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.

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.

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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.

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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.