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.


11218214_10153045713462546_6627001882492171126_n

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.

Advertisements

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.
unnamed-1

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!

IMG_20150809_155356110

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.

 

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.

IMG_20141121_130733

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.

DSC_0270

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.

The many faces of ‘Design Evangelism’ in India

I was invited  this week, by a private university in Gurgaon, to address their Engineering faculty and students on the subject of ‘Design & Innovation’. Another opportunity I quickly utilised, to spread the message of design.

Image

India’s design-aware population is really small. Considering the fact that a few hundred designers graduate and set out into the profession, to cater to a billion-plus population, you get an idea about how difficult it is to make inroads and make a difference by design. Early on in my career, I understood the need for creating design awareness amongst potential industries which I thought can be converted to buy design services. Whenever and wherever, an opportunity presented itself, I utilsed it to educate potential clients.

NID, my alma mater, had taken this role of design evangelism, quite seriously.  The senior faculty were educating people on design inside the campus and outside. I caught the bug, too and has been one of the foot soldiers that contributed to this movement.

This habit has helped me personally and professionally.

It helped me in my role as a design educator. It also helped in creating a huge, design-aware, constituency.

While this constituency is growing, a lot of evangelism is visible and effective in India, today. In new formats as well. A book on design was recently launched in Delhi’s Max Muelller Bhavan, called : DEKHO. It presented work done by a few professional designers in India. What is delightful is that this is a private initiative by a design company, CODESIGN that decided to spread the good word on design. The design firm is quite involved about its role as a design evangelist. Besides the book, they also organise a quaint design event called the UNBOX festival, that is fast gaining international attention. Rajesh & Mohor Dahiya, the designers who run CODESIGN, are graduates of NID and are quite fired up about the cause of design.

529588_10151388081742169_69242332_nPicture Courtesy : CODESIGN

If festivals are the way to promote the cause of design then, the private initiative of Transasia Papers’ Rajesh Kejriwal deserves mention for their annual design festival : Kyoorius Design Yatra. Held every year in picturesque Goa, in India, this festival brings the Indian and international speakers to an eager audience and sells the idea of good graphic design to design firms and design users. It is also hugely popular with the student designers.

Another altruistic effort in showcasing Indian design to a global audience is Ruchita Madhok’s blog : Perch.  Along with Aditya Palsule, they have created a blog that not only feature design events and projects, they also critique Indian design, the way  no one ever does. The blog has managed to catch the attention of the design community, in India and abroad.

But in the forefront of blogging on design is M P Ranjan. A design thinker and a much-respected designer by his peers and students the world over, his blog not only documents design events in India, it is almost always the first stop for a global audience that is keen to understand the Indian design story.  He takes his role of a design educator so seriously, that he does not miss any opportunity to educate. Ranjan’s writings manages to inspire designers of all hues and promotes the message of Indian design to all cocerned.

THis post will not be complete without mentioning Sudhir Sharma. He is one person who has managed to promote the cause of  Indian design, almost single-handedly. Sudhir Sharma is an alumnus of NID who has grabbed every opportunity to promote design in national and international forums. He also set up POOL magazine that celebrates Indian design in all its myriad forms. The magazine is fast becoming the repertoire for Indian design efforts.

POOL28-cover.jpg.pagespeed.ce.M7E3yx29b_These are people I am aware of. There must be many more who do their bit of evangelisation. Speaking to school students, speaking to industry associations, addressing special interest groups and influencing them. There is also an urgent need for more designers to join this movement.

When there is a constituency that is aware about design, the whole society benefits from the merits of good design.

Design – A Subject of ‘National Importance’

On Jan 10th, there was a Government of India press release that recognised NID,( National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, INDIA) by an act of parliament, as an institution of ‘national importance’.

Clearly, it is a great honour.

If you know the fact, that NID recently completed 50 years, one knows that clearly, this was long overdue.

thumbnail_1356780844

(Pic Courtesy http://www.nid.edu)

NID has been nominated as an institution of national importance, as it has been the pioneer in design education in India. It is noteworthy that every other design institute big, small, public and private has been set up by NID graduates. A former director of NID, Prof Ashoke Chatterjee, once mentioned that a graduate of NID does not fill up a job vacancy but creates situations that create jobs. That was in the early 1980s when design itself was taking root and India was looking at design as an activity beyond embroidery!

The fact remains that NID has been nominated as an institution of national importance, as NID graduates were crucial to creating new design institutions. The Industrial Design Centre at IIT Bombay, (IDC), the National Institute of Fashion Technology, ( NIFT), the Indian Institute of Crafts & Design,Jaipur, (IICD), Crafts Development Institute, (CDI),Srinagar, Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore have all had NID graduates participating in the founding of these design educational initiatives or have had them as the head of the institution. And it is noteworthy, that each of these institutes cater to a segment of design education that is distinct from each other, instead of clones of their alma mater.

A large section of practising professionals from the early batches, who graduated from NID have gone on to creating design businesses that have helped establish the profession in this country in all its nuances. From Tessaract Design of the 80’s that merged and morphed into Idiom, India’s largest design studio in Bangalore, to Elephant Design in Pune, to Vyas Gianetti Creatives in Mumbai to Lopez Design in Delhi, all helped corporate businesses in their design quest and contributed in bringing about a change in their outlook to design. These firms helped set up norms for the professionals that went to becoming the profession’s protocol.

And NID graduates have also been contributing to the economy by turning entrepreneurs  manufacturing well-designed products from scratch. Whether it is eclectic fashion by Abraham & Thakore, or furniture by Quetzel, or children’s toys by Gween or the collective creativity at People Tree, these designers set their own agenda and celebrated design with  the style it deserves.

 

NID’s international outlook to its curriculum is legendary. Another reason why NID has been nominated as an institution of national importance. The institute’s work has been appreciated more internationally, than in India. This helped several graduates to take the leap and take their design knowledge across the seas to an international audience. Like Surya Vanka, who heads Microsoft’s User Experience excellence group in Seattle or  Sunand Bhattacharya, who is heading the academic section of Autodesk University in the US. Vinay Venkataraman’s  now famous take on Frugal Digital products at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, which he co-founded, has been received very well even at TED, There is also Uday Dandavate’s Sonic Rim which is a design-research firm based in USA that works with corporate America.

NID’s education system helped in nurturing innovation and that’s another reason for NID to be nominated as an institution of national importance. There are several eclectic examples of design career innovation  by the graduates that deserve mention. Latika Khosla’s studio ‘ Freedom Tree in Mumbai specialises in Colour, a unique positioning in design. Sudhir Sharma, another illustrious graduate is also the editor of POOL, a design magazine which is published by his design and branding company. Poonam Bir Kasturi’s concern for urban waste, became a unique design-led business called Daily dump that has won praises and acclaim across the world. Neelam Chibber’s Mother Earth develops products that help sustain the earth as much as rural livelihoods.

NID has a history of doing things uniquely. That’s the major reason why the graduates have done well and the institution has been chosen for this honour. This raises the bar and the institution has to dig deep to sustain this unique culture that MP Ranjan so eloquently writes about in his blog. It is time to discuss the future course of NID and all its proposed new branches all across the country. It is time to redefine teaching and learning paradigms. It is a moment in history that needs introspection as much as savouring. Only then can design can become a subject of national importance.