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.

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Design in the Boardroom

 

It was a sign of the times.

It was an event on Design, hosted by the hugely popular business newspaper Economic Times in India.

In that just concluded ET Design Summit 2015, in Mumbai, Mr Navroze Godrej, was quoted as saying ‘ Design should be elevated to the Boardroom level, if business is to make design really work at senior level.’ Noble thought that. Navroze is singularly qualified to say this. He is the new generation Godrej in the Board of Godrej & Boyce, who is also a qualified industrial designer from IIT Institute of Design, Chicago. He is also credited with introducing disruptive innovation in the company by setting up an Innovation centre at Godrej.

As a fellow designer, I am happy that he is using his position of power to create Design awareness. Navroze is in the board, because he is a Godrej and an heir apparent to the group of companies. He can also be the poster boy for the Boardroom designer, a new spin-off to the design professional in India.

Another designer who is using her design skills to design strategy instead of stuff is Ashni Biyani, director in the Future Group board, that is led by her famous father, Kishore Biyani.

Ashni has even better credentials. After she graduated in Textiles Design from Srishti School of Art & Design, Bangalore, she did design courses in Parsons and then a management qualification from Stanford, only to come back and join the Future group, the big dad of retailing in India. She is being credited with single-handedly bringing design-led thinking to the group that owns brands like Big Bazaar, Nilgiris and Central.  Ashni is known to influence the entire group into Design thinking and helps strategising the business.

Suddenly, Design is being looked upon as the Holy Grail that will bring succour to the businesses in India. Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys and an ex-SAP man, seems to have ordained all the 5000-plus staff in Infosys to go through a programme on Design Thinking. That  his ex-company SAP’s Hasso Plattner also supports the d* school in Stanford, shows where Mr Sikka’s influence comes from. He claims that, “..design thinking, a creative and systematic approach to problem-solving by placing the user at the centre of the experience, has helped the business win five large deals.” Sikka should be made the patron saint of design thinking.

In what can be termed as an industry-first, he has roped in design professionals to help his sales team to write and design sales pitches.

IMG_20150602_114207405This augurs very well for the Design profession. Designers can now find new avenues in businesses, because of their singularly important skill on design thinking.

Godrej and Biyani have found their way into the board room, more because they have the chosen surnames and not because that they are designers. But, seemingly, they are leveraging their position of power to spread the cause of Design thinking. When they move on to higher positions, they would be keen to use professional designers, who may not be family.

Long time ago, in 2011, Time magazine had waxed eloquent about the Indian CEO. I had written a post on this, pitching for Designers as CEOs, which was received very well.

I quote:

“What I find interesting is the attributes that Indians have that is apparently tailor-made for operating in the chaotic world today: Multi culturalism, ability to work under complex constraints, working with meagre or depleting resources and speaking the global business language : English.

With all these qualities and the ability to come up with beautiful attractive, cost-effective solutions, applying design thinking, makes the Indian designer ready and primed for the post of the global CEO.”

I am happy to see that a beginning has been made. Designers entering the board room, will definitely make an impact in businesses and the sooner the businesses learn that, the better.

Designers are going to give their MBA counter-parts in businesses something to think about.

 

 

 

 

 

And the award goes to..

Last week ended with a design-award ceremony. Not for designers or designed products. There was a ranking of institutions teaching design in India, and the representatives were awarded and felicitated by MediaDesignEdu.com.

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The people behind the awards and the jury that selected them are not known. The site itself is a website that clearly promotes private design institutions.

This is not to mock the awards. Any serious attempt to give a ranking to institutions should be welcomed, in the interests of students aspiring to get there. But if the criteria is not clear and 9 institutes, all big names, (of which seven are in the private sector), share five of the top awards, it seems like an amateur attempt at ranking.

Even by its own admission, the website had 84 award categories, which were won and shared by 50 institutes. Some institutes won multiple awards, since there are only limited number of schools teaching design.

Even a cursory scrutiny will reveal unexplained anomalies. While Pearl Academy, Delhi gets the national ranking of 2 and NIFT, Delhi is in 4th position, their ranks change in the Northern region awards. NIFT Delhi gets 1st position and Pearl is pushed to the 2nd position!

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The omissions of some popular and reknown institutes are glaring. IDC at IIT Bombay and IIT-Delhi’s  and SPA’s Industrial Design Programme are not present in any category . IICD, Jaipur, a reputed craft design institute, IIT Guwahati, IIT Kanpur are also notable omissions.

Some awards are questionable.NID’s robust Product design programme is apparently not worth considering over DSK and other private colleges.

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There is no doubt, there is a need for such a ranking but the methodology should be made public and the criteria announced in advance. The evaluating jury should be announced, too.

This was one of the jobs of the India Design Council and I am not sure why it is dragging it’s feet to do an evaluation and ranking.

This is the admission season, when I get calls from harassed parents and aspirants about how to choose one school over another. Is Srishti good for Product design? Is DSK worth the expenses? Is MIT better than Symbiosis? A transparent ranking is sure to help. It puts them in their place.

In the absence of that, here is a check-list of criteria to consider, before you choose:

  • How reputed is the institute?
  • How successful are their alumni?
  • Does the institute have respect within the design community?
  • Are their programmes current and relevant?
  • Do they have good faculty?
  • Do they have faculty?
  • What facilities are present and how updated are these?
  • How well-connected are they with the industry and other organisations?
  • Are fancy buildings and labs tom-tommed, instead of decent faculty and programmes?
  • Do they have a placement programme?

Do your home work.

Ask, ascertain, inquire, request, search, research, seek out, google, do everything in your capacity to find out.

This way, you may or may not win any awards, but you will certainly be rewarded with an excellent career in design.

Design Thinking gets a new evangelist

The Business Standard’s columnist, Subir Roy, today wrote an incisive column, asking the business folks and the PM to ‘ forget – Make in India and try Design Thinking’. Will the PM and the business tycoons listen to the newest design evangelist, please?

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Back to the future of Design

I was involved in two totally unconnected events this week : One was judging a 3D student design challenge for Autodesk and the other, I was an invitee to a presentation and panel discussion by Pearl Academy.

Both were, coincidentally on the future of design.

The Autodesk 3D Student Design Challenge , with the tagline: The Future is Now, was a competition on designing a future-ready bicycle for public use. I was invited to judge the North and Eastern regional rounds. Participants were predominantly from prominent engineering colleges.

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The concepts scored high on material, fit, strength, manufacturability and modelling. But it ranked low in usability, convenience, sustainability, service design models and safety. All of which are the core strengths of a designer. Engineers focus on thing-to-thing relationships in product development, so much so, that they forget the thing-to-people relationship. What was missing was imaginative ideas that questioned the status quo. This is not a comment on the organiser or the students. It shows how design is taught in engineering colleges in India. Engineers in India need a crash course on empathy. A small workshop in creativity. And work on a project using design thinking. That’s the way to go into the future.

Design needs to be urgently plugged into all programmes in Engineering and Technology courses in the future. The future will be unforgiving if they ignore it.

The second event was Pearl Academy’s presentation on “What’s Next”, was an enjoyable evening where academics and businesses presented and discussed the future of design.

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Pic Courtesy: Shivani Thakur

A fine initiative by Pearl Academy, that is poised for growth and expansion in the field of Design education. Four fine presentations by Prof M P Ranjan, Design thinker and academic, Suresh Sethi of Whirlpool, David Hyer of The Gap and Madhav Raman, Urban architect, all stalwarts in their own domains, set the tone for discussion. This was followed by a presentation by the CEO Sharad Mehra’s dream and vision to build the academy and venture it into newer areas in design, including online programmes. What was most interesting is that Pearl is evolving from a commercial, fashion institute catering to the elite to a large academy with new schools, catering to a larger audience with different mindsets, requirements and priorities. Their tectonic shift from showcasing fluff and fashion in fashion shows to publishing and releasing a book of socially-relevant, inclusive, imaginative projects for the marginalized and the disabled is significant. They are realizing and responding to the value Design can bring to society at large and not just big businesses.

Design itself is also evolving from being a mere form-giving activity. It is morphing into service design, strategy design and business design making this a core subject that plugs into all domains.

I believe that the future of design is all pervading. It has to cater to all sectors of the economy. The divisions and specializations are blurring. The world is shrinking and one can no more afford to work in silos. School and professional education has to be enriched with design thinking.

Designers will be expected to take on leadership roles and have to become more disruptive, responsible and inclusive. They should learn to cultivate empathy to cater to the last individual. Sustainability will become the mantra for the future of design. Imagination will become paramount and creativity will be the key to solving world’s problems.

To remain significant in the future, educational institutions will have to focus on creating this talent. Find new ways of delivery. Go online. Make students collaborate. Be geography-agnostic.

Or else, be prepared to become history.

Design thinking goes to schools

Design for Change has been making a great impact on children, the world over, thanks to a simple, sticky idea by Kiran Bir Sethi , Director of the charming Riverside School, located in Ahmedabad, India. An idea that enables children from all walks of like to use design thinking to solve the immediate problems around them.

The idea is so simple, you wonder why no one thought of this before. As a jury member, invited to evaluate and select the best stories, I was both amazed and elated.

Children are introduced to a simplisitic, design thinking approach, called FIDS ( Feel, Imagine, Do and Share), where they feel for a problem that affects them, imagine an alternative, preferred scenario, work on the change and share their stories of success. It’s the simplicity of the process that appeals to schools, both private and public, rural and urban, rich and poor, alike. Children take on issues big and small that affect them from Bullying to Cleanliness, Growing trees to banning plastics, transforming classrooms to transforming attitudes and feel empowered to bring about change using the ‘ I Can’ spirit.

There is no better example for the power of Design thinking than this.

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Infographic Courtesy: http://dfcworld.com

The d*school or the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, introduced the concept to the K-12 schools in USA with exciting results. “Teachers and students engage in hands-on design challenges that focus on developing empathy, promoting a bias toward action, encouraging ideation, developing metacognitive awareness and fostering active problem solving.”

While that was a guided, supervised process, Kiran’s DFC is self-starting and viral. Which is all the better. Her TED talk has been so widely received that it is impacting children globally.

Recently the Pearson report called  ‘The Learning Curve’, emphasises, the need for 21st century skills for our children, that include: Leadership, Digital Literacy, Emotional Intelligence, Communication, Team working, Problem solving and Entrepreneurship. Amazingly, children who go through design thinking are impacted with the exact same skills.

Others have been catching up to the impact this has. NoTosh, a Edinburgh based organisation, that works with governments and schools has found success in introducing Design Thinking at schools, with the ultimate aim of improving the overall learning process in schools.

The DFC team is all set on the path to making an entire new generation of children with the creative confidence to survive in the new world order. And, happily, Design is helping them reach there.

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Road Safety by Design

The passing away of the Union Minister Mr Gopinath Munde on Delhi roads, this morning is the big news today on social media and will probably occupy the mind-space and the media-space for the next few days. While condoling the tragic end, I could not help noticing that even VIPs, including Union ministers are not safe on Indian roads.

India has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst countries for road safety. According to one report, in 2010, India had the highest number of road accidents in the world. Even if the situation has improved marginally, it is not good enough till we have no accidents. As per a WHO report, quoted in the MINT, “India accounts for about 10% of road crash fatalities worldwide. In terms of absolute numbers more people die in road crashes in India than anywhere else in the world.”

All of us have known someone in our circle going through a road accident.

Can this madness be stopped?

As a designer, I believe this is the wickedest problem to solve.

We need to redesign our vehicles, making them safer. Indian-made cars have ash-trays even in basic models and air-bags are optional.  We need better control of traffic. We need to have good quality roads. Above all, we need more communicative signs and posters to communicate to every driver on the road the perils of reckless driving, like this one seen on the hilly terrains of Garhwal.

Pic Courtesy: http://www.40kmph.com

Google has looked at the problem in the systemic way, it is so known for and has built a driver-less car and has tested it on the roads. If implemented, this could lead to safer roads, although some critics have reacted to the associated privacy issues. Look at this way. At least you will be alive to complain!

Designers have also worked on better bike helmets, tackling a menace head-on! Jeff Woolf has just won the 2014 Invention award for a bike helmet that ‘folds to the size of a text-book’, so that it’s easy to carry .

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Pic of Morpher by Ralph Smith

Closer home, National Innovation Foundation has documented and awarded good ideas for road-safety proposed by school children, but has not progressed beyond the ideation stage.

But the situation is urgent. Designers need to rise to the challenge and put their heads together for tackling this problem.

We need this to save precious lives.