Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vinay Venkatraman: Frugal Digital Design for India

Vinay Venkatraman: Frugal Digital Design for India

I remember Vinay Venkatraman from our DCC class in Foundation as well as from the Product Design classes later at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedaabd. He is now teaching at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design and he has matured to have a very concise idea of design and where it could be used in India in conjunction with innovation resources that are strewn across the country. His experiences and approach could be shared with the Planning Commission in its research to build innovation platforms in India and the Open Design Network that has been proposed by Sam Pitroda and his teams. Design is the keyword in this set of three terms while all of them are important for the whole to work effectively. Openness and Networks are critical since they embed attitudes of sharing and caring that is central to the success of design action here in India. The IPR regimes that the Planning Commission meeting seemed to be harping about is least of our concerns and we should understand why this is the case when we see Vinay Venkatraman's TED Talk at the link here.

He is seen here in this YouTube video interview titled "What's Design mean to you?" and comes through with great clatrity that should be shown to Sam Pitroda and his team at the Planning Commission who seem to miss the point about the integrating nature of design and design thinking. He comes through with three clear qualities and abilities that are needed in design -– Conceptualisation, Visualisation & Prototyping – "Feeling and Thinking" + "Drawing and Modeling" + "Building & Testing" – as the three key capabilities that designers need to innovate new solutions to address the pressing needs at the margin in our society. See this 9 minute YouTube video below for a review of what he has to say.

While teaching at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design he also handles consulting projects that address the needs of the people in the margin and by using research and design he has developed some amazing solutions that address access to education in remote villages as well as healthcare screening in areas that do not have adequate doctors or medical facilities. More about Vinay Venkatraman at these links below.

Vinay Venkatraman has been writing a blog about his journey of discovery of insights into the power of design thinking and cation and you can see these at this link below. However this seems to be a new venture and still work in progress and I hope he fills out the missing pages soon so that we can all see his thoughts and actions through his sharing on the blog. Some links lead to Frugal Digital Products and services that have been developed. Very exciting. Take a look.

We need to collect more such examples and share these with each other as well as online as an example of the Avalanche Effect, people who can bring huge transformations with little  inputs in design and design thinking that I had written about when I submitted my paper to the Design Issues Journal in 2001, but alas they were not listening, and my paper was rejected only to be posted on PhD-Design discussion forum in 1st December 2003 when I got the news from Martha Scotford who had initially invited me to write the paper in the first place for an issue about design in India. More about this is on my blog post at this link below – Evolution-of-dcc-course-at-nid

Planning Commission must take this into account when they make a pitch for investments in design education here in India.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kerala State Institute of Design: Infrastructure and Directions in 2012

Kerala State Institute of Design: KSID - Where do we go now?

Architects visualisation of KSID campus

On 9th and 10th November 2009 I was invited to a vision document meeting at Kovalam and this event was reported previously at this post here on my blog as New design school at Kerala State level.
The proposed institute has come a long way and the infrastructure is now taking shape on the ground and we will now need to review and refresh our approach and take the next steps in the process of establishing a new design school for Kerala State.

For this first meeting I had also submitted a note that raised several questions and proposed some directions that would need to be addressed by the political and administrative establishment in Kerala that is dealing with  the setting up of such a school of design. We would need a working definition of design as well as a strategy that could inform the managers and faculty in shaping the programmes and activities of this new institution. My note of 2009 is quoted below and these questions are still relevant when we go forward towards the establishment of the infrastructure and teaching programmes and other activities of the institute.

Kerala State Design Institute: An approach paper and some thoughts for the meeting.

Prof. M P Ranjan
National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
7 November 2009

Design is a very old activity and Kerala is full of great examples of its sensitive but unselfconscious use in most of their traditional buildings and spaces, traditional artifacts, festivals and events and traditional knowledge systems, all of which are the product of great design thinking in the past. However we need to ask the question in the context of the emergence of modern design as a contemporary discipline and one that has now been seen as a critical resource for development and planned change across many sectors of need. We now need to know – What does Kerala really need? Do we know the answer to this question?

This is very different from asking the question – “What does Kerala want?” – another design institute! What shall be the unique differentiators and driving principles here?

Ever since design was imported as a fairly developed offering from the West (USA and Western Europe) into India in the post Independence era we have been asking this question and there has been much confusion on the true role of design amongst even those people who funded and managed design in the country including those in Government as well as at the Institutions that were set up to further the use of design in India. The initial impetus came from Western ideas that were adopted wholesale and it took many years of engagement before the faint questions started emerging about how this genre of design could be adopted to local conditions in a developing economy such as India and at the same time corporate industry went ahead and addressed the consumption side of the equation and used design as a corporate bedfellow to generate hype, style, and a pursuit of business profit.

Many people equated design to being a subset of art and numerous art colleges set up in India over the past century were called upon to provide services in the design sectors and this has produced a vast range of design professionals across many sectors of Indian industry in the absence of any formal design education schools in the country. Design has also been equated with science and technology and numerous R& D centres have been set up across India to deal with technological innovation and technical and scientific research and these too have created bodies of expertise that have impinged on various design contributions in many sectors in India. However, the products from design schools have been few in comparison and it is only after economic liberalization that many of these trained individuals have been able to make a significant mark in the innovation landscape of the country. In recent years design is being seen as a management resource and in particular design thinking is being offered as a critical new approach to planning and creating exciting scenarios for the solution of complex problems facing all kinds of development and business objectives.

A few year ago, in 2005 as part of my Design Concepts and Concerns course, I asked my class in the Foundation Programme at NID to explore and imagine the nature of new design schools that may be needed across a number of regions of India since there was the talk in those days about an impending Design Policy for India and it was under active discussion in Government as well as in some circles of design professionals and academics in India. Many interesting alternatives were explored and offered by the students teams each having looked at the regional resources and their own map of the strengths of each region since the thesis was that design is a local phenomenon that must be based on available resources to meet recognized local needs. Each region has its own strengths that can be leveraged to get it locational advantage as well as traditional resources that could form the platform for differentiated and unique offerings informed by the local culture and its creative reinterpretation as a modern offering to meet contemporary needs.

Around the world new design institutes are springing up each day and the diversity of these new institutes are a challenge for us to try and understand the forces that are at work in the attempts to apply design and design thinking to a whole new set of applications and areas that have so not been addressed by traditional design schools that have been based on the imported models from the West. Over the past 15 or 20 years we have tried to look at the introduction of design capabilities to Indian needs in specific sectors and here I can offer the examples of three specific institutions with which I have had a personal association in trying to articulate and establish in a climate and a context in which design itself is not easily explained nor understood by those who need to nurture it and provide it with sustenance in the form of funds and a climate in which it can take root and grow. This I believe will be one of the biggest challenges for the new institute in Kerala and much of our effort may need to be focused on trying to make a space for it and the people associated to establish themselves before they are asked to deliver great results.

The experience so far points out that there are several approaches that could be taken and much will depend on the canvas that is available on which to paint our visions. The establishment of IIT’s and IIM’s in India seem to have some consensus as far as scale, reach, content and value but unfortunately no such consensus exists when it comes to the establishment of a design based organization be it a school or a development oriented organization. We will need to cross this hurdle first at the forthcoming meetings on the 9th and 10th November 2009 at Trivandrum and if we can get both a political as well as administrative blessings for a shared vision for a new design institute for Kerala the task ahead will be much easier than the various cases shown by many the efforts that have taken place across India in the past 20 years. However there is no ambiguity about the value of design when we are able to embody design thinking and action skills in particular individuals and teams through the process of design education and it is here that we need to ponder as to whether we need specialists or generalists who can be open to work with the huge body of technical and administrative teams that are already available from many fields and use this as a base to make for a vibrant platform for innovation with the use of these capable and flexible generalists who are able to work as team players and provide the essential ingredients to bring sensitive change where it is most needed in Kerala.

The big question is what are these needs and what needs to be changed and how should we go about this?

Some recent efforts to look at design from a fresh perspective are worth noting and we may look at our emerging understanding of design and design thinking in a number of unconventional areas of application before we freeze on directions and content. Design and design thinking have been applied to numerous exciting and complex situations and we need to take stock of these before we spell out the roles and responsibilities of a new institute of design for Kerala that will find its direction and purpose and reach maturity and excellence over the next 10, 20 and 50 years ahead. Can we look forward and jointly draft scenarios that are plausible and feasible and then decide the platforms form and content and articulate the way in which we can navigate our way towards the future?


1. Charles& Ray Eames, India Report, 1958, Government of India, New Delhi
2. National Institute of Design, Feasibility Report for IICD Jaipur, Government of Rajasthan, 1993
3. National Institute of Design, Feasibility Report for Bamboo & Cane DevelopmentInstitute Agartala, Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Government of India, 2000
4. National Institute of Fashion Technology, Accessory Design Curriculum, NIFT New Delhi, 1991
5. Soumitri Varadarajan, Ambedkar University, Service Design Curricullum, AmbedkarUniversity, New Delhi, 2009
6. UffeElbek, Kaos Pilot A-Z, Kaos Pilot, Aarhus Denmark, 2003 (http://www.knowmads.nl/) and (http://www.kaospilots.dk)
7. G K VanPatter, NextD website, Sensemaking initiatives 2002 to 2008 (http://www.nextd.org/)
8. Design for India blog (http://www.designforindia.com)

Admin block at an advanced state of construction at KSID campus

The Government of Kerala has taken a step that no other State Government has done so far, that of setting up a design school to address the needs of the region. The only other example that comes to my mind is the setting up of the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design (IICD) in Jaipur as a centre of excellence for creating change agents for the crafts sector using design as a core driver. This institute was set up by the Rajasthan Government based on a Feasibility Report for the proposed School of Crafts that was prepared by me as a member of the National Instituite of Design, Ahmedabad in 1993. In 2001 we helped redefine through our Feasibility Report, the role of the Bamboo and Cane Development Institute at Agartala to use design as a core driver for the bamboo sector of the country, as a sector specific institute that used design, technology and management in an integrated manner to get best results. Kerala too will need a forward looking vision statement in the context of our new understanding of design and the ongoing debates that have been raised by the mindless expansion that has been initiated by the DIPP, Government of India for the premier design education institute of the country, the National Institute of Design that led to a public outcry from groups of concerned design academics and professionals from across India through a new initiative called the Vision First initiative that has called for a serious rethink and wider discourse about the four new NID's that are proposed as part of their plans.

We now need a second meet on the proposed KSID's directions and this should lead to a clearly articulated vision statement that can help both Government of Kerala and the KSID functionaries to steer the institutes fledgling infrastructure as well as its new education programmes through the political channels of approval and public acceptance in the days ahead. Just yesterday evening, I was discussing the status of the KSID proposals with the members of the vision meet in 2009, Prakash Moorthy and Sangita Shroff, while having tea at the BMW at the NID Paldi campus and later last night I saw P T Girish's note in my mail box with the attached photographs of the KSID as it stands today. Another interesting coincidence is that I have just started teaching a course at the CEPT University for the Masters level programme at SID, the MIAD class on
Understanding Crafts and its Context in India where we have assigned the students three States to research, Rajasthan, Orissa and Kerala and they have an assignment to explore the use of local crafts in space making tasks that could be applied to the creation of a new holiday resort in their region. More about this course in another post soon. These connected set of events triggered this particular blog post and I hope that Kerala sets up a leadership position with the use of design for development and that this move will go well beyond what is needed in the crafts sector but also look at the needs for "Design across the 230 sectors" of our economy where design is critically needed but our political and administrative class do not yet seem to know this from the kind of support that design gets in the national and state budgets today. Can Kerala show the way? Only time will tell.

M P Ranjan

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.