Image: The Indian “Thali”, a platter with a mixed set of offerings that are balanced and cooked to suit the occasion and the season, each region has its own varient and the exquisite food can be served on a leaf plate or all the way up the ladder in a silver one. Pictures sourced from Google image search for Indian thali.
This year the theme for the Design Concepts and Concerns course at NID Gandhinagar, Paldi and Bangalore deals with food. With rampant food inflation that has hit the economy over the past nine months and the looming threat of a runaway price of oil which has slowed down the world economy is a context in which we felt it would be prudent to see if a bit of applied imagination could help find new ways out of these pressing dilemmas. Indian food comes in a huge variety across many regional and climatic zones as well as cultural and social categories that has a long tradition behind the form and pattern of consumption by the people of these places. While there are many similarities across zones, the differences are palpable and give a sense of distinction through both form and flavours. These are influenced by a huge variety of factors both local as well as global, and the change in both tastes and habits are rapid as they are deeply protected by the same people across all age barriers. Can we understand these dynamics and apply this understanding to discovering new ways forward that can help the economy, the health of the population and solve many associated problems such as poverty, malnutrition and hunger in our society? We do believe that design and innovation can not just solve some of these problems but also address the larger threats of climate change and political inequity through a better understanding of food surplus economy and access to healthy food to all humans across the planet.
Image: Fruits and vegetables on the streets of Bangalore captured by an avid photo documenter, Rajesh Dangi, who shares his pictures on flickr rajesh-dangi’s photostream and on his blog called Bangalore Daily Photo.
Having said that, we can now look at the micro details of food production, distribution and consumption in our own locations and juxtapose these with global trends and changing aspirations of people. The tools that are used by designers are many and one of the significant new tools is called anthro-design or design-ethnography which helps us understand the finer aspects of human aspirations and behavior which determines to a large extant the choices that will be made by people to satisfy their needs. These can also help us understand the facts and fiction, myths and realities that we have to confront in the process of shaping alternatives that can be then decided through the group processes of politics and social and economic negotiation. The texture of reality is very important in design thinking and action and that is why designers need to go out and look at the reality even if a whole lot of information is available in the form of socio-economic study reports and market statistics. Imagine if someone told you that a street vendor made a living selling a few kilos of guava, mangos, or cucumber by offering a service of slicing the fruit with a knife and a sprinkling of salt and masala, a subsistence living that is. Where does the value come from which he can make a living? A service offered where it is needed and appreciated and that which is informed by the local knowledge of seasonality and local preferences for taste and nutrition and of course the economic reality that fruit is expensive in India and not affordable to most but desired by all. You will not find many market survey reports on these guys but they are all over our streets if we care to look. Rajesh Dangi,s pictures give us an honest view of this reality on the streets of Bangalore.
Image: Series of images from the Time Magazine story about What the World Eats. This is based on the research in the book titled “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” by Peter Menzel, Faith D'Aluisio
The champions of anthro-design are growing in India and around the world and many new design companies and institutes are offering real research services to help understand the mind of the diverse user of services and products that is the foundation for any design and innovation programme. The discussion list called anthrodesign at yahoogroups.com is an active list that debates and shares insights about the skills and tools of the emerging discipline. Dori – Elizabeth Tunstall teaches the subject called Design Anthropology as an Associate Professor of Design Anthropology at University of Illinois at Chicago . Her blog Dori’s Moblog, is full of insights and very informative podcasts about the subject. Our own graduates have been offering this kind of research as a service to their corporate clients both in India and overseas. Uday Dandavate, an NID alumni, had set up the company called SonicRim along with his teacher, Liz Sanders from Ohio State University. Manoj Kotari, founder of Onio Design, Pune offers trend research to their clients as does Locus Design, Pune handled by three NID graduates, Chandrashekar Badve, Milind Risaildar & Siddharth Kabra and in the South, in Bangalore the IDIOM, which is the biggest design office in India, offers these services with a focus on retail business services. IDIOM is founded by NID graduates Sonia Manchanda, Jacob Mathew and Anand Aurora working in concert with Kishore Biyani, the retail mega star in India, the founder of the Big Baazar and Pantaloon and the Future Group in India.
In Bangalore there is another compelling presence in this business which is the Centre for Knowledge Societies which was founded by Dr Aditiya Dev Sood. CKS offers such design research insights into local markets and populations by mapping their aspirations and visually capturing the fine texture of the local along with statistical parameters that can inform innovation and design action in a variety of industries. The CKS report for NOKIA on the Mobile Telephones in India and more recently their “Emerging Economy Report: Societal Intelligence for Business Innovation” that offers insights on populations in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Egypt and Keneya. This report is however a professional offering that can only be afforded by the multinational corporates however some information is available on the website. CKS has been in partnership with the Doors of Perception in assisting John Thackara in managing the DOORS events in India and this puts them in very good company indeed. John has been a impassioned advocate for design use at the local level and in his path breaking project DOTT07 with the Design Council, London took up Food as one of the thrust areas and his Doors of Perception too continues to promote the idea of local food and sensible consumption. Jogi Panghaal, an NID graduate and member of Doors, was the first design guru who sensitised us to the finer sensibilities of food in human society with his course offering called "Ways of Eating, way back in the early 90's.
Well, we now know that anthro-design both meaningful and also draws big money, and it is a way forward to sense and find attitudes and aspirations that lie below the surface and something that can provide us with design insights that no amount of hard facts and knowledge that science can provide. AnthroDesign is also something that designers do all the time to make sense of the world around them and to get an insight into the minds and emotions of the users that they wish to serve.