Sunday, December 30, 2007

CII-NID Design Summit, Bangalore 2007: Focus on the National Design Policy

The CII NID Design Summit 2007 was kicked off in great style by Uday Dandavate, Design with India, with the screening of two song sequences from Bollywood in the sixtees and from the current crop, the first showed Nutan doing a homely Garba dance and the other with Bipasha Basu in Omkara, a stark reminder that we have all come a long way since Independence. Yes, India is changing and we expect it to change even more rapidly in the days ahead since the world has just crossed the urban rural ratio going in favoutr of the urban settlements for the first time since the dawn of civilization.In the India Report of 1958 Charles Eames had warned us about the nature of this change. He says – ”… we recommend that without delay there be a sober investigation into those values and those qualities that Indians hold important to a good life, that there be a close scrutiny of those elements that go to make up a “Standard of Living”. ……”. He goes on to say in an insightful manner that …” …One suspects that much benefit would be gained from starting this search at the small village level.”
We are now in the fag end of the year 2007, almost 50 years after the tabling of the Eames India Report, and at the CII-NID Design Summit we had a report from the CII National Committees on Design that was set up to discuss the proposed implementation of the National Design Policy that was announced by the Central Government on the 8th February 2007 and this statement was part of the conference handout. I do wish that this statement or recommendation could have been made available much earlier and to a wider audience of designers and industry and that these recommendations were debated and discussed to the extant that they should be if they are to become inclusive as well as effective. Vikram Kirloskar, Chairman of the CII National Committee on Design spoke briefly about the five broad planks that were considered by the committee and these are listed below:
1. Competitiveness of Industry by Design
2. Design for Culture, Society and Environment
3. Design for Education
4. Branding /Promotion of Design through Media
5. Design Policy implementation including setting up of Design Parks. Venture fund for design

No mention of the village that Eames had warned us about, but we are already 50 years ahead, so things must have changed on the ground, the population is streaming into our urban centres – but the big question is – is this the good life that Indians are aspiring to live? Is this so? I personally do not think so nor is this an inevitable direction, since we can design our future if only we set out to examine the possibilities, by design. At the end of the session on the National Design Policy I was able to ask a question to the Secretary, DIPP Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion who are charged with the responsibility of implementing the policy. I quote, “How are you planning to bring the other Ministries of the Government on board the National Design Policy since all of them need Design and not just Industry, particularly in the areas on Rural Development and Education to name only a few?” – unquote. During this session the member secretary of the AIDI (Association of Indian Design Industry) too offered to partner with Government in furthering the objectives of the NDP and the Secretary immediately suggested that the AIDI get in touch with the Ministry after the conference to initiate necessary action and set up a platform for such cooperation, and I do hope that the AIDI will act on this invitation and make sure that the voice of the design industry is an integral part of the ongoing dialogue on the NDP.

The other interesting sessions that I attended included the dialogue between Kishore Biyani and Bruce Nussbaum that was facilitated by Uday Dandavate. Kishore Biyani, it is evident from his submissions, is very clued in on what design can do for the retail industry that he represents and he has a clear conception of how he proposes to use design to face the huge diversity of India and the Indian consumer. He is one CEO who understands design and I do wish we could see more of his ilk following suit. Ratan Tata, on the other hand is a designer and architect, who was not present at the conference but his impact was certainly felt since there were whispers in the corridors of the great under 100,000 Rupee car (sub-one-lakh car for the masses) being talked about in awe and great respect. I however am surprised and not moved by such a shallow understanding of the transportation aspiration of the Indian citizen while Bangalore and its infrastructure is being visibly choked to the hilt by private automobiles and two-wheelers and the city and in particular, the axis road to the conference venue, is not able to take it anymore with the traffic inching along at a snail’s pace. It is here that the design policy should look at the macro level of the system and see how public transportation can be designed offered at a high quality and such irresponsible adventures as the “sub-one-lakh car”, a great feat of engineering however, are not foisted on the unsuspecting Indian villager and urbanite alike. We need to raise a debate and some of these questions are political, and these are design questions at a systems level. The Politics of Design as the Ulm School Foundation is now discussing it should inform National Policy, but is the Planning Commission listening?

Dr Koshy, Director NID, said all the right things and Bruce Nussbaum was duly impressed as he has stated in his blog-post at the Innovation section of the BusinessWeek Online. Shailajeet “Banny” Bannerjee called for new kind of leadership education for India using design at its core and once again Bruce Nussbaum has a detailed post on his talk at the conference besides one on his own keynote at the CII-NID Summit. In the second session two speakers held my attention. These were Ignacio Germade from Motorola who talked about design Transformation through innovation. His purpose for using design were clear and insightful as a four stage agenda as follows:
1. Discovering Opportunities – Need great processes in design thinking.
2. Facilitating Collaboration – Being good at storytelling.
3. Prototyping Propositions _ Making ideas tangible and visible to all.
4. Inside out branding – Not as icing on the cake since people want the cake and not just the icing.

Very stimulating indeed. The other significant talk of the morning was by Kingshuk Das from IDEO, Paolo Alto who talked about design connecting to the traditional wisdom of India and thereby creating great value, refreshing ideas that are both realistic as well as exotic. GK van Patter was of course stimulating but you can get his talk and the details of his philosophy from his website at the NextD site here. The NextD journal and the methods that he proposed are all available for review at their website link. There were some very boring presentations or should I say sales pitches by companies, which should not have been allowed by the organizers, and we must see that this is not repeated next year even if the companies concerned make a contribution or sponsorship to the conference.

Besides these the presentation by Uday Salunke, Director of Welingkar Institute of Management was very encouraging since now management schools too are looking seriously at Design and they with IDIOM are designing the next generation school called WE-School which we had a glimpse in Sonia Manchanda’s presentation. Of the case studies one stood out for its brilliance and excellence of execution and this was Lemon Design’s presentation by Dipendra Baoni of a new honey packaging and branding strategy that had created quite a stir at the conference. There were several break-out sessions but I did not attend these but I am sure that some of the other participants will share their experiences in the days ahead. In the final analysis it was a good conference, quite unreachable due to the remote location and horrible traffic at Bangalore, but a great meeting place for designer friends but with a huge gap due to very low presence of Industry CEO’s, which should be our objective for the next time around if design is to find a place in the Indian landscape alongside management, finance, science and technology.

I moderated a very interesting session (for me) along with Maoli Marur, Editor of Kyoorius Design Magazine where we had five Indian students and one international student who was working in India to give their insights about the future of design. I will leave it to others to comment on this session and I am sure that this should be a regular feature at the future summits and we must thank Uday Dandavate for insisting on having this event and makiong sure that it was not forgotten in the husstle and bustle of talking to Industry and Government.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Design as Research: Path to Knowledge Creation & Critical Insights

Design as Research: Path to Knowledge Creation & Critical Insights download 36 page pdf file 1.1 mb here.
I was invited this afternoon to lecture to a batch of PhD candidates at the CEPT University and I chose to speak on the topic of “Design as Research: A path to Knowledge Creation and for Critical Insights”. Many design schools and University departments are asking their teachers to acquire PhD qualifications and almost all of the candidates are required to go outside the design discipline to make the transition to a higher qualification if they are to be promoted. However there is little appreciation of the inherent research capacities that are embedded in the design process itself and most designers are required to wander outside their core areas of competence in search of a PhD qualification to further their career as a teacher in design. The question whether the qualification would make them better teachers of design is not in the frame of reckoning and I felt that our understanding of design has in recent years moved far enough to ask for a degree of clarity on this front.

Many design thinkers, have in recent years, made available valuable insights into the role of design research and this occasion gave me the opportunity to revisit some of their writings and to put together my own arguments on the nature of design as it is seen today by some of us and what it could be in the days ahead. In my search for published resources I did not need to go far from my own room since I had been gathering a number of current resources on design thinking and design research and my office has a mini-library that is fairly up-to-date on this particular topic. It gave me the platform to connect the discussions that have been going on the few discussion lists that I am a member of with particular reference to the PhD-Design list which is a platform where over 1200 design professors have been debating these very issues over the past few years and their discourse has been a source of great inspiration and learning for me. The other list that I participate in is the AnthroDesign list, which has many designers, ethnographers and anthropologists; all discussing tools and techniques of design research and this too has been a very stimulating platform of rich learning.

Many of the current thinkers and those who have done considerable research on the topic of design research and its unfolding trajectories are here on these lists and many who may be lurking on these lists too occasionally make significant contributions through their occasional offerings that provides a rich source of intellectual stimulation. I have been encouraging my students to observe these exchanges as best they could and to draw from these current insights about the state of the art in the profession and in academia. In India the DesignIndia list too has been a platform that connects many design professionals who may otherwise be disconnected from the world of design discourse.

For my lecture I was able to cull together insights from a number of published sources and the key arguments came for one key resource, which is the book by Peter Downton, Design Research, RMIT, 2003. I appreciated Downton’s position that, I quote, “Design is a way of inquiring, a way of producing knowing and knowledge, this means it is a way of researching”.

I built my own arguments on these statements and drew additional inputs from a comparison of the positions taken by Herbert Simon, in The Sciences of the Artificial, MIT Press, 1969 and the counterpoint offered by Donald Schon, in The Reflective Practitioner, 1983. The lecture explored the relationship between knowledge production in the sciences and what is produced during the design process. At NID we have developed our own models of the design process as part of the Design Concepts and Concerns course that is offered to all our students at the graduate as well as the post graduate levels. These models gave me the context for exploring the relationship between the various stages in a systems design journey and the corresponding types of knowledge that they generated. While we now have an appreciation of this phenomenon the design profession as well as the academia is still quite uncertain about the validity of their time tested processes and seek to get support and validation from the scientific discourse which is not quite able to fathom that complexities of the design way.

Here the quote by Alain Findelli in his introductory note to the Design plus Research conference at the Politechnico di Milano in 2000 draws our attention to the critical statement by Klaus Krippendorff as he bemoans the lack of faith that designers exhibit in their own knowledge and convictions.

“Probably the most notable pathology of design discourse is its openness to colonisation by other discourses... From within designers are groping for new conceptions and uncritically adopting the perspectives of other discourses invite into their discourse paradigms that may prove disabling in the long run, and incoherences that could break a community apart and systematically erode its identity” Klaus Krippendorff.

This gave me the occasion to discuss the recent books by leading design thinkers around the globe, all of whom have dealt with the changing nature of our design understanding as well as provided some very significant insights about the nature of the design activity as well as its role for humanity in the near and distant future. Research in design and about design are themes that are explored and the findings are helping shape a new identity for design as a field of research.
1. Tomas Maldonado, Design, Nature, Revolution, Harper & Row, 1972
2. Silvia Pizzocaro et al, Design plus Research, Politechnico di Milano, 2000
3. Peter Downton, Design Research, RMIT Press, 2003
4. Nigel Cross, Designerly Ways of Knowing, Springer, 2006
5. Bryan Lawson, What Designers Know, Elsevier, 2004
6. Klaus Krippendorff, The Semantic Turn: A new foundation for design, Taylor & Francis, 2006
7. John Thackara, Wouldn’t it be great if…we could live sustainably – by design?, Design Council, 2007

Design and Design Research needs to discover their core offerings that cannot be substituted by any other form of scientific or academic research and then build a framework of confidence and conviction to offer their own discourse that can make the dream of building sustainable futures as a desirable direction for all of us as John Thackara has been demonstrating through his initiatives with the Design Council, UK as well as through his Doors of Perception initiatives in Europe as well as in India. Designers need to embrace design and the design journey with conviction and we will be able to then convince countries and governments to use this discipline to address the complex issues that confront all of us in our daily lives. Many of these cannot be solved or addressed by our known science methods and design must take centre stage if some of these truly wicked problems are to be solved at all. The paper and model of the design journey as well as the styles of thinking in the design process can be downloaded from this link as a pdf file 271 kb size.

My presentation to the CEPT University PhD class can be downloaded as a pdf file 1.1 mb size from this link: “Design as Research: Path to Knowledge Creation & Critical Insights”.

Last year my lecture to the CEPT PhD candidates was about the Ethics of Design Research. The visual presentation of that lecture can be downloaded from this link as a pdf file of 58 kb size.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bamboo Mat Boards from IPIRTI: A material waiting for innovation

Bamboo Mat Boards from IPIRTI: A material waiting for value added applications
Image: NID team at the IPIRTI’s 5 year old demonstration bamboo house.
The Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute (IPIRTI) is located just across that road from the NID R & D Centre in Bangalore. The IPIRTI was set up in 1962 as an autonomous society registered in Karnataka and its major stakeholders are the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the plywood and panel board industries that are its members. It offers education and training programmes in wood and plywood technology as well as conducts research in a wide range of technology and application areas dealing with a host of wood and wood derivatives including plywood, particle boards as well as fibreboards and a number of other composites aimed at particular applications. The Bamboo Mat Board was one such significant achievement of the IPIRTI.

Image: NID team at the two-story bamboo house at IPIRTI.
In 2001 the IPIRTI set up that Centre for Bamboo Development at its main campus in Penea to explore and conduct research into new and valuable applications using bamboo as a sustainable material for the future. Bamboo is a very commonly used raw material in India for local housing and for the production of a very large range of traditional products particularly in, but not restricted to, the Northeastern Region of India.

Image: The two-story bamboo house at IPIRTI
Our own book titled “Bamboo & Cane Crafts of Northeast India”, M P Ranjan, Nilam Iyer & Ghanshyam Pandya that was published by NID and DC (Handicrafts) in 1986 was based on fieldwork conducted by the author and his team in 1979 to 1981. It documents hundreds of bamboo products and structures from bridges, houses, baskets and household appliances all made with bamboo as a primary material. This book was reprinted in 2004 as a resource for Traditional Wisdom from the communities of the Northeastern Region of India. Starting with this massive documentation that was done with a design intention of trying to understand the traditional material as a source for new and contemporary applications that could create employment and business opportunities for the people of the Northeast we went on to explore numerous product applications in our continuing journey of research and design explorations at the NID and the Centre for Bamboo Initiatives at NID. A low-resolution pdf file of this book can be downloaded from this link (pdf file 34.7 MB) here.

Image: NID team examining the finger jointed board at the IPIRTI test lab
The Centre for Bamboo Initiatives at NID has over the past several years explored and published a very wide range of applications and a number of approaches for using the bamboo species available in India. These explorations can be seen at these web links here: Bamboo Initiatives, Bamboo Boards & Beyond, BCDI Agartala, and Katlamara Chalo – to name only a few. In all these explorations we have created several hundred new product designs and through the Bamboo and Cane Development Institute (BCDI) at Agartala we helped train hundreds of master craftsmen who could disseminate the design collections to other crafts communities. (download file “Achievements of BCDI” as a MS Word file 736 kb from here. The Bamboo Initiatives catalogue too captures this range in summary that can be visually appreciated and the reports on the BCDI, Agartala would give an idea of the objectives of the institute as well as the curriculum and training strategies that were explored there. These reports can be downloaded as pdf files from these links below.
BCDI Feasibility Report, 2001 (pdf file 372 kb)
BCDI Curriculum Structure, 2004 (pdf file 3 MB)
BCDI Curriculum Review, 2005 (pdf file 4.7 MB)

Images: The modular bamboo mat board house at IPIRTI
The IPIRTI on the other hand has been active in bamboo for many years particularly in the creation and popularization of the bamboo mat board that is made from hand woven bamboo slivers that are then pressed in a plywood press and several layers of mat are impregnated with resin to create a very strong and useful sheet material. While the technology for the bamboo mat board has been available on the market for several decades now it is still to gain wide acceptance as a major material in a number of product categories that it could be used for. This is what brought us to IPIRTI yesterday from the NID Bangalore R & D Centre. My colleagues Sushanth and Sashikala accompanied me on our visit to the IPIRTI and we met the Dr C N Pandey, Director IPIRTI and his colleagues Jagadish Vangala and K Shyamasunder who took us around the campus and gave us a preview of the bamboo based houses that they had built to prove the concept. While these are technically and structurally sound demonstrations they are far from perfect from an aesthetic and functional standpoint. It is here that we feel that collaboration between the scientists from IPIRTI and the design teams from NID could make a great deal of difference. Since the NID Bangalore Centre has commenced PG programmes in Design of Retail Experience we proposed that the first project could focus on exploring new and exciting applications for bamboo mat boards in the fast growing retail sector. The Indian Retail Sector too needs to desperately reduce its carbon footprint and the use of bamboo in a sustainable manner can contribute positively in this direction.

Image: NID team at the workshop in the IPIRTI, Centre for Bamboo Development

The CFBI-NID and the IPIRTI are therefore exploring areas of cooperation that could be mutually beneficial and set up a platform for sharing knowledge and expertise that could bring out exciting new results that can make the quality of the mat boards both visible as well as attractive to the retail sector and to the broader market in the days ahead. Housing and modular architecture would be another area of cooperation that will be explored in the days ahead.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

WebInnovation2007: Web 2.0 Conference at Bangalore

A well-attended two-day conference at the Ashoka Grand in Bangalore with 750 professionals from the Information Technology sector included engineers, marketing executives and designers, all eager to understand and appreciate the various dimensions of the emerging Web 2.0 paradigm. Rupesh Vyas and I made a presentation that explored many opportunities for Web 2.0 applications that we see in India and in our presentation we focused on grassroots level explorations that had been initiated in our classroom projects at the NID and those that could be taken forward with real impact to a huge user base across India. The presentation titled “User Driven Web 2.0: Design Opportunities for India” defined design as we now understand it, an activity where human intentions mediated with thoughts and actions are used to produce value, great value.

Image: Study of Sahpur is offered as an opportunity for the use of Web 2.0 approaches to connect villagers in the Indian sub-continent to map local resources and aspirations for development initiatives across India.
The whole morning session was dominated by discussions on how the business sectors dealing with Web 2.0 could indeed generate revenue streams. It almost seemed that the speakers and the audience were obsessed with how anyone could create community and use this to create a monetized value for himself or herself. Little discussion on what could be done but much on how and how much, very disheartening indeed. The keynotes too kept returning to the concept of making money and the difficulty faced by web based companies in retaining their hard earned leadership in a highly competitive space. Perhaps the industry should try and focus on what can be done in India at the grassroots where it is needed the most and the value generated would create wealth for all of us across the country.

Image: Project INFARM done in 1995 as part of the Apple Design initiative is offered as an example of farmers as users of rich Web 2.0 applications in India.
In my presentation I talked of the Web 2.0 as being a new mind-set rather than a new technology, although many new technological as well as business processes can be listed as part of this new and emerging paradigm. However at the core it is for me about people working together on a spirit of sharing and this has less to do with many of the concerns of the industrial economy and even he knowledge economy as we have come to understand it today. We need a new attitude to understand the offerings that are springing up all around us in the form and shape of the Web 2.0 economy, or should we use another term to describe this phenomenon that is perplexing all of us who are trying to make sense of the emerging paradigm.

Image: The Heritage Walk in Ahmedabad as a opportunity for creative mapping of our cities by students using GeoVisualisation tools to create citizen generated content and rich local knowledge sharing that can create value for tourists as well as visitors to the city.
Thinking about the evolution of human ideas while sitting in the conference it did cross my mind that we have evolved from the hunter gatherer era when fire and tools gave humans an edge over other species on our planet. The settled agriculture era saw the rise of land holding as our currency and measure of wealth and this also spawned the zamindari attitudes and created the nobles and commoners. The smokestack industries were built on mined minerals and energy from fossil fuels. Land, minerals and finance formed the backbone of the economy till this was disrupted by the hi-tech industries that used knowledge and technology as the prime drivers of the economy. The emergence of the web and the internet opened a new space for creative disruption and the brick and mortar establishments had to give way to the dematerialized economy where finance flowed through electronic networks and crossed national borders at will. We have now arrived at another disruption and suddenly concentration of wealth of the previous eras is being challenged by individual content creators and a new paradigm is needed to explain the open source characteristics of Web 2.0 and I think that we will need a new mind set to understand what this has in store for all of us. Surely creative sharing will be the driver of the web 2.0 era that is almost on us as we blog and share and build new applications that can accommodate all of us and our needs like never before.

Image: Handmade in India as a database that could bring Indian craftsmen on to a Web 2.0 platform as part of the creative economy of the future.
The four case examples that we used in our presentation called for design action starting from a deep study of user needs and aspirations and the users included villagers, farmers, students and craftsmen across India, who are all unusual subjects for a Web 2.0 initiative. However we believe that it is do-able if we can put together multi-disciplinary teams that can work closely with each user group and help build prototypes and concepts that can be refined and delivered in each of the sectors in which action is required. These cases are only indicative of what kinds of opportunities that we see in India and the scale of what is possible is indeed staggering. The details of the WebInnovation2007 Conference is available at this web link above and our presentation titled User Driven Web 2.0: Design Opportunities for India is a PDF file which can be downloaded from this link as a 2.2 mb file. The abstract of the presentation is quoted below.

Abstract of Paper and Visual presentation to the Web Innovation Conference, Bangalore in December 2007

User Driven Web 2.0: Design Opportunities for India

Prof. M P Ranjan
Chairman, Geovisualisation Task Group, DST, Govt. of India
Faculty of Design
National Institute of Design

Rupesh Vyas
Faculty of Design
Coordinator Information Design Discipline
National Institute of Design

India lives in many centuries and the rapid strides of development are impacting the lives of all of us particularly those who live and work in the rural sectors of our economy. It is here that most of our people live and perhaps where we should be making an effort to impact through a concerted impetus of design to make to make the tools and processes accessible to the people who need it the most.

How do we achieve this when the tools and technology have been held and operated by educated and urban oriented individuals and institutions for all these years? This is perhaps where design imagination and technological commitment can create new avenues for the application of these innovative tools and techniques in a democratic and ubiquitous manner all over our land. Is this a just in theory and like a distant dream or can or become a reality? Can we demonstrate this possibility in a few significant case studies so that it evokes a sense of commitment across the country to use these now widely available resources particularly in an IT enabled manner?

Can the emerging understanding of what is Web 2.0 create a platform of collaborators across disciplines to achieve what many institutions and Governments cannot do on their own? We believe that the time is right to take the technologies to the people and that we operate it in a bottom up approach with imagination and commitment to achieve what needs to be done. Do we know what is needed? Perhaps even here we will once again go to the bottom of the value chain and use the tools of co-creation to work our way back to new and exciting offerings that can transform our national, regional and local economies, one step at a time.

In this paper we will show that many new applications are indeed possible and these would cover the hitherto ignored areas of application in a participatory manner. This should make it both usable and relevant to the local conditions and meet the aspirations of the people whom it is to serve. Some suggestions have been made using examples of classroom and research projects conducted by the students and faculty of the National Institute of Design to show how these tools and knowledge domains in the area of Web based communication and exchange can be applied to new and interesting applications. This would establish that we can reach far into our rural hinterland and show that these could become a mission that would be achieved through active user participation to address local needs and aspirations in a variety of critical areas of application.

These could be called design opportunities since the intention is to add value to the local situation through making the information and knowledge both usable as well as accessible to the users in their own domains is a starting point for the design journey. With partners from technology and the user base much can be achieved which was hitherto not attempted. This is an invitation to imagination of what could be and not what is; do join us in this journey.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

AIDI Launches a Face-to-Face Initiative: Discusses the National Design Policy in Bangalore

The AIDI, which started as the Association of Industrial Designers of India, was renamed as Association of Indian Design Industry at the full day meeting on 11 December 2007 at the Royal Orchid Hotel in Bangalore. The agenda of the AIDI was to assist the Government roll out the National Design Policy that was announced on 8th February 2007 by the Honorable Minister of Finance, Shri P Chidambaram after a meeting of the Indian Cabinet and it was championed by the Honorable Minister of Industries and Commerce, Shri Kamal Nath.

The meeting of the AIDI was well attended with over 100 practicing designers, experts and international guests who have come for the CII-NID Design Summit starting on the 12th December 2007 at the Bangalore Exhibition Centre on Tumkur Road. Among the prominent guests were the speakers at the CII-NID Design Summit G K VanPatter of NextD, New York, Anna Kirah, Dean 180 Academy, Denmark and Daniel Buchner and Tom Burchard from the Design Continuum Team from Boston, USA, to name only a few that I met personally.

The day started with an Ice-Breaker session which was followed by Individual Ideation that would lead to lists of things to be done and with this list in hand we would work in pairs to develop the ideas and then bring them back to the group for a sharing and sorting session. The cluster of concepts captured by the small groups led to the articulation of category headings and a shared understanding. I was part of the Education group that was led by Poonam Bir Kasturi, The other groups and the respective leaders were Competitive Advantage by Design with Vinay Rao, Branding and Communication of Indian Design by Jacob Mathews, Design Parks and Funds by S Sunder and finally Culture, Environment, Social Development and Effective Public Spending led by Neelam Chibber.

Each group developed their concepts for the action programmes and priorities that could be taken up as part of the National Design Policy by the Government of India and after a great lunch we were witness to a Press Conference and a CII-NID PR launch of the Design Summit that is starting tomorrow. Dr Koshy, Director NID spoke at length about the plans ahead for the Institute in the coming years and listed the recent achievements. This was followed by the Press Meet while the rest of us had our lunch.

The post lunch session was filled with a lot of work organizing the brainstorming data and in making sense of the data that was generated. Each group gathered the insights that had emerged and they went about preparing the final visual presentations that were then shared with the whole group. The AIDI will take these recommendations and make a format that will be taken back to the Government. This is the first time that the design community in India has regrouped after the failure of the erstwhile SIDI to fill a gap that has been felt for over two decades now. I do hope that this initiative takes root and the design community sheds its indifferent attitude to national Politics and get engaged in shaping the roll out of the National Design Policy in the days ahead.

Tripura Bamboo Mission: Design as a Partner in Grassroots Development Initiatives

Image: Meeting of the Tripura Bamboo Mission at Agartala on 8th December 2007 Chaired by Shri Manik Sarkar, Honorable Chief Minister of Tripura.

The State Government of Tripura has to deal with the onerous complexity of initiating and sustaining development actions in their land which is a locked territory located in the remote Northeastern Region of India lying on the east of Bangladesh and with road and rail connections to the rest of India and the outside world only through a long and difficult path through Assam, Meghalaya and West Bengal. Besides this geographic complexity, they also have to cope with the absence of any industry that has taken root in the State over the past fifty years since Indian Independence. The State has also faced a long period of political unrest as well as being impacted by similar conditions in many of the nearby states in the region. Rural poverty is therefore a major problem and the economic condition of the large tribal population in the state is also an area of deep concern. The State of Tripura has a long common International border with Bangladesh and Myanmar but these are closed for all practical purposes due to the absence of trade and political agreements between the countries involved.

It is in this challenging geo-political situation that the State Government announced the Tripura State Bamboo Policy, the first such initiative by any state in the country and well ahead of the National Bamboo Policy which came up later. A number of progressive measures were initiated and over the past few years there have been many development initiatives that have been done by the State including a major conference on Bamboo to discuss the proposed Bamboo Policy, another last year to explore and showcase areas of application and the setting up of a University programme for educating bamboo experts who could help the rural people mobilize their local resources in a systematic manner. Last year the Government invited the IL&FS, New Delhi to take on the task of manning a mission mode development initiative that could move the local bamboo crafts and small scale industry from a gross turnover of about Rupees 25 crores per annum to about Rupees 75 crores per annum in the handicrafts, mats and agarbatti sectors which employ a huge number of people, all to be done in a time bound manner of three years.

The NID teams having worked in the Northeast and in Tripura on a sustained basis for over the past 30 years was identified as a natural partner for providing design supports for this new initiative in the State. Several NID graduates are also included in the list of design support providers while the IL&FS will use their own management and local infrastructure to manage the relationships on the ground and provide the integrated linkages with the Government and all the local stakeholders in the particular locations. The Centre for Bamboo Initiatives at NID (CFBI-NID) has built a body of experience as well as a portfolio of bamboo based designs that are being offered to the Tripura Bamboo Mission along with a framework of locally delivered training and quality establishment processes that could be linked to the matrix of market needs and producer capabilities in the selected cluster in rural Tripura. These actions would be taken through the stages of sensing, exploring, making, evaluating and sharing. Through these stages we expect to grow the participation of our stakeholders in the rural locations and in some cases we would want these to be women’s’ groups who could manage their entrepreneurial ventures themselves. Our faculty and student teams who would be supported by skilled craftsmen who have been trained at the BCDI and capable of supporting the prototyping tasks that we anticipate as we go forward with our design support project in the state.

On the 7th December 2007 we were invited to a formal meeting that was organised by the IL&FS in Agartala where all the partners of the Tripura Bamboo Mission met to exchange a Memorandum of Association with these partners and a Statement of Intent with the CFBI-NID on bringing design skill sets to the activities on the ground. The meeting was chaired by the Honorable Chief Minister of Tripura, Shri Manik Sarkar with an active participation and addresses from Shri Sashi Prakash, Chief Secretary, Government of Tripura, and Shri Tapan Chakraborty, Honorable Minister of Industries and Commerce. The MoU’s were signed between the Tripura Bamboo Mission represented by the IL&FS on one side at the partners on the other and these included one with the ITC Ltd. For development of the agarbatti industry in the State, another with Cottage Industries also for this sector. The Industree Crafts of Bangalore were requested to support market access for rural producers. The CFBI-NID signed a “Statement of Intent” to provide design supports and know how across three broad product categories of fine bamboo loom woven mats, splits and split based furniture and Bambusa affinis based whole bamboo furniture from the Katlamara cluster which would be disseminated to a wider audience that has now taken up cultivation as part of the Tripura Bamboo Mission based on our design demonstrations.

We are looking forward to an active period of partnership with the IL&FS teams in Tripura and with the Tripura Bamboo Mission over the next three years to bring design capabilities to the producer groups in Tripura.

Friday, December 7, 2007

GINGER: The Design of a “Smart” Hotel Chain in India

Lessons for the use of design in the arena of public utilities and facilities in India Image: GINGER Reception at Agartala
How do you think of a new hotel chain is created when none exists in the specific category or with the business model that you think will be a good offering in the world today? Of course you would have to Design it from scratch. That is you will need to have a dream and then explore all its dimensions and details and then refine the offering through an iterative process that blends imagination with action in the real world. All this is done before you can build a first prototype and figure out whether the concept that excited you in the first place actually works in the real world. This iteration continues as you build the other elements of the chain with each learning being fed back into the next hotel and then the next till you have a fine tuned chain with a brand and a compelling reputation. So what is proposed is not a one time rational activity, that of building specifications and then using a “cookie cutter approach” as Herbert Simon, the Nobel Prize winning scientist would have us believe, problem first and the solution later. However here we see an example of a caring, feeling and iterative process that consolidates all learning and then adjusts the offering in a sensitive manner to changes in the market and the environment in the real world. This process is best described by the word “Design”.

Image: GINGER hotel in Kejur Baghaan in Agartala. Note the Kejur (Date Palm) trees in the background. This is exactly how GINGER, a new hotel chain set up by the Taj Group of Hotels came into being some four years ago in India. All, hotel chains are built the same way, but this one is special for me because it is designed by a team that is headed by one of my students who had studied product design at the National Institute of Design and interestingly the product is endorsed by the management guru C K Prahalad who by the way never uses the word “Design” in any of his speeches or for that matter his books, but that is another story. This raises another question for us as design educators in India and that is how do we educate our designers who would have the flexibility and the ability sets to be able to offer future requirements in an extremely complex context of the Indian market and this has always excited me as a design teacher. We had at NID chosen in the late 80’s, if not earlier in an implicit manner, to adopt the systems model at the heart of our education offering and this and other such stories are perhaps a vindication of the success of those moves in re-designing design education. This approach is explained in two papers that I have prepared in 2003 (Avalanche Effect…pdf file 55kb) and in 2005 (Creating the Unknowable…pdf file 50kb) and the models and design theory that evolved can be seen at this link to my website. Another important question for me is, how do we make design at this level visible to managers and Governments across the world?

Amit Gulati, an NID graduate in Product Design and founder partner of INCUBIS Pvt Ltd, a New Delhi based design and architecture firm, was asked by the Taj Group to pitch a concept for the proposed budget hotel to be set up in Bangalore. They were successful in their bid which is as yet unpublished or celebrated, but that particular bid led to the creation of the first prototype hotel aimed at the youthful traveling software professionals in Whitefield area in the IT hub of the city. It was named The "Indi-One" and it was a runaway success from the word go and the offering was later re-branded with market expertise from the Landor Group, UK, when the name GINGER was proposed for the expanding chain of budget hotels in India. INCUBIS was contracted on an exclusive design service and supervision basis to help create all the other hotels in the chain and now we have 10 such offerings, in as many cities, with Pondicherry joining the chain as the newest offering which opens to the public later today. Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Durgapur, Haridwar, Mysore, Pune and Trivandrum are the other links in the chain and the strategy to address latent needs in the tier-two cities in India has created an exciting growth model for the company.

Image: BCDI as it was in January 2002 when we commenced the programmes for the local bamboo craftsmenI am writing this post from the GINGER in Agartala where I have come to sign a “Statement of Intent” between the Centre for Bamboo Initiatives at NID (CFBI-NID) (which I happen to Head at the NID) with the Tripura Bamboo Mission (TMB) and ironically the hotel is located across the street from the BCDI in Kejur Baghaan where we used to have our tea breaks amidst a number of Kejur (Date palm) trees when NID was given the responsibility of creating a new curriculum and in managing the BCDI as part of a contracted project arrangement with the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Government of India. Here we were designing a new educational system for training young professional craftspersons for the bamboo sector and our involvement continued from January 2002 to June 2004 before we were rudely evicteded from our base in Tripura by administrative indifference and perhaps a complete lack of understanding at what we were trying to do there.

What actually has been designed at GINGER? Everything is designed – from the business model of the self-help systems to the liquid soap dispenser in each toilet in the hotel. These include all the tangible and visible signs, products and spaces as well as the intangible look and feel of the service as well as the details and location of all features that have been included in the offering. The slogan “Please help yourselves,” explains it all. Arriving at the smart arrival port at a smart looking building that has all the semantics of a hotel, there was no liveried bellhops at the door but a row of baggage carts with a help-yourself sign that was tastefully placed in the hotel’s chosen type-style and colour scheme. The door is automatic and opens across as the cart is rolled in, notice no moustached door keeper in the good Indian palace tradition. ATM style self check in are I am told available at other centres but in Agartala it was a smart young receptionist who handed over my swipe-card that would let me into my room number 106 and the clear black and white plastic stickers with a red border tell me that the card goes into the card slot near the door which sets of the lights, air-conditioner and the TV all part of the energy saving design strategy. Other labels in self-sticking plastic signs tell me that tea and coffee made in the room using the auto-stop electric kettle are compliments of the management and the mineral water in the small refrigerator too comes free but refills are available on each floor in the Guest Pantry where one can iron your clothes as well. Another sign on the telephone socket tells me that I can connect the lead to access the internet but in Agartala this is not yet a reality. A booklet in the room tells me that I can help myself to all the services, the pantry, the vending machines and the gymnasium as well as have access to a cybercafe, breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets, all at a reasonable charge. Interestingly the room tariff and service charges change with each city, keeping in mind the cost of living index and fortunately for me the Agartala offering comes at the lowest price of them all. I have stayed in most major hotels in Agartala over the past many years and it is clear that GINGER will give them all a run for their money. Design being a reflexive activity I am now interested in seeing how these competitors will respond to this new offering.

The rooms and lobby are spotlessly clean and so are the smart bathroom and the linen in the room. A comfortable in one corner with a conveniently located plug point for my laptop tells me that the designers intended to facilitate my use of my laptop and this is close to the telephone socket and all the other switches that I need to manage my room. The flat panel TV occupies no space on the wall and it is located at a convenient height across the bed and next to the full-length mirror. The wardrobe, refrigerator and luggage rack are all rolled into one integrated offering which also provides a platform for the kettle and the complimentary tea bags satchel. The rubber wood trimmed furniture are all fixed to the walls and clear off the ground with stainless steel legs for the table and ceramic tile faced platform for the bed that shows a clear concern for the cleaning crew which is small but effective to keep costs down to the bare minimum without compromising on quality and hygiene. Energy efficient lamps in very smart steel trimmed fittings are strategically located in the access corridor as well as the room and a wall mounted lamp assists reading in bed and at the adjacent table, very well located indeed, or should I say designed?

What is not visible is the CCTV surveillance system in the foyer and the lobby and all floors have a view of the reception through and the back end systems of housekeeping and online bookings all designed with care and concern for the user. A tie-up with Café Coffee Day has a pay and use walk in facility on the ground floor garden and lobby level all day coffee shop for the guests and vending machines for fast food and toiletries. What have they missed? Not much, but no room service and at Agartala no STD phone access to the room but that I am told is a temporary problem from the telecom supplier. An empty room at the entrance proclaims a sign “ATM Room” perhaps a money exchange for the international traveler and a promise of “Smart Basics” a trademarked offering from the Roots Corporation Ltd, the owners of the chain which is in turn a fully owned subsidiary of the listed company Indian Hotels limited (IHCL) which in turn is a part of the TATA Group in India. The booklet in the room proclaims that the concept was developed in association with C K Prahalad but there is no mention of the design minions who have done the fine detailing and translated the offering in the real world with sensitivity and good practical wisdom of an experienced designer. INCUBIS was and is still involved with all the new hotels in the chain and this ensures that each is contemporized to the changing market and the aspirations of the guests and this ahs given us a great but still invisible quality offering from the design in India stable and we hope to see more of these in the days ahead.

Image: A tree in Agartala on the way from the airport which I used as a title screen for a short movie that I had made in 2002 on the BCDI visit.
Can this be a lesson for the creation of new public facilities across the country? Be it public signage or toilets and affordable housing for the poor and facilities for the elderly in our fast moving cities there are a huge range of opportunities for action waiting to be realized as well designed and managed offerings. The National Policy discussions that will take place in Bangalore on the 11th December 2007 needs to garner the wisdom of the design community as Rashmi Korjan, another NID Graduate also from Product Design, has stated in her recent post on the DesignIndia list a few days ago. Yes, we do need to move the focus of the policy from being solely industry driven to get the Government to invest in design for the public facilities as well as design for society where few industries and business would like to tread, even if they have an active Corporate Social Responsibility programme in place. The KaosPilot, about which I have written about earlier has proposed the need for a “Fourth Sector” ..(download pdf file here) approach with the Government, Business and the Not-for-Profit (NGO) sectors forming the first three sectors that are not quite able to deal with the needs of society and the public in an effective manner today. Can we learn from their experiences and bring these lessons to the ground into India. By the way 35 KaosPilot students are planning to spend 3 months in Mumbai starting February 2007 and perhaps students from Indian design and management schools can collaborate with them in a mutually beneficial relationship. There are other ways in which we can act directly if we apply our collective imagination and track all the design opportunities out there and find the partners in the field to make it happen just like the GINGER story that has unfolded over the past three years with the use of Design at the heart of the offering. Yes, GINGER is a truly design driven offering from the house of the TATA’s. Great going, and keep going, and we are all watching and cheering from the ranks.

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