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.

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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.