Tuesday, October 30, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2007

Design Thinking: What is it and how do we introduce it into India schools?

Design Thinking: What is it and how do we introduce it into India schools?
Image: The Design Journey and Thinking StylesClick image to enlarge.

Design thinking and action are carried out under a variety of thinking styles and modes, each used at an appropriate stage or in dealing with a particular nature of task that is associated with that stage. In the design process these are not necessarily sequential and these modes of thought may flow from one to another quite freely as the mind and the corresponding actions in the design space wander along the design journey while switching from one mode to another and often returning to a particular mode that is best suited to handle the mental and affective action that would be required at that particular stage. Let us examine each one in a little more detail. Each of these can be developed by the creation of appropriate assignments and some of the classic basic design assignments deal with the focused development of several of these abilities in a manner in which these can be applied to real life situations once the processes are internalized and assimilated in a sensitive manner.

1. Intentional thoughts & actions
2. Categorical thoughts & actions
3. Analytic thoughts & actions
4. Explorative thoughts & actions
5. Abductive thoughts & actions
6. Synthetic thoughts & actions
7. Reflective thoughts & actions

1. Intentional Thoughts & Actions: Intentional thinking is used to set goals and directions and these are driven by insights and convictions that could have been formed over a lifetime of exposure and experience or in some cases through a flash of insight. These thoughts are layered by a sense of motivation and could be informed by a particular ideology or philosophy and in some cases these motivations could be latent and not available at the conscious level unless the individual or group probes them with the use of reflective thoughts and makes visible the sources of these motivations. The perception of a need which is usually layered by an associated imagination gives rise to a fuzzy notion of a design opportunity which is “seen or sensed” in the form of “something can be done” or “something needs to be done” feeling which is sensed only by the individual having these thoughts and it would remain so until it is articulated in some form of expression which is either verbal as in an exclamation or statement, visual as in a doodle or a sketch or even a three dimensional model or it could be affective as in a gesture or bodily expression of hand-waving or a more choreographed expression of a dance movement or theatre performance which could be symbolic, metaphoric or iconic in nature. From this fuzzy beginning the sense of the design opportunity grows like a seed to become a more mature expression that is associated with a better understanding of the domain in which the particular expression would be located. A variety of models could be used to explore the boundaries of the design opportunity and these boundaries are not immediately apparent but are discovered in the process of the journey as an outcome of the insights and explorations.

2. Categorical Thoughts & Actions: Categorical thinking is used to explore and organize the various attributes and features of the design opportunity as well as the context in which the opportunity exists. Brainstorming and classification are key processes that are employed to bring structure to the design situation and this too is developed over a number of iterations and clarity would emerge only when the structure is discovered and made coherent. The classification process can reveal what is known as well as indicate what is still unknown about the particular design opportunity since the organized structure can be subjected to critique and analysis by the individual designer as well as others who are consulted as part of the design process. This discovery of the known and familiar and the gleaning of the regions of ignorance is an important part of finding a direction for further research as the design explorations move forward. These explorations take place in the real world context and are therefore open to a number of constraints such as access to resources and knowledge, availability of financial resources as well as material and infrastructural resources that may be essential to carry out any direct experiments and trials which may help throw light on the number of questions that would pop up in the designers mind from time to time as serious research questions that would need to be answered. In this stage of the journey the design research may throw several serious research questions, which would set the agenda for research in a number of fields of human knowledge and across a number of disciplines, which may be pertinent to the task on hand. Many new explorations may be initiated in a search for a direction or an answer to a particular question. Some explorations are playfully executed and the insights would be saved in the memory bank for future use in an application or an exploration situation.

3. Analytic Thoughts & Actions: A huge amount of data is usually generated through the design journey and these would need to be organized by categorization as well as mapped into models that would help reveal new and useful relationships through a process of juxtaposition and analysis. Numerous tools of analysis may be adopted to deal with a variety of kinds of information types. Material data would be analysed from point of view of suitability and from their structural or functional viability, cost and price data would be examined from a point of economic viability, formal and semantic data would be examined from the point of view of cultural and social acceptability and other attributes would all need to be examined across all the pertinent parameters using tools and processes that would be appropriate for each data type and by using one that is suitable in each context. Designers borrow heavily from all branches of human knowledge and they learn to use these borrowed tools to carry out several systematic explorations and analysis. They also learn to use experts from the respective fields if time and budgets permit the involvement of such experts. However they do find great difficulty in defining the analytic tasks with a degree of clarity required to be able to outsource these tasks since the process of analysis is also used to bring clarity to the boundaries of the task itself and it is therefore very difficult to define what kind of analysis would be required before-hand in most cases when the task is new or the field has not been explored earlier. Due to this difficulty we would many times see designers struggling with difficult tasks outside their areas of competence since they just cannot be delegated in an easy manner due to the complexity of such a delegation. Designers are now learning to work in teams and to build teams that could include the requisite variety, which in turn would be able to cope with the particular complexity of the task at hand.

4. Explorative Thoughts & Actions: Many design stages take on the form of an expedition into the unknown and would therefore need to be nurtured in a similar manner in an open ended approach by way of supportive administrative and benevolent patronage. This spirit of experimentation that is broadly defined needs to be nurtured and is often open to serendipitous discoveries, which are at the heart of such design exploration. To some this may seem like meaningless play but it is a very critical and productive part of a design journey. This kind of search is quite focused but it is just as unpredictable in many of its facets. However the experienced designer is usually quite adept at breaking away from the known paths and is usually open to look out for the unusual and the surprising outcomes of these explorations and develops a kind of sensitivity that helps isolate very useful attributes and insights that are both subtle as well as critical for the resolution of the task at hand. Such explorations may be repetitive and across many scales of action, both at the macro level as well as the micro level of detailing when a number of alternatives are examined and each of the discovered directions contribute to the building of conviction in strategic as well as tactical levels which are much needed in making the numerous decisions that cascade through a typical design journey, some are revisited a number of times from a slightly different angle each time. These can recur at a number of stages of a design journey but at each stage we can see a forward movement from very abstract expressions to more and more tangible and realistic expressions, from doodles to more explicit articulations and back to doodles again but at another level of exploration or dealing with another aspect of the design situation.

5. Abductive Thoughts & Actions: The design journey is characterized by a kind of projective approach where the designer has a favorite hypothesis and the explorations are aimed at validating or giving shape to these hopeful or wishful dreams. This is quite characteristic of the design journey since besides inductive and deductive reasoning the designer is adept at projecting desirable attributes and exploring forms and structural alternatives that can meet these projected situations. This kind of abductive thinking is again repeatedly adopted to resolve several different parts of a system as well as the numerous details that may form part of the whole design situation. Finding the most plausible explanation from amongst a set of options is a constant requirement in a design situation. The need to be open and flexible in thought and action as well as an ability to cope with a great deal of ambiguity is therefoe a desirable attribute in a design thinker. This form of reasoning draws on both the propositional mode of thought 9left brain thinking) as well as on the appositional modes of thought (right brain thinking). While one deals with language , logic and argument the other deals with images, comparisons and pattern. Since these two modes operate from essentially from different hemispheres of the brain which do not communicate well with each other we find the strong need for the use of external models of a variety of kinds to act as an aid from inducing an intermodal dialogue that is critical fro design thought and action. It is these external models which start as vague doodles and jottings at the initial stages and get refined and enriched with detail as the work progresses and a deeper understanding of the possibilities emerge as a result of the ongoing explorations.

6. Synthetic Thoughts & Actions: Dealing with parts and wholes are an integral part of the design journey just as it is necessary to be able to journey from the general to the particular and back again a number of times while the particular design offering is being explored and articulated. The research and explorations bring into focus a very large number of explorations and alternatives but the designer is open to keep some of these as insights that would fall in place in one swift move which could resolve a huge number of variables when the design situation is seen from a birds eye view in a flash of inspiration that resolves all the variables and produces a wholesome offering that can be called a design concept. The design concept has a huge number of attributes but these are all captured in one single expression or model and this particular model would then influence the further decision-making moves which would be adopted as the design journey progresses. This is a process of synthesis and is usually achieved through an act of visualization, which produces an external model that captures the particular set of attributes that make the character of that specific concept. Parts are no longer seen as appendages of the whole but the design offering is seen in its totality and this would include the tangible, visible as well as the invisible attributes that get embedded in a particular concept to satisfy the original intensions of the designer and the other stake-holders as well. This synthesis could take place in a number of stages and in each a number of alternate concepts would emerge and these would need to be critically appreciated and evaluated through individual as well as collective process adopted by the extended team, the society and the culture in which the particular design offering is being made.

7. Reflective Thoughts & Actions: The evaluative processes and tools are usually both subjective as well as objective in nature. Numerous attributes are accepted or dismissed by subjective criteria of likes and dislikes while there are other criteria that would have measurable attributes such as desirable cost, strength and performance attributes, and functional boundaries where specific tools and evaluative processes would be used. In some cases law and statutory regulations that are applicable may require this and the design team would be compelled to adopt these as well as maintain a systematic documentation of these actions for future review on demand or as stipulated by the law. However some of the choices cannot be explained but these could be justified by the feelings and sense of judgment of the designer and in many cases the clients would defer judgment of such nature to the designer. These could be aesthetic attributes, strategic attributes that are decided on the basis on vision and only time will tell if the decision that was taken is one that would lead to success or failure in the context in which the design is launched. The designer has little on no control of the context within which the design action is carried out and the success or failure of the design would depend on the vision of the design team and the stakeholders associated in the decision making process. Once a design is manifested in a society or a culture it has a life of its own and all the reflexive qualities of any action in an intelligent space come into play and competition and responses from other thinking and acting players can cause the further success or failure of the particular design action. Thoughts and the convictions carried by the designer and the team get manifested in a particular set of offerings and these in turn would create ripples in the pond of the context by the other players responding in a reflexive manner, each driven with their own thoughts, beliefs and competition induced actions.

Systems theory and the Fire Metaphor: Design effect is therefore compared to the system of the Fire Metaphor where the result over time could be either benevolent or disastrous. A full description of the Fire Metaphor can be seen at this link. These thought processes are a natural ability of us humans having used it ever since the actual use of fire in an intentional manner way back over two million years ago. Long before humans understood fire or even explained it in any explicit manner it was used as evidence suggests creating campfires to ward of other animals. The phylogenetic history of the design journey would show us the stages of the evolution of the human species along with the creation of its artifacts and social and cultural infrastructure. However this design driven journey is yet to be written and when it is we will surely have a new view of human evolution as well as a clearer vision of how we can go forward from here into the future by the use of design. Much work needs to be done to get this kind of thinking back into our schools which seem to have lost these in the huge variety of disciplines which are fiercely protected by each of the expert practitioners and their communities in the belief that this kind of general ability to create is not a valid form of education and I do believe that this will have to change. Where do we begin!

Key resources and thought leaders:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi,
Howard Gardner, howardgardner.com/books
Gilles Fauconnier & Mark Turner, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Minds Hidden Complexities, Basic Books, New York, 2003
• Morton Hunt, The Universe Within, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982
Peter Gardenfors, Conceptual Spaces: The Geometry of Thought, MIT Press, Massachusetts, 2004
Charles Brunette, idesignthinking.com, 1993 - 2005
• Bryan Lawson, What Designers Know, Architectural Press – Elsevier, Oxford, 2004 and How Designers Think: The Design Process Demystified, Architectural Press, London, 1997
Nigel Cross, Designerly Ways of Knowing, Springer-Verlag, London 2006
• Peter g. Rowe, Design Thinking, MIT Press, Massachusetts, 1991

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two Indian Design Schools in Businessweek's top 60 design schools

Image: Design Concepts & Concerns presentation at Bangalore NID
I just got back from a two week teaching stint at NID Bangalore R & D Centreand the theme for the DCC course was "Sustainability and Social Equity" with a focus on the design opportunities in the supply chain across three major sectors of impact in rural India namely, Fresh Farm produce, Dairy and Poultry products and Handcrafted products. The students of the Design for Retail Experience and the batch from Design for Digital Experience participated in this course. The presentation of the course was well attended by professionals and NID alumni managing to get away from their busy Friday evening schedules to attend the show and talk at NID Bangalore. We were happy to receive several students from the Srishti School of Art and Design and the evening was stimulating for our students who shared their design oppportunities and models with the visitors.

Image: Visitors at the NID Bangalore Centre interacting with students after the presentation.
When I got back to Ahmedabad I had to make my Sunday evening visit to the Crossword bookstore and picked up a copy of the current issue of the Businessweek as well as the WIRED magazine with the Ethanol story on its cover. Businessweek too had solar energy as a cover plug and design was once again in vogue. NID Ahmedabad is listed among the leading world schools of design and the online link to the Businesweek story can be seen at their website here. The National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and the Industrial Design Centre, Mumbai are on the BW's interactive list from India.

Image: Gautam Gira Square at NID Ahmedabad seen from inside the building
The foundations for the design excellence for both these schools were sown by the visionary siblings, Gautam and Gira Sarabhai who managed the NID in the early years after the writing of the Eames India Report and helped train the first faculty of both these schools in the fortmative years of design in India. Their contribution to Indian design has not been fully explored or written about and we will need to look back at the various landmarks that have led to this current state of recognition of excellence. I will explore some of these landmarks in the days ahead and try and piece together a fascinating story that is still clouded in mystery since very little has been published from India about design and its history, particularly in education.

Image: NID Bangalore R & D Campus
Having just returned from the NID Bangalore campus after the two week stay there it is now time to start yet another course for the fifth batch of Post Graduate students in this semester and our theme of sustainability is not misplaced since we now have the Nobel Prize for peace looking at action in this sphere and it is also a theme for a breakout session at the ICSID IDSA 2007 conference in San Francisco. last year I had presented at the IDSA 2006 in Austin Texas a show titled "Giving Design back to Society: Towards a Post-mining Economy". This show can be downloeded from this link here (download pdf 812 kb show and the text summary as pdf 42 kb here)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Quarterly Review: Google Analytics view after three months

Quarterly Review: Google Analytics view of visitors to the Design for India blog after three months
Image: Google Analytics map view after three months
Image: Google Analytics Dashboard with daily flow of visitors
Image: Google Analytics map of India with traffic for the past three months
In the past three months the activity to the blog has been steady with a few peaks but otherwise a steady stream each day. Globally we have had 4407 visits from 3041 visitors 561 cities and from India we have had 2653 visits from 38 cities. This makes me wonder that the penetration of design ideas in India is very low indeed and we will need to devellop strategies to reach a wider audience here in India. The National Design Policy should focus on broadening the base for design use in India and not just restrict its reach to the metros and a few big cities. The real impact will be seen only when the use of design reaches the masses across India and in as many as 230 sectors of our economy.

The Mission Statement posted on 14th July 2007 is quoted below
"Design is a powerful force that shapes culture and it is a professional activity that is beneficial for both community and business alike. This blog is for all those who are interested in exploring these wider manifestations of design as a critical human activity and would like to shape its application across all human cultural and economic activities. Design uses all of human knowledge and is informed by the deep sensibilities developed through skillful and playful exploration of nature and the human spirit. It is a responsible activity that is driven by value systems of culture and society which are beneficial for sustainable and equitable existance of the planet earth and its inhabitants. Design is an intentional activity that generates value and in its processes it uses the creative potential of the actors to build a better future for all. This blog primarily focuses on issues and concerns in India but would be open to cooperate and engage with all other like minded groups in achieving the larger objectives of the blog.

A discussion list has been set up on googlegroups to facilitate live discussion on areas of mutual interest and to build a community of shared concerns about design and its use for India. The design-for-india@googlegroups.com list on googlegroups is moderated to encourage and facilitate a sustained dialogue about the scope and impact of design across all the 230 sectors of the Indian economy. While the focus is on the Indian dimension we are eager to discuss all other global development perspectives that may have a bearing on the promotion, support and use of design in the Indian context. Both this blog and the discussion list will be coordinated to facilitate easy archiving and dissemination of the posts as we go forward with our efforts to meet the objectives of this blog.

The moderator's home page can be viewed at this link Prof Ranjan's website"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Revisiting Chennapatna Toys after 30 Years: DCC students return with insights & current status.

Revisiting Chennapatna Toys after 30 Years: DCC students return with insights & current status
Image: Ranjan with students of NID Bangalore just back from a field visit to Chennapatna Toy cluster
This is a story that needs a bit of historical background. I was assigned the task of visiting Chennapatna as a young faculty from NID in order to assess the development needs of the crafts community there and to suggest the way forward with the use of design, This was in early 1978 and the client was the All India Handicrafts Board and its Chairman in those days was Mr L C Jain who being rooted in the Gandhian tradition was well suited to empathise with the needs of the crafts community across India and as a visionary he saw a role for design as well in this and his views on the subject are clearly expressed in his paper in Seminar titled “Securing the Future”. I met L C Jain later in the year thanks to the enquiry regarding the study of bamboo crafts of Northeast India which I had already started preparing for in late 1977 by visiting the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, and as a result I was chosen to visit Kyoto, Japan to attend the World Crafts Council conference and got a briefing from LCJ on my way out to Kyoto. In Kyoto I met Kamla Devi Chattopadhya for the first time and on my return started the planning for the field survey for the study of bamboo crafts of Northeast India which became a book in 1986. At this time the Jawaja project was in full swing and Prof. Ravi J Matthai and his teams were in and out of NID exploring the role of design and management in the development needs of the rural producers in India under the initiative called The Rural University. Ravi had a clear vision that all those who intervened in the crafts sector should eventually withdraw if those who got the benefit of structured inputs were to learn to stand on their own feet. The Jawaja project had three major components, that of leather crafts, Weaving crafts and agriculture of local vegetables besides educating the craftsmen and farmers to learn to work together and to build skills needed to face the threats of globalization and urbanization which were both seen as major causes of disruptionm in the simple lives of the local people in Beawar and Jawaja. I was involved in the Jawaja project, once removed, as the faculty guide to Nilam Iyer who was responsible for the creation of the Jawaja leather bags and other products and our product strategy was informed by the insights gained through a number of crafts related projects that had been done at NID as well as my own life experience in my father’s toy factory before I came to NID as well as from 1974 to 76 when I was compelled to return home due to problems at NID.

Image: Naina Jain from the Handicrafts study group trtying her hand at wood turning at Chennapatna.

This is just to set the agenda for the Chennapatna Toy development story since it had as its basis the experiences mentioned above and these had influenced my views on the crafts sector in India and in the possible strategies that could be embedded into the design action so that the people involved could fend for themselves in the years ahead. I journeyed to Chennapatna by train through Bombay, Guntakal and Bangalore in the very hot summer months of 1978 and that too in an unreserved compartment and sitting on top of a berth in the Dadar Madras Express and ended up with sores from sweating all the way to Bangalore. However this did not deter me from taking the first bus to Channapatna on the day after arrival in Bangalore to see the famous crafts cluster for the first time. My father, who was a small scale producer of toys in Madras, had been using the Chennapatna craftsmen as vendors for wooden beads that were used in the educational products such as counting frames and abacuses that were supplied to schools from our factory. Further, he had landed a very major contract in the sixties for supply of turned wood containers in rose-wood to a German importer, again as a vendor of the wooden parts which were further processed with the addition of metal components and finishes all done at the German end. From this experience I had a sense of the value addition that came to vendors and the high potential for exploitation in such ancillary relationships, although it did provide a sense of security and sustainable employment for the producers which may have been illusory in the long run. The power equation was sharply in favour of the buyer and not the maker-seller in this relationship.

I studied the existing producers and categorized them into three broad groups, namely, small hand-lathe user producers, small and independent entrepreneurial mechanized lathe users and the semi-organised small scale factories which employed 30 to 50 craftsmen and purchased from a number of contract producers as well. There were also the traders with shops and national linkages who purchased in bulk and distributed across the country and all of these had certain products which suited their financial and technical abilities. The small hand-lathe producers could make very small turned wood parts, usually from branches and converted these into very small components such as beads on a string (sold in 100 lots) and small pencil caps with face painted for effect, a child’s stationary product. Most of the others produced decorations for export and the shaking head dolls with spring inside (crudely attached with rusted metal nails) and the then popular “Choppu Set” – a typical Indian kitchen set of vessels and grinder aimed at the girl child in rural and urban India. There was the occasional train and car whose wheels came of if the child were to play with it and the user of rusted nails was a common feature, no-one seemed to care, and the products sold well. I decided to demonstrate the role of design by embedding desirable qualities (which I now call the Iceberg Factor) both visible (aesthetic and manufacturing quality) and invisible (empowering features that helped the crafts man ward off exploitation by the market forces and the established supply chain) which was a stated objective in the Jawaja leather products as well which were articulated in my conversations with Nilam Iyer during her Diploma Project at NID.

Image: Turned wood rattles designed and prototyped at NID in 1978: Design: M P Ranjan, Craftsman: Dalsukhbhaui

Image: Race Car prototypes made in 1978 and the first batch produced in Chennapatna in 1980 for the CCI Exhibition

On my return to NID after the survey I decided to develop a product strategy that made sense in the context of seeding entrepreneurship amongst the Chennapatna craftsmen as wee as to embed the qualities that could make it sustainable, particularly in a socially relevant sense. I chose to design toys that could be made and sold directly by the producer with very low marketing overheads, no advertising, no retail shops, no middlemen, say from the street directly to end users in Bangalore or Mysore, both 40 km away from Chennapatna and well connected by bus. Further the products had to meet the category quality requirements to compete with products from other producers such as wood, metal and plastic toys on the basis of performance alone. Further the product category had to be perrinnial in nature and therefore toys for infants was taken as the area of exploration and in this category I wished to show that design could help produce market variety as well. The area of wooden rattles was chosen and many sketches were derived based on my past experience with selling toys in my father’s toy shop called Rockytoys in Madras. These rattles were to be offered in three finishes, the first range using only natural wood and no finishes, the second using stained and dyed white wood and the third with the traditional lacquer finish. I did not offer any painted decorations on the surface since I would leave this to the sensibility of the individual craftsman who would then differentiate his product with his own offering of decorations. The first set of prototypes were made in the NID workshops by the mastercraftsman Dalsukhbhai and I had experimented in our dyeing studio to explore the staining finishes that we were to propose to the Chennapatna craftsmen when the products were launched. However this took place only in 1980 when the CCIC New Delhi decided to support an exhibition-cum-sale of four crafts that were awaiting formal launch after the respective design tasks were completed and prototyped. These were the Chennapatna Toys, the Pipli Umbrella collection, Leather products from Kholapur and Cotton Durries from Panipet. Thjis gave me the possibility of traveling again to Chennapatna with a firm order for supply of a batch of toys from several producers and this visit was used as a training module to get the craftsmen that were willing to produce these on their existing lathes. When the first batch of toys came in to NID there was a great deal of excitement since we had managed to break a jinx of many past projects when the prototypes are the end stage of the design collection which was then destined to vbe shown in numerous exhibitions but very few of these made it into production since the producers could not take them up due to many market related factors including risk, lack of finance and tested markets, lack of conviction in the products or not appreciating the potential demand that the designer had in his imagination.

Image: C S Susanth, Coordinator of Retail Design Experience programme with two new rattles produced at Chennapatna. These toys provide a better ROI to the crafts producers and offer a direct access to markets.

I have not been to Chennapatna after this visit for over 25 years (except my visit in 2004 for the Handmade in India field study) but I have been getting samples of my products from many centres across India and I am gratified that the products are still in production 30 years on and that they have been transmitted to the other wood turning centres such as Banares, Udaipur, Etikopaka and Calcutta. These products have been through a degree of metamorphosis in the imitation and reproduction but they have helped many generations of entrepreneurs to move out of poverty and go on to other activities. My students from the Bangalore centre visited Chennapatna yesterday and brought back images and samples of products being made there and two of the products show traces of their origins in my design collection of 1978. One other product that I had designed was intended for the larger producer with many power tools at their command and this was the toy Racing Car which required a more sophisticated method of production as well as the use of several jigs and fixtures if they were to be made in a high quality. All products were made using all wood construction without nails or glue so that the craftsmen would be insulated from the usual supply chain of the bazaar traders. Of the products that the students brought back from Chennapatna the toy rattles and the tops gave the craftsmen the highest margins and they could be sold off the street as was originally intended, giving a very high rate of return if they were produced in an entrepreneurial manner and marketed by the producer himself or by his family. The lessons of Chennapatna and Jawaja do show us that design intentions embedded in the design process can indeed bring sustainable results as well as promote social equity which can help offset exploitation and promote self-reliance and confidence building in our huge crafts community across India.

L C Jain, “Securiing the Future”, in CELEBRATING CRAFT: a symposium on the state of handicrafts, SEMINAR 523: New Delhi, March 2003 (see SEMINAR article here)

Prof. Ravi J Matthai: The Rural University : The Jawaja Experiment in Education Innovation, Popular Prakashan, New Delhi, 1979 (more about the book)

Image: Prof M P Ranjan at NID Bangalore Centre

M P Ranjan< "Craftsmanship in Education: Towards a Creative India in the Knowledge Economy" NID, 2005 (download word file here: 165 kb)

M P Ranjan, "From Craftsmen to Craftsmanship: Towards a Creative India in the Age of the Knowledge Economy", NID, 2005 (download pdf file of visual presentation 486 kb)

M P Ranjan, "The Thick End of the Wedge: Skill Building to Support Livlihoods", CEE, Ahmedabad, 2005 (download paper as word file 35 kb) and the two part pdf visual presentation here Part one pdf 2.6 MB and Part two pdf 2.9 MB)

M P Ranjan, "Crafts Study & Design: Some Case Studies from NID", A lecture for students from NIFT at NID, Ahmedabad 1999 (download visual presentation as pdf file 3.6 MB)

M P Ranjan, "Chennapatna Toys: Case Study", NID, Ahmedabad 1999, (download visual presentation as pdf file 429 kb)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sustainability and Social Equity in Rural Agriculture and Handicrafts Sectors in India

Sustainability and Social Equity in Rural Agriculture and Handicrafts Sectors through Design Research and Action in India
Image: Metaphor of a Scare-Crow used to understand the dimensions of Farm Fresh Produce from the point bof view of bringing Sustainability and Social Equity through the entire Supply Chain, from Rural areas to Mass Markets in India. This model was created by a group of students at the NID Bangalore R & D Campus as part of the Design Concepts and Concerns course conducted by the author this week.

The concept of sustainability is usually understood in the West as a call for environmental balance and ecological considerations in the creation and management of systems and services for human consumption. However economists have recorded a rapid shift in nations endowed with substantial wealth and those with increasing deficits and the gap is growing alarmingly. The same situation appears in the disparities that are surfacing in the urban-rural divide and the process of globalization and development seems to be leaving the disadvantaged groups in an ever greater bind than ever before. A large number of farmer suicides in several parts of the country as well as the desperate migration of demoralized rural folks to the rapidly expanding urban slums is another visible indicator of this inexorable shift in India. This is an exodus that already started many years ago but of late the desperation seems to have peaked with an increased evidence of violence in many parts of the country that needs to be looked at in all seriousness. This is not just to be seen as a local law and order problem that can be suppressed easily as in the past by the use of a counter force in the form of State sponsored violence as we have seen in the Nandigram and Singhur episodes in the recent past as an outcome of the land acquisition exercise by the State Government to promote new SEZ initiatives in partnership with industrial giants from India and abroad. Both these incidents occurred in the State of West Bengal, both in connection with the accelerated process of industrialization that was being planned and supported by the Governments at the Centre as well as the State level on the premise that this was the only route that could bring in rapid development of wealth and progress which would in the long run trickle down to the peasants and the disadvantaged people of the State and the Nation. These events were precipitated by an active political opposition in the State which can be accused of political opportunism but notwithstanding these accusations we can see that the policies themselves may not be the only way forward and there may be other options that could be explored if only we used our imagination and creative explorations in the form of participatory action and test case developments using design research and action as a vehicle for these proposed explorations.

In many parts of the world this rural urban shift has almost been completed due to many reasons that are local as well as global in nature. However in India a huge rural sector has survived and sustained one of the biggest human settlements that have remained relatively unchanged for a very long time in the nature of its occupations and in many ways insulated from the massive change in other areas of the world. The sectors that have provided rural employment and self sustenance have been agriculture first and the hand crafts as the second most significant avenues that have remained open to poor and marginal rural populations. Today this very fragile base is being looked at as an area of opportunity for multi-nationals and major Indian corporations as a source of fortune at the bottom of the proverbial pyramid. Charles Handy in his paper titled “The Citizen Company” has outlined the new perceptions that have come into the question of citizenship particularly when they apply to business enterprises in transition from an era of exploitative relationships to one of stakeholder participation in a democracy. The same rules would apply to the rural poor in agriculture and the self employed crafts sectors that today employ a very large proportion of our rural populations although these are at a subsistence level and under pressure from the rapid change in communication that is both rapid and deep in nature. In my own paper titled “The Thick End of the Wedge: Skill Building to Support Livelihoods” which I had presented at the workshop on “Education for Sustainable Livelihoods” at Centre for Environmental Education (CEE), Ahmedabad in 2005 (download pdf 15 kb). Here I had called for a change in national policies to focus investments in the area of skill building across our rural population in order to nurture a creative base that could be empowering and liberating in the building of a new future for our rural poor. Urban India too is in need of ability building in addition to the usual education that is offered by our school system if we are to become a creative nation and have a population that was willing to experiment and build creative future which I call action at the “thick end of the wedge” as opposed to innovation investments only in hi-tech labs at the so called “leading edge” of our developments on matters of science and technology in our citadels of education, all at the expense of the gross neglect of the rural areas in India.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his paper (239 kb pdf)“ A Systems Perspective on Creativity” asserts that creativity is not an individual phenomenon, however gifted the individual may be, but an event that would occur when a person explored his interests and interacted in a field of the rich cultural system and in a domain of a supportive society if real breakthrough innovations are to occur in a regular manner. Therefore our attempt would be to examine the possibility of building such a rich cultural context as well as a supportive social climate as a catalyst for the sustainable development of the rapidly depleting energies in the rural sectors in India today. Vandana Shiva in her paper titled “Monocultures of the Mind” outlines the loss of diversity that occurs when traditional knowledge systems are replaced with so called modern knowledge and the loss of wisdom is debilitating for the social and economic fabric of the otherwise sustainable rural community and groups that are to be found all over the country even today (download pdf 60 kb). This is particularly true of the communities that depend on local bio-diversity to grow their food as well as meet their material needs for their economic crafts and other festive activities that are at the heart of their local culture. So the question that occurs to me is that we would need to examine the role of design in the creation of such a society and a culture in which the rural farmer and craftsman can find answers that are both sustainable as well as socially and economically equitable all the way down the supply chain in a globalised world. Can design help in such complex situations and if so what would design education have to learn by way of methods and attitudes to make this happen?

It was with the express intention of finding some answers that I had decided along with my teaching colleagues at NID to use the Design Concepts and Concerns course this year at NID to explore the whole question of sustainability as well as that of social equity, both of which have been on our educational agenda ever since the Eames India Report was drafted in 1958 based on which NID was set up in 1961. However in recent years we have been drifting to the swan song of the runaway Indian Industry which has adopted the mall culture wholesale as well as the growth first mantras that are being sung by all our governments as well as their opposition parties while the bickering is on technicalities and not on the principle that is being adopted. The National Knowledge Commission too has called for a renewed examination of the Creative Industries of the Future and on behalf of the National Planning Commission Rajiv Sethi a leading India designer has put together an approach paper and a collection of lead statements from numerous India thought leaders on the strategies and approaches that could be adopted by the Nation in this period of massive change and stress. The assignments that the students at NID are handling should be seen as an exploratory venture that could give some valuable insights to the approaches that could be followed even if they do not give complete solutions since they are after all very brief engagements bur could be a precursor of a sustained design development effort with official sanction and support if creative outcomes are to be achieved that are both effective as well as relevant to the present Indian condition.

New students at the NID Bangalore Centre have been assigned the task of exploring creative alternatives and insights towards a sustainable and socially equitable supply chain in which the intention is to protect and nurture the advantages of the rural disadvantaged, the small scale producers and the small farmer in today’s challenging environment. Their work can be seen at the Design Concepts and Concerns blog here as it unfolds and they are expected to come up with a multitude of design opportunities at the end of this course as well build visual scenarios to articulate those opportunities that they would individually feel is a priority and show us the form of their imagination for each one of the selected design opportunity. The areas of focus assigned for the supply chain research and articulation cover three areas namely, Farm Fresh produce, Dairy and Poultry products and handcrafts and Handloom produce, all to be examined from the intention of achieving sustainability and social equity in the respective supply chains all the way from the producer to the end user and these in an innovative manner. Further we believe that an exposure to real problems and opportunities within education would lead to a change in perception in the student themselves and a new focus in their career orientation to be able and willing to take on some of the complex challenges that face our country today. These explorations were also catalysed by the thoughts expressed by Tomas Maldonado a great teacher from the HfG Ulm in his book titled “Design, Nature & Revolution: Towards a Critical Ecology” (1972).


Prahalad, C.K "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid" (Wharton School Publishing, 2004

Charles Handy, “The Citizen Company” in Creative Management & Development, third edition, edited by Jane Henry, SAGE and OU Business School, 2006, pp 3 – 17

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “ A Systems Perspective on Creativity” in Creative Management & Development, third edition, edited by Jane Henry, SAGE and OU Business School, 2006, pp 147-58

Vandana Shiva, “Monocultures of the Mind” in Creative Management & Development, third edition, edited by Jane Henry, SAGE and OU Business School, 2006, pp 199-217

M P Ranjan, “The Thick End of the Wedge: Skill Building to Support Livelihoods” paper presented at the workshop on “Education for Sustainable Livelihoods” at Centre for Environmental Education (CEE), Ahmedabad, 2005. (download pdf text file 15 kb and presentation file part one pdf file 2.6 MB and part two pdf file 2.9 MB)

M P Ranjan, “Creating the Unknowable: Designing the Future in Education”, (download pdf file 50 kb and presentation pdf file 4.1 MB)

Charles & Ray Eames, “ The India Report”, National Institute of Design, (1958) reprint 1998 (download pdf file 359 kb)

Tomas Maldonado, “Design, Nature & Revolution: Towards a Critical Ecology” Harper & Row, 1972

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mayo Clinic SPARC and more insights for design of health care systems in India

Mayo Clinic SPARC and insights for design of health care systems in India

I have an older post on the Mayo Clinic SPARC story on Design for India platform to share these lessons here in India which needs design in as many as 230 sectors of our economy today. A recent interview with Ryan Armbruster, Director of Mayo Clinic’s SPARC Innovation Program, which appeared on the blog "Adaptive Path" which was conducted by Brandon Schauer an experience design professional to look at the quality of experience that patients in medical situations got from their interface with the medical profession.

Design is being explored and discovered in new and unusual places and situations and India too will need to explore the interface of people with many services which today do not look at design for finding answers to their human interface needs. Read the interview here.

The Design Journey is indeed a convoluted one as we are discovering it today and I have elaborated the model of this journey for my students in Bangalore where I am teaching the Design Concepts and Concerns course for the two new disciplines at the brand new R & D Centre of NID here in Bangalore. The Design Journey model has been revised from the previous tentative expression which can be downloaded from these links here. Sketch model 640 kb pdf and the quicktime voice description file 1 MB .mov file from these links here.

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