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?

Advertisements

A Designer and a Gentleman

H Kumar Vyas passed away this morning. A devastating news for the design community in India. He can be truly called the first industrial designer of India. He was also responsible for putting together the first programme in industrial design at NID, Ahmeedabad. Every new programme in Design in India has its roots in the course he put together. Every design student in India owes it to him, for giving the design courses an Indian ethos.

image

As a graduate who is from the early generation at NID, I had the privilege of knowing him personally. But for a short programme, he did not teach me directly at NID. But he knew me well. Well enough to recommend me for a teaching job at a design institute, while he was heading the jury. After the job interview, he called me across and asked me about PRIDE, an institution of design for small industries, I was conceptualising. I offered to show him the institution. He did not have any problem in travelling for 15 kms in an auto in Delhi with me. He saw the place, offered suggestions for improvement and decided to take an auto back on his own. No airs about travelling by an auto. No complaints about the discomfort. Ever encouraging.

Years later, I met him again at NID. He remembered every detail of my project and was keen to see how the project panned out. And in his characteristic candor, talked about the pitfalls of institution building.

I was disheartened to see his failing health, when I visited him on his birthday last year. He was frail but his mind was agile.  He tried to place me, seeing me after so many years. When he finally realized, one could see the spark in his eyes.

Design was his life. His contribution to design education was largely unacknowledged by the powers that be. That did not deter him for working tirelessly for the cause of Design. He was the thorough gentleman : a quality not seen much in the flamboyant world of design.  I personally believed that he deserved the Padmashree for his work. It’s an opportunity missed.

I salute you, Kumar. You were one of a kind. You’ll be sorely missed.

Design engendered

It’s the International Women’s Day and it is time to celebrate womanhood in all its glory. Fortunately for us in Design and especially in India, women constitute 50% of our profession, if not more. The profession sees no gender biases and many women designers are vocal, visible and successful in India.

I am writing to bring to the notice of buyers of design, about bringing gender nuances to products and communication which will make them more gender-neutral.

When we were asked to design a range of craft kits or hobby kits for children, we were asked by the client to make kits for girls. When we enquired why, we were told that crafts are a girls’ domain. To educate our client and therefore the end users, we designed a series of kits that were specifically gender-neutral.

So we did a kit where you learn to make and fly kites. Or make props for play-acting. Or making stuff to celebrate Halloween and Diwali. We had, in the process, educated our client and ensured a new set of happy customers for him.

While working on products for children was easy, working on gender-specific products for women, was not. When a client approached us to design a device for women to stand-and-pee at restrooms and other places, we were completely at sea. We realised that designing for women is not such an easy task. I remember as a student, I was discouraged by my teachers, when I wanted to design a delivery table for women. I was told that it is unfamiliar territory. The same male teacher, however, had developed a ‘pill-dispenser’ for sexually active women, which indicated safe days for coitus.

How often do we see products and spaces developed exclusively for women? By men? In a free-wheeling conversation, a fellow designer mentioned about Taj Hotels’ disastrous attempt to create a ‘Women’s only‘ floor. A nifty idea to begin with. But the spaces were designed with pink walls and flowery bedsheets and stocked with women’s magazines and cookery books. This was clearly a man’s idea of a woman’s space!

Why are women’s razors pink and curvy? Who ordained it this way? A quick image search shows all of girls’ bicycles in pink!

Why should girls’ bicycles be in pink with a flower basket in the front? Why are there more men’s toilets in public spaces? These stereotypes are still going on, mainly because of the fact that men decide for women in most such cases. While there are enough architects and designers who are women, we are yet to see the gender-neutrality getting into our psyche.

It isn’t enough celebrating successful women on every 8th of March. We need to march towards a gender-neutral society. We need to be not just inclusive. We need to focus our energies on designing exclusive products and systems and spaces that are for women and women-friendly. With a lot of empathy. And this has to be done with the sensitivity it deserves, so that design gets engendered. Otherwise, it will definitely, get endangered.

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.

12694994_10207256239819133_8611776142299268095_o

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.

12698420_967677916613783_1055923407809207682_o

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.

12593964_10207372977775965_7341911871207901339_o

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.

surajkund-mela-2016-3

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.

schedule-final

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.

IMG_3782

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

images-2

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

11659425_10153920049279692_5201527207962655070_n

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

Fellows_Profile_0000_Geetha

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.

141030_800x600

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?

 

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.

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 11.06.35 PM

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 9.53.15 PM

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!

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 10.13.05 PM

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.

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 10.22.27 PM

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?

http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/subir-roy-forget-make-in-india-try-design-thinking-115040701259_1.htmlScreen shot 2015-04-08 at 5.12.49 PM