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.

Nilam Iyer

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.

Jaya and me

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!

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.

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

Leading from the front and how!

The INDEX Awards (http://www.indexaward.dk/)  is no ordinary design award. It is a recognition for using design for improving lives. While it re-iterates the huge potential of design for improving lives of people, the awards do put the spotlight on thought leaders who could leverage this potential and make them actionable. In a world full of form-giving designers these award winners stand apart in using design for its primary purpose of ‘improving lives’.

In that context, India’s KIran BIr Sethi and Pranay Desai win this year for their ‘ Design for Change’ is truly a proud moment for Indian design.  My last post was about designers from India leading from the front. This award is proof of this potential. KIran Bir Sethi has taken the lead and ‘infecting the bug’ into every child, the potential to feel for a problem and taking charge to find solutions for it. The contest runs for a few days but it empowers every child to solve their own problems and prepares them for facing the challenges of the world.

Kiran Bir Sethi, a designer by qualification, has been recognised for what she calls as ‘common sense’ in leveraging the creativity and potential of school students into a game-changing movement all over the globe. She easily manages to make each child a protagonist, who take charge of situations and solve problems. Kiran has managed to leverage ‘desisgn thinking’ to hep solve everyday problems. And has managed to inspire the future generations of the world.

Her TED talk on the subject continues to be inspiring. It shows her journey ffrom 2007 when she took a small idea and ran with it. She proves that design thinkers from India can lead from the front using the ‘common sense’ approach.

Lead on Kiran BIr Sethi!  And hearty congratulations!