Category Archives: Design50: Inspiration Series

  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. Inspiration series: 50 years of design education in India

    Recently I attended a meeting at Idiom campus in Bangalore. The agenda was to define a structure to celebrate half a century of formal design pedagogy in India. There were a few ideas floated. I came out of the group with a specific mission.

    How many times have you met a fellow designer one-on-one and talked about how they evolved, present day design business, expectations and future? I decided to do this with my friends and document it as a personal note – an inspirational capsule for creative professionals. I want to meet designers with varied objective and write a series of articles. And why?

    1. Seek Inspiration: We are constantly looking at the next best thing to do. We are seeking a spark that will stimulate us for a while and then we can seek the next one. I probably will find a few in this journey to keep me running for a longer spell. Be inspired!
    2. Show and Tell: With my association with publications and Mario I have acquired skills in representational techniques for narratives. The truth in editorial design is about creating compelling narratives through written word, images and typography. I want to do this myself and see it working.
    3. Dry Design Writing: I am not a great writer. Yet I have an opinion. Other than large documentation projects that culminate in exquisite books, Indian design writing lacks personality or emotion. They read like industry journals on commodities or aluminum scrap forcibly written by clerks in dungeons. My articles are going to be personal accounts on people I know, with a hope that it will make these a good read. Keeping it honest.
    4. Exercise Humility: There are a few of us who can listen, enjoy, appreciate and assimilate good work by other designers. Over the years it has bothered me a lot. Visits to seminars and Designyatra has strengthened this belief further. I take this as a personal cleansing, getting off the proverbial ivory tower to look around and feel humble.
    5. People: Finally it is all about human beings, friends and fellow professionals. There is a lot that we can share and everybody has a story. I like that thought!

    There are more reasons not articulated yet. If you are somebody that I contact to do an interview or a profile I will promptly point you to this post. This is an easy way to understand the ‘why’.

    As of now this series of articles are going to be published right here in Apparatus blog. If you are interested in publishing, sponsoring or helping with this exercise please do leave a note here. You can mail or call me too. My contact details are at here.

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