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.

image

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.

Advertisements

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.


15776811_10157936227505591_2107892186720973461_o

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.

f-cover-photo_mpr1

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.

event-upload-mcp1

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

bc5b5cff-cc58-4b4a-89bb-ee37f9e3acb1-original

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.
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.

 

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.

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 11.06.35 PM

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 9.53.15 PM

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!

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 10.13.05 PM

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.

Screen shot 2015-05-12 at 10.22.27 PM

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.

thumbnail_1356780844

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.

dailydump

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.

DSC_0951

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.