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.

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.