First Principles
INNOVATION TO MOVEMENT

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

The idea of design is contextual and is rooted in culture and its aesthetics and ethos. Yet a milieu that has had a considerable lineage in aesthetics is today alienated from the fundamental underpinnings of design. While design is a function of culture, it is equally a function of policy and its implementation. In a conversation with Creative Brands, the Director of the National Institute of Design, Pradyumna Vyas, who is also Member Secretary of the Design Council of India, the apex body that lays down policy on design and the design sector, says India needs an ecology of innovation and design entrepreneurship. We have almost ushered in a design movement in the country... and hopefully when people see their products getting benefits in terms of sale and in terms of returns, they will be convinced and will start investing in design,” says Vyas.

innovation-of-movement

What to your mind is design, and how would you define design?

Design comes when we use it, essentially when you plan something to give results in context. The context is important, because whether it is a solution, a product, a service system, when there is a methodology, design goes through a process. This process is based on research you conduct in the light of available technology, cultures, traditions, lifestyles, climatic conditions, and even peripheral aspects. Take the south Indian rasam. While rasam’s brewing, the temperature has to be right, the ingredients have to be right, the boiling time... Importantly, it needs to suit the South Indian palate. It may not suit the European taste bud, so there is a cultural angle to it. Everything has to be just right, boil it too much, it is finished! If it is undercooked it is finished too! Of course, presentation matters too, but aesthetics alone is not the only thing.

You referred to aesthetics. Design does not exist in a vacuum and to my mind aesthetics is one of its fundamental axioms. Is aesthetics is a function of a culture?

Aesthetics is very important — it also depicts cultural identity. Aesthetics is also a sociological and psychological underpinning. In all societies, embellishment has played a major role. Look at some of our tribal communities — some of them would literally mutilate their bodies and that was a sign of beauty!

Intricate design has been part of our civilisational heritage — from urban planning to architecture, to our narratives... What do you think has robbed our public spaces of aesthetics? What is it that ails our design and aesthetic cultures?

Let me put it this way. It is a function of demand and supply — there is more demand than supply. Add to it chaos and congestion. That is one aspect. The second aspect is the need — is it induced need or felt need? We have become a consuming society. If you have the resources, you will do what you want to do and you will do where you want to do it. Now right or wrong has to be seen in the context of urban policy — such as what sort of policy you have whether it is in terms of signage, or in terms of the type of houses you want made. From that perspective — policy, proper policy framework, and its implementation — it is chaotic. In fact, there is no visual language in today’s emerging cities. In addition, the materials or building materials lobbies dominate the scene and dictate matters of choice and aesthetics. So felt need isn’t important as much as what the market forces ask you to do. Like we say democracy and responsibility should go hand in hand, but what if there is no responsible behaviour, it can only result in chaos. Therefore, in design, policies play an important role.

“We need to position Indian design globally. We need to tell the world that India is not only about Yoga and so on. The time has come to talk about today, about technology, about education, and what indeed is contemporary India? We need to showcase our contemporary strengths and take Indian designs and capabilities abroad.

You are Member Secretary of the India Design Council. How does the government plan to usher in a design culture in a larger scale in our lives?

I just would like to say that the India Design Council was constituted only in 2009 following the institution of the National Design Policy in 2007. Now in the absence of any design framework, different interpretations were happening in different places. Once the Council was constituted, we discussed what our priorities for our country in the area of design and design promotion were to be. We said let’s look globally how people were promoting good design and then we looked into the model that Japan had been practising for close to 55 years called ‘G Mark’. So whenever a product was launched in Japan, a group of designers and evaluators would evaluate them and if it was good in terms of fulfilling psychological, environmental, functional, and safety parameters, the product was given the G Mark. So consumers knew that it was good for them, be it product, packaging, or pattern.

We felt this could be good starting point to help sensitise the Indian population about good design as well and so we launched the ‘I Mark’. Please check out www.indiadesignmark.in

So Indian manufacturers can apply for an India Design Mark — either ‘Made in India’, ‘Designed in India’, or ‘Marketed in India’. Out of these three if you satisfy two conditions, you can apply for the India Design Mark. Let’s say if the Maruti Suzuki car is manufactured in India and marketed in India, they can apply for the India Design Mark. To our surprise we saw Honda, General Motors, and a lot of foreign companies applying for the certification. So we are slowly beginning to tell people what is good design!

innovation-of-movementSo design is not a cost...

This has been a major success story. In three years’ time, we have issued a fairly large number of certifications. Besides, we have also been organising design summits, exhibitions, and expositions, where we encourage good design products to be showcased. Indian industry is still not able to differentiate between industrial design and engineering design and many a time we tell small and medium-scale enterprises, who are the second-largest employers in our country, that design is not a cost. I tell them design is an investment. So today if you invest in design, tomorrow you will reap immense rewards.

Yet it is a difficult thing, because it is only now a design culture seeping in... Countries such as Korea, Japan or Taiwan have been design conscious for decades. Look at where Korea is today after a major design movement post 1980. India is way behind!

So it is important to communicate design. We still imitate foreign products and we use that rather clever phrase called “reverse engineering” for that. Reverse engineering is nothing but copying! The other fear the Indian industry has that their investment in design may not subsequently have adequate protection against intellectual property infringement.

So we are also simultaneously trying to see how IPRs can become stringent, how people follow these norms, and how people invest in design. The government is also coming forward to subsidise design services for small and medium-scale industries. We have a design clinic scheme of which the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises is the nodal agency. We are match-making between the small-scale industry and designers, where we subsidise the costs towards design services in a 60:40 ratio — 60 percent to designers and 40 percent to industries.

We have almost ushered in a design movement in the country through this design clinic scheme and hopefully when people see their products getting benefits in terms of sale and in terms of returns, they will be convinced and will start investing in design. So we need to have a couple of significant success stories to influence the small and medium sectors.

How do we communicate on a larger plane?

We need to position Indian design globally. We need to tell the world that India is not only about Yoga and so on. The time has come to talk about today, about technology, about education, and what indeed is contemporary India? We need to showcase our contemporary strengths and take Indian designs and capabilities abroad. Besides, people need to be encouraged, and R&D needs to be given some kind of tax benefit. We can also consider giving tax benefits to people who are investing time, energy, and resources for innovative practices.

“I tell them design is an investment... So it is important to communicate design. We still imitate foreign products and we use that rather clever phrase called “reverse engineering” for that. Reverse engineering is nothing but copying!

How do you encourage such a design environment?

We are trying to help foster a certain design entrepreneurship, so that people come out with a lot of innovative ideas, and we help them set up their own enterprises. In fact, we have at NID, a national design business incubator, and I must say there have been a number of success stories. We also need to mobilise the creative industry in this country. The Chartered Society of Designers can bring the design fraternity under one umbrella. Yes, we are certainly not going into city planning and architecture. But we are looking at empowering the craft sector as well. However, the social sector is also very important — as to how design could play a crucial role in social development.

Fifty years from now, do you envision a visually better designed India?

Absolutely! First of all, as head of NID and as Member Secretary of the India Design Council, I have to be very optimistic, because design cannot happen if you do not have hope. I would say after 20 years — even as early as 15 years or so — it would be a great time for the creative industry. If you have to become a global leader, you will become one on your strengths and not on borrowed strengths. Aping the developed West cannot be the answer. We can build our future on traditional knowledge, which embodied practices that were sustainable, cohesive, and integrated. We can still live a good life with much less resources... We need to learn reinvent ourselves. In fact, we can handle complex things very well and one of the greatest strengths of our country is that 50 percent of our population is less than 30 years of age. With such a young resource available, we need to practise a systems-thinking approach, and the much discussed ‘smart city’ is nothing but a systems-thinking city, where backward and forward linkages are tied up well... But for that we must eschew shortcuts, because you see India is a global leader in frugal innovation. We call it jugaad, but jugaad is sustainable only for a particular moment.

CB

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