Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Education Strategies and Institutional Needs in the Context of the National Design Policy

New Education Strategies in the Context of the National Design Policy
Image: Design Opportunities and Sectors of the economy. (click to enlarge)
There is a pressing need for the “Design-enabling” of our economy through a rapidly expanded and ingrained use of design action and design thinking in almost 230 sectors of the Indian economy. The means to achieve this is quite limited today by the existing framework of Institutions that can provide the human resources, the research initiatives and the sustained knowledge resources that are needed to support this massive but achievable task. Most business and cultural activities in India are sorely in need to mobilise the use of design in imaginative ways for the development of these sectors which are in crying need of design action and design thinking at their very core. The current levels of investments in design and design research are at appallingly low levels when compared to the investments made in science, technology and management in the past sixty years and as a continuing activity even today. The National Design Policy, which was announced in February 2007, has not changed these lacunae but we would certainly need to leverage this policy in order to set in motion the much-needed change across the sectors of use. It is argued that investments made in the past have failed to solve the critical need of creating the required innovations and deliver these to the marketplace so that they could touch the lives of the people in everyday situations across the country. While a number of new materials and technological innovations have resulted from these massive scientific and technological investments, very little of this has been translated into useable products and services primarily because in my view there has been a corresponding lack of investments in design.

The traditions of Indian culture are beautiful and full of evidence of design use and we do constantly bring these up in debates about how advanced India is in design use as a way of life. While this is true at one level their modern urban and rural interpretations and manifestations in everyday life leaves much to be desired. As Romesh Thappar had declared in his 1979 keynote speech to the UNIDO-ICSID conference on Design for Development at NID Ahmedabad, he said – as modern Indians we are indeed a study in mediocrity. These modern and everyday expressions that he was referring to are somehow devoid of the exquisite qualities that the Eames’s saw in the “Lota” that symbolised for them the elegance of Indian design as it had evolved over the ages. This serious absence of this continued use of “Design” as a quality producing critical discipline that supports the development agenda of a nation, which has been struggling to find a foothold in a global marketplace, is truly appalling. I propose that Design be returned to our society for it to be used again as a necessary counterpoint to get our bearings back. This call for a serious use of design as a tool and a strategy for the development inside all sectors of the Indian economy, all 230 of them, is particularly important since it is so sorely missing from the nations policy frameworks in almost all of these sectors, quite unlike the prominent position given to the fields of Science, Technology, Management and to some limited extent, the field of Art. How then do we bring design to the centre-stage in all our activities in India? The National Design Policy does not address these needs in any great measure today and we will need to therefore broaden the mandate quite considerably if we are to achieve the desired results. Design will need to inform change and innovation in the primary, secondary as well as the tertiary sectors and play a role in shaping the culture of the land in a rapidly changing milieu.

Defining Design for Development
I must fall back on some of my previous writings to create a framework of definitions and ideas that can put in context the views that I have expressed above and to build the foundation for the strategies that I propose in this paper for the development of a design initiative for the country as a whole. I used the opportunity of addressing the first National Design Summit in Bangalore in 2001 to touch upon some of these issues and to take a long look at the last forty years or so of design education and practise in India in a paper titled “Cactus Flowers Bloom in a Dessert” (Ranjan 2001) (download paper pdf 123kb and visual presentation part 1 pdf 3.6MB and part 2 pdf 4.6MB here) that tried to capture the struggle that the design community in India have put up over the years in the face of extreme deprivation of resources and support from Industry and Government alike. The paper built upon some of the arguments that I had proposed in previous papers on the role of design in the Indian economy with specific reference to the lopsided manner in which investments had been made in India with reference to design and technology education and research. In my paper titled “Design Before Technology” (Ranjan 1999) (download paper pdf 45kb and visual presentation pdf 1.7MB here). I had argued here that India was losing out in its search for sustainable development by ignoring the investment needs of the design sector and although massive investments had been made in the science and technology sectors we were acutely short of innovative products and services that could delivered to our marketplace and these could only be achieved through the use of design as a layer over the other investments made so far.

Image: Levels of Design Intervention (click to enlarge)
In my paper titled “Levels of Design Interventions” (Ranjan 1998) (download paper pdf 200kb here) I have described four levels at which design action and research could be perceived in the context of a complex global scenario that was beginning to impact our economy and promised to accelerate as we moved forward along the path of economic liberalisation in India. While design at the ‘Tactical level’ used the fairly well recognised skills and sensitivities of a designer the other levels were ignored to a large extent in India that in fact needed these levels more than the first which usually resulted in aesthetic and functional solutions. The three other levels that I had proposed in my model were the ‘Elaborative’, the ‘Creative’ and the ‘Strategic’ levels. Each one addressed the needs of market complexity, innovation and intellectual property issues. At the level of vision and anticipatory strategies, design uses scenarios and maps opportunities to create new industries. These approaches need the collaboration of teams drawn from many disciplines. They can build solutions and frameworks, which may bring transformation. The transformation may take place from a resource poor to a resource abundant perspective. Mobilising integrated resources that work in synergetic ways due to the efforts of such multi-disciplinary design teams can achieve it. Design at the strategic level also sets the agenda for many forms of research to be done by a large number of disciplines based on a shared vision of the future that is desirable and can find administrative, political and entrepreneurial supports.

Image: Systems model for Design Education at NIFT and NID (click to enlarge)
The systems model of design that some of teachers adopted at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, for building courses and to conduct our research and client interventions had over the years given us the conviction that design in India is quite different from that which is practised in the West. Design for development has been discussed at many platforms; many a time leading to utter confusion with the discourse offering as many definitions of design as the number of participants. Notwithstanding this difficulty with the subject as complex as design, the power of design should be used to meet the real needs of a huge population desperately seeking solutions to many vexing problems in a tough economic climate. Design at the strategic level can be used as a catalytic to mobilise innovations and policies that can indeed transform the country in more ways than one. Design can create a kind of ‘Avalanche Effect’ since a relatively small investment in design can indeed produce incredible change in different sectors of the national economy. We have seen glimpses of this effect wherever policy and action have embraced design in even small ways in the past. The results have been dramatic. The two areas that I have personal experience in are the Crafts and the Bamboo sector. Both have created Institutions and investments to use design along with an integrated mobilisation of investments in related projects and research at our initiative. In the area of design education I have worked with NID as well as NIFT in shaping their curriculum and teaching approaches through a number of faculty seminars and curriculum committees. We need to go much further and develop approaches to reach design education into our schooling system as well as into the university system across the vast geography that is India.

Design Education: Perspectives in India
In 1991 as part of a committee set up to prepare a curriculum for the proposed Accessory Design programme in Delhi, I had the opportunity to create a structure for perhaps the first of the sector specific programmes in Design offered outside the NID at Ahmedabad. The Garment and Accessory Sectors were growing rapidly in India driven by massive exports and the low wage regime that prevailed at that time. The Ministry of Textiles had developed a substantial cash reserve from the cess on these export earnings that it was obliged to use for the development initiatives in that sector. The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi, had been set up using this initiative as an integrated institution for the creation of human resources to provide quality service to this booming industry. The structure of the curriculum that was conceived for the NIFT programme followed inputs and assignments in four broad domains. Each with its own special knowledge and set of skills, were offered to students as lectures, assignments, practical projects and field exposure modules respectively. While the domain of design covered core design sensibilities through courses in basic design, and action capabilities being strengthened with design management and design methodologies, the domain of the subject introduced knowledge specific to the areas of products such as jewellery, footwear, bags, travel artefacts, belts, items of clothing, toys, gifts etc. The domain of Industry was identified to provide the students the tools and concepts of the trade since each industry segment had its own norms and practises. Lastly, the aspect of the user or the consumer was introduced to understand needs and processes in the marketplace.

Image: Curriculum Model for NIFT and NID (click to enlarge)
This four-pronged structure was developed further during my tenure as part of the curriculum review exercise at the NID in 1992 ‘94. All the courses offered at that time, our committee reviewed over 250 of them across almost nine disciplines, with very detailed presentations from the teachers who were responsible to conduct each one of these. The four-pronged structure of the domains of Design, the Subject, the Industry and the User/Consumer were used to locate each of the courses and to determine the methodology to be followed by way of assignments and theory. This brought a lot of clarity to the exercise and helped the committee make a number of corrective recommendations that shaped the texture of these courses, their content and delivery structure. After following borrowed curricula from the west for many years, we were examining our teaching resources and methods in a great detail with reference to the complex context that were being perceived in India. However the course information structure improved considerably with the introduction of the course abstract paper that was made mandatory for each course. The review process saw the articulation and assembly of all the course abstracts into a multi-volume set that was placed in the NID Resource Centre as the Master Abstracts Set.

The fact that NID had only published its Syllabus and detailed course descriptions only twice in the past thirty years (1970 and 1982) made these course abstracts all the more valuable. The information about the relationship between courses was contained in a tabular flow chart that shows the sequence of the courses and the time duration. The timetable that was prepared and released each semester showed the timings, dates and the names of teachers responsible for each course. The need for publications about the fields of application of design from NID (and other design schools in India) was often discussed at NID Faculty Forum. It was felt because despite many odds, Institute and its designers had made many successful forays into the difficult and complex domains of design service. However, the students and faculty who were in the midst of the great happenings, explorations and debates did benefit from this significant exposure of client service, both in terms of quality and content. The NID products, comprising its students and alumni, form the spearhead of the design initiative in India, albeit in small numbers but still sufficient to make an impact in some sectors through a sustained endeavour. Other design schools in the country have their share too of successes achieved in various fields. Their success was facilitated by their location or by their affiliation to a different Ministry from which they drew their funds. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) started programmes in design at Mumbai, Delhi and Guwahati in the year 1970, 1985 and 1996 respectively while NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) expanded its reach by setting up centres in Mumbai, Kolkata, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai in quick succession in the late nineties. In the private sector two new schools were set up in Delhi and Bangalore as the pressure for admissions to the existing schools and the demand for the design professionals was rising in the country. Most of these schools used NID trained designers as their teaching resource either as full time teachers or as a visiting faculty resource.

Design Initiatives: New Institutions
Image: IICD Model of “Craft as an Industry in India” (click to enlarge)
In 1991 I was also involved in an assignment aimed at the articulation of a feasibility report for a school of crafts studies in Jaipur. The result was the setting up of the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design (IICD), Jaipur, by the State Government of Rajasthan. (download feasibility report pdf 386kb here) It had been set up on the premise that design as defined by us in that report was a critical tool for the development of the crafts sector as a whole. A national mandate was given to the new Institute. The model that was proposed in that report projected the crafts in India as an economic and social activity that could liberate a very large number of decentralised and self-sustaining activities that required a very low capital base to initiate and to grow. Craft was taught in most design institutes in India by then as a means of sensitising Indian designers to the complexities of rural industries. It also explored the need for alternate frameworks for action in India outside the organised industrial sector. The designers often ignored the unorganised sector. However, this was the first time that a dedicated institution was set up to address the needs of the crafts sector. This sector was already contributing considerable employment and earning substantial amount of foreign exchange through export. The need for design to take initiatives of this sector was by now established by numerous success stories of design interventions. NID was at the forefront of these interventions through its craft documentation exercises that mapped the cultural resources of the country in very detailed studies conducted over the years. NID Resource Centre made these documents available to students and faculty members.

Image: BCDI Model of Institutional Philosophy (click to enlarge)
Another major demand for building up an institution for design education and research came from the Bamboo sector. Of late, the Bamboo and Cane Development Institute (BCDI) was restructured by NID at the request of the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts (DC-H), Government of India as part of their National Bamboo development initiative. (download BCDI feasibility report pdf 366kb here) The United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) in India was supporting this initiative. BCDI, Agartala earlier functioned as a mere training centre for young craftsmen of the North-east. NID’s extensive study of the Bamboo Crafts of the Northeast India and the numerous papers and design projects projected the use of bamboo as a sustainable resource for India and these brought us into a strategic relationship with the Government of India and UNDP. The initiatives gave us the opportunity to demonstrate the power design action at a strategic level.

Image: UNDP supported product innovations in bamboo (click to enlarge)
At the request of the UNDP I was involved in articulating the vision report for the National Bamboo Initiative that resulted in a report titled “From the Land to the People: Bamboo as a sustainable Human Development Resource” (Ranjan 1999). (download pdf 1.5MB here) This report was built around six scenarios that were design visualisations that placed a sequence of inputs, events and innovations that could spearhead a veritable bamboo revolution if implemented in form and spirit. In the months that followed, a number of intensive design explorations have created a climate of sustained investments into this sector from as many as ten State Governments and numerous national and non-governmental agencies. The DC-H increased its allocation to the bamboo initiatives and asked for an improved infrastructure for training and design development. Once again the feasibility report that we developed called for an integrated approach with design at the core of the Institution and the activities covering four clear subject domains. The revamped Institution was proposed to focus on plantation studies since bamboo is a natural material suitable for agricultural development, Product Innovation, Technology Innovation and Market Research studies to sustain a creative design climate that would inform all the activities and set the agenda for research and action in all areas of bamboo related knowledge.

Image: BCDI: An approach to sector specific design education. (click to enlarge)
While the major national Institutes for design that were set up over the years continue to perform their tasks of design education and research, the massive need anticipated from all 230 sectors of our economy. These sectors, which are in need of design resources and sector specific knowledge, are still largely un-addressed. The two new sector specific Institutes that we helped set up, namely the IICD and the BCDI were relatively easier to fund and create since the message to the stake holders was more focussed and the funding agencies saw value in each offering since the results. It is also easier for industries from within the sector to see direct benefits and to align themselves to such Institutes. Although design is a general discipline, nevertheless, a great deal of domain specific competence is also needed by the industries and promotional agencies alike. It was this premise that I brought to my class last year. A group of Foundation students at NID were asked to look at the Indian economy and to try and build macro-economic models for design action in India. The development of this course at NID is also a very significant aspect of this discourse. Over the years the definition of design has shifted in many directions, each pulled along a different vector by a vocal advocate of an inherent quality of design. Leaders of design thinking that influenced NID education were many early international visitors to the Institute such as Charles and Ray Eames, Armin Hofman, Louis Khan, Frei Otto and others. Its Resource Centre also made some critical books available to the faculty and students of the Institute. In the context of design theory, which influenced our minds the works of Christopher Alexander, John Chris Jones and Bruce Archer and publications from the Bauhaus, the hfg Ulm, and the Basel school of graphic design come to the top of my mind. Many of these books were subjects of great debate on the campus and they provided the intellectual stimulus to some of us who were interested in such discussions.

The future of design lies somewhere along this path and we must find new roles for design in the production of images that can influence decision processes. Some of the processes are so complex that they need many iterations and political mediations to resolve these in an amicable manner. Most importantly, design processes need the involvement and partnership of a multitude of stakeholders. Visualisations of these explorations would make the concepts, the decisions and issues available for visual review in a transparent and understandable manner and foster long-term partnership needed to achieve the lofty results. Many models need to be built and discussed before we know how to proceed and this would be planning being done in a transparent manner with stakeholder participation, which is desirable. Design at this level has the ingredients to create the Avalanche Effect, a great positive mobilisation, and an overwhelming quality of something hopefully new and beneficial, with a small design effort. (download paper on the DCC course at NID pdf 55kb here). India now has a number of design schools and new ones are in the offing going by the enquiries that we have been getting from industry and the education sector in recent times. How these should be envisioned and regulated is a major question that the design community, the educators as well as government should give some serious thought in the context of the National Design Policy. With the proliferation of schools and programmes there is a great deal of confusion about what is offered and what can be expected from each institution or department in a relatively new field that is design education. The objective of the National Institute of Design as stated in the Eames India Report of 1958 (download report pdf 359kbhere)

References: (M P Ranjan's papers can be downloaded from this link here)
1. Charles and Ray Eames, The India Report, Government of India, New Delhi, 1958, reprint, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, 1997
2. Richard Buckminister Fuller, Ideas and Integrities: A spontaneous autobiographical disclosure, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1963
3. Thomas Maldonado, Gui Bonsiepe, Renate Kietzmann et al., eds, “Ulm (1 to 21): Journal of the Hoschule fur Gestaltung”, Hoschule fur Gestaltung, Ulm, 1958 to 1968
4. Hans M. Wingler, The Bauhaus: Weimer, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1969
5. Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London, 1972
6. Stafford Beer, Platform for Change, John Wiley & Sons, London, 1975
7. M P Ranjan, Nilam Iyer & Ghanshyam Pandya, Bamboo and Cane Crafts of Northeast India, Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, New Delhi, 1986
8. Herbert Lindinger, Hoschule fur Gestaltung - Ulm, Die Moral der Gegenstande, Berlin, 1987
9. Kirti Trivedi ed., Readings from Ulm, Industrial Design Centre, Bombay, 1989
10. J A Panchal and M P Ranjan, “Institute of Crafts: Feasibility Report and Proposal for the Rajasthan Small Industries Corporation”, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad 1994
11. M P Ranjan, “Design Education at the Turn of the Century: Its Futures and Options”, a paper presented at ‘Design Odyssey 2010’ design symposium, Industrial Design Centre, Bombay 1994
12. National Institute of Design, “35 years of Design Service: Highlights – A greeting card cum poster”, NID, Ahmedabad, 1998
13. M P Ranjan, “The Levels of Design Intervention in a Complex Global Scenario”, Paper prepared for presentation at the Graphica 98 - II International Congress of Graphics Engineering in Arts and Design and the 13th National Symposium on Descriptive Geometry and Technical Design, Feira de Santana, Bahia, Brazil, September 1998.
14. S Balaram, Thinking Design, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, 1998
15. Gui Bonsiepe, Interface: An approach to Design, Jan van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht, 1999
16. M P Ranjan, “Design Before Technology: The Emerging Imperative”, Paper presented at the Asia Pacific Design Conference ‘99 in Osaka, Japan Design Foundation and Japan External Trade Organisation, Osaka, 1999
17. M P Ranjan, “From the Land to the People: Bamboo as a sustainable human development resource”, A development initiative of the UNDP and Government of India, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, 1999
18. M P Ranjan, “Rethinking Bamboo in 2000 AD”, a GTZ-INBAR conference paper reprint, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, 2000
19. M P Ranjan, “Cactus Flowers Bloom in the Desert”, paper presented at the National Design Summit, Bangalore, 2001
20. John Chris Jones, “The Internet and Everyone”, Ellipses, London, 2000 and website http://www.softopia.demon.co.uk
21. M P Ranjan, Yrjo Weiherheimo, Yanta H Lam, Haruhiko Ito & G Upadhayaya, “Bamboo Boards and Beyond: Bamboo as the sustainable, eco-friendly industrial material of the future”, (CD-ROM) UNDP-APCTT, New Delhi and National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, 2001
22. M P Ranjan, Bamboo and Cane Development Institute, Feasibility report for the proposed National Institute to be set up by the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Government of India, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, 2001
23. M P Ranjan, “Beyond Grassroots: Bamboo as Seedlings of Wealth”, (CD ROM) BCDI, Agartala and NID, Ahmedabad, 2003

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