Delivering the Keynote address at the USID2007 on 18 June 2007, I focused on the theme of the conference, “Living in a Digital World: Opportunities for Engineers & Designers”, and my travel to the “CyberCity” gave me several insights about the IT industry in Hyderabad as well as the status of recent developments in the city. My presentation to the conference gave an overview of our current understanding of design from the NID perspective and focused on the emerging opportunities in the field of digital design and it touched on the new policy initiatives that promise to finally bring support to the design sector in the country, long delayed, but much needed nevertheless. The conference was well attended with over 150 participants from the Indian IT sector, international players as well as the Indian media.
Hyderabad has changed since I last saw it, and this is quite dramatic since the conference at the Hi-Tech city’s Novotel Hotel conference centre could have been anywhere in the developed world, going by the quality of facilities but when you head back to the old city, real India strikes back with its traffic jams and its multi-layered cultural and chaotic infrastructure and road sense – cows, dogs and humans all using the same road, competing with the cars, rickshaws, trucks and busses – and people all over the place, yes we are in real India again. The approach road, a three-lane highway almost completed but not quite, is lined by the leading IT companies of India and many of the worlds largest IT corporations or their respective research centres. A month ago in Bangalore, another exploding IT destination for India, I saw similar sights along the Outer Ring Road also lined with Indias’ best and many many from the world stage, and I wondered about where all this explosive growth was taking us, traffic and all. Missing are all the great big boulders that had lined the landscape in my imagination and memory of Banjara Hills and the Jubilee Hills area through which we traveled, to make way for the new roads and IT campuses, I miss these spectacular landmarks, perhaps we could do all this development in another way?
My presentation called for the use of design across all the 230 sectors of our economy and for IT and Digital design initiatives across five broad fields of exploration and design action. Opportunities for design action were described across these five major areas of focus, namely, Nature, Life, Work, Health & Play. Nature includes all needs of the Earth and its Environment and in the age of Global Warming we need to apply our minds to addressing design action in this field. GeoVisualisation, endangered species watch as well as the health of our planet using research and informed design action are some of the opportunities that I identified here. Life and community, society and culture are another avenue for channeling design energies and imagination and these could be the key source for future human harmony and community satisfaction. Work, on the other hand for me, represents meaningful and satisfying occupations and productivity as well as sustainable services and supports for the business community. Health come next with a focus on good food & fitness regimes that could ensure a quality of life that many of us lack, particularly in the developing world today. Elimination hunger and providing food and clean drinking water for all humans is not a difficult task to achieve if we set our minds and actions to achieve these results. Finally, in Play I see relaxation and sports, leisure activities and entertainment, all of which needs to be designed to meet the stressful lives of our times as well as the needs of our youth, children as well as our elderly and differently-abled citizens.
The challenges for Indian design are many and we will need to work overtime to make up for lost time due to poor policy frameworks and a lack of thrust in the past. The national Design Policy too will need to be refurbished to meet these enormous challenges to make any significant breakthroughs in the 230 sectors of our economy that we would need to make design action happen in India. These include all the Government sectors and Ministries as well as all our Industry sectors, all of which need design at many levels of intervention, and many of them still do not know that they do. Design for the social and public sectors too need special attention and it may well be a call for the establishment of a Ministry of Design in order to coordinate the design investments that are needed across the board in all the sectors of need and action in the days ahead. The mind-set to be nourished in my view would be to ask our engineers and designers to think of creative products and systems that are simultaneously sustainable and provide a great experience to the Indian public and the consumer, the Indian stakeholder at large. Design is a way forward, and at the broadest level of definition it can take good intentions through creative thoughts and skillful actions to generate huge value for everyone. Design is being re-invented, and around the world many design thinkers are recognizing this powerful role and it is this kind of macro-micro interpretation that should inform our national Design Policy going forward.
My presentation can be downloaded from my website at the design theory link and the conference details are seen at the USID2007 homepage link below. Comments in the media missed the case studies that were presented, the NID designed Electronic Voting Machine way back in 1988 which is now used in all elections across India, perhaps the worlds most significant and complex interface design experiment of the 80’s and the home composting system from Bangalore called the “Daily Dump”, which promises to revolutionize the collection and disposal of garbage, in a decentralized way, if it is supported and adopted by our society, only time will tell. Bucky Fuller’s “Space Ship Earth” is now for me even more delicate and it is the “Space Bubble Earth” with the soil layer forming the critical organic zone which will need to be protected at any cost, if we are to ensure the survival of the planet as we know it in a sustainable manner. Design creates – concepts, communications, products, systems and infrastructure – all using tools and processes created by technology, imbued with information and meaning in a intentional manner, transforming materials and form in a sustainable manner, which are driven by sensitivities and attitudes that are at an ethical level, well beyond the legal and the political, yes, “Design is an Intentional Activity that Generates Value”, for all stakeholders and the environment.