Padma awards for Design

Today’s list of Padma awards are out and there is no designer, still, in the list. I blogged about this, last year as well. The government finds it fit to recognise Ajay Devgn’s work as worthy of an award but not any of the design stalwarts, who used design to bring about long-lasting changes in society and the profession. To provoke a discussion on the subject, I present here, my list of Padma awards, deserving for design. This is of course, only the beginning. There may many more that I may have missed.

H Kumar Vyas, Design Educator, Ahmedabad kumarvyasH Kumar Vyas deserves a Padma award for pioneering Design education in this country and giving a distinct Indian touch to the curriculum that was launched at NID, when the design programmes began. He continues to influence and contribute to design education, through his books and research.

M P Ranjan : Design thinker, Ahmedabad

imagesRanjan’s contribution to spearheading the cause of design is well-known. He deserved this even, when he was alive, as he had the audacity to project Design thinking as a tool for solving all the country’s problems. A believer of the power of Design, he truly deserved to be recognised for his contribution.

Poonam Bir Kasturi, Daily Dump, Bangalore:

NH-dailydump_ART_GA_148659ePoonam deserves to be in this list, for making Swachch Bharat, her mission, even before the PM did. And chose to use Design thinking to develop an entire eco-system for waste management. She is a firm believer in the power of design to effect change.

David Abraham & Rakesh Thakore: Fashion Designers

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Long before NIFT was even conceived and even before fashion design became a household name, David & Rakesh, early graduates of NID, set up their studio to do path-breaking work in bringing Design to the people. They set up Abraham & Thakore and the label grew up to become the epitome of international fashion with Indian sensibilities.

Surya Vanka: UX Leader, Microsoft, Seattle

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Academically brilliant and suave, Surya deserves to be in this list for the fact that he rose in the ranks of Microsoft, to become the head of User experience, in Seattle. UX may now seem like  fashionable term, but Surya had pioneered in this much before anyone else, from India.

Geetha Narayanan: Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore

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Geetha’s vision to create an alternative school of thought in design education is legendary. She broke out of the NID mould of design education, yet retaining the essence of a fresh and bold new pedagogy. She has been singularly responsible for bringing a fresh load of talent to the design pool.

Kiran Bir Sethi: Design for Change, Ahmedabad, India.

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Kiran’s Design for Change is a much-written about process of empowering school children to solve their own problems. That this idea, panned out to different schools all over the world is also well-known. That she believes in the power of Design and leveraged it with school-children, make her a candidate for the award, too.

Jaya Jaitly, Dastkari Haat Samiti, New Delhi:

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Jaya Jaitly should be credited with believing in the power of design to restore and rejuvenate Indian handicrafts. Whether it is introducing typography to artisans, or teaching them colour schemes and encouraging artisans to use design to further their crafts, Jaya managed to leverage design for Craft design.

There are obviously, many more who deserve the awards. It’s high time the government woke up to recognising designer’s contribution. Next January, perhaps?

 

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.

 

 

Design on Track

Tucked away in the recently tabled Railway budget of 2012 , between paragraphs on Disaster management and Housekeeping is a significant proposal that will bring a cheer to designers and rail-users alike. The minister has proposed setting up of the “ Rail Design Centre” at NID, Ahmedabad  to leverage design for improving the facilities at railway stations and the trains.

An idea that is both timely and note-worthy. For the first time, the government recognises the need to improve passenger facilities through design intervention.

This is will hopefully, signal the end of passenger woes.

The whole user experience needs an overhaul, not just improvisations. It begins with the form that is difficult to fill, queues that extend out  of the shelters during rush hours, signages that do not guide the passengers properly  at the station and announcement boards that are more stylish than substantive.

Ever traveled with an elderly, a child or a differently-abled person on a train? You don’t need to be convinced that the trains need to be redesigned to be made more inclusive. High steps, sliding doors, unergonomical heights of taps and dustbins, all signify that things have been designed for the non-existent average person.

Berths that are a tad short for the above-average, windows that get stuck in monsoons, bathrooms that flood the whole compartment, lunch packets that are difficult to open, tables that are too far from the seat, plastic covers that don’t work during the sweaty Indian summers, this list can go on.

Anyone who has traveled in the trains would agree that Design has a large role to play to improve the overall user experience and NID is more than suited to do the job. For, far too long, the Indian railways have relied on engineers to design the bogies, advertisers to design the communication and bureaucrats to decide on passenger facilities. This is now a tacit recognition by the Indian Railways of the professional designer, who has a definite role to play.

This is a dream opportunity for the design community. Every student who went through NID’s education programme would probably have in his portfolio, a hypothetical project of a better design of the railway’s facilties. During my time at NID, I have seen students developed better trolleys for luggage’s, berths that fold easily, eating plates that contain well and don’t spill, better designed reservation forms and a folding mug for the toilets. All these and more can now be dusted and brought to life, as and when the proposed centre becomes operational. It will also be an opportunity for all the vendors who supply to the Indian railways and the good word on design will spread.

There is another significance.

The government departments are suddenly sitting up and taking notice of design. The Handloom and handicrafts ministries are already investing in design. The MSME ministry has set aside Rs 77 Crores to promote design as a driver to manufacture better products made by the small and medium-scale enterprises with their ‘ Design Clinic scheme’.

There are so many other sectors of the government that can now think in terms of investing in design. The agriculture ministry can set up design centres to make better implements and products. The health ministry can easily use ‘design thinking’ to make better healthcare services. The rural development ministry can easily use design to really develop the rural areas of our country. The education ministry can put their money to good use by leveraging design in education. This is just the beginning, but design has this power to transcend barriers and solve problems across all the sectors of the economy.

In a recently concluded design conference, the international product designer Karim Rashid said that ‎”If India does not establish some brands soon, it will be too late since all the imports will just take over the country. It was a shame that the hotel I stayed at in New Delhi had Italian lighting, Italian furniture, German sinks, German faucets, French products,” (as quoted in The Economist.) If Karim Rashid had not stayed in a star hotel and spent a night in an Indian train, he would have realized that designers in India need to spend more time in addressing the problems of the people and would have had a different take on Indian design.

And as for the Indian Railways, it is doing well by putting design on track.

Design Social

Nov 2016. Here’s an update: Neelam Chhibber is now collaborating with IKEA, using her design and social entrepreneur skills to carve a new niche. Her story here:

There is a buzz in the design community these days ever since Sam Pitroda, Adviser to the Prime minister of India, announced thee impetus to set up design and innovation centres all across the country, to address the problems of the people in the bottom of the pyramid.

Designers in major Indian cities are putting their heads together to come up with concepts for innovation centres that will help meet the social and development targets, use design thinking to address the needs of the people who matter and kick-start a movement that will see the intersection of academia, industry and social organisations like never before.

Designers in India are most eligible to address the needs of the needy. Every designer who have gone through formal design education has either designed products for health, living and public use, or worked with artisans and craftsmen to create better products as well as generate livelihoods or worked on communication to put across basic concepts of social importance to a simple rural audience or the illiterate.

Not very long ago, NID alumnus and Industree Co-founder, Neelam Chhiber was awarded as India’s Social Entrepreneur of the year by Schwab Foundation of the World Economic Forum. It rewards and finally recognises Neelam’s untiring efforts in bringing livelihood opportunities to thousands of rural artisans of India. It also is an award that puts Design in the spotlight. Design thinking has a huge role to play in making life better and social entrepreneurship is only one of the many ways designers can contribute.

Neelam has quickly acknowledged the fact that this is also an award for design. How true! Design is potent enough to change lives as much as churning out pretty products. And happily for Neelam, she does both with style.

While focussing on making products that appeal to an international audience, she made sure that the artisans are organised, paid well, looked after and most importantly, remained in their rural environs. Industree managed to make rural employment schemes fashionable.

Coming soon after Kiran BIr Sethi’s  INDEX Award, this too illustrates the capabilities of designers in harnessing design thinking to make lives better. Kiran has successfully leveraged design thinking in not only educating her own school children at Riverside, Ahmedabad but also managed to create a generation of sensitised children all over the world through her ” Design for Change’ programme.

NID Ahmedabad, rated as one of the best schools in the world, has had a large role to play in moulding the thinking of the students.  There are many more examples.

Poonam BIr Kasturi another NID alumnus has set up Daily dump that addresses the problems of waste and comes up with a beautiful solution that is both sustainable and appealing.

(Pic Courtesy : Daily Dump.org)

Lakshmi Murthy, a designer based in Udaipur, works in the area of rural communication and has successfully implemented health and hygiene projects that affect the majority in rural India.

Sandeep Sangaru, a furniture design graduate of NID, brings never-before elegance to cane and bamboo furniture by partnering with artisans of the North East.

My own team at January Design is working with grass-root level innovators recognised by the President of India and helping their innovations better by introducing design concepts into their processes. We are doing this with National Innovation Foundation, the country’s premier organisation dealing with innovation.

Designers all across India are realising the potential for harnessing their design capabilities to make our country a better place.  This has been possible, largely because of the education at NID Ahmedabad.

While the powers that be is putting together a concept for setting up new Innovation centres or new NIDs, it is hoped that they would remember to build this soul into the proposed new programmes.  And this way, it will ensure that design travels to where it impacts most, from the top of the social milieu to the bottom of the pyramid.