Category Archives: design education

  1. Quora: My few cents for non-designers moving towards interaction design

    Read Quote of Shiva Kumar’s answer to Interaction Design: What is the first thing to do for non-designer becoming Interaction designer? on Quora

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  2. Quora: Trying to guide a product manager across the user experience chasm

    Read Quote of Shiva Kumar’s answer to Product Management: As a first-time Product Manager with no design experience, what is the best way to learn everything about UI/UX design in mobile? on Quora

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  3. A masterclass from the man himself: David Kelley on Jobs and design thinking

    All startup creative firms want to grow up and be an IDEO. This enviably creative design studio has firmly embedded itself in the innovative strain of successful brands. David Kelley was the man at the helm of this movement. Here he talks about his friend Steve Jobs and design thinking as a concept.

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  4. Further conversations with a pedagogue: Part Two

    Manoj Neel heads Interaction Design and Information Design faculty at National Institute of Design, Bangalore. He is authoring an interesting paper on the future of design education in India. This is an excerpt from his conversations with me as a practicing designer. This is a continuation from the previous post. Read that first.

    Manoj Neel: You’ve been practising for over 18 years; and you’d have observed and mentored a good number of designers as they work on projects in the office. Any change you’ve observed in their mindsets from then to now (aptitudes, motivation to listen, passion etc. any broad patterns you see). In your interactions with the student community do you see any change in their mindsets, their motivations today – or is it simply that ‘students-will-always-be-students’?
    Shiva Kumar: Oh sure they’ve changed. Today it takes just 5 mins on my browser to know something which once took me 2-3 weeks to search, assimilate and represent – that leads to a phenomenal amount of complacency in present day students.
    And educators have not woken up to the fact that information is available so fast and so easily, because they are not power users of technology and Internet. So there’s a huge gap between the educators and students. Students are progressive in accessing info; now do they use it the right way, I don’t know. They take all this information and put it in these containers and show it as they are. They don’t interpret it within context, which is expected of them. They are not analytical about what you get; they access prepackaged information and present it to technologically challenged educators.
    When I run graphic design courses at design schools today the connect with the students is solid. The schools think I am of immense value to students. The reason is because I can access what they can and most often question their originality. And that’s because of the industry I am in, that’s all.

    MN: Your practice really informs what you do….
    SK: It can be brutal if I am not informed. I’m trying to always be on the curve if not ahead of it; and my team is well informed too.

    MN: Admittedly, your office handles a diverse portfolio of projects – from publications design to social web2.0 applications. Given this spread (and no stated media preference, you prefer to remain media-agnostic), what do you look for when hiring a designer or putting one on any job that comes in? Do you look at media-specific skills or at design thinking ability – or something in between? In other words, do you prefer a generalist or a specialist?
    SK: All I want is someone with a basic hygiene factor to create crafted solutions. And if that hygiene factor not enough we can train them. We can mentor a good typographer, layout artist – but the key ingredient is for somebody to look a problem in its face and be able to dismember it – deconstruct it. Restructure it in such a way that it can be viewed from multiple perspectives to reach a solution very easily. And that’s what we at Apparatus do. If a person can conceptually understand this that’s who we need. And yes, there’s a lot of work that’s done outside the machine before we even get to it.

    MN    In the course of your work you’d have interacted with a number of international designers, design students. How do you see the ‘Indian model’ of design education (as shaping the profile of a designer) as different from an ‘International’ one?
    SK: It is about how you can make design education more Indian, if I understand you correctly. First of all we shouldn’t look at the west, there’s a grammar that’s very seriously Indian. One important thing is we are a culture of narratives, a culture of storytelling where we string contexts to make tales. Grandmothers told us stories, you sit in a bus and the guy next to you is telling you a story. The West is waking up to this concept of narratives today. I think that is what is missing in our education and there are micro flavors to it. All of us need to be wired to that to create crafted solutions in context.

    We’ve followed the West for quite a while, which is a boxed method of delivery. While this is good, we are conceptually way more organic.

    MN: Do you still have trouble describing what you do for a living to your friends  – unlike say a doctor, a software techie, or an engineer – after all these years in the profession, how would you introduce yourself? And what would you say is the fundamentally different thing that a designer ought to have that, perhaps no one else in the room does?

    SK: That’s still a tricky thing to explain (not that it bothers me), so I say I run my own business, that’s all I tell people. Now what do you do as business? Well I’m a consultant. And it’s true; we define products for other people. So what did you do recently? Well, we defined this newspaper called Sakshi. In the process we design. Design doesn’t need to figure in the conversation, it’s got connotations attached to it that are unnecessary. Design just happened in the process. One of things we stress on is that we are ‘participative consultants’, we actively do stuff as a part of the consulting.

    MN: And what would you say is the fundamentally different thing that a designer ought to have that, perhaps no one else in the room does?

    SK: If you can straddle both the emotional and rational/analytical worlds – that is what a designer should have and nobody can ever have. The ability to think about something analytically and emotively within a specific context. From my head and heart, at once.  And I think it is so very special that you are always the odd guy in the room, because you’re talking about revenue models and you are talking about what’s the love in it.

    MN    We have regular Gyaan Adda sessions at our campus where the subject for a recent discussion was ‘Can design be taught?’ When you reflect on your design education at design school, do you see a tangible connect between your education at NID and your evolution as a designer? What has been the greatest ‘learning’ you’d recollect from being at design school?
    SK: Oh very heavily indeed. I did carry away two things – Consciousness for what you do/how you do it, and a phenomenal sensitivity to context. Two things that NID has taught me that no other place would have taught me – ‘sensitivity’ about being a good person; you respect, listen, respond, and empathise. Because most often I see that I’m constantly fitting myself into somebody else’s shoes, I’m constantly looking at a problem and wondering what happens if the user is handicapped or aged. And as I said, a great sensitivity to context.

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  5. Conversations with a pedagogue

    Manoj Neel heads Interaction Design and Information Design faculty at National Institute of Design, Bangalore. He is authoring an interesting paper on the future of design education in India. This is an excerpt from his conversations with me as a practicing designer.

    Manoj Neel: It’s been over 18 years since you began practicing as a designer. What do you think (very broadly speaking) are the significant changes in ‘requirements’ as clients define them from then to now?
    Shiva Kumar: Earlier it used to be too specific; it was an extension of advertising. So clients looked at graphic design as something that ad agencies might not do (or do badly). So they’d come and say, listen can you do the corporate brochure or the annual report, it was very specific. But today they come in with a problem, they don’t come with a solution. Earlier they came with a solution and then we window dressed it in a sense. They say this is what we are getting into – help us. Which is nicer; when I started my career ‘graphic design’ was a standalone term. There was only print as medium; electronic media had just evolved, you know with TV and commercials. We were away from it anyway – it was not something that you could travel to easily, being too much of a niche. It was not even like today where using the same machine I can do both – there was specific hardware, all that kind of stuff. So probably people knew what they were going to get; so they’d come and say – hey, give me this calendar (and that kind of stuff) which doesn’t happen now; the number of media that people can have today are quite a few.

    MN: So you’re saying they’re not clear what media they want – they want advice from a designer on what media is right…
    SK: They are not even thinking media, which is a fabulous thing. They say this is the problem that we have; now it need not involve the media either, like there are solutions off-media too.

    Things have evolved over a period of time, there are multiple different channel options available, specializations within a creative team. And somewhere there was one generalist who was looking at it from the perspective of a solution set, and putting it down to customer experience or nodes of interaction between the business and customer – I think that’s the real deal.

    MN: How does the practice of design work in your organization? Is it a multi-disciplinary, collaborative act or is it guided by a sort of Mr Know-all to whom all defer? And how do you see this dynamic changing over the years? (am referring to the ‘no-one-of-us-is-better-than-all-of-us’ dictum).
    SK: In terms of skill sets, we’ve got people whom we loosely call ‘information architects’. They are usability professionals. But that does not mean they cannot deal with visual design. Then there are visual designers and the content people. Again, ‘visual designers’ does not mean they cannot handle usability, just that the complexity of the task will be lesser. Like for example apps on iPhone – we don’t even go to the information architects. We do it at the visual designer level, it’s simple as you’ve got a framework, you’ve got to work with the stuff and put an emotive quality to it.

    MN: And the style guidelines are also clear…
    SK: Importantly the criticality is less; if something fails, it is not a show stopper. So it’s okay for visual designers to look at the user experience as a whole. On the other hand, we’ve worked on large business intelligence and analytics projects which are data critical; they are decision aiding tools and the complexity involved is immense. That’s the kind of stuff that IAs work on. Most often they do the visual design for the app – because here it is simple ‘branded-ness’. It doesn’t need to emote heavily. So I say again that graphic design is a mere tool that is used intelligently where needed and how needed.

    MN: Do you agree that there are uniquely Indian challenges for us as designers? If so, are we as design professionals doing enough to address this – any problems in this scenario (not enough money, prevalent sensibilities/attitudes to design in our context)?
    SK: There is a lot of reality fear in designing with/for vernacular. Speaking for Apparatus, we were rudely awakened when we were designing a newspaper in Telugu, Sakshi. There cannot be a project that is more Indian, more rooted than that (and it’s not the language alone). The context is Andhra Pradesh, 21 centers, each as varied as they come. The northernmost centre is closer to Orissa and people are comfortable with Oriya along with Telugu and southernmost center is Nellore District where people are comfortable with Tamil along with Telugu – and here we are defining a newspaper for all those centers.

    MN: Within a small area there is so much of diversity…

    SK: Exactly. There are graphic design problems that are specific to using vernacular, I’m talking about simple elements of graphic design. The anatomy of Telugu script is all about compound characters. For example there are many characters that can fuse to one character, almost like a ligature, by sitting one on top of the other. The standard concept of leading does not work anymore and working with the baseline grid is a bit of a nightmare! So you got to know these nuances. It actually took us about a month to get into the groove of designing for vernacular- and designing within the context.

    Working with many parameters at one time – one, the kind of fonts you’re going to choose because it’s going to be bilingual. Two, it’s going to be web and print so you should know your technology very well. Three, you got to understand the Content Management System (CMS) that is deployed and the CMS templates are done in Quark 3.1 and so you better go back in time. Fourthly, the CMS pushes to the web, which means that you need to know that linkage from a tech perspective.

    This is also the 1st time a newspaper is doing 32 pages all in 4-color offset – and do they want to push that envelope really hard! So what it essentially means is that we got to get a palette that’s wide. Scream color the way Andhra Pradesh loves.  All this was the reality for this specific project.

    That is what I call an Indian project. If you look at the product at the end of it, it looks extremely contemporary – it is no longer about doing decorative motifs. We are imbibing a problem area that is Indian rather than defining a solution that’s superficially Indian. It demands a phenomenal amount of learning in a short period and we had to unlearn to wake up.

    General graphic design today is very pan-Indian, pan-global; it’s very culture-neutral right now. But micro culture and local contexts will be the new black soon.

    Continued in the next post.

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  6. Designweek at Target: 19 Nov 2010

    Last month I was invited to present Apparatus and share thoughts on information design at the Target facility in Bangalore.

    Mr Rakesh Mishra giving Shiva a goody bag from Target

    Mr Rakesh Mishra who coordinated the Designweek program gave me a goody bag that was promptly looted by my daughters.


    Designers, technology engineers and marketing professional responded well to the concepts presented. I had a pretty long question and answer session with them post the talk.

    Target has always been my favorite chain when I am traveling in US of A. Their consistency of brand communication and overall product mix was always compelling. When I got invited for a group talk of sorts to discuss design and information design at that I happily accepted it. The audience were a good mix of technologists, marketing professionals and UX designers. I was happy to present my point of view and heard great responses from them.

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  7. Reminisce: Pool Magazine 6

    The advent of 50 years of Indian design has made sixth issue of Pool magazine revisit this long journey from inception till what design stands for in contemporary India today. As a part of this editorial search they interviewed few professionals in the industry. I am proud to be one of them. This post is an excerpt from my interview. To view or read Pool magazine online click here.

    What is your thought on “Made in India” as opposed to “Made for India”?

    In this context neutralized global marketplace ‘Made in India’ and ‘Made for India’ does not seem to be very different. In a way this is good. The Indian sense of quality and design is global now. However, there is loads of hidden needs buried in our small towns and villages which demands an appropriate ‘Made for India’ response. There are a few global companies, especially in telecommunications, quenching these needs with solutions. There will be more soon. A growing economy is an orchard for the wounded west and designers will be bridging this context gap.

    What is the most impactful, landmark project according to you, which was a turning point in the history of Indian Design?

    The most visible event to the world was Le Corbusier designing Chandigarh. But the true turning point was the establishment of National Institute of Design. Creating a knowledge center is the perfect way to grow a discipline.

    What is Indian Design?

    Indian designers should wake up to a frame of reference that is neither fully urban nor borrowed from an alien culture. Designing for this complex country of varied languages, cultures and ethnicity lies in defining the context right. Indian design is about realization of products or solutions for this specific context established through research and create using global best practices in technology. For example, designing farm implements for the terraced fields of wet north east or designing a vernacular newspaper for a large southern state.

    What is the future of design education according to you?

    Institutions should equip young designers with a palette of components that help them build solutions that affect lives. This pedagogy will reinforce basic design competencies with culture/context sensitive articulation to arrive at a holistic solution that engage users consistently across multiple nodes of engagement. The future of design education lies in creating responsible professionals who can deliver and articulate humanistic results within intricate contexts.

    How has the journey been and what in your opinion should we watch out for (phenomena/designfirm/upcoming technology/philosophy)?

    The Indian future is set in the vernacular. Culture will be the new black. Every solution is going to be made ready to fare well in the non-urban context. Indian designers should venture out of their comfort zone of urban cubbyholes and get ready to play in the larger arena. We will also see technologies that help us manage crowdsourced solutions and peer to peer collaborative creative platforms that help create stronger virtual teams. The user will participate, partially create and eventually use solutions. This process will be owned, moderated and enhanced by professional designers.

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  8. Open Letter: To New Graphic Designers

    Apparatus has always been open about getting summer interns from design schools and training creative teams in organizations ‘the boutique way’. This letter is to all of you who are learning to spell mnemonic and understand pair kerning (If you are not better do it now).

    Dear Friend:
    You probably thought, like I did, that you will become a graphic designer and create those pretty logos, websites or magazines that we are inundated with. You joined a design school to learn all elements that cumulatively will make you a worthwhile professional. You have been at it for a few years and yet if you feel there are a few shortfalls read on.

    Graphic design never was and never will be solely about making things pretty. It is about presenting information appropriately – persuasive, useful and usable. Like how the lay of a piece of land dictates the design of a building on it, the underlying structure of content and concept defines the look and feel. So typography, color palette and imagery are elements or tools to achieve the desired result. They are not the end by themselves. Though it is still valid to debate Spiekermann versus Hoefler Frere-Jones you should know how to use their products intelligently to tell a story. And if you do not know of these guys go back two steps and start over.

    There are few things that you need to do to make hardworking pieces of design. Design schools do not teach you to:

    • Structure it: Look around, research to understand domain and objective. Prioritize information to visualize your own content structure (a photograph or a video is also content). Create an information architecture that is intuitive, compelling and clever. Now your job is to gently walk the audience/user through this architecture by crafting (with type, color and imagery) well resolved visual assets that work.
    • Articulate your viewpoint: Graphic designers need to write and talk. Not like a poet or a playwright. But well enough to clarify thought processes, communicate to team members or at times add to effectiveness of the deliverable. They need to use and teach tools like mind maps, or thinking hats. These tools help you organize your monkey mind to walk a tightrope and reach goals faster. Will help you define your scope and list a set of tasks towards the solution.
    • Emote: Persuasive communication is all about emoting right and creating emotional work is all about being humanist. You need to understand the audience/user to twang at their heartstrings. Close hands on research techniques that involves personal presence among the target group is the foundation for concepts that affect sentiments. An empathic approach towards audience/user automatically triggers emotive concepts that work. And emotion buys you unwavering attention and recall.
    • Design like a craft: Now that you have distilled stuff down to the product, you are ready to apply your skills in typography, imagery, color and other such elements of design. Choose visual and verbal style deliberately by trial and elimination. Assemble content on a grid with pride that comes with precision. Learn how to depart from the grid to make your work interesting. Importantly, do not ever fall in love with your work that it devastates you when others refrain from appreciating it. Be distant.

    I also extend invitation to share your work with me through this blog and we can get collective feedback through social media. Apparatus will start three week certification courses in information design and user experience design for recent design graduates and professionals soon. If you are interested contact us. Watch this space!

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