Category Archives: Talks

  1. 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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  2. Not an Idiot Box no more: Is there a new television idiom lurking?

    Since the eighties poop tubes have been relentlessly filling our living rooms with mindless banter. Most often we change channels in search of a beacon of intelligence and hope in vain. We had no choice either. Apparently now we do. This talk woke me up to how primordial the television system is and the change around the corner. Watch!

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  3. Paula Scher for Behance: Irreverent and respectable doyen of graphic design

    She has always been an inspiration and I was lucky to meet her a few years back at Kyoorius Designyatra. Paula presents a set of stellar brand work that have been done by Pentagram and her.

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  4. The Wizard of Woz: Steve Wozniak in line for iPad3 at Apple store

    I have always admired the co-founder of Apple for his humility and of course, wisdom. I found this interview where he is waiting outside an Apple store in LA to buy himself an iPad3. Interesting conversation. Watch and enjoy!

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  5. A treat retreat: Understanding Social

    I reluctantly registered for a two day conference in support of Akshaya Patra and Anant called Social India. There were significant talks by experts in social media marketing from India and North America. For me, as an entrepreneur and a user experience designer, there were lessons to learn. What did I know?

    Social media is a strong influential channel that can be leveraged by brands and businesses to work in tandem with traditional media. Enterprises should include them in the larger communication or marketing strategy to strengthen it. In India businesses have woken up to this fact recently and are working with digital agencies to create a strategy.

    Most of these social media agencies have evolved from traditional web marketing or customer relationship management. So there is very little or no creative leadership to put together contextually correct, multi channel, strong campaigns that impact. I personally do not believe that silos of facebook contests make for a social media campaign and most of the solutions were that. The quality of destination content could be better with decoupages that involve photographs, videos and critical user contributions. Most brand case studies were counting heads as metrics.

    The North American agencies were more evolved. I was impressed with the case study for Knorr Sidekicks presented by Eric Weaver of Ant’s Eye View. Salty is a salt shaker character who tugged at the heart strings of women who put dinner on the family table and he had them ‘following’ him. Take a look at this television commercial introducing Salty.

    There were similar insights and case studies of Shashank Nigam from Simpliflying, an agency that focusses on social consumer connect for airline businesses, on Spicejet introducing Bombardier viral video. I should also mention Jim Long, a photojournalist at NBC and his insights into a new publishing paradigm. His talk was over Skype from New York. Fabulous!

    The spirit and energy of independent publishers, bloggers and other participants engaged me. Particularly Prasant and his Lighthouse Insights. I cannot forget Kiruba, a TEDx representative in India. He is from Pondicherry and works out of Chennai. Kiruba is an energetic compère with a penchant for interacting with people. Good to connect.

    Unlike a design conference, there was humility, participation, camaraderie and free exchange of ideas. I am ditching those black tee chic design junkets and sticking to honest ones like this. The closure with Sean Moffitt of Wikibrand fame was apt. This was a valuable weekend of new connections, lessons and possibilities.

    Apparatus is now armed to create informed extensions of user experience design that weaves itself well with the social media world. We will create cohesive products and communication that engages to acquire new users or retain them.

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  6. A Timeline: Plotting Apparatus’ past and predicting a future

    Apparatus is going to be eight years next month. We are constantly trying to redefine ourselves as a creative business. Lately we have been pursued for partnerships from across Europe and I have been talking history. This presentation is to walk interested people through our progress, our competencies and our goals. Take a look at this presentation.

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  7. 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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  8. 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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  9. 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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