Women in Design

Today is International Women’s Day.

Women have a way of bringing new nuances to whatever they do. It’s the same in Design. Women designers have brought such richness to the profession in India, that they deserve a mention here.

I was attending the much-admired Pune Design Festival, a few days ago and couldn’t help noticing that the number of women presenters were too few in comparison to male presenters. While lamenting the idea, I couldn’t help noticing that of the lot, two presentations that moved the entire audience for a standing ovation, were made by women.

Kiran Bir Sethi’s ‘ Design For Change’ has brought the sticky idea of using the power of design to empower school children. It has been done with such finesse and detailing that is characteristic of women.141030_800x600

Swati Ramanathan’s Janagraha made a presentation on designing of roads and related systems, that was equally mind-blogging. Using systems thinking, she goes about solving Bangalore city’s vexed problems, which no man would dare getting into. In the process, she takes on the municipality, the road-making mafia, the city’s dwellers, the successive governments, only to emerge successful and triumphant.

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The power of women’s thinking is something, we have not leveraged enough in design. In my professional life, I have been influenced by many women and their work. Fortunately for me, my profession has a lot of women, who bring about an influence in my work, that is distinct and different. I want to mention a few, whose work I have admired.

Nilam Iyer, one of my early teachers in Design, who introduced the idea of using product design, to better the quality of life of artisans. She used design as a means to bring change. She also drilled into me, the uncompromising need for precision and quality.

Nilam Iyer

Rashmi Korjan, who partnered with Grishma Dave to start the first-ever, all-women, design firm has also influenced my professional attitude. She helped me tackle everything with humour, a life skill that is so required to survive in the profession. And when she went after the government with Vision First, I learnt how to be tenacious.

Jaya Jaitley, President of the Dastkari Haat Samiti, with whom I have done several design projects, has also influenced my work. I learnt another life-skill from her: grace. To be graceful in giving people their due.

Jaya and me

Women have a way of influencing you with new ideas and pioneering new concepts. Aditi Ranjan is the true-blue design educator. Neelam Chhiber introduced the idea of social entrepreneurship, through Design. Poonam Bir Kasturi believed in the power of the common man to usher change. Her Daily dump is  good example of Design democracy. Jyoti Thapa influenced the media and business, through graphic design. Kripa Ananthan, got into automobile design to design the toughest cars in the market. Sujata Keshavan Guha, was audacious enough to go global with her work. Akila Seshasayee challenged the status quo, when it came to graphic design.  Suhasini Paul is pioneering the profession of Toy Design. Ragini Brar is a pioneer in educating children through 3D animation.

Maria José Barney, Carol Wills, Jolly Rohatgi, Julie George, all believers of Design, nurture the design projects, although they are not designers themselves.

Many, many women have taken to teaching design and continuing to inspire the students. Many toil in remote villages to give artisans the power of design.

So many to acknowledge, so many to thank for.

Thanks to all the women in my profession. You are all so integral and important to the profession’s advancement. You bring joy!

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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:

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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?

 

Design thinking goes to schools

Design for Change has been making a great impact on children, the world over, thanks to a simple, sticky idea by Kiran Bir Sethi , Director of the charming Riverside School, located in Ahmedabad, India. An idea that enables children from all walks of like to use design thinking to solve the immediate problems around them.

The idea is so simple, you wonder why no one thought of this before. As a jury member, invited to evaluate and select the best stories, I was both amazed and elated.

Children are introduced to a simplisitic, design thinking approach, called FIDS ( Feel, Imagine, Do and Share), where they feel for a problem that affects them, imagine an alternative, preferred scenario, work on the change and share their stories of success. It’s the simplicity of the process that appeals to schools, both private and public, rural and urban, rich and poor, alike. Children take on issues big and small that affect them from Bullying to Cleanliness, Growing trees to banning plastics, transforming classrooms to transforming attitudes and feel empowered to bring about change using the ‘ I Can’ spirit.

There is no better example for the power of Design thinking than this.

India impact

Infographic Courtesy: http://dfcworld.com

The d*school or the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, introduced the concept to the K-12 schools in USA with exciting results. “Teachers and students engage in hands-on design challenges that focus on developing empathy, promoting a bias toward action, encouraging ideation, developing metacognitive awareness and fostering active problem solving.”

While that was a guided, supervised process, Kiran’s DFC is self-starting and viral. Which is all the better. Her TED talk has been so widely received that it is impacting children globally.

Recently the Pearson report called  ‘The Learning Curve’, emphasises, the need for 21st century skills for our children, that include: Leadership, Digital Literacy, Emotional Intelligence, Communication, Team working, Problem solving and Entrepreneurship. Amazingly, children who go through design thinking are impacted with the exact same skills.

Others have been catching up to the impact this has. NoTosh, a Edinburgh based organisation, that works with governments and schools has found success in introducing Design Thinking at schools, with the ultimate aim of improving the overall learning process in schools.

The DFC team is all set on the path to making an entire new generation of children with the creative confidence to survive in the new world order. And, happily, Design is helping them reach there.

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Design pays

There was an interesting nugget of design-related news this week that made one’s eye pop. It was about a young design grad of my alma mater NID Ahmedabad, who managed a mind-boggling annual salary package of INR 38 lakhs in the campus placement. Of course, he was picked up by TOSHIBA for its overseas posting. Even then, a starting salary of US $ 70,000 per annum is not something to sneeze at.

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One swallow does not make a summer, though and it is early days to say if this will be  a trend. But it does raise some important pointers.

To begin with, the professional education programme is finally being given it’s due by the industry and the graduates are finally being sought after. That’s good news. For far too long, generations of designers have been either panned or given the short-end with regards paying for design. While the industries have believed in using design, they did that at the cost of using designers, by paying a pittance.

I do not know if this means that the average expectation levels of the students of design will go up dramatically. That could be bad news for design firms and industries trying to recruit fresh graduates. Already there is a murmur in the community about how un-affordable NID designers have become an this may escalate.

This may also see a whole lot of graduates competing for higher and higher pay-packets. When money is the incentive, then everything else becomes secondary. Will we still see someone like a Sandeep Sangaru working with bamboo artisans or would they now be compelled to opt for fancy pay packets? Will we see a Neelam Chhibber, who set up a large design-led foundation for crafts? Or a Kiran Bir Sethi, who transformed the world by educating the children about the design process? Or a Meghna Ajit, who set up a co-operative for craftspersons,? Or a Parthiv Shah, who set up a media organisation that celebrates culture? Or a Gargi Sen  who set up a foundation for documentary film makers or a Poonam Bir Kasturi, who is working on leveraging household waste and doing something about the earth? All these are graduates of NID,  who measured success by what they did than what they earned.

We do need designers to make nice, new products for Toshiba. But we also need designers to make life better, safer and sustainable. And that comes from working on projects for health, crafts, grassroot innovations and other social sectors that do not give anyone fancy salaries.

Will social design be relegated to the sidelines and commercial, made-for-profits design rule? Maybe not.

The best thing about NID of yore was that there were students of all hues. For every wannabe-corporate warrior, there was a bare-foot designer. For every student who wanted to make money, there was one that wanted to make sense.

I sincerely hope today’s NID is just as multi-coloured.

Design Social

Nov 2016. Here’s an update: Neelam Chhibber is now collaborating with IKEA, using her design and social entrepreneur skills to carve a new niche. Her story here:

There is a buzz in the design community these days ever since Sam Pitroda, Adviser to the Prime minister of India, announced thee impetus to set up design and innovation centres all across the country, to address the problems of the people in the bottom of the pyramid.

Designers in major Indian cities are putting their heads together to come up with concepts for innovation centres that will help meet the social and development targets, use design thinking to address the needs of the people who matter and kick-start a movement that will see the intersection of academia, industry and social organisations like never before.

Designers in India are most eligible to address the needs of the needy. Every designer who have gone through formal design education has either designed products for health, living and public use, or worked with artisans and craftsmen to create better products as well as generate livelihoods or worked on communication to put across basic concepts of social importance to a simple rural audience or the illiterate.

Not very long ago, NID alumnus and Industree Co-founder, Neelam Chhiber was awarded as India’s Social Entrepreneur of the year by Schwab Foundation of the World Economic Forum. It rewards and finally recognises Neelam’s untiring efforts in bringing livelihood opportunities to thousands of rural artisans of India. It also is an award that puts Design in the spotlight. Design thinking has a huge role to play in making life better and social entrepreneurship is only one of the many ways designers can contribute.

Neelam has quickly acknowledged the fact that this is also an award for design. How true! Design is potent enough to change lives as much as churning out pretty products. And happily for Neelam, she does both with style.

While focussing on making products that appeal to an international audience, she made sure that the artisans are organised, paid well, looked after and most importantly, remained in their rural environs. Industree managed to make rural employment schemes fashionable.

Coming soon after Kiran BIr Sethi’s  INDEX Award, this too illustrates the capabilities of designers in harnessing design thinking to make lives better. Kiran has successfully leveraged design thinking in not only educating her own school children at Riverside, Ahmedabad but also managed to create a generation of sensitised children all over the world through her ” Design for Change’ programme.

NID Ahmedabad, rated as one of the best schools in the world, has had a large role to play in moulding the thinking of the students.  There are many more examples.

Poonam BIr Kasturi another NID alumnus has set up Daily dump that addresses the problems of waste and comes up with a beautiful solution that is both sustainable and appealing.

(Pic Courtesy : Daily Dump.org)

Lakshmi Murthy, a designer based in Udaipur, works in the area of rural communication and has successfully implemented health and hygiene projects that affect the majority in rural India.

Sandeep Sangaru, a furniture design graduate of NID, brings never-before elegance to cane and bamboo furniture by partnering with artisans of the North East.

My own team at January Design is working with grass-root level innovators recognised by the President of India and helping their innovations better by introducing design concepts into their processes. We are doing this with National Innovation Foundation, the country’s premier organisation dealing with innovation.

Designers all across India are realising the potential for harnessing their design capabilities to make our country a better place.  This has been possible, largely because of the education at NID Ahmedabad.

While the powers that be is putting together a concept for setting up new Innovation centres or new NIDs, it is hoped that they would remember to build this soul into the proposed new programmes.  And this way, it will ensure that design travels to where it impacts most, from the top of the social milieu to the bottom of the pyramid.

Leading from the front and how!

The INDEX Awards (http://www.indexaward.dk/)  is no ordinary design award. It is a recognition for using design for improving lives. While it re-iterates the huge potential of design for improving lives of people, the awards do put the spotlight on thought leaders who could leverage this potential and make them actionable. In a world full of form-giving designers these award winners stand apart in using design for its primary purpose of ‘improving lives’.

In that context, India’s KIran BIr Sethi and Pranay Desai win this year for their ‘ Design for Change’ is truly a proud moment for Indian design.  My last post was about designers from India leading from the front. This award is proof of this potential. KIran Bir Sethi has taken the lead and ‘infecting the bug’ into every child, the potential to feel for a problem and taking charge to find solutions for it. The contest runs for a few days but it empowers every child to solve their own problems and prepares them for facing the challenges of the world.

Kiran Bir Sethi, a designer by qualification, has been recognised for what she calls as ‘common sense’ in leveraging the creativity and potential of school students into a game-changing movement all over the globe. She easily manages to make each child a protagonist, who take charge of situations and solve problems. Kiran has managed to leverage ‘desisgn thinking’ to hep solve everyday problems. And has managed to inspire the future generations of the world.

Her TED talk on the subject continues to be inspiring. It shows her journey ffrom 2007 when she took a small idea and ran with it. She proves that design thinkers from India can lead from the front using the ‘common sense’ approach.

Lead on Kiran BIr Sethi!  And hearty congratulations!