Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Design Thinking at Ahmedabad University: A new beginning for Indian education

Design Thinking at Ahmedabad University: An approach paper for a proposed course for undergraduate students

August 2013

Why Design Thinking?

We have constantly been amazed at the great creative actions of humanity, which can be seen in their key inventions and major evolutionary steps that shaped human civilisation and these have been initiated by generations of unknown creators over time immemorial. These creators have helped shape our civilisation through their breakthrough contributions by daring to experiment and create in the face of social isolation and ridicule by the prevailing orthodoxy. They contributed by innovating at the edge of society as stated by Alexander Doxiadis when he talked about the blue dots and red dots that represented the typical settlements where the blues were the majority conformists and the reds the crazies who were ostracised and isolated till a paradigm shift in society helped assimilate the thoughtful and insightful contributions from these isolated creators. These contributions included small or major improvements and change in processes, tools, arts, crafts, everyday artefacts, houses and public structures which we have conveniently labelled as inventions and innovations long before we could recognise these contributions as heroic acts of design thought and action.

We now know that these are early design acts that were not properly attributed in our historic references so far. We are now beginning to understand that design thought and action was central to all these breakthrough contributions and that it is a basic human activity and ability at one level that is as old as civilisation itself. The other form is a new and modern profession, and this is created by the professional education of a designer who would be able and sensitised to feel, think, act in an appropriate manner in a rapidly changing material and social world in an industrial age. Today in an era of information access and digital processes has brought on new possibilities for design as well as enormous challenges and responsibilities that require an ethical and feeling attitude alongside a sharp intellect and able set of hands. Understanding design and design thinking today is a major challenge since it has so many forms and those working in a variety of domains exhibit capabilities and competencies drawn from a vast array of traditional disciplines that have been integrated into the skill sets of a particular designer in his or her modern form.

University education has become dominated by vertical specialisations with little connect between the various disciplines and the emphasis has been on development of knowledge resources and capability within each domain of study. However it is increasingly seen that to solve real world problems and emerging opportunities there is a need for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary attitudes and abilities to collaborate and think across various styles of thought and action to ralise innovative possibilities that are around us all the time. It is here that many educators across disciplines are turning to design thinking to bring these new attitudes and capabilities to the various domains of specialisations within an educational and university setting. The core processes and capabilities afforded by design thinking training are listed and stated below.

1. Understanding the Context: Framing Intentions and Goals
Learning to understand the context and the social, cultural, material, economic and political situation that usually leads to trying to get clarity from a very complex set of signals and processes from the real world that help provide the essence of a direction for design thought and action. This kind of learning, like many others, does go through several iterations but at the end of these multiple cycles the level of conviction and sense of purpose is usually very high in the task and the purpose that it represents. This early stage learning is at most times very fuzzy and a great deal of flexibility is called for to be able to cope with the ambiguity that accompanies this kind of design exploration leading to the building of some convictions that are supported by the faith of these experiences. Many a times this conviction can be a source of great frustration since few others have the same insights that the design learner has garnered from the unique situations that has been investigated in some considerable depth. Designers learn that these early stage sense data needs to be trusted and not abandoned too early and this is the foundation of an innovation environment in which they choose to work. Lifetime of experiences are harnessed through the processes of brainstorming and mapping of the context and the various elements that may impact the situation that is being examined with a very open minded attitude that is inclusive in nature rather than by being overly critical. All this exploration is done with words and images and these need to be modeled in a composite structure that captures both the structure as well as the form of the situation under examination and this model is a dynamic one as it develops and responds to new circumstances and information and insights. Insights about the context and the particular situation are the most sought after by-products from these early stages of design exploration.

2. Research, Knowledge and Insights: Plumbing Information Sources and Dimensions
Design learning needs to develop both attitudes as well as ability with tools of information access and processing. The process of design deals with access to information to many classes of information types which includes published and reported facts and speculations and also field based observations and self initiated experiments that are contextually mediated to fill gaps in the current information or for a direct confirmation of some reported fact or speculation which cannot otherwise be verified easily, to list only a small sub-set of the huge variety of information types involved in design investigation. Designers have drawn from all kinds of disciplines, from the humanities, sociology, psychology and language studies as well as from the sciences and technology fields,  various tools and techniques that were previously perfected within these disciplines over the years of specialised investigations and these would be available in published form as textbooks from each field of study. For example, tools and procedures on field-work and observation of people in the particular design situation, are drawn from the standard practices and work ethics and techniques of anthropologists, sociologists a variety of humanities experts and these have been adopted and used in numerous cases of design research that I know of. The field of design research is growing with many of these disciplines recognising new roles for themselves in the whole arena of innovation and design action that is becoming recognised as a valuable area of work globally. Design schools too are beginning to adopt many of these tools and processes as their own and building competence in their use and analysis. The purpose of these design research efforts however tend to be focussed on finding useful insights for the design action and decisions to follow rather than be focussed on finding fundamental truths and new knowledge as a final goal of the particular design research effort.

3. Finding Structure: Mapping of Resources and Opportunities
Design problems are better understood by juxtaposing factual and observational findings with new proposals and imagined possibilities that are visualised at an early stage in a what if mode of thought and action. New scenarios for action come up for active consideration and these also inform the design teams about the possible gaps in their information that need to be filled as they move forward. These conjectural models can be subjected to early analysis using a variety tools and frameworks to conduct such analysis. The hypothesis and insights arrived at in these early explorations drives further design investigation in the form of advanced scenarios of parts or the whole of the design situation or in the form of narratives and stories that cover both the micro and the macro levels of observation and visualisation of the stated and imagined need as well as the consequences and potentials that are being investigated by the designer. This too moves through numerous iterations till a selection is possible of a few major alternate courses of action that can be taken to the next level of investment planning and decision cycles, be it the sharing of these models with stake-holders, conduct of further focussed experiments or the building of expensive prototypes of parts or the whole product or business offering, as the case may be. This also applies to visualisations at many levels of expression from the abstract to the real, such as pre-cognitive diagrams, doodles and fuzzy sketches at one end, that are the preliminary visualisations created in many cases intuitively by the designer for themselves in the search for possible configurations and relationships of the various attributes of the solution to the other extreme involving expensive articulations of scenario in the form of detailed drawings, renderings and models and even real material prototypes in many iterations in a search for new and particular configurations affordances that resolve the many contradictions that exist in all design tasks. We can call this an analytical exploration of the design situation using visual tools and processes that generate external models rather than numerical or verbal expressions, although in some cases even these would be used in conjunction with the visual as well. Many of these models can be shared with large groups of critical participants to find gaps in the offerings and areas of improvement may emerge from the suggestions that are gathered in this process.

4. Communication of Concepts: Negotiating with Stake-holders
Designers need to develop an ability to make their concepts visible at an early stage and to be successful they also need to be able to communicate these effectively to a wide range of stake-holders as well. The ability to work in a team situation with many stake-holders with different areas of expertise is critical and using verbal, textual and visual discourses is an integral part of design thought and action. Design action calls for articulate expression of intermediate findings as well as expressive presentations of findings and results of concept explorations along with justifications of investments that would need to follow to make the concept a reality. Therefore, interactions with numerous stakeholders and in most cases approving authorities with whom the interactions are both critical and necessary for the task to progress to the next logical level of action with funding and other supports, calls for fairly advanced skills of communication and language use along with multi-media presentation skills. The learning involved is in communication, in seeking collaborations and in understanding the responses with empathy to the situation and the needs and feelings of the identified users. For major projects of public utility there is the added complexity of public discourse and politics of governance that would need to be negotiated and navigated with competence if the design teams are to be successful.

5. Ethical Frameworks and Holistic Models: Synthesis of Positions and Informed Decisions
Values and ethical positions are a part of all design choice making and these would come up at numerous stages in the process of design. Learning to accept and process the feedback from stake-holders into contact with constructive actions is a great leveller, and it brings the design thinker into uncommon scenarios on the cusp of great change and this could induce change in the individual themselves, since some of this feedback could be cultural in nature or outside the accepted frame of the designers frame of “personal ethics” – for want of a better term, which may be reflexive and transformative in both directions. The nature of design calls for the practitioner to be widely informed about both technical as well as socio-political matters and be able to use these in the context of the task at hand. There are many instances of the designer embarking on a new path outside the scope of the current task based on the insights and convictions derived from the learning experiences embedded in the design task. Today we are finding numerous examples of great complexity that may contain challenges of trying to bring sustainability and social equity into design tasks that may have in the past been considered a pure technical exercise. Awareness levels are high and public participation in such matters is also approaching high levels compelling designers to adopt methods that could make the design process less intuitive and more accountable and with public visibility at all decision stages, particularly for good governance in public expenditure. Documentation in such situations becomes doubly important.

6. Exploring Alternatives:  Developing Strategies and Details for Parts and Whole.
Learning to design leads to be open to vast range of alternatives and in decision-making choices from out of the numerous alternatives of parts and wholes that are the result of progressive visualisations and experimentations conducted in the progress of the design task. The definition of the task itself is open to review and many a times the investigations and design investments have veered of into an entirely new direction as a result of this kind of review which is quite normal in a design situation that is complex and previously less explored. The ability to develop alternatives calls for flexibility as well as the ability to generate prolific variety of expressions that can shape possible futures through the mobilisation of many types and styles of thinking for exploration and synthesis. Design thinking has many modes of thought from explorative, analytical, synthesis, abductive, categoric as well as reflective thinking styles at various stages as the work progresses.

7. Developing the Self:  Learning New Attitudes, Skills and Concepts
Design students need to be curious people and they should have an urge for constant learning about changes in their environment as well as in society at large. The ability to find what is not known and to quickly learn the principles or alternately to find those who can help them learn is a quality that is valued in a design and education setting. The constant self development that we see in what designers do in their search for new and interesting bits of knowledge that would be of value in the future on some not yet anticipated task usually within the frame of interest paths that each designer traverses over a career of continued learning to cope with the new and the unexpected in their usual area of work and areas that overlap their multiple interest paths. This calls for high degree of self-motivation and a sustained level of interest that can be supported when the task becomes both difficult and in many cases frustrating when no progressis easily visible on the horizon. The attitude towards learning is one of curiosity and with a constant search for excellence and quality in whatever is being addressed.

Design Thinking Course at Ahmedabad University:
A Course Abstract Paper for an elective course created for undergraduate & postgraduate students

Prof M P Ranjan
Independent Academic & Author of Blog – www.DesignForIndia.com

Course Title: Introduction to Design Thinking
Sessions: 30 sessions
Pre-Requisites: Offered to all students of Undergraduate and Postgraduate Programme at Ahmedabad University.
Objective: Broad based introduction to the processes and concepts of Design Thinking with a sensitisation to attitudes and action skills required to innovate and deliver new and compelling design concepts. Participants will be introduced to various processes and styles of Design Thinking using selected real world settings in the City of Ahmedabad — to explore, understand, structure and build new products, services and systems with the use of design and innovation processes. Help participants appreciate design thought and processes with a familiarity to key design thought leaders in the field through select readings, contemporary debates on issues and perspectives as well as online resources that are relevant and current. The assignments will give students an exposure to the hands-on minds-on perspectives needed for handling complex and wicked problems that are typical of design challenges and these collective experiences as well as reflections on these actions taken together will give them confidence to handle new and unfamiliar situations and use these processes and styles of thinking to create new and compelling offerings using design thinking as a way of living and action.

Methodology and Structure: This 30 session course is divided into 10 modules, each composed of lectures, discussion sessions on the Key Theme of each module and these are followed by structured non-prescriptive assignments for the students to work in teams to explore and discover the boundaries of the chosen task and navigate the complexities of the situation in exploring design opportunities through the set of structured assignments and learning to work in teams at the same time.

Course Content: Introduction to Key Concepts of Design Thinking through lectures, discussions, group assignments and presentations divided into ten major overlapping modules as listed below:
A: Key Concepts of Design Thinking
1. What is Design Thinking?
2. Styles of Design Thinking
3. Goal Seeking & Setting Research
4. Understanding Context
5. Visual Mapping & Resource Mapping
6. Categories and Trends
7. Compositions and Judgements
8. Opportunity Mapping and Scenario Visualisation
9. Communications and Reflection
10. Presentations with Business Models
(See supporting notes attached for a description of the design thinking models and stages as well as styles of thinking)

B: Opportunities for New/ Improved Services and Business offerings through design. Context City of Ahmedabad of 2015 - 2020
These are broad sectors within which there would be numerous specific design opportunities worth doing and these would be explored and developed as a theme each year depending on the context and current interest of the participating students and the imagination that they would unfold.
1. Food preparation and delivery                  9. Urban Farming Trends
2. Healthcare opportunities                          10. Garbage and Urban Hygiene
3. Urban Mobility challenges                        11. Web Enabled Services
4. Entertainment and then City                    12. Library & Knowledge Services
5. Public Spaces Utilisation                          13. Music Events and Competitions
6. Tourism and Heritage offerings              14. Social Networks for City Governance
7. Events and Festivals                                 15. Riverfront Opportunities
8. Education related needs                          16. BRTS support Services
And many more which would be developed as part of the early Goal Setting assignments in the early phase of the course.

Space and Facilities Required: Flexible space planning with appropriate furniture and lighting would be needed to conduct he various parts of this course. Lectures and presentation sessions would be for the whole group and depending on the total number of students the space requirements would need to be made appropriately. During each Module the groups would require access to lecture spaces provide with audio-visual facilities as well as clear wall spaces with white soft boards for display and discussion of posters simultaneously for at least five groups. Each group would be composed of 6 to 10 student participants and the class strength could vary from 30 to 50 participants each year. Each group would need a work space suitable for group processes in design thinking and preferably these tables and chairs should be stackable to clear the space for group presentations that would use the wall space around the design space.

List of key thought leaders and published resources: Design Thinking is a rapidly evolving field and more published resources are being made available each day as the field grows. We will keep a close watch on the evolving literature and suggest appropriate papers, books, web sites and discussion lists that the students can interact with as part of their course at the University. Being an introductory course, the selection will be governed by the material being suitable for entry-level students into the field of design and design thinking. However the University needs to invest in expanding their design related library so that these students can continue to use the resource long after the course in a continued learning setting and it would also encourage other students to think about using design as a key resource for their own projects and initiatives. We anticipate many such innovation initiatives from the student body once the course is set up and finds a place in the mainstream of the University offering.

Evaluation Criteria and Feedback: Students will be evaluated on both participation as well as performance. Participation will be on the basis of attendance and quality of participation in group processes. Results of group assignments will be graded for the group and not for the individual student. However, students not showing interest or effort in group processes would need to be counseled to ensure a level of learning that is wholesome and properly assimilated. The final presentation would be a public event and the concepts developed by the students will get live feedback from teachers, mentors, peers, as well as members of the community with whom they have interacted during the course. Attendance and individual participation tasks will carry a 40 percent weightage while group tasks would carry 60 percent.

Learning Outcomes:  Understanding of Design as an action discipline. Ability to frame complex challenges using design thinking skills and visualization of these for sharing with stakeholders. Familiarity with design concepts and tools with an introduction to key thought leaders. Familiarity with a vocabulary of design and innovation as they would be applied to a wide spectrum of opportunities and complex challenges.

Suggested References
1. John Heskett, Design: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2005
2. Jon Kolko, Exposing The Magic of Design: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Methods of Synthesis, Oxford University Press, 2011
3. John Thackara, In The Bubble, Designing in a Complex World, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005
4. Harold G Nelson & Eric Stolterman, The Design Way, Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World, MIT Press, 2012
5. Roger Martin, Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, Harvard Business School Press, 2009
6. Kees Dorst, Understanding Design, BIS Publishers, 2006
7. Bryan Lawson, What Designers Know, Architectural Press, 2004
6. M P Ranjan, Design Thinking Models: A Primer, The Author, 2013
7. M P Ranjan, Design for India, blog : http://www.designforindia.com , 2007 to 2013
8. M P Ranjan, Academia.edu, Archive of Papers and Books by the author, http://cept.academia.edu/RanjanMP
Note for the record:

On 18 August 2013 the Academic Council of Ahmedabad University reviewed the proposal and accorded an in-principle approval to launch the course as an elective offered across several colleges of the University, This is a significant move since in India we have over 500 recognised Universities and the need for embedding design and design thinking into the 230 sectors of our economy is still a long way away, a journey that we started on this blog in 2007 on 14th June with the publication of our Mission Statement for the Design for India initiative.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Celebrating the Mizo Paikawng: Reflections on The Three Orders of Design

Reflections on The Three Orders of Design:
Lessons from the handmade baskets of the Northeast India revisited


Design overview lecture delivered at the “Uttar Purva Utsav” organized by the Crafts Council of India at the “Dilli Haat” on 2nd February 2009 to celebrate and promote the crafts of Northeast India in association with the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Government of India.

The lecture was simultaneously translated into Hindi by Prof. Ms Asha Bakshi, Dean Fashion Design, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi.

This invitation to speak at the “Uttar Purva Utsav” organized by the Crafts Council of India at the “Dilli Haat” gives me the opportunity to reflect on my three decade old association with the crafts of the Northeastern Region of India and to ponder on the lessons that we have learned about design and bamboo from the craftsmen of the Northeast over the years since our first contact with their work in the field in late 1979. We began our year long fieldwork November 1979 in the Northeast as part of the project sponsored by the All India Handicrafts Board in those days, now the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts [DC (H)], to study the bamboo and cane crafts of the region which resulted in a book which was eventually published in 1986 by the DC (H) and the National Institute of Design (NID), titled “Bamboo & Cane Crafts ofNortheast India” by M P Ranjan, Nilam Iyer and Ghanshyam Pandya. (download pdf 35 mb) It is also an opportune occasion to connect once again with the resources that were generated by that project particularly in the form of the very large collection of baskets that were collected in the field as part of our study and these are today available at the National Crafts Museum and I am told that these are on special display to celebrate the crafts of Northeast and in conjunction with this particular event at the Dilli Haat. The craftsmen and the crafts promoters are invited to visit the National Crafts Museum at Pragati Maidan and see for themselves the quality of crafts that is still a living tradition of the region as these products are still in active use across the region but times are changing fast and these may not remain that way for very long. Digital pdf copies of my book can be downloaded from my website and in-print copies of the paperback edition (2004) are available from both NID and the DC (H) and the original hard-bound edition (1986) is now out of print.

I must share the learning that we were able to glean from our journeys into the Northeast as well as from our interactions with the local craftsmen which was followed by a period of deep study that we could invest into the collection of 400 baskets that we had gathered during our field work in the Northeastern region. Besides giving us numerous insights about bamboo that were invaluable we were also quite surprised to see the deep appreciation of design principles that were both applied by the craftsmen as well as something g that we found embedded in the range of products that we had collected in an extremely selective manner during our year long field work in the seven states of the Northeastern region. Now Sikkim has been included in the definition of the Northeastern Region and rightly so, since these states share so many common characteristics with each other while keeping their individual identities intact. Learning from the Northeast’s craftmen was an exhilarating experience and in all very enriching experience. As a  designer and a design teacher traveling with two colleagues through a culture that was rich with knowledge about bamboo and design it was a stimulating experience for us and a huge source of new learning from the field. This learning we tried to capture in our book about the Bamboo and Cane Crafts of the Northeastern Region and while the content may look like a normal documentation a look at the back of the book will reveal two indexes, one a “Technical index” that captures all the nuances of the local wisdom across many fields and the other a “Subject index” which links and makes accessible word concepts as they appear across the book. Our sense of amazement at each product that we saw and the level of detail to which the thought process had helped evolve that product was always a source of great pleasure and amazement and admiration. From all these products I would like to draw out one specific example, The Paikawng, a Mizo basket used for carrying firewood, not because it stands above the rest but simply because it is one of many products that come to my mind as I stand here and reflect on our deep learning from the field about design itself. I will therefore use the example of the Paikawng to set out the boundaries and contours of the three orders of design as they appear in the fine hand crafted baskets of Northeast India.

Let me first give you an overview of the three orders of design that I shall be dwelling on over the next few minutes. What are these and how do they relate to our understanding of design and in particular how these can help us use design to further our objective of building better products and systems for the people of the Northeastern region? The fine detailing in the baskets from the Northeast represent the climax of a bamboo culture and the field study and our book tries to pay homage to that spirit. The three orders of design are listed here and I shall proceed to explain how these were appreciated in the Paikawng and in all the other products that were equally rich and deserving of our attention.

 The First Order of Design:
The Order of Design of Material –Form – Structure
This level of design is recognised by all people and is the most commonly discussed attribute. Here material, structure and technology are the key drivers of the design and these help shape the form that we eventually see and appreciate in the product. We can appreciate the product as an honest expression of structure and material used and transformed to realize a particular form that is both unique as well as functional. It is here that skill and understanding of the craftsmen are both used to shape the product through an appropriate transformation of the material with an understanding of its properties and with an appreciation of its limitations and possibilities.

Let us take the Paikawng and examine it at the level of material and form – this basket is made of long strands of stout bamboo splits that are first interlaced to form a square base before these are bent up to form the sides of the basket. In forming the sides these very same splits form elongated hexagons that are a result of the three horizontal bands that anchor the inclined verticals between the base and the rim structure. At the rim these splits are each divided laterally into a number of sub-splits which lend themselves to a form of braiding so as to create a wide braided band that is both soft as well as very strong but being flexible. The material of the split is thus transformed at each stage, the base as flat and wide, the sides as thick and stiff and the rim as soft and flexible, while still remaining one single piece of bamboo that is responding to a particular structural need at the point where it is needed. The four corners of the square base are covered by a interlacing knot made of cane splits which does not unravel if some of the overlapping strands are cut while the basket is in use. This lends the basket a degree of toughness that is essential for the intended function, which is to carry rough cut fire-wood from the field to the home and this brings us to the second order of design.

The Second Order of Design:
The Order of Design for Function: Feeling – Impact  – Effect
This level is influenced by utility and feeling and is largely determined by the marketplace as well as by the culture in which it is located. Here aesthetics and utility are informed by the culture and the economics of the land. We can sense and feel the need for the product and the trends are determined by the largely intangible attributes through which we assess the utility and price that we are willing to pay for this particular offering and this is quite independent of its cost.

In order to examine this level of design we will need to compare similar products across a number of different social and cultural situations. Firewood baskets are made by many communities of the Northeast and each of these have a distinctive form that is informed by the asthetic preferences of that community. The Paikawng offers the Mizo a particular form and structure and for lighter applications they have a sister product called the Emsin which is lighter and smaller than the Paikawng but with very similar structural and formal characteristics of the latter. The other tribes have distinctly different forms that are arrived at by differences in the size, shape, contours as well as the shape of the hexagon used to form the sides of the baskets in question while addressing the same set of functions that the Paikawng addresses for the Mizos.

The Third Order of Design:
The Order of Design for Value – Meaning and Purpose
This level is shaped by the higher values in our society and by the philosophy, ethics and spirit that we bring to our products and events as well as all the associated services and the stories that we can tell about the relationships between these entities and our lives. At this level value unfolds through the production of meaning in our lives and in providing us with our identities and these products becomes a medium of communication itself, all about ourselves. It is held in the politics and ethics of the society and is at the heart of the spirit in which the products are produced and used in that society. There are deeply held meanings that are integral to the form, structure as well as some of the essential features which may in some cases be the defining aspects of that product, making it recognizable as being from a particular tribe or community. These features define the ownership of the form, motif or character of the product and these are usually supported by the stories and legends about their origin and these give meaning to the lives of the people for whom they are made.

The Paikawng has this distinctive character and can be recognized as a typical Mizo product both by the Mizos themselves as well as by those around them. The braided band at the rim has a distinctive name in the Mizo language – it is called “vawkpuidang phiar”, meaning “the braided pattern of palete of the pig or sow” which has a similar knitted pattern.  These stories bring value to the product that goes far beyond its material and utility value that is usually embedded in such functional products. We need to recognize the characteristics that these three orders of design bring to the contemporary products of our own society and in doing so we can learn to enhance the value that it brings to the market as well as tone the quality standards that are applied to each instance of these products at the various stages of production, marketing and utilization in the society.

All three layers are important and we need to learn to appreciate our creations along all three axis if we are to reach a sustainable offering in the handicrafts sector in the days ahead. Design therefore has a number of layers that are addressed in our traditional artifacts and when we embark on the making of our new and innovative products for new markets we will need to pay a great deal of attention to all three orders of the design spectrum if we are to reach a semblence of sustainability and order in our creative offerings for the future.

Bamboo & Cane Crafts of Northeast India by M P Ranjan, Nilam Iyer and Ghanshyam Pandya, National Institute of Design 1986

About the Author

M P Ranjan
Independent Academic, Ahmedabad
Author of blog www.DesignForIndia.com

As a member of the faculty since 1976 he has been responsible for the creation and conduct of numerous courses dealing with Design Theory and Methodology, Product and Furniture Design and numerous domains of Digital Design. He has conducted research in many areas of Design Pedagogy, Industrial and Craft Design and on the role of design policy in various sectors of the Indian economy. He has held many administrative positions at NID and is currently Head, NID Centre for Bamboo Initiatives at NID. Besides publishing several papers on design and craft he has edited numerous volumes of NID publications including the “Young Designers” series and is author of a major book titled “Bamboo and Cane Crafts of Northeast India” (1986) and two CD-ROMs titled “Bamboo Boards and Beyond” (2001) and “Beyond Grassroots” (2003) which contain all his papers and reports on bamboo and on design. He helped build the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design at Jaipur and the Bamboo & Cane Development Institute, Agartala. He is co-editor of a major publication “Handmade in India” (2008) which documents the crafts of India and is produced by the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Government of India.

As a professional designer he has handled many design projects for industry, government and international agencies in areas of product design, interior design, exhibition design, craft design and design policy. As Chairman of NID's consulting Design Office from 1981 to 1991 he was responsible for managing over four hundred professional design projects handled by the Institute in that period. He has headed the NID’s Publications and Resource Centre as well as the Information Technology initiatives as Chairman Computer Centre and Head Apple Academy at NID. He completed several major projects for the UNDP and Government agencies to demonstrate the role of bamboo as a sustainable craft and industrial material of the future. These innovations contributed to the creation of new strategies for the use of bamboo in India.

M P Ranjan was born in Madras in 1950 and after his schooling and junior college there he joined NID as a design student in 1969 in the PG programme in Furniture Design. He joined the Faculty at NID in 1972 and for a short while, between 1974 and 1976, worked as a professional designer in Madras before returning to NID as a full time faculty member in 1976. He now teaches fulltime at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. He is on the Governing Council of the IICD, Jaipur and is the Chairman, Geovisualisation Task Group set up by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

His website set up in late 2004 is a growing resource of writings and visual presentations on his numerous areas of interest, projects and teaching programmes.
(shut down by Apple)

In 2007 he created and launched a blog called “Design for India” on his thoughts on policy initiatives for the spread of design in all sectors of the Indian economy.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Web of Connections: Indian Design education with influences from the HfG Ulm

Web of Connections: Indian Design education with influences from the HfG Ulm

I was invited to write a reflective piece on the connections between the design pedagogy of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and that of the HfG Ulm to be included in a proposed issue of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s magazine issue that would look back at the impact of the Bauhaus and Hfg Ulm on the Tropical nations of the world long after both these German schools were shut down for different reasons. I have been researching their connections with India for many years and this invitation gave me an opportunity to continue my research a bit deeper into the connections between the schools. I interviewed four former NID faculty who had studied and worked closely with faculty from HfG Ulm in the early 60’s when the NID was being founded at Ahmedabad and used this to build my paper. Interesting new facts were revealed in these interviews and we will need to do more before we have a deeper understanding of the real influences and how these have shaped the foundation of design education in India.

My paper was not carried in the Bauhaus 5 – Tropics issue released in June 2013 but on pages 76 to 79 they carried a brief interview with me about a set of questions that their editors had set for me to respond. However, they have also provided a link to my blog “Design for India” www.designforindia.com and their own website at www.bauhaus-online.de  for extracts from my paper that is reproduced below in full text.
Image: Paramanand Dalwadi, H Kumar Vyas, Gajanan Upadhayay and Jayanti Panchal — all former Faculty of NID who had close connections with HfG Ulm in the 60’s and later.

Web of Connections: Indian Design education with influences from the HfG Ulm

M P Ranjan
Professor – Design Chair, CEPT University, Ahmedabad

Paper prepared at the invitation of the Bauhaus Dessau foundation for inclusion in "Bauhaus 5 ‑—Tropics" magazine. in June 2013

In his 1999 article titled – The “Ulm Model” in the Periphery – Gui Bonsiepe discussed the various manifestations of the “Ulm Model” especially its reach and establishment In India in the process of bringing design education to India. He states – “HfG influences had a part in the founding of the National Institute of Design (NID) at Ahmedabad in India, where HfG faculty members gave guest courses (Hans Gugelot, Herbert Lindinger, Wolfgang Siol, Christian Staub and others). These institutions based themselves in policy, design, curriculum and teaching methods (problem based learning in design courses), on the experience of the HfG. This experience was brought to them through contacts with HfG faculty members, through Ulm alumni who came there to teach, and also through the publications of the HfG, especially the magazine Ulm.” This statement from “Ulm Design” (1999) provided the setting for me to research deeper the connections between HfG Ulm and NID in the early years as well as in contemporary times particularly in the context of the invitation from the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation who are setting up a retrospective of the exhibition that had been shown in Calcutta in 1922 that included works of the Bauhaus of which very little is known here in India in the context of the arrival of modern design and its taking roots here in India. Little is also known about the various connections between the HfG Ulm and NID and I used this occasion to try and correct these lacunae.

Image: HfG Ulm Faculty (from top left clockwise) — 1. Visiting faculty at HfG Ulm and at NID - Charles Eames. 2. Hans Gugelot with architecture students at NID in 1965, 3. Horst Rittel author of "wicked problems" and 4. Tomas Maldonado author of "Design, Nature, Revolution".

I had detailed interviews and video recorded four former NID faculty who had substantial contact with Ulm and Ulm faculty in the 60’s and 70’s and these interviews as well as other resources and information available with me I proceeded to build the final article. I interviewed Kumar Vyas who started the Product Design Programme at NID in 1966 after spending 11 months at Ulm in Gugelot's office in 1965-66, Paramanand Dalwadi who set up the NID Photography Department was a student of Christian Staub at NID in 1963-66 and Wolfgang Siol at Ulm in 1970. Gajanan Upadhayay started the Furniture Design activity at NID and worked with Hans Gugelot during his brief visit in 1965 and finally Jayanti A Panchal who also worked with Hans Gugelot in 1965 on the tangential fan project at NID and later went to Gugelot office in 1970-71 as a product-engineering designer. All of them had intense interactions with Prof Hans Gugelot when he visited NID in 1965. As we know Hans Gugelot passed away in 1965 some time after his return from India but not before he had set up the faculty training exposure programme for Kumar Vyas to undertake at Ulm over 11 months in 1965-66. I also got in touch by phone with Prof Sudha Nadkarni in Mumbai and reviewed his papers for the Ulmer Model Exhibitions in 2010 at Ahmedabad and Bangalore. Sudha Nadkarni studied at HfG Ulm from 1962 to 1966 and came back to India to work at NID 1966 to 1969 and then went on to set up the Industrial Design Centre at IIT Bombay in 1970. Kirit Patel of CEPT University had apprenticed in Frei Otto's studio in the 80's and this interview too provided insights about the approach to design that was followed by one of the prominent guest faculty at HfG Ulm.

Herbert Lindinger in his forward to the book “Ulm Design” tells us that the HfG Ulm had been through six phases of development and before the NID teams interacted with them they had already developed a critical approach to design education and design theory that was well documented and disseminated by the Ulm magazine 1 to 21 from 1955 to 1968. He states – “The third phase, 1956-58, was dominated by the teaching of Otl Aicher, Maldonado, Gugelot and Vordemberge-Gildewart. These instructors tried to build a new and markedly closer relationship between design, science and technology. This was the first manifestation of the Ulmer Modell, the Ulm model, which has lost none of its relevance. The HfG evolved a model of training that aimed to give designers a new, and rather more modest and cautious, understanding of their own role. As design was now to concern itself with more complex things than chairs and lamps, the designer could no longer regard himself, within the industrial and aesthetic process in which he operated, as an artist, a superior being. He must now aim to work as part of a team, involving scientists, research departments, sales people, and technicians, in order to realize his own vision of a socially responsible shaping – Gestaltung – of the environment. Under Maldonado, a new Basic Course came into being, which broke away more and more clearly from Bauhaus concepts and absorbed the lessons of perceptual theory and semiotics.”

The National Institute of Design (NID)
It was this Basic Course that Kumar Vyas understood deeply at Ulm and introduced to the new batch of Product Design students when the Postgraduate course was offered to graduate engineers in 1967. The NID documentation from 1964-69 shows examples of the Basic Design assignments as well as the early projects and the methods used in these projects that echo the Ulm paradigm as well as the muted shades of grey and colours that were a hallmark of the HfG Ulm way. According to him, while the spirit of Ulm may have directed the assignments a lot of innovations were brought into the teaching to meet local needs and challenges. I joined NID as a student in the postgraduate programme in Furniture Design in 1969 and Kumar Vyas, Sudha Nadkarni and Rolf Misol conducted the interview. While the Furniture Design projects that started from day one were formulated by Misol and his teacher and chief consultant, Arno Votler, the Basic Design assignments conducted by Kumar Vyas were the same as those done by the Product Design students. The evening discussions that we had with the Product Design students and those from Graphics and Textiles did show different threads of pedagogy that were being explored at NID by the various departments and each was informed by the specific positions of the selected consultants and visiting faculty who were involved in these programmes. While Product Design was based on Ulm the Graphic Design programme was modeled after the Swiss school at Basel and the Textile Design programme came from Cranbrook and the Scandinavian traditions of weaving. Furniture Design and Ceramic Design had German consultants to set the curriculum and to conduct the early programmes. Arno Vottler and Hans Theo Baumann developed the Furniture Design and Ceramic Design programmes respectively.

Image. H K Vyas conducting class at NID in 1967 and Exhibition at NID of basic design work done in the first Product Design programme in 1969 and GIRNAR scooter designed by H K Vyas and Sudha Nadkarni with J A Panchal in 1969.

NID too had a large number of visiting consultants and guest faculty members in the formative years and many were involved in project work where students actively participated. The first of a string of major exhibition and multidisciplinary projects was the designing of the Nehru Exhibition and in 1964 the entire team of faculty and students in the Graphic Design and Architecture programmes were involved with the team from Eames Office and this helped set up a very vibrant work culture at the new Institute located in a building that was designed by Le Corbusier where NID had access to the loft spaces which had been suitably modified to start the school of design and host its activities till the new building was made ready across the street at Paldi in Ahmedabad. Gautam and Gira Sarabhai with their vast network of contacts in the art and design community worldwide were able to attract the best talent available to Ahmedabad and with the generous grants from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations the talent pool, that they assembled reads like a who’s who of world design and the students and faculty were exposed to these ideas and work methods. This procession of international talent continued well into the late 80’s with the support of the development grants from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). The first UNIDO- ICSID conference on Design for Development was held at NID Paldi campus and at IDC in Mumbai in 1979 and amongst the speakers were Victor Papanek and Gui Bonsiepe along with designers from Europe, Asia and Latin America. I mention this here since NID had been evolving internally as well towards development oriented design action and there was much discussion at the Institute on what would be an appropriate of design action for a country like India and these debates continued to impact the education programmes at the Institute over the years.

Hans Gugelot and Product Deign
For the formulation of the Product Design programme Kumar Vyas was asked by Gautam and Gira Sarabhai to stop by at HfG Ulm in early 1965 on his way back from the opening ceremony of the Eames designed Nehru Exhibition that opened in New York. This halt at the HfG Ulm turned out to be quite significant for the NID’s Product Design programme. Kumar Vyas met Hans Gugelot there and it was agreed that Gugelot would travel to India and help in the formulation of the new programme for the NID. Gugelot traveled to India in the summer of that year and spent a little over two weeks working with NID designers and craftsmen to develop the new pedestal model of the tangential fan with Kumar Vyas and Jayanti A Panchal and with Gajanan Upadhayay a range of furniture using wooden strips in a T section arrangement and canvas and plywood strips inserts for stiffness. The model making for the tangential fan was made by the legendary Haribhai, a Guajarati craftsman and carpenter of fine skills and an amazing ability to make models in a wide range of materials, plastics, metals and woods. The wooden furniture system was detailed and developed by Gajanan Upadhayay and he made the full set of scale models as well as the prototypes himself. Gugelot returned to Ulm but passed away before Kumar Vyas could commence his planned training programme at his office in Ulm. Kumar Vyas did however travel to Ulm and work under the guidance of Herbert Lindinger at HfG Ulm and Horst Diener at the Gugelot office where he spent the next ten months understanding the Ulm approach to design education and practice. He also met and befriended Sudha Nadkarni at HfG Ulm and this set the stage for the next level of partnership since Nadkarni joined NID as a faculty and designer and worked there from 1966 to 1969 before moving to Bombay to set up the IDC as part of IIT Bombay. Jayanti A Panchal traveled to Ulm in 1974 to work in Gugelot’s office under E Reichl and Horst Diener and during this period worked on many ongoing projects of the office as a design engineer.

Christian Staub and Wolfgang Siol – Photography at NID
Photography Department at NID was set up by Christian Staub who lived in Ahmedabad for three years and trained the early students at NID including Paramanand Dalwadi who became the main photography faculty at NID after his period of training at NID under the mentorship of Christian Staub. Dalwadi recalls that period with warmth and deep respect for his classical perfection in his work. Staub introduced Dalwadi to the finer aspects of photography, camera work as well as lab and darkroom techniques and in his own words gave him confidence to teach the subject as well as carry out complex professional tasks in studio and architectural photography using various formats that were available at NID. The assignments were all refined at HfG Ulm these formed the basis of teaching at NID as well. In 1969-70, Dalwadi was deputed for training at Ulm under Wolfgang Siol for four months and there he had complete access to the equipment in the studio although he arrived as an apprentice from India. This gave Dalwadi insights into the Ulm classic techniques of “isometric photography” that was achieved by perspective correction and appropriate camera position in relation to the subject, unwritten rules of composition learned by practice and attention to detail. He had another occasion in 1974 to return to Siol’s studio and spend one month there to be immersed in the studio practice as a refresher dose. Dalwadi had joined NID as a student in 1963 and he started teaching at NID and built his own reputation as one of India’s leading photographer and teacher.

Guest Teachers at HfG Ulm and at NID
Herbert Lindinger tells us – “The HfG was planned as a place for experiment, an institution open to new hypotheses, theories, and development, in itself the enormous preponderance of guest instructors (around 200) as opposed to permanent faculty members (20) led to a sustained dynamic, a constant state of mental unrest. The list of those guest instructors, then still young and largely unknown, now looks like a Who’s Who of science, literature and art.” Lindinger visited NID in 1970 to review the new curriculum for the undergraduate programme that was started then.

Klaus Krippendorff whom I met at the IDSA conference in 2006 writes about his experiences at Ulm where the visiting lecturers and faculty included Charles and Ray Eames (1955 and 1958), Buckminister Fuller, Bruce Archer and Horst Rittel, his favorite teachers. Krippendorff’s paper of 2008 states – “The school seemed to look for students who connected intellectual, cultural, political and technological conceptions and willing to act.” He also has a comment on the politics of the HfG Ulm and he states – “Perhaps the lack of appreciation of the virtues of higher education by the design faculty explains at least part of its shortsighted politics.” This seems to be true of NID as well as other design schools in India where a lack of scholarship and publication is sometimes seen as a virtue.

In later years both NID and IDC managed to obtain UNDP funding and faculty from both schools revisited contacts from HfG Ulm as pert of their training programmes and guest faculty from HfG Ulm also came to India as UNDP consultants to bring a renewed level of exchange between these organisations. Detailing these will need additional research that I hope will be done in the near future by Indian as well as German scholars. These experts include Kohei Suguira from Tokyo, Herbert Ohl, Herbert Lindinger, and Gui Bonsiepe. I also had a conversation with my colleague, Kirit Patel at CEPT University to explore his contacts with Frei Otto and his team at IL, Stuttgart. Frei Otto was an active guest faculty

The Ulm Journals at NID Library
Tomas Maldonado and Gui Bonsiepe provided intellectual leadership to several generations of Indian students as well as faculty at both NID as well as IDC through their sustained efforts to publish the HfG Ulm Journals and books in later years that were followed with awe and respect. NID Library had a bound volume of these and many of the assignments documented here were also followed explicitly at NID as well as at IDC over the years. For instance in Ulm Journal 10-11, Maldonado and Bonsiepe argue for a unique position for design and design thinking in a world dominated by science. This is a position that we are still to resolve and in my view an important debate that will continue to attract research attention for years to come. I met Bonsiepe on his several visits to India and also Maldonado when I made a visit to Milan in 2010 and I interviewed him on a number of research questions that I had in mind that stemmed from his perceptive writings.

Image. Look Back Look Forward workshops were conducted at Bangalore and Kolkatta in 2010 to accompany the traveling exhibition of the HfG Ulm work and design pedagogy. These workshops looked at the impact of HfG Ulm on design pedagogy in India and at basic design education in particular. Prof M P Ranjan (sitting on the Ulmer Stool) chaired the two conferences along with Suchitra Balasubramanian, Prof Sudha Nadkarni and Prof Kumar Vyas (seen above) were keynote speakers at the Bangalore event while Prof Kirti Trivedi delivered the keynote at Kolkatta.

In 1994 Kirti Trivedi of IDC approached me at NID to obtain Xerox copies of Ulm Journals in the NID Library. He used these as a backdrop for the conference at IDC, “Ulm and After” and selected papers were reproduced in a book for the benefit of Indian teachers for the first time. In 2010, NID in collaboration with the Ulm Archives and the Max Muller Bhavan hosted the traveling exhibit at Ahmedabad and later at Bangalore and Kolkatta. I organized the conferences titled Look Back Look Forward: HfG Ulm and Design Education in India at Bangalore and another on Basic Design at Kolkatta and we released a digital set of the Ulm Journals for Indian academics for the first time and since then these have been available for a wider audience. The impact of these Ulm Journals on design education is still unfolding and they will be in active use for many years to come I am sure.

Further Research Questions
Science and Design article raises many research questions about the nature of design and science that are still active in our debates on various online discussion lists to this day. HfG Ulm had raised these in their corridors and these questions still reverberate in our minds. The HfG Ulm is a rare case of design thought and action that was both intense and comprehensive and the various threads that started there may need to be followed up by current day researchers to build a body of scholarship that will help put design at a new level of acceptance in India and elsewhere. One wonders what discussion Eames had the HfG in 1955 and 1958 and what impact if any it had on the Eames Report of 1958.
I also wonder what roles Guest Faculty could play in Design schools of the future, particularly in the transmission of knowledge and cross fertilization of ideology and techniques that seems to get lost in the implementation of narrow curriculum that is being attempted here in India in an effort to expand the reach of design education without adequate research. I believe that the seeds of these questions and their answers lie in the archives and memories of Ulmers, NIDians, IDCians and others and this need to be researched urgently. I traveled to Ulm in 2005 at the invitation of Rene Spitz to be part of the round table organized there. I followed this with another visit in 2008 when I had a memorable experience of staying at the HfG Ulm campus in a faculty studio thanks to the hospitality of Nick Roerich and the Ulm Archives and I hope more researchers will explore this rich space to appreciate design and shape the education of the designer of the future. The Max Bill building of 1953 is still in pristine condition and the Ulm Archives has now moved back to the campus and this bodes well for future research on the people and activities at HfG Ulm that has had such a huge impact on the world of design education.

01. Charles and Ray Eames, The India Report, Government of India, New Delhi, 1958, reprint, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, 1958, 1997
02. 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
03. Hans M. Wingler, The Bauhaus: Weimer, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1969
04. Tomas Maldonado, Design, Nature, and Revolution: Toward a Critical Ecology, Harper & Row, New York, 1972
05. Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London, 1972
06. Stafford Beer, Platform for Change, John Wiley & Sons, London, 1975
07. Frei Otto, IL20 TASKS, Institute for Lightweight Structures, Stutgart, 1975
08. R Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path, St. Martin's Griffin; 2nd edition, New York, 1982
09. Gui Bonsiepe, Estrutura e Estetica do Produto, Centro de Aperfeicoamento de Docentes de Desenho Industrial, Brasilia, 1986
10. Herbert Lindinger, Hoschule fur Gestaltung - Ulm, Die Moral der Gegenstande, Berlin, 1987
11. Kirti Trivedi ed., Readings from Ulm, Industrial Design Centre, Bombay, 1989
12. Otl Aicher, the world as design, Ernst & Sohn, Berlin, 1991
13. Otl Aicher, Analogous and Digital, Ernst & Sohn, Berlin, 1994
14. Gui Bonsiepe, Interface: An approach to Design, Jan van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht, 1999
15. Herbert Lindinger, Eds., Ulm Design: The Morality of Objects, Hoschule fur Gestaltung – 1953 – 1968, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1999.
16. Rene Spitz, HfG Ulm: The View Behind the Foreground  – The Political History of the Ulm School of Design –1953-1968, Edition Axel Menges, Stuttgart/London, 2002
17. Martin Krampen & Gunther Hormann, The Ulm School of Design – Beginnings of a Project of Unyielding Modernity, Ernst & Sohn, Berlin, 2003
18. Klaus Krippendorff, The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation for Design, Taylor & Francis CRC, New York, 2006
19. M P Ranjan, Lessons from Bauhaus, Ulm and NID: Role of Basic Design in PG Education, in proceedings of DETM Conference, NID, Ahmedabad, 2006
20. M P Ranjan. Design for India blog, http://www.design-for-india.blogspot.in/. Ahmedabad, (2007 – 2013)
21. Klaus Krippendorff, Designing in Ulm and Off Ulm, University of Pennsylvania, 2008

About the Author

M P Ranjan
Professor – Design Chair, CEPT University
Design Thinker & Author of blog Design for India

Prof M P Ranjan is a design thinker with 40 years of experience in design education and practice in association with the National Institute of Design. He helped visualize and set up two new design schools in India, one for the crafts sector, the IICD Jaipur and the other for the bamboo sector, the BCDI Agartala. His book Handmade in India is a comprehensive resource on the hand crafts sector of India and was created as a platform for the building of a vibrant creative economy based on the crafts skills and resources identified therein.

His book on bamboo opened up new frontiers for design exploration in India. He has explored bamboo as a designer material for social transformation. Bamboo has been positioned as a sustainable material of the future through his work spread over three decades. His work in design education covered many subjects including Design Thinking, Data Visualisation, Interaction Design and Systems Design

His blog “Designfor India” has become a major platform for Indian design discourse. http://www.design-for-india.blogspot.com

He is on the Governing Council of the IICD, Jaipur and advises other design schools in India and abroad. He lives and works from Ahmedabad in India. He has been acknowledged by peers as one of the international thought leaders in Design Thinking today


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