Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wish List for India’s National Design Policy

The debate is on and the cows are set free in the meadows and this sets the stage for some pondering and reflection from the design community if we are to get it right, if at all. Notwithstanding the 28 years of inaction by the country after the Ahmedabad Declaration of 1979 and fully 49 years after the clarion call from Charles and Ray Eames in their India Report of 1958, we finally have a National Design Policy (NDP) , hurrah.

The Policy as enshrined in the Cabinet release of 8 February 2007 which unfortunately leaves much to be desired and it leaves out much that could be imagined and wished for. The design community needs to get its act together and help the Government grapple with the many intangibles that make design so effective and at the same time ambiguous and undefinable and to some extent unknowable, because design is about shaping the future which can be imagined and determined by our actions but which cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty by any science or technology known to us. So it is easy to deal with these ideas when we give it adjectives and in the process we miss the essence of the act itself as we ought to appreciate it, with our feelings and sensory appreciation. Design at this level is an intentional activity informed by thoughts and ideas that lead to actions that generate great value, and it helps determine our future, as the Eamses had declared, “…a sober investigation into the values and qualities that the Indians hold important to a good life”.

How can we move this understanding of design as a core offering across every sector of the India economy and social action through the policy initiatives of the nation? The frameworks and action points that are now being discussed and articulated through the National Design Policy implementation committees need to be informed by a thoughtful and informed debate that the Eamses had called for in their seminal report which resulted in the setting up of the National Institute of Design in 1961 at Ahmedabad. The NDP that is supported and promoted by the Government of India needs to be beefed out with well structured and imaginative guidelines that can be actioned by the government, administration and business along with the full participation of the design community in India with the inclusion of all the other stakeholders – the Indian public – who should be involved in the process fully if the efforts are to achieve the desired results in a reasonable period of time, and we need to make up for lost time.

I have a constructive proposal here. Design is needed in as many as 230 sectors of our economy and we will need to start from ground up to build a sustainable movement that can capture the imagination of our nation so that the discipline is adopted and used across all these sectors with the active assistance of a policy framework that can help cope with the ambiguities and multi-dimensionality of the discipline itself which are not well understood and therefore not used to its full effect so far. We need to start at the very beginning and use all the dimensions of design as an critical activity for development in India. Further this needs to be rolled out across all the sectors of our economy, all 230 sectors, and at the very outset it seems to be a task that may well require the setting up of a coordinating Ministry, a Ministry of Design, if you like, if we are to do so with determination and conviction in a rapidly changing India that is quickly shedding its agrarian past and moving to a post-industrial and post-mining economy in the era of global warming and catastrophic change.

I propose a seven stage wish list that can capture and help manage all the dimensions of the national design policy framework from intention to value creation. These seven stages are as listed below:

1. Design Opportunities Mapping: Setting goals and defining objectives in close cooperation with the stakeholders.
2. Design Awareness Building: Promoting and informing all stakeholders, the public, government, business and society about the use and processes of design.
3. Design Support Initiatives: Enabling and empowering user groups and stakeholders to access and manage design to meet their core needs through incubating, incentiviceing and hand-holding supports.
4. Design Advocacy Services: Initiating and catalyzing action in high risk areas through planned investment and regulation of infrastructure and policy initiatives for growth and sustainability.
5. Design Action Initiatives: Public infrastructure and good practices in governance can be designed through a systematic programme of government action through public private partnerships to ensure that what is built is an umbrella for sustained and balanced development across all sectors of need.
6. Design Evaluation and Regulation: Impact assessment and systems audit on an ongoing basis will inform future investments as well as help regulate and instill good practices across the board in all development initiatives funded by government.
7. Design Planning and Vision: Support and direct investments in public interest research and design development initiatives that are both visionary can ensure the future proofing of our economy in a climate of cataclysmic change.

These seven dimensions need to be managed across all the sectors of our economy as well as its assimilation within our society if we are to emerge as a nation that is both creative and effective in a sustainable and equitable manner. These dimensions will need be expanded and articulated in a master plan if we are to shift to a design centric view of the future and to make it happen in India, a nation that can provide leadership across all the sectors in the creative economy of the future.

Can we make it happen? Can we afford not to?

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