Ministry of Design, Mr Modi?

Dear Prime Minister,

Your landslide victory in the elections and your swearing-in as the new Prime Minister has given the vast majority of Indians, the audacity of hope.

It is now clear to all that you believe in change. If there is one profession that can match up to that belief, it is the profession of Design. We believe in change, too and often question the status quo, just the way you have done.

Having been in Gujarat, home to NID, the oldest and the most prestigious design institute of this country, you are probably aware already, what design can do. Having allocated land in Gandhinagar for NID’s PG campus, you have already done your bit for Design as the Chief Minister of Gujarat.


But, now, as PM, your canvas is larger. The expectations are mounting and so are the problems. I want to draw your attention to do something dramatic, as is expected of you. Please create a new ministry: Ministry of Design.

The Ministry can be the think-tank, you need that will kickstart design thinking for governance. You need design thinking across all the 230 sectors of the economy. Take for instance, primary education. The Pearson report on education says that Technology can provide new pathways into adult education, particularly in the developing world, but is no panacea. There is little evidence that technology alone helps individuals actually develop new skills.” So, I hope you will not fall for the free laptop or cheap tablet phenomenon and focus on training our children, new skills like Leadership, Critical thinking, Problem solving and team-working, which will help them become global citizens.

Introducing ‘Design Thinking’ at school-level prepares them for the world and this has been amply proved by the ‘Design for Change‘, a program that germinated in Ahmedabad and is empowering children world over with creative confidence.

We all are aware of your concerns for Energy, Water, Transport, Health and the Environment. Do you also know that there are projects big and small, done by designers that attempt to solve problems in a systemic way? Whether it is the d*light project of lamps for the common man or the Daily Dump‘s project in home-composting, these are enough to convince you that design needs to get it’s due.


You need to also look at the great Indian resource of hand-made crafts. For decades, designers have been working with artisans,from Kutch to Katlamaran, Srinagar to Chennapatna not only to make beautiful products, but also make them economically independent and socially acceptable. The pride you have for all-things Indian, will come to the fore, I promise.


Does this mean, you need to start more design institutes? Maybe, not, Mr Modi. I hope you have the time to familiarise yourself with the VISION FIRST think-tank that demonstrated the need to embed design across sectors. We need more nimble, small design centres envisioned as part of existing schools, colleges and institutions.

I hope you would empower the India Design Council to take this agenda forward. And make design accessible to all. You may want to make it more outward-looking and create an agenda, beyond superficiality.
The Ministry of Design can be the agent of change that you want to see. And you can count on the design community to join you in this cause.




The many faces of ‘Design Evangelism’ in India

I was invited  this week, by a private university in Gurgaon, to address their Engineering faculty and students on the subject of ‘Design & Innovation’. Another opportunity I quickly utilised, to spread the message of design.


India’s design-aware population is really small. Considering the fact that a few hundred designers graduate and set out into the profession, to cater to a billion-plus population, you get an idea about how difficult it is to make inroads and make a difference by design. Early on in my career, I understood the need for creating design awareness amongst potential industries which I thought can be converted to buy design services. Whenever and wherever, an opportunity presented itself, I utilsed it to educate potential clients.

NID, my alma mater, had taken this role of design evangelism, quite seriously.  The senior faculty were educating people on design inside the campus and outside. I caught the bug, too and has been one of the foot soldiers that contributed to this movement.

This habit has helped me personally and professionally.

It helped me in my role as a design educator. It also helped in creating a huge, design-aware, constituency.

While this constituency is growing, a lot of evangelism is visible and effective in India, today. In new formats as well. A book on design was recently launched in Delhi’s Max Muelller Bhavan, called : DEKHO. It presented work done by a few professional designers in India. What is delightful is that this is a private initiative by a design company, CODESIGN that decided to spread the good word on design. The design firm is quite involved about its role as a design evangelist. Besides the book, they also organise a quaint design event called the UNBOX festival, that is fast gaining international attention. Rajesh & Mohor Dahiya, the designers who run CODESIGN, are graduates of NID and are quite fired up about the cause of design.

529588_10151388081742169_69242332_nPicture Courtesy : CODESIGN

If festivals are the way to promote the cause of design then, the private initiative of Transasia Papers’ Rajesh Kejriwal deserves mention for their annual design festival : Kyoorius Design Yatra. Held every year in picturesque Goa, in India, this festival brings the Indian and international speakers to an eager audience and sells the idea of good graphic design to design firms and design users. It is also hugely popular with the student designers.

Another altruistic effort in showcasing Indian design to a global audience is Ruchita Madhok’s blog : Perch.  Along with Aditya Palsule, they have created a blog that not only feature design events and projects, they also critique Indian design, the way  no one ever does. The blog has managed to catch the attention of the design community, in India and abroad.

But in the forefront of blogging on design is M P Ranjan. A design thinker and a much-respected designer by his peers and students the world over, his blog not only documents design events in India, it is almost always the first stop for a global audience that is keen to understand the Indian design story.  He takes his role of a design educator so seriously, that he does not miss any opportunity to educate. Ranjan’s writings manages to inspire designers of all hues and promotes the message of Indian design to all cocerned.

THis post will not be complete without mentioning Sudhir Sharma. He is one person who has managed to promote the cause of  Indian design, almost single-handedly. Sudhir Sharma is an alumnus of NID who has grabbed every opportunity to promote design in national and international forums. He also set up POOL magazine that celebrates Indian design in all its myriad forms. The magazine is fast becoming the repertoire for Indian design efforts.

POOL28-cover.jpg.pagespeed.ce.M7E3yx29b_These are people I am aware of. There must be many more who do their bit of evangelisation. Speaking to school students, speaking to industry associations, addressing special interest groups and influencing them. There is also an urgent need for more designers to join this movement.

When there is a constituency that is aware about design, the whole society benefits from the merits of good design.

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.

Thinking of a Design Career?

It is that time of the year.

Children having finished school tend to go from pillar to post, trying to get admission into a course they are keen on.

Invariably, they settle for a course that they are found eligible for and kill their passion in the process. It is at these times, I wonder when will our governments wake up to the aspirations of the young adults of today. I am also inundated with calls from parents and their wards about the merits of various design schools in the country.

If you have just completed your school, you are probably one of those, wondering what to do next. While some of your friends are seeking admission into professional design programmes, you are still in a dilemma about exploring something new.

Are you considering a career in Design?  Know what you want.

You have probably nurtured an ambition to design new automobiles. You may wonder who designs those fancy apps on your mobile phone? You imagine your bedroom space to be different and stylish. You are stunned by the fancy dress your cousin bought in the mall. You are impressed with the design of a website you just visited.

If you see yourself in any of the above scenarios, you are probably creative enough to follow your passion and explore getting into a career in design.

There are other pointers in your daily life that tells you that you are ready for a creative career.

You have always been told that you are creative, or you are one of those with ideas for every problem.

You are thorough and detailed.

You pick up a pen to draw an idea to explain.

You enjoy making things or taking things apart.

You have always been told that you are stylish.

Your friends consult you for ideas on their dress sense.

You love colour.

If you are all this, or even some of this, you should explore a serious professional career in design.

If you have not made it to the big institutes, do take time to check out the smaller ones. Some of these are better suited and more contemporary.

If you are passionate about the future, don’t settle. Remember, only dust settles.


Where are the design educators?

In a not-so-recent blogpost, Don Norman writes eloquently about design education. He gives a clarion call for design education to change. He very lucidly writes about why it needs to keep up with the needs of today and design educators must be more adept at cognitive sciences as much as drawing and form studies. If this were true, we need to re-educate our design educators.

That is, if we can find them.

Design education has been suffering from a dearth of faculty, leave alone, good design faculty. That is rather clear from today’s edition of the Times Ascent, the Delhi-based Times supplement that all the big institutes of design is desperately searching for faculty. On the same page of Times Ascent, all the three major institutes of design : National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, National Institute of Fashion Technology and the Maerr’s MIT Institute of Design, Pune have advertised for faculty. ( See ads below):

With all three of them searching, there are now close to two hundred positions vacant in the country for design educators.

Surely, this must be the biggest search for design educators anywhere in the world announced on the same day. Where are the design educators anyways? They need to be smoked out to resurrect design education in India.

This may lead to new circumstances.

People who practise design, may get to teaching it.

People who are in the periphery of design: fine-artists, social scientists, architects and allied professionals may pitch for teaching design in all these institutes.

People who have had a penchant for teaching can now have an opportunity to be wooed.

I sincerely hope that this throws up a whole new generation of design educators who are inspired, informed and are willing to change themselves and design education.

If not, what Don prophesied may come true: the uninformed will end up teaching the uninformed.

That does not augur well with design education. And change in design education, will take a long time to arrive.