Friday, December 23, 2005

'There is a paradigm shift in Indian design today'

Permission to reprint or copy this article must be obtained from The Hindustan Times

INTERVIEW/ DR DARLIE KOSHY, executive director, National Institute of Design

Shevlin Sebastian\Mumbai

Why are there so few designers in India? Apparently, we have two product designers per million while Japan has 90.
This has to do with a closed economy. Till 1991, there was no scope for design. There was no disposable income, no competition, no imports. We were more involved in the building up of infrastructure and technology. Design is a creative profession. The education system in India was geared up for mathematics and engineering. Creativity was not regarded as an important streak of human nature, and was not valued. What does a parent want? They want their children to be in a respectable profession. Design never fitted into that.
Have things changed now?
Yes, today, the children of educated and affluent parents are studying in the NID or in other design schools. India is opening up. There is a per capita rise of income. The people’s aspirations are rising. Is it easy to design a thing? It takes a lot of investment and work to make any product succeed. A simple steam iron of Phillips took about 28 years to perfect and even now it is not perfect. Or the luggage rack in a plane. It took over 25 years to design but even now it is not perfect. So, design is not a simple task of changing a colour from yellow to purple. It is a process by which you are constantly discovering that something better can be done.What is the effect of design on a consumer? It gives a hedonistic pleasure. Communities are becoming more pleasure seeking. And design plays an important role in giving pleasure. Earlier, we only thought of appeasing our hunger. But now the standard of living has improved and the senses are awakening.
What qualities do you need to become a good designer?
The capacity to visualise and the capacity to dream. The capacity to connect different dots into a unifying synthesis. We are not seeking the brain of an IIM graduate.
Is it similar to the work done by artists?
There is an element of art in design but art can be done just for the pleasure of art. But for a designer, it is aimed for a user.
What other qualities?
They should have a pleasure in touching things. If you are a furniture maker, you should touch the wood, and know the texture. You have to be a sensual person. Lastly, you should have the ability to predict trends.
Do designers have short careers?
Some of the time. You should have the grit to elongate your career. That is, always be on the leading edge. You should look at life as a lifelong learning. Designers should keep on charging their batteries through art and music. In India, learning stops somewhere. They think that by knowing the earlier skills, they can pull on, which is not true.
Are there many opportunities for designers now?
Absolutely. There is such a shortage of designers, from urban design, architectural design, to museum and retail design. For the next 20 years, India will require too many designers.
Are Indian customers design-conscious?
In a function three years ago somebody said, “India is a Third World country with a third rate design style.” This is not correct. We have an evolved sense of understanding in certain products and cuisine. For example, we are the only country in the world, which has a astringent taste level. Of course, there has been a hiatus between global and Indian design. There was a vacuum of 50 years because of various historical reasons; somewhere along the way, we did lose our sense of design. But it will not take long to rediscover it provided we make some changes in the school curriculum.
Like what?
Earlier, we used to have a class called craft, where we made something with our hands. Today, that is no longer there. Educators and policy makers have to understand that a country can be differentiated in the crowd of globalising nations only through its creativity. If your country stands out in innovation, everybody will say, this is THE country.
Do we have the talent?
We have 40 lakh craftsmen in India. To train such a number with similar skills, the government would have to spend Rs 14,000 crore. But several of them are selling vegetables or books or balloons because their skill level has no use in India. If a country is not geared to understand what its weaver’s skills are, that we cannot have a dialogue of creativity with them. In India, a weaver and a craftsman feels so inferior he will sit at one corner of a room. But it is now beginning to change.
In the CII-NID design summit being held in Mumbai, one theme is the design paradigm shift? What shift is taking place now?
The first is from analog to digital. Whether it is a car control, or a photograph, or music, or broadband technology, it is all digital. In 2005, digital products exceeded the sales of analog products. So this is a paradigm shift. The second shift is India has become a major player on the world stage. The confidence of the economy is especially visible. We have been associated suddenly with a resurgence of intellect and economy. This is a watershed. The third shift: the manufacturing industry, which had been completely written off four years ago, is resurgent. For example, in retail, India has risen from the 18th rank in the world to number one in the global retail index.

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