Design and Rights

The Design community in India is agog on social media since yesterday. Christian Dior, no less, has been accused of copying a surface print design, designed and executed by People Tree, a design studio based in Delhi. An outraged Orijit Sen, on his Facebook post, shows enough proof that the design has been developed by their studio, years ago in conjunction with artisans and block makers. The outfit that Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor sports on the cover of the Indian version of ELLE, has the allegedly plagiarised print in the same colour and form.

PIC Courtesy : Orijit Sen’s Timeline on FACEBOOK

Christian Dior has not yet reacted to the allegation, although the media has been quick to judge. To prove originality of concept by a small studio against a large corporation, is tedious. Then, there is the question of Design registration. The studio, may not have registered it, although they have proof of selling the print for decades. And the legal process is long and winding.

Design studios, in a country like India, find the going tough and is not geared up to fight court battles against large corporations. The fight is not just about the rights. It is also about ethics.

Design businesses are hit, both ways. It is difficult enough to convince clients who think Copyright is a ‘right to copy’. Small businesses still find it easier to pick up stuff from catalogues and make them with impunity.

PIC Courtesy : Amazon India

A quick look at the Amazon India site  today showed several small manufacturers of sports shoes using the famous ‘Swoosh’ and are blatantly selling them online.

It becomes a designer’s moral duty to educate small and big businesses to appreciate original design. While’ Design rights’ will give protection, the brazen manner by which originality is disregarded is enough cause of worry.

This is what needs to be addressed by the design community: build a constituency for good and original design. Whether it is a small shoe manufacturer or a large design brand, the immoral act of copying should be condoned at all levels. We need to build awareness about the perils of copying. That, it is both illegal and immoral to plagiarise. The design bodies representing the profession must step up and show up for doing this. Build case studies to educate and fight court cases for the professionals who are aggrieved.

And impress everyone that being original is the only right way to design.

Design’s healing touch

Mihir Shah, an entrepreneur based in Philadelphia, was one of the speakers at the recently held Pune Design Festival. He presented to the predominantly design audience a new device for detecting breast cancer early amongst your loved ones. Mihir‘s device called iBreastexam is non-invasive, portable and easy to use in the privacy of one’s home or office and can therefore, help detect early signs of breast cancer. Mihir’s story is not just about entrepreneurial success. It is also about Design’s contribution in the health care sector: The sector that so desperately needs design inputs in India and abroad.


Designers in India, early on, have contributed to the health care sector. When the first of the corporate hospitals, Apollo Hospitals, set up shop in Madras, senior NID faculty, Dashrath Patel was invited to design it’s interiors. Dashrath chose to do up the walls of the rooms in pleasant colours, instead of white. He also added that each room will have an original painting by an artist. His logic was that the environment should be pleasing enough for a patient to heal. Design can help contribute in faster healing.

An idea, that is confirmed by the Manchester‘s cancer centre that has given it’s architecture a healing touch. Tree-lined exteriors, comfortable seating areas and natural lighting all contribute in making the environment pleasant and is dubbed as a ‘home away from home’ that fosters healing to the patients suffering from cancer. This establishes the fact that design can have a serious role to play in the healing process.


PIc Courtesy :

Just like environments, design of medical products need to be designed with the empathy it deserves. When I had a fall in the recent past, I realised that X-ray machines are so badly designed for patients with a hip fracture. Transporting the patients in ambulances that are make-shift trucks is another practice that is hardly noticed. Stretchers don’t fit, transfer of patients are done manually and all equipments are designed for more disasters.

Satish Gokhale, product designer and owner of Design Directions, a studio based in Pune, has several successful products to his credit. He has ventured into medical product design early on and has worked with various organisations that manufacture diagnostic equipments. From ambidextorous ultra-sound machines to instant blood analyser, his firm has brought style and sophistication to products that are used on suffering patients.


Pic Courtesy :

Investing on healthcare is a state subject. Governments need to understand that investing in design goes a long way, not only in the healing process but also saves precious funds that would otherwise go into fire-fighting epidemics. One such initiative was recently reported in the Washington Post. Incubis Design, a firm in Delhi run by Amit Krishn Gulati and Sabyasachi Paldas, had along with Tilak Lodh, designed and supervised execution of the prototype clinics that will soon dot the landscape in Delhi. The team has made inroads into the sector that is bound to benefit with this design intervention. It gives shape to an idea that makes sense: socially and financially.


Pic Courtesy: Amit Krishn Gulati

The article in Post also talks about a fantastic new product Swastya Slate, that enables a quick diagnosis of a patient’s well being and makes the para-medical professional to take action. Developed in USA by Kanav Kahol, for developing countries, this product is presently being used in Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi and is the result of systems thinking by designers, technologists and health care professionals.

There’s a surprising lot of work being done by Indians, here and abroad, on developing products and systems for the healthcare sector that will benefit the massive populations. My firm, January Design, also has to it’s credit a systems project of designing hospital trolleys. The project resulted in making all trolleys into modular sections that will help both the manufacturer and the client hospital.

PDTCTrolley_003 PDTCTrolley_004

But, governments are slow to recognise the benefits and worse, do not find it fit, to pay for design. Governments must be convinced of Design’s contribution to the health sector, so as to make them invest in design exercises that will bring succour to the millions.  Patient-care systems, medical products and public healthcare facilities are woefully inadequate and badly designed. There is a malady in successive governments, of spending on fighting epidemics than pro-actively investing in better products and systems and a healthy environment. Design can be the prescription to bring about the much-needed change.

It’s time to wish the government to get well soon.

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.