Creative Showcase

By: Gaurav Puri             Dated: June 01, 2014

Kahani DesignWorks is an inter-disciplinary design studio that merges brand communication, space design, and design research. Founded by Ruchita Madhok and Aditya Palsule in 2012, the studio drives a design-led approach in communication. Based in Mumbai, the studio designs solution for business and artistic brands alike

Ruchita and Aditya

Kahani DesignWorks is writing a new chapter in the Indian design industry. It brings together a cast from different parts of the designing process that is traditionally scattered in space and time — different teams isolated from one another. One sees an idea on paper shaping into the final communication artefact under one roof. This approach to design, says Ruchita, is an “inter-disciplinary” one.

Working with alliances such as the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad City Museum in Mumbai and the Goa Centre for Alternative Photography, the house opening a space for the creative community, across cultures and crafts, to come together and work.

Creative Brands spoke to Ruchita Madhok, Principal Designer & Co-founder, about her kahani (story) and how it functions within the larger picture—the largely diverse but loosely mapped design industry.

In today’s fragmented media environment, it’s important to find the right synergies that serve a client’s context and that can only happen in a convergent scenario.

And, she says, “Design is a sensibility—a process and a way of working or thinking about a problem. A good inter-disciplinary designer should be able to apply herself in any creative scenario. A good multi-disciplinary designer must develop her craft for different kinds of media. The first requires the right attitude and collaborative spirit; the other requires skill and experience. I think we need both kinds of people in today’s environment.”

CB: Though a developing creative economy, India, in the last decade, has seen the rise of “multi-disciplinary” design-house culture? How has your journey been in this environment?

To start with, I would specify that we think of Kahani DesignWorks as an inter-disciplinary design studio… Our insistence on the idea of “inter-disciplinary” comes from experience working in studios that would have brand strategists, graphic designers, space designers, packaging designers, art workers and technical designers, all of whom would work in an assembly line format. While it’s great to offer a client all these services, an effective design team must be able to function beyond these narrow job descriptions. That is my conviction and that of my partner Aditya Palsule as well.

What differentiates a “multi-disciplinary” design house from an ad agency?

In our practice we focus on communication — in whatever form it takes, whether graphic design, digital design, writing or spatial design.

In today’s fragmented media environment, it’s important to find the right synergies that serve a client’s context and that can only happen in a convergent scenario.

This is where a design approach differs from advertising one. A design-thinking led approach is an exercise in business strategy, because one invests in design for the long-term.

“Great design is a compelling story told well,” you mention on your website. What makes a story ‘compelling’ for today’s listener/consumer?

For today’s audience, a good story is engaging and empathetic. It is conversational and allows a person the intelligence of choice to decide whether a particular brand, product or service is right for them. In order to tell this as a story, and therefore create a successful piece of design, we must be authentic and transparent. For a story to be compelling, you have to tell it with integrity. It’s an old-fashioned, but relevant idea.

You have worked with independent artists/groups and also with brands. Is there a difference in working with each? Do you have a science for finding the brands to work with?

We happen to think of independent artists/groups as brands in themselves. A corporate brand is different from a cultural brand in its relationship with its audience. Therefore, while the rigour of the design process remains the same, our approach to crafting communication differs for each. Every client is unique, and it is our job as designers to uncover what makes them unique. We have no science for this — only sensitivity and a good pair of listening ears.

You have done rigorous work in the printing space. Especially, book covers and design. Your catalogue design for artist Ranbir Kaleka was awarded the Silver in Best Art Book (across formats). Could you tell us a little bit about it – especially about the process?

“…this catalogue won the Silver Award at 8th National Awards for Excellence in Printing 2013 in the Fine Art category.”

The Ranbir Kaleka book was actually our first art book and it was a delight to work with such beautiful visual material. Our client, Volte Gallery, needed a publication to showcase the artist’s career so we decided that the design format and grid of the book would be quite simple, giving enough room for the images to shine through. Intentions aside, the process of book design is always a physical one — you can’t do it on a computer screen. We made countless paper dummies to find the right binding and print combination with the team at JAK Printers. We enjoyed the process of crafting the book together, so the partnership is really what won the award at the end of the day.

You say that “The design industry is far less developed in India than, say, the UK”. What, according to you, accounts for this malnourishment?

Like other fields of inquiry, industry and innovation, design has to be part of a national agenda for the creative industries to flourish. The UK was perhaps the first country in the world to formulate an industrially focused design policy in the early 19th century. Design was an integral part of the country’s industrial revolution, finding a place in every aspect of life. Contrast this to India where the National Design Policy was formally adopted only in 2007—and even then only in principle. Many of the suggestions of the policy have yet to be put into practice seven years later. As a result the design industry remains an unorganised, fragmented profession. In the meanwhile, the corporate sector is opening up to the idea of design primarily led by the need to innovate in a rapidly changing global economy.

It is yet to be seen, however, how much of this will support the fledgling design industry in India and how much of the creative process will come from foreign consultancies.

The design industry remains an unorganised, fragmented profession. In the meanwhile, the corporate sector is opening up to the idea of design primarily lead by the need to innovate in a rapidly changing global economy

As in the private sector, do you see an inter-disciplinary design house such as yours working for the public sector? Are there any design opportunities in the public space/s that you can identify and its relationship with the National Design Policy?

It’s absolutely essential that private sector design studios work with the public sector because they bring a greater degree of rigour and professionalism to the process. At Kahani, we focus a lot on working with arts organisations such as museums, partly because we’re passionate about what they do and also because we feel that without the arts, design has no relevance to the public at large. I wouldn’t say this is an outcome of the NDP (National Design Policy, 2007), but it certainly gives design some role in the quality of life that the NDP aims to influence.

The British Council and Kyoorius have taken an initiative towards ‘design writing’. You have been a contributor. What is your idea of ‘design writing’? How could we deepen and widen the notion and practice?

To me personally, ‘design writing’ is quite simply explained: it involves writing about design. It may be a critical review, a design story, an interview, documentation of the design process or a conversation between people. It’s really about verbalising this mystical “creative” activity called “design”. Design writing makes the concept of design accessible to a wider audience (including other designers). For me, it has become a good way to reflect on our studio’s work and the things we are influenced by. Writing helps visualise the thought/doing process the same way that drawing or doodling does. It’s a tool to be articulate and think of things through a different lens.

On mapping the creative industries, British Council has come out with a series of tool-kits, explaining the process. It advocates an inclusive approach clubbing music, theatre, cinema, advertising and other “economic activities stemming out from creativity and culture” to understand the true contribution of the creative industry. In India, how inter-connected is the creative industry? What steps would you suggest in mapping creative diversity in a nation such as India?

In Britain the idea of formulating the term “creative industries” has been to find their role in larger economic, social and industrial agendas. It’s a complex exercise and is not quite as simple as clubbing disciplines together under one umbrella. In any case, the British model would not work for India, but the fundamental steps to understand creative diversity would remain the same: documenting the creative industries, mapping, modelling, drawing inferences and applying them to long term policy decisions over the next 50 years. This would be invaluable to us creative practitioners because we would be able to understand our own contribution to the nation at large. It would also enable us to make our case to the government and industry. At the moment, we often feel insignificant and side-lined, even though we believe we have a lot to offer to an emerging India.

Unlike other professionals, designers don’t have many mentors to turn to? As you talk about the idea of a seamless evolution, what would you tell youngsters and even contemporaries about creating this continuity?

We urgently need to form a body that represents us professionally as designers. Without it, we have thus far been unable to identify each other, our collective needs or common goals. When we need mentorship we don’t know whom to turn to because the platform for design does not exist. Things are changing however, with the formation of bodies such as the Association of Designers of India that is a neutral, professionally driven group of people without affiliations to any government or business body. I would urge young designers to think about the profession, not just their portfolios and contribute to the community.




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