DESIGN IS THOUGHTFULNESS

By: K. G. SREENIVAS             Dated: September 01, 2014

The fundamental impulse of design lies in intention and a validation of it in all its profundity is of the essence. Design draws on culture and it complexities, and is therefore at once transcendental and transformative, says Preeti Vyas, Chairwoman, Vyas Giannetti Creative in a conversation with Creative Brands.

The human world functions, our world functions or is at least expected to function to a particular design, we have homes and roads and offices and schools etc, all designed to fulfil predetermined functions. What to your mind is design or the organising principles of design?

I think design is something you put thought to, it is a thought essentially, which is bringing together many elements, many objectives or could be one objective, but in order to do that, we start from an intention. So it sort of defines that... Design is a strategy, design is thoughtfulness, and if you like the world is in itself is design.

Then, of course, there are other aspects of design, such as aesthetics. But an understanding of your intention followed by its validation is of the essence. It becomes more relevant and intelligent and has more impact because of the process you follow in the sense that it does not exist in a vacuum.

An area of enduring concern has been a lack of sense of design and purpose to the way we design our public spaces. What, to your mind, constitutes a certain resistance to a sense of design and aesthetics in India?

There are several things. Firstly, who are the custodians of public spaces and are they sensitised to, first of all, intention? If they are not clear about intention, they are not clear about the objective, and if we are not strong about intention then we have not thought through the process of how we are going to be delivering it. If I were to design a road, the first thing I would do is to look at the benchmarks that exist in India and around the world, enrich myself, do my research, understand how certain objectives have been dealt with by other people, learn from that and implement it using your own cultural parameters.

What I am saying is we need that kind of thoughtfulness and that kind of a process. If custodians lack it, then obviously it’s a reflection of a complete lack of understanding and lack of commitment to that intention. On the other hand, you have clients, people who are entrepreneurs and businessmen, who want to create a company or brand. Now they wouldn’t think of creating a brand out of their company, they would think of doing a logo for the company. Now I think these are completely two ways of thinking. Someone who is actually designing a logo for the company is only thinking of designs but you have not created a brand! It’s not going to be a brand, just because you have created a logo.

So branding too becomes a design intervention...

People do not understand that. People have not understood the impact brand building could have on their businesses. Everyone will admiringly look up to big brand builders, say like Apple, but they will not do even five percent of what these companies have done in order to protect and grow their brands. So the big question is why is it? Largely because there is a huge lack of awareness... We as a business community have not yet reached that stage of competiveness, where we have to think of differentiators, which arise from how you position your brand, how you build your brand, going beyond advertising. A lot of companies look at building their brand through mainstream advertising. Though that has changed quite a lot, I feel that, that transition has not really taken place as much as it should have. In a recessionary economy, people cut back on these things for they think they are extras, other people do that, we have found that, in those kind of trends that people will not invest in kind of branding opportunities.

But let’s look at product design, at someone who is actually manufacturing something. They are not yet looking at product design as an important strategy in the market place with their competitors. For example, when you look at Apple, which is both product as well as branding, the branding is communicated as much as the product that is finished. More than that product innovation also calls for that kind of innovative approach, because that is what will differentiate them as a company and as a brand. And if they can actually command a premium, it will have a direct correlation to their bottomline. This is something that has not happened yet. Unfortunately, the media in India also is mainly focused only on mainstream advertising; design and its importance has not been part of any mainstream media discussion in the manner in which advertising has been.

So, you are reinventing yourself...

This is the dialogue and the culture I create within the company and the interaction I create with my customers and consumers... to reinvent myself and stay true to my brand DNA at every level — which means if I am a retail brand, how will I retail, what will my spaces look like, what will my digital domain look like, how will I interact through the digital medium, how will I interact through the electronic medium and so on... How will I design experiences? So everything is design, but unfortunately, it’s not part of too many dialogues.

Despite a legacy in aesthetics, advances, intercultural influences, scholarship, why do you think processes, systems, and methods in India are kind of robbed of a sense of design?

Since you have mentioned the historical legacy of design that we have had, that’s typically Indian, there was always a design evangelist at the end of it all, there was a king, somebody who was sponsoring that movement of design. Let me design my city, my town, he was the evangelist of design and he created a city, he created a town, and he created systems, he created processes, because he believed that would help his kingdom.

So I think, essentially a lot of this come from who is that. So there was always somebody, who actually understood the importance of it, didn’t essentially called it design, but there was a need to put these processes in place, they believed in it, they committed funds to it, they committed time to it, they brought it in the best kind of talent available to do that right?

Someone who is actually designing a logo for the company is only thinking of designs but you have not created a brand! It's not going to be a brand, just because you have created a logo...

I think you need believers, it’s really the power of one, you don’t need too many people to it, but you need to empower people, to convert to the importance of design.

I think people are looking at design as a cost and not as an investment, something not very important for them... They don’t see putting in this investment in design, in robust design, ecology, and thinking of a company. In a survival economy, design is seen as an extraneous thing.

I have launched this platform called ‘Designomics’, which essentially deals with the idea of design. We are now getting into the fourth edition of Desginomics awards, given to businesses that have used any kind of design and have succeeded or made a success of it. For example let’s take a Titan or Tanishq — they actually embedded design... for them it was a business philosophy. So Desginomics seeks to spread more awareness about the idea of design.

In fact I was listening to your interview with Kishore Biyani.

He is essentially a big convert to design and is a design strategy thinker. He says in his book, “yesterday belonged to the MBA’s tomorrow belongs to the designers”.

Do you think aesthetics is a function of culture?

I think aesthetics is certainly a function of culture, but how do you define your culture. For example, if you say Indian culture, it depends, If I’m going to be branding an Ayurvedic spa and I am going to be branding a lounge, you know, then I don’t understand how much of what I see as a classical Indian culture will impact the two. The answer is clear.

So a simplistic understanding of Indian culture cannot be applied... There is a culture in India, all cultures transform, and India too is transforming... So what are we really, what is that we are kind of digesting... we need to take on board many influences, we are many people. We have in India as much classical Indian orientation as western orientation.

You know there is definitely culture, the way we speak, the way we enunciate... the way we talk, the way we behave... it’s as relevant as street lingo or the classical or the Vedantic. All of it finds its rightful place whether you are American or Indian or Sinhalese. It is important that we adhere to that, otherwise there cannot be empathy, no one will want to have affinity to your brand or design, if you ignore your culture.

CB

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