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.

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.

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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.