribute to Adrian Fruitiger, by projecting typography images in water. A large panel of car renderings are being fitted into a panel. Cubes made of newspapers are made to hang from the ceiling as a backdrop. An exercise in form is being displayed that’s been worked with thread and wire. Women in rows cleaning up the floors with aseptic concern. A group picture of the graduating batch of 304 students is getting mounted carefully.

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Fine examples of good design : creative, attractive, attention to detail, caring for quality, you will find this and lot more, of you were here at NID, now.

NID gets it’s due

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All of us in the NID community woke up to this news yesterday in India. One of the highest ever starting salary package was offered to an NID graduate Lalit Sawle, from the Retail Design faculty.

Several things have changed since the un-named graduate in 2012 won a package of 38 lakhs in the placement, setting a record. ( See my earlier blog post here: http://wp.me/p1FfR3-2y ).

For one, today’s placement is an offer from an Indian company ‘Trident’, as opposed to the Japanese company ‘ Toshiba’.

This is not an isolated incident. Several others have also commanded very high salaries, above 22 lakhs and several of them, commanding even 48 lakhs as CTC.

NID is still regarded as the ultimate source for quality design graduates, not withstanding several new institutions offering design programmes. This also reinforces the idea that NID is able to produce good graduates, despite issues and pressures from government and within.

Faculty crunch, resource crunch, pressure to add more students, pressure to add more branches are only some of the issues that NID is busy battling. NID courses still have to stay relevant. The industry requirements and salaries cannot become the new pressure points to perform.

And as has always been the case, the small inventor, the marginal student, the entrepreneurial and the socially relevant graduate should be celebrated as much as the high-salary commanding ones.

This is what will continue to differentiate NID from the rest.

Course Correction

Design education is booming in India. Some may even call it mushrooming. Private universities now have a mandatory design vertical, teaching Textiles, Fashion or Graphics. Small, boutique institutes are dotting the landscape, teaching Fashion or Interior Design. New NIDs are being set up in remote locations like Kurukshetra and Jorhat, besides Vijayawada and Bhopal. Every state now has a mandate to open a State Institute of Design, the first one having come up in Rohtak, Haryana and the second in Kollam, Kerala. New design institutions are being set up in collaboration with foreign ones, even while old ones are busy re-inventing themselves.

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Pic: Kerala State Institute of Design, Kollam

Design courses do not come under the ambit of the AICTE norms that govern higher education in this country. NID, the first and the foremost design institute does not come under the education department of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, but is governed by the small Department of Public Policy, (DIPP) under the Ministry of Industry. It has also been given a status of ‘Institute of National Importance’ that enables it to be independent and autonomous. Therefore, most new design colleges do not come under the HRD ministry’s purview.

Design education, in this country, is fragmented. And there’s a lot of chaos. There is an acute shortage of design faculty.  Most institutes, make do with visiting faculty. There is no mechanism in place to evaluate the contents of any programme. So, a Communication design programme in NID can be way different from a similar programme in Srishti. The contents of a PG programme in Product Design, even amongst established institutes like NID, IIT and IDC can vary dramatically. Tall claims by private universities can be neither vetted nor questioned. Contents of a course, in most places are drawn from other programmes. Facilities like workshops required for a robust programme in design are either absent or shared. Assignments are plagiarised or carried on from one institute to another. Most faculty are trained to teach design with a western context. Almost no one has re-interpreted the courses for an Indian scenario. Fees and durations, vary, too. You can do an Interior Design degree in One, three, four or five years! Course evaluation is iffy and unregulated.

Meanwhile, programmes are being taught and graduates are coming out of these institutions with little or no idea of what the profession expects of them. In the absence of transparency, students look at tell-tale signs to evaluate institutions. Speak to the graduates, see where they are employed, visit the campus, look at the faculty list, question credibility, Design aspirants are looking at various ways to arrive at their own methods of standardisation.

There is a crying need to regulate these. The India Design Council has the mandate to do this, but precious little has been done to keep fly-by-night institutions in check. Certainly, there is a need to set up minimum standards? How many of us know what standards are being maintained? What is the vision of these different institutes that dot the map? Who are the faculty? Where do they see the graduates employed? Where do they want to go in, say, five years? How do they maintain quality?

Employers need to understand where institutions stand. Graduates need to know what to expect. Faculty should be of a desired calibre. Parents must understand where they are sending their wards. A robust system of checks and balances need to be in place. Before it goes the engineering education way, something needs to be done.

India Design Council has to step up and fill the gap. Institutions should be graded and universities should be evaluated. New institutes should meet minimum requirements, before announcing a new programme. Quality should be the key. Vision first, should be the mantra.

Design education needs a desperate course correction.

Onus is on us.

The passing away of our beloved guru, MP Ranjan and the subsequent outpour of grief and memories by the entire design fraternity across the country in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Dehradun, Hyderabad and Pune, has shaken us all from our stupor. For far too long we have been stuck in our circles, doing our bread-and -butter stuff and were happy to cheer Ranjan doing all those things for the profession at large.


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Photo Credit: Krity Gera

Now that he is gone, the onus is on us, the design community, to take his quest forward.

Ranjan’s legacy needs to be perpetuated and it can be done in a variety of ways. Here’s a rough-cut of several ideas that have been discussed by many of the peers and any or all of these need to be done:

Shoot, Present, Repeat: Documentation of all the good work done in the past, should be documented and shared. This will lead to not just a compilation, but can also be the beginning of Ranjan’s dream book on “Alternate History of Design in India”

Connect with the Peers: We need several formats of connecting for design. Pehcha-Kucha of presentations, Youtube videos, TEDx talks on transformative work done. Or have meetings under a tree.

Publish, or Perish: We need to publish: blogs, articles, columns, magazines, wherever possible. On Design. We don’t have Ranjan anymore to do this for us.

Educate or Learn : Ranjan was always ready to teach or learn. How about imbibing this? Can we all decide to give back to Design by allocating some time to teach?

Celebrate: Can we institute an award in his name? For the best design teacher? Or for design evangelism? Or for anything else that he stood for? Can we have a ‘Ranjan Festival?’

Showing Compassion: Ranjan was the one of the most compassionate designers I have met. Always giving. A scholarship in his name and memory will help perpetuate it.

These are some of the rough ideas. Let’s not wait to perfect these ideas. Let’s begin.

The onus is on us.