What’sappening to Design?


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!!!

Back to the future of Design

I was involved in two totally unconnected events this week : One was judging a 3D student design challenge for Autodesk and the other, I was an invitee to a presentation and panel discussion by Pearl Academy.

Both were, coincidentally on the future of design.

The Autodesk 3D Student Design Challenge , with the tagline: The Future is Now, was a competition on designing a future-ready bicycle for public use. I was invited to judge the North and Eastern regional rounds. Participants were predominantly from prominent engineering colleges.


The concepts scored high on material, fit, strength, manufacturability and modelling. But it ranked low in usability, convenience, sustainability, service design models and safety. All of which are the core strengths of a designer. Engineers focus on thing-to-thing relationships in product development, so much so, that they forget the thing-to-people relationship. What was missing was imaginative ideas that questioned the status quo. This is not a comment on the organiser or the students. It shows how design is taught in engineering colleges in India. Engineers in India need a crash course on empathy. A small workshop in creativity. And work on a project using design thinking. That’s the way to go into the future.

Design needs to be urgently plugged into all programmes in Engineering and Technology courses in the future. The future will be unforgiving if they ignore it.

The second event was Pearl Academy’s presentation on “What’s Next”, was an enjoyable evening where academics and businesses presented and discussed the future of design.


Pic Courtesy: Shivani Thakur

A fine initiative by Pearl Academy, that is poised for growth and expansion in the field of Design education. Four fine presentations by Prof M P Ranjan, Design thinker and academic, Suresh Sethi of Whirlpool, David Hyer of The Gap and Madhav Raman, Urban architect, all stalwarts in their own domains, set the tone for discussion. This was followed by a presentation by the CEO Sharad Mehra’s dream and vision to build the academy and venture it into newer areas in design, including online programmes. What was most interesting is that Pearl is evolving from a commercial, fashion institute catering to the elite to a large academy with new schools, catering to a larger audience with different mindsets, requirements and priorities. Their tectonic shift from showcasing fluff and fashion in fashion shows to publishing and releasing a book of socially-relevant, inclusive, imaginative projects for the marginalized and the disabled is significant. They are realizing and responding to the value Design can bring to society at large and not just big businesses.

Design itself is also evolving from being a mere form-giving activity. It is morphing into service design, strategy design and business design making this a core subject that plugs into all domains.

I believe that the future of design is all pervading. It has to cater to all sectors of the economy. The divisions and specializations are blurring. The world is shrinking and one can no more afford to work in silos. School and professional education has to be enriched with design thinking.

Designers will be expected to take on leadership roles and have to become more disruptive, responsible and inclusive. They should learn to cultivate empathy to cater to the last individual. Sustainability will become the mantra for the future of design. Imagination will become paramount and creativity will be the key to solving world’s problems.

To remain significant in the future, educational institutions will have to focus on creating this talent. Find new ways of delivery. Go online. Make students collaborate. Be geography-agnostic.

Or else, be prepared to become history.

Watch this space

The world was waiting with bated breath to know what Apple is going to unveil, last week. To the cheers of the millions of fans, the Apple Watch was announced, without announcing the launch date.

What was shown was not just pretty, but ingenious.

The watch as a wearable bluetooth phone is neither new, nor revolutionary. Samsung, Sony and whole host of other small guys have launched variations of the watch as a wearable tech product. As a late-mover, Apple did a re-jig of the whole product idea and designed an entire eco-system around it. A Systems design approach that gives the product a must-have quality.

The watch is designed for different users from the young sport to the time and health-concerned business men and wraps them around a system of apps that help you survive in your everyday life.  And, Apple has decided to give customers a choice by giving variations in the design of the straps and bezels, bringing not one but entire array of them. And by introducing Apple pay, the new payment process it has managed to string in different banks, consumers and shopping establishments, into a simple, delightful process, thereby ensuring a loyal customer base for the product.

Apple leverages its design capabilities, once again.

In another major development, quite unrelated, but closer home, a 50-year old public sector company in India, HMT Watches Ltd, that manufactured watches, which proudly called itself, ‘Time keepers to the nation”, closed it’s production this week. The company has fallen into bad times and has refused to innovate in the ever-changing market. It says a lot about the importance public sector industries give to Design and Design thinking.

banner_innerPic Courtesy : hmt.com

Could HMT have pulled off a smart-watch? Unlikely.  Could it have re-created the Swatch magic?  No way. It means you go beyond the realm of the physical product and design an entire eco-system that provided value to the customer and delight to the audience. That comes with investing in Design. Otherwise your business dies a sad death.

When will our public sector companies, see value in design? Only, time will tell.

Can Indian Design lead from the front?

By A Balasubramaniam

When NID’s senior design faculty Vikram Panchal won the international Core77 Design Award for the Best Design for professional equipment this month, it was for a humble load carrier. The product competed with all professional equipments to win the gold in the category. This must be a first for Indian Product design. The award is an important recognition of the fact that Indian design looks into areas that other countries have never considered!
The design was developed a good 20 years ago. Which just goes to prove that we have always had the talent. It is only being recognised now by the world community.

(Pic Courtesy : Core 77 Awards)

The award is also a recognition of areas where design inputs are required and India is clearly showing the way in this for the rest of the world. In a new development, Stanford has said that the future in medical design may be in India. Stanford India Biodesign is a new iniatiative, a three-way collaboration of Stanford-IIT-AIIMS is working towards medical equipment design. The article goes on to recognise the fact the future of US’s medical design may be in India.

In the article, the emergency ‘bone-drill’ was developed and the Indian team was told that…”the device needed to be disposable, have a low part count, be inexpensive, easily assembled, capable of being used by a poorly trained person, and able to be manufactured cheaply in India.”  This sounds like a design brief for any product in India! We are almost always working with such seemingly impossible conditions and such talent is now being put to good use for international design.

GE , a pioneer in the medical design field has successfully managed to leverage this talent by what is called ” reverse innovation” to design low-cost electro-cardiogram machines that costs less than $1000. Another example of Indian design expertise in colloboration with international engineering expertise.

This is just the beginning. Indian design needs to take the lead in projects that have never been considered for design intervention. We need to teach the world the Indian expertise of working with chaos. We need to show that cane and bamboo can be as important a material to be considered as carbon fibre! That cost cutting will benefit GE and the American economy as much as the TATAs and the Indian economy. We need to bring our ability to collaborate with different cultures for the common good of solving the world’s problems. We need to bring forward, our ‘jugaad’ or ability to innovate amongst trying conditions! Indian designers have a lot to contribute, but now is the time to lead.

Indian designers, go forth and lead!