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 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.

National Design Guru Day

It’s something that’s long overdue. We need to recognise and celebrate the first generation of Design Gurus, who kick-started the design education in India. What better day to do this, than M P Ranjan’s birthday? Ranjan was a true believer in the power of design. And he would brag about it to anyone who cared to listen.

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Pic Courtesy : Sudhir Sharma

Some of us got together and decided that it’s time we honour our teachers, without whom we would not have any professional standing. The objective is two-fold: To honour and felicitate the role of Design gurus who taught several generations of design students and acknowledge their role. And to remember Ranjan’s birth anniversary as an event to celebrate design teachers. Ranjan was true to his role: loving and giving. He once told me, ” Never miss an opportunity to either educate or learn”. Powerful words that stuck with me.

Today we celebrate Mahendra Patel, the father of Indian Typography. He is winner of several international awards. He is also loved by students around the world for having shared his love for typography. From Baroda to Basel, Pune to Paris, Mahendrabhai has had an impact on students all over the world, where he has taught or learnt.

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For those in India’s National Capital Region, here is an opportunity to acknowledge his contribution to Indian Design education. We are felicitating him at the Sushant School of Design, Gurgaon, Delhi NCR, India and show our love and respect for the Design Guru. It is time.

NID gets it’s due

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All of us in the NID community woke up to this news yesterday in India. One of the highest ever starting salary package was offered to an NID graduate Lalit Sawle, from the Retail Design faculty.

Several things have changed since the un-named graduate in 2012 won a package of 38 lakhs in the placement, setting a record. ( See my earlier blog post here: http://wp.me/p1FfR3-2y ).

For one, today’s placement is an offer from an Indian company ‘Trident’, as opposed to the Japanese company ‘ Toshiba’.

This is not an isolated incident. Several others have also commanded very high salaries, above 22 lakhs and several of them, commanding even 48 lakhs as CTC.

NID is still regarded as the ultimate source for quality design graduates, not withstanding several new institutions offering design programmes. This also reinforces the idea that NID is able to produce good graduates, despite issues and pressures from government and within.

Faculty crunch, resource crunch, pressure to add more students, pressure to add more branches are only some of the issues that NID is busy battling. NID courses still have to stay relevant. The industry requirements and salaries cannot become the new pressure points to perform.

And as has always been the case, the small inventor, the marginal student, the entrepreneurial and the socially relevant graduate should be celebrated as much as the high-salary commanding ones.

This is what will continue to differentiate NID from the rest.

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.
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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!

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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.

 

And the award goes to..

Last week ended with a design-award ceremony. Not for designers or designed products. There was a ranking of institutions teaching design in India, and the representatives were awarded and felicitated by MediaDesignEdu.com.

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The people behind the awards and the jury that selected them are not known. The site itself is a website that clearly promotes private design institutions.

This is not to mock the awards. Any serious attempt to give a ranking to institutions should be welcomed, in the interests of students aspiring to get there. But if the criteria is not clear and 9 institutes, all big names, (of which seven are in the private sector), share five of the top awards, it seems like an amateur attempt at ranking.

Even by its own admission, the website had 84 award categories, which were won and shared by 50 institutes. Some institutes won multiple awards, since there are only limited number of schools teaching design.

Even a cursory scrutiny will reveal unexplained anomalies. While Pearl Academy, Delhi gets the national ranking of 2 and NIFT, Delhi is in 4th position, their ranks change in the Northern region awards. NIFT Delhi gets 1st position and Pearl is pushed to the 2nd position!

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The omissions of some popular and reknown institutes are glaring. IDC at IIT Bombay and IIT-Delhi’s  and SPA’s Industrial Design Programme are not present in any category . IICD, Jaipur, a reputed craft design institute, IIT Guwahati, IIT Kanpur are also notable omissions.

Some awards are questionable.NID’s robust Product design programme is apparently not worth considering over DSK and other private colleges.

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There is no doubt, there is a need for such a ranking but the methodology should be made public and the criteria announced in advance. The evaluating jury should be announced, too.

This was one of the jobs of the India Design Council and I am not sure why it is dragging it’s feet to do an evaluation and ranking.

This is the admission season, when I get calls from harassed parents and aspirants about how to choose one school over another. Is Srishti good for Product design? Is DSK worth the expenses? Is MIT better than Symbiosis? A transparent ranking is sure to help. It puts them in their place.

In the absence of that, here is a check-list of criteria to consider, before you choose:

  • How reputed is the institute?
  • How successful are their alumni?
  • Does the institute have respect within the design community?
  • Are their programmes current and relevant?
  • Do they have good faculty?
  • Do they have faculty?
  • What facilities are present and how updated are these?
  • How well-connected are they with the industry and other organisations?
  • Are fancy buildings and labs tom-tommed, instead of decent faculty and programmes?
  • Do they have a placement programme?

Do your home work.

Ask, ascertain, inquire, request, search, research, seek out, google, do everything in your capacity to find out.

This way, you may or may not win any awards, but you will certainly be rewarded with an excellent career in design.

Ministry of Design, Mr Modi?

Dear Prime Minister,

Your landslide victory in the elections and your swearing-in as the new Prime Minister has given the vast majority of Indians, the audacity of hope.

It is now clear to all that you believe in change. If there is one profession that can match up to that belief, it is the profession of Design. We believe in change, too and often question the status quo, just the way you have done.

Having been in Gujarat, home to NID, the oldest and the most prestigious design institute of this country, you are probably aware already, what design can do. Having allocated land in Gandhinagar for NID’s PG campus, you have already done your bit for Design as the Chief Minister of Gujarat.

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But, now, as PM, your canvas is larger. The expectations are mounting and so are the problems. I want to draw your attention to do something dramatic, as is expected of you. Please create a new ministry: Ministry of Design.

The Ministry can be the think-tank, you need that will kickstart design thinking for governance. You need design thinking across all the 230 sectors of the economy. Take for instance, primary education. The Pearson report on education says that Technology can provide new pathways into adult education, particularly in the developing world, but is no panacea. There is little evidence that technology alone helps individuals actually develop new skills.” So, I hope you will not fall for the free laptop or cheap tablet phenomenon and focus on training our children, new skills like Leadership, Critical thinking, Problem solving and team-working, which will help them become global citizens.

Introducing ‘Design Thinking’ at school-level prepares them for the world and this has been amply proved by the ‘Design for Change‘, a program that germinated in Ahmedabad and is empowering children world over with creative confidence.

We all are aware of your concerns for Energy, Water, Transport, Health and the Environment. Do you also know that there are projects big and small, done by designers that attempt to solve problems in a systemic way? Whether it is the d*light project of lamps for the common man or the Daily Dump‘s project in home-composting, these are enough to convince you that design needs to get it’s due.

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You need to also look at the great Indian resource of hand-made crafts. For decades, designers have been working with artisans,from Kutch to Katlamaran, Srinagar to Chennapatna not only to make beautiful products, but also make them economically independent and socially acceptable. The pride you have for all-things Indian, will come to the fore, I promise.

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Does this mean, you need to start more design institutes? Maybe, not, Mr Modi. I hope you have the time to familiarise yourself with the VISION FIRST think-tank that demonstrated the need to embed design across sectors. We need more nimble, small design centres envisioned as part of existing schools, colleges and institutions.

I hope you would empower the India Design Council to take this agenda forward. And make design accessible to all. You may want to make it more outward-looking and create an agenda, beyond superficiality.
The Ministry of Design can be the agent of change that you want to see. And you can count on the design community to join you in this cause.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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.