Design for Free

There was this recent news item about an architect, Mr Hafiz Contractor offering to design 19 railway stations for free for the Indian Railways. The minister announced this with much fanfare. The article also mentions their call to architects inviting them to do pro-bono work for them.

This raises so many questions, in so many levels.

Why should Indian Railways, with the kind of money at their disposal, call for pro-bono work from designers?

What does the architect gain by doing design for free? Does it help the profession or destroy it?

Why are professional bodies of architecture and design, silent over such a move?

Is this the only way in which qualified designers can engage with Railways? If not, what should be the methodology?

When there’s a need for better facilities, new graphics, signage or furniture, will there be another call for ‘pro-bono’ designers?

Designers need to come together to discuss this threadbare. The government of India can be the biggest buyer of Indian design talent.

Young designers are often left with no option but to do free design work.

It starts with designing a wedding card for a friend. Then there’s the NGO that does good work and has no money to pay for design. Or a corporate bigwig whose project will look good in your portfolio, even if you do this for free. Then there’s a design competition you so badly want to win. Or a small business that needs to be educated on the benefits of design.

It grows into other areas too. A free lecture at a university. Or a pro-bono jury member. Advisory roles that don’t pay. Fancy titles for free consultation.

It’s time we decide what to do about free design work. It’s high time we get together to free the design profession from this menace.

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What on earth are designers doing?

Today is Earth Day.

It’s a good enough time as any to reflect on the role of Design and designers. Are designers being trained in doing the right thing or are we contributing to the problem, by being blissfully unaware of the problems we are creating?

Almost the world over, designers this week woke up to this new $400 product that does what a human hand can do. See the video.

When a client comes to you to design a product that will end up filling the landfills more than being a useful contraption, will you do it? Does design fee come before the earth? Are we conscious enough to take a call on this?

Like any other profession, design apparently has a dark-side too. Designers are often called upon to design redundant products. Washing machines that use enormous amounts of water, dish-washers that have entire assemblies replaced instead of being repaired, Mobile phones with permanent batteries that seep into the soil when discarded, lifestyle products that are so attractive that make people buy them ,even when you don’t need them, Biscuits and bread packaging that use materials that don’t bio-degrade, Jeans and t-shirts that use precious resources for creating effects to look fashionable, the list goes on.

Well-meaning, intelligent designers are actually contributing to the growing ecological problems and seem to be completely oblivious of the issues.

Two case studies in India, highlights responsible design. Daily Dump is helping people compost kitchen waste using their composting systems. They have leveraged their design skills to improve the system and help the earth a little in the bargain. DLight, a company that manufactures solar-powered lamps that help families who are off the grid.

Pic Courtesy : Dlight

Another heartening news this week was about the Govt of India asking NID for ideas to use up all the discarded notes that were demonetised. That we have people in the government who are using design to come up with recycling ideas, is itself note-worthy.

Designers have a responsibility not to use ‘Eco-friendly’ as a cliché, and must stop indulging in ‘green-washing’.

When a client asks you to design products that use precious resources like water and clean air or electricity, do you resist?

Do you specify materials that are good for the earth?

Is the product repairable easily?

Are you suggesting solutions that can leverage local resources more than importing others at a cost?

Is your product important enough or is it ‘just another one’?

Are you over-packaging your products? Can that be changed?

Can your products effect behavioural changes that will create a better future?

If not, what on earth are you doing as a designer?

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. Ashwini Deshpande heads the best design agency in the country.

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

Many, many women have taken to teaching design and continuing to inspire the students. Nandita Abraham leads one of the biggest and best design institutes of the country. Many toil in remote villages to give artisans the power of design. Devika Krishnan and Meghna Ajit do exemplary work in the crafts sector.

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!

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:

JAYA JETLY,SAMATHA PARTY - EXPRESS/P JAWAHAR

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?

 

Design is the new asset

Design assignments are not outsourced anymore, it seems. Instead companies with strength and muscle in finance, technology or manufacturing are going all hog and buying off design firms. Small, nimble and creative design firms have been acquired in the past by large corporations, as increasingly, Design is being seen as the new asset for business development.

Internationally, this trend has been noticed in the past few years. Google acquired Gecko Design, a mechanical design firm last year. Rumour has it, that Google is getting into new hardware design and therefore decided to buy this firm. When you have a new, break-through product to launch, buy a design firm.

China’s Blue Focus, a predominantly PR firm that is also into communication decided to test waters in US’s Silicon valley by acquiring Fuseproject, a design firm that is famous for creating that iconic One Laptop Per Child project. When you want to enter a new market, buy the best design firm.

Adaptive Path, a UX design firm of the Silicon Valley, was acquired by finance major, Capital One in October, last year. Soon after, the company launched a mobile wallet app, justifying the need for a design firm buy-off. When you are into expanding your market, buy a design firm.

The latest news is that, LUNAR, a UX design firm is being bought off by the consulting company, Mckinsey. The story here seems different. McKinsey, hopes to use Design expertise to solve the problems of their clients. Facebook is known to have bought at least three design firms. Deloitte is investing in Doblin. When you want to solve problems creatively, buy a design firm.

If the global trend is to buy design firms, can Indian companies be left behind?

Wipro, the formidable technology company decided to acquire Designit, a Danish design firm, this month. The logic for this is clear : to add value to their existing work. When you want to add value, buy a design firm.

Design is now the all pervasive, new asset for business. This trend of buying off design firms is not new for India. Tata Motors acquired an Italian design firm, Trilix Srl, five years ago, to enhance their styling and designing capabilities.

Kishore Biyani’s Future group, invested in the merger of two design firms of Bangalore, Tessaract Design and Esign, to form Idiom Design, which grew from 2005 to become the largest design firm in India. This has helped the future group invest and rely heavily on Design thinking. When you believe in design thinking, invest in a design firm.

There are earlier acquisitions of design firms in India as well. Ray+Keshavan was acquired by WPP in the 90s to help them get into India. Apparatus Media Labs, a UX design firm, merged with Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising giant, to help them become a robust digital design organisation. And one has also been reading about Mahindra group keen on acquiring Pinnanfarina, the Italian design firm, to enhance their design capabilities. All the are examples of building capacities or acquiring capabilities. When you want to enhance capabilities, invest in a design firm.

Is this just a fad or is this is a trend to map? Whether it is Facebook or Future group, Design’s contribution in developing a business is becoming more obvious than before. It is becoming the trophy wife, everyone is flaunting. From a peripheral, add-on, Design is fast becoming an asset for organisations of any size or stature.

Suddenly, the adage ” Good design means good business”, takes on a whole new meaning.

What’sappening to Design?

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Look closely at this un-credited picture doing the rounds in social media. The Saree worn by this lady from an obvious semi urban background from India has all the popular internet logos like What’sapp , Facebook. Google and Yahoo.
This is so unique to Indian design done for the masses. The context is in the designer’s mind, quite unmindful of the consumer. The design preempts a trend and finds a new audience. Come to think of it, it’s much like Steve Jobs way of designing products that we did not know we wanted.
I would like to  meet the designer of the Saree and credit the photographer too who saw this unusual trend.
Both may not know that this is so happening!!!