Who needs Design coaching?

It all started with coaching for getting into the engineering programmes at IIT. Considering that a few thousands are chosen from an application pool of few hundreds of thousands of students, coaching centres started cropping up in every city’s street corners, ostensibly to coach these aspirants to get into IITs. Now, medical colleges, law colleges, architecture colleges as well as design institutes have their own entrance exams for aspirants, therefore necessitating the arrival of centres ‘coaching’ students to crack these exams and get into sought-after colleges of repute.

828754-surat-fire-takshashila-commercial-complex-pti-052719In this connection a tragic and heart-breaking story was reported from Surat in India, this week. A coaching class on the fourth floor of a building, caught fire killing more than 20 innocent students, who were being coached for a career in Design.

Several things are so wrong in this story that merits attention by the Design community. We have scant preparedness for fighting fires in commercial buildings. Fire extinguishers are not easily available and /or noticeable by users. Fire escapes are not designed and made for Indian buildings. Signages for exiting during a fire are not easily spotted. Fire clearance for buildings are sought and given without a thought and for a bribe. We have tall buildings but most fire-fighting equipments are not tall enough to reach these heights. Designers design materials and ads on inflammable materials like ‘flex’, that add to the fire. And in this particular case, designers would have been involved in coaching students, paying no heed to all the above.

There is another important thing. Why do we need ‘coaching centres’ for Design?

In Design, entrance exams are conducted to choose the original thinker, the uniquely talented, the quirky creative and the rare gem. How does anyone ‘coach’ somebody for that? If anything, ‘coaching centres’ fit everyone into templates, that defeats the whole purpose of a unique character.

And yet, these coaching centres are mushrooming in illegal basements and fourth floors of commercial building, ostensibly to train students to get into prestigious design institutes.  As far as I can see, the major purpose of these centres are to create and distribute the database of design aspirants. They become focussed target for private design institutes to peddle their programmes. The centres are only successful in building the database. The good ones make it on their own mettle and the mediocre ones are peddled off to mediocre institutes as a part of the database.

Designers who teach at such centres and design institutes who encourage this should do some soul searching.

Otherwise, there’ll be no one to stop the fire.

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.

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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.

Design makes a big impact in small industries

I am just back from the National Workshop on the Design Clinic Scheme that was co-hosted by the Ministry of MSME and NID Ahmedabad. The meet was an eye-opener.

This is nothing but a big revolution. Design is steadily making inroads into the Micro, Small and Medium-scale Enterprises, all over the country. From Sikkim to Salem, from Mangalore to Morbi, seeds of design has been sown that is reaping rich dividends. Whether it is a better microscope from Ambala, a better chaff cutter from Jasdan, a new wooden tea-infuser from Gangtok and baby warmer from Pune, design is slowly and steadily making inroads into the interiors of the country.


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Pic Courtesy : National Institute of Design

It is by far, the most impactful scheme. Industry after industry, designer after designer have been sharing their experiences that makes one realise that the scheme is one of the best examples of a well-deployed government programme.

In the last 7 years of the scheme, some 200 odd projects have been implemented, besides conducting several hundred awareness seminars for a variety of industry clusters. The results are positive and the excitement palpable. It’s heartening to see small industrialists talking about the benefits of design.

And, for once, it was not designers talking to designers on the benefit of design.

Team NID and team MSME have been working in tandem to make the scheme a success. And the fact, that its been given a larger outlay and a bigger allocation shows that the canvas is getting bigger.

As the year comes to a close, it gives a warm, fuzzy, feeling to the design fraternity.

Just Design

An interesting design episode has been reported by the online magazine Scroll here.

Government of India, confronted by a petition in the Madras High Court, has  claimed that the use of the Devnagari numerals on the new note design of Rs 2000 is nothing but a “design” feature.

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Pic Courtesy : Scroll

By this, the government probably means that this is an aesthetic element that bears no functional value. This is a definition of ‘design’ that the Centre has to revisit.

All frivolous forms are not design.

Design is not frivolous.

There’s more to design than just aesthetics.

Kindly note.

 

Design-discordant Notes

The 8th November de-monetisation, has by now affected very individual in India. The day also saw the launch of the new Rs 2000 notes, all pink and new. While the whole issue of de-monetising is being discussed threadbare, I would like to focus on the designerly issues that surround it.

The design of the Rs 2000 note is badly done. From the choice of colours, to the size and use of mis-matching fonts and the decorative elements used make one want to scream. It is really pointless to blame anybody as the note is the most gaudy and amateur work, I’ve seen in the recent past.

Network18, has explicitly put out what’s wrong with the design. The design community has predictably panned the new design.note2k_design_dissection

Pic: Network18creative ( Copyright acknowledged)

But there’s more to design than graphics and aesthetics. Design thinking in handling the issue could have eased the whole process and made the transition smoother, without pain points. The issues are systemic and needed a holistic professional like a designer to deal with it.

By filling Rs 100 notes in each ATM, the government has dramatically brought down available cash. The new Rs 2000 has been designed in a different size requiring the 2 lakh ATMs to be re-calibrated! It is mandatory for cash vehicles to have an armed gunman, who are few in numbers, resulting in fewer vehicles carrying cash to the ATM. The old notes are being exchanged for new higher denomination notes, thereby increasing the need for more small change. This is clearly a case of systemic design failure, something a designer is trained to handle. Designers are trained to do human-centric design and this is one area they could have contributed.

The government, meanwhile is busy inaugurating another new NID at Kurukshetra this week.

15027876_1116250458429591_556147213586474563_nIt would make a lot of sense, if they understand the capabilities of a designer and use the capabilities for better design of products and systems for governance.

Until then, the design community will always strike a discordant note.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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.

India’s Design Guru

MP Ranjan, the iconic design teacher, blogger, and a true-blue, friend, philosopher and guide, passed away this morning. What a huge loss for the Design community. He was the ultimate patron and believer in the power of design.

Personally, he introduced me to precision drawing, wearing bright red shirts, reading on design, respecting the individual, educating on design and blogging on design.
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Pic Courtesy: DFC India

Every conversation, one had with him, left you inspired and richer with knowledge. He believed in communication. During a conversation at NID, he told me, ” You write, well. You should keep at it.” I owe my design writing to him.

When he knew I had an exhibition at the India Habitat Centre, in 2002, of my work done in Nagaland, he made it a point to come and see it. He was not one to wait for personal invitations. He shot copious pictures of the show, in his newly acquired digital camera. While he was doing so, he lamented the lack of design sensibilities of the CII people organising a design seminar that year. Just then, a lady from the office of CII came over to see my exhibition. Ranjan saw an opportunity to accost her with the bad design of the design summit brochure and explain to her that this was not acceptable. The lady left in haste. I turned around and asked him, why he had to bother someone so obviously junior. He said, ” Never lose an opportunity to either learn or educate.” The thought stuck with me and I practise it till today.

Once, in 2000, I was working on a bamboo project and decided to buy copy of his famous book for myself. I was surprised to meet him as I came out of the shop, holding the book. I immediately stuck the book in his hand and said, ” Ranjan, Please sign this for me!” It was his turn to get surprised. Smiling away, he wrote: “For Bala, With warm wishes and I hope to see YOUR book soon!” I am yet to write that book, but I know that he saw potential in me, fifteen years ago!

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His networking abilities was always fascinating. He was the ‘ Connector”. I met a lot of young and inspiring design people through him. He would make it a point to connect people of similar interests. I learnt this from him.

His ability to be at ease with rudimentary bamboo technology as well as intricate information technology, always fascinated me. He managed to connect the dots with aplomb. He was comfortable straddling crafts and tech projects with amazing grace. I was influenced by this in my work.

He had a great respect for individuals. He had a lot of friends of all ages and enjoyed his time with each and everyone. He would credit everyone, however, big and small, with the contributions done and would go into great lengths to give the devil it’s due.

He was the biggest critic, I know. Never one to mince words, he would call a spade a spade and wouldn’t hesitate to be unpopular for the same. My impatience with bad design and my inability to suffer fools, found a resonance in this.

Finally, he was a big follower of this blog. He would write crisp comments, make Facebook recommendations and invite everyone in his contact list to read this blog. I owe him a lot for this.

And I am pained to see that this post will not be read by him.

Farewell, Ranjan. You may be gone, but you will continue to inspire.