Thursday, December 28, 2006

PANIIT Meet 2006: Inspire, Involve and Transform ( it implied?)

Just cam back from PANIIT meet at Mumbai. First ever congregation of all seven IITs together to reinforce the 'brand IIT' and 'brand India'. All those brains who toiled hard in the foreigner land and made the shining buck when the rest of the India slept, descended in Mumbai for three days. And when IITians speak, the world listens. So came the president and his mandatory entourage (governor, chief minister etc. etc. who had nothing to say or add). From president to George Soros (did I get his surname right...who is one of the mover and shaker in the American investment industry), Shashi Tharoor, Nandan Nilekani, Sam Pitroda ......even Lara Dutta (amongst reminds me of 'socials' we used to have with GS Medical. :)).

So there was a lot of bon-homie, networking, familar faces...turning back the time-wheel...a lot of intellectual sessions in parallel..ranging from"how to alleviate poverty in one generation" to "sustainable development"..."learning from the entrepreneurs"..."knowledge economy and growth..."...etc. etc...I just walked in and out of several sessions....from avery soft, insightful and empathic speeches to hard coaded, full of statistics, boastful...I went and tasted all ..bit by bit. What did they all say??

Well..President was a pleasant surprise for me and Sonali both. She expected already a one-to-one and knowledgeable talk which the president did. His speech on how nano-technology in combination with Bio-technology is going to change the world we live was interesting and inspiring as he threw indian references in between.. A statesman and a politician taking out time to research and write a speech for best of the brains, does need some guts and balance of mind. This presendent (Dr. kalam) will surely go down the history as someone at the helm who could inspire the millieu across ages. Shashi Tharoor was theoritical, composed, handsome, emphatic, insightful and boring.... yes, I had quite a mized reaction for him. He did remind me of my favorite subject these days i.e. Indian culture...a culture of plurality and contradictions....contradictions which themselves are an oximoron of sorts i.e. A tamil hindu v/s a northy hindu v/s a tamil many similarities and so many differences....overlaps are confusing not only to outsiders but to ourselves as well. My mother finds herself in a strangeland in Tamilnadu even though she may be visiting a Tamil jain temple in Jain residential complex...Onio is trying to articulate this Indian element in design beyond the cliched 'Lota' of Charles Eames ...and soon a book would be out (if all goes well) on this. So Shashi Tharoor had a lot to remind us about who we are and who we always have been and how the new India is about the 'hope trick' far away from the 'rope trick' Indian culture is about 'evident without a binding theory' much like American 'Do it' attitude rather than a French searching for structural it was a long, engaging and boring (I am still divided in my opinion, you see) lecture from our man in UN.

Sam Pitroda almose spoke the same things that he sopke in CII-NID Design summit on what Indian needs (this time it was 'Technology' and not 'Design'). Wow... it is so easy to switch the platforms and say the same things...Designers should make a differene by touching more human lives...affecting more people ....improvise things at grass-roots and 'technologists' should do the same....Then why stop at should be educationists, politicians, bureaucrats...all should do the same (we don't talk of NGOs in India who are doing it already and moving 19000 crores yearly, in this direction...wooo). Well this 'designers' tag is being dragged far too long in the chain of human development contributors. Dr. Kalam was unequivocal when it came to two distinct lines of human resources we need as a country first, we need world class skills (read: skillfull graphic designers, product designers, craftsmen etc. who are hands-on), second we need world-class thinkers (read: sustainability, strategy, development, trends.....domain). To generalise that the whole design community is about 'strategic, empathic, sustainable development'....well I have my reservations. Then Indian would never make a single luxury brand. Sam Pitroda was right in saying that we need both...we need to produce super computers and take care of our drinking water problem, at the same time. That is our reality. We don't have generations to do this... all this has to happen at the same time.

We are passing through a positive turbulence....there is anew dawn on the other side and we are lucky to be young and alive at these times...Thank you God for every thing !!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Maverick: My thoughts on the Trend

Maverick, an attitude for the new India?
I went through the perspective that Style-Vision had proposed; the three dimensions of the Maverick attitude. Yes, till then I had only thought about the first one i.e. against the system. One finds examples strewn around that represent that attitude, be individuals taking up cudgels against the stale, putrid system (i.e. Sridhar Gune's online petition against the civic system apathy recorded 11,500 endorsements in just a few days, from all walks of life in Pune city or a civic crusader like Mr. Anna Hazare, whose efforts bore fruits in terms of getting Indians unthinkable "Right to Information Act". In one way it is acting against the "system" to break free, but on the other side there are example where people become maverick entrepreurs (like Sir Richard Branson you mentioned). Some times this very trait spreads through a community and the whole community adorns this attitude. And children dorn in these communities are born maverick (in business or on issues that concern them). In India, the Marwaris, Gujaratis and Punjabies (tradionally traders from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab states respectively, the western part of India) are known to be such communities. Here children grow up seeing their father taking risky business steps, or uncle going abroad to start a new business or some person from their own village becoming rich because he/she did too well in business (starting from the same status as they were in). A shining example of this attitude is reflected in the fact that highway motel in US are now quoted as 'Potels', because majority of them are owned by a particular ethnic Indian community members known as "Patels". Similarly Canada has become a second home of many Sikhs or Punjabies. Now a days one sees a glossy magazine called 'Marwar' on the news stands, that celebrates the success of maverick entrepreneurs from the Marwari community. Incidentally many grand business houses in India have emanated from this community. If we look at the second attitude within the maverick scenario i.e. an attitude of innovation in attacking the complexity, making it simple, it sounds to me an act of empowerment to common people. If Stephen Hawking can bring to a common man, the mysteries of cosmos in the nutshell (like "Brief History of Time) it is an act of empowerment. A common man starts thinking of things which were out of bounds till then. Web revolution has brought this empowerment to Indians in so many ways that west is not familiar with. Arranged marriage through internet introductions, is one of the most mesmerizing contributions of internet. My grandfather would have never imagined that two families would be interacting to get their son and daughter married with first introduction or advertisement through internet. Historically, this was always done through a common reference. One family may suggest the marriageable boy or girl to another family, they would meet and talk of the marriage possibilities for their son or daughter. Now things are so simple... just log on to for a wider choice. Or if someone wants a more specific community then portals like have come up. These portals are different from dating portals that web-World is filled to the brim with. These are serious family-to-family introduction portals, with sole objective of marriage of their wards. The idea of 'empowerment'(lets say it is the other name of 'deft handling of complexity in the new realities') to achieve bigger goals is also seen in, how family owned businesses are increasingly taking professional managers rather than sticking to the family members. Yes, it surly takes more than business reality to usher into this attitude. If this was not the case, all the family businesses would have done that long back. The Tatas and the Birlas (the legendary business groups in India) and the new age Reliance group has done it, but Kinetic groups still thinking about it. Means it still takes one maverick head of the family to give the mandate "please, get some good managers from the market, let's not try to do everything ourselves". The third dimension to this attitude i.e. creativity shown in personal evolution that starts touching the life-at-large, is again, should be lasting thing lacking in the land where spiritual quest has been the core motto of life since the time immemorial. Even if we keep out the so called "gurus" with huge following within or outside India, there are humble, ordinary people who have raised themselves to the iconic levels. Mr Verghese Kurian, who made the co-operative movement in Gujarat possible and help create the milk-products brand "Amul" is one such case in point. Marketing students across the country now study the success of Amul the brand, but the farmers who now reaping the fruits of co-ordinated milk production have lived their life in the struggle and success of this movement. If we turn to youth icons, and focus on parallels of Madonna, current rage Sania Mirza comes to the mind. The young tennis player who has not won the grand slam on court but surely won many of them in the minds of youth. She is flip-flopping from the sports pages to life-style pages in the newspaper. It is important to note that in India, nothing but Cricket is that sells. Tennis suddenly sees to be raising lot of interest in the youth, thanks to the new icon. A woman with plain middle-class face, but filled with simple confidence and a dash of style is what it makes this icon tick…at least till her next avatar. If we look at what maverick in India may mean, one could say "being Indian" is maverick. Not following the West is Maverick. Not to replicate the successful product or service or idea that has worked elsewhere, is maverick. In the traditional terms of success, it is far more difficult to be maverick in India than in the US, where success waits with bags full of dollars if you have a sparkle. In the socio-economic panorama of India that is still struggling to define the meanings of success in the new realities, it is multiple times more difficult to hold-on to a belief. Be it a brand or a new product or a new rational, a strong belief in the very idea and stamina to stay afloat is the maverick attitude that is showing so much prominently in recent times than ever before. MNC's don't look formidable now... Coca-Cola is consumed after a second thought... Names of the products are turning Indian... (also the names of the babies)... Films are no more remakes of Hollywood, but sometimes they are remakes of the Bollywood itself... Engineering and medicine are not the only career option for the middle class- "DJing" could be one... and lastly "a coalition government is completing complete 5 year term in India" is the height of the maverick attitude, just not the persisting reality.
© Manoj Kothari 2005

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Here is P&G and IDEO's case...interesting read from an article in Business week-

"To understand why the creativity movement is becoming so important, you need to go back to its roots at P&G. By harnessing the power of design, P&G has transformed itself from a stagnant brand manager into a model of innovation efficiency that outperforms industry rivals.Before Lafley, P&G's volume growth was basically flat. The company cared more about how its products functioned than it did about how customers felt about them. "P&G had the best chemical engineering and marketing operations in the country," says Patrick Whitney, director of the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology. "It didn't care about the user experience." P&G could tell retailers to stock eight kinds of Crest, and they did. As power shifted to big retailers, P&G couldn't do that. "It had to create new products, and to do that, P&G had to get closer to the consumer," says Whitney.Fresh EyesLafley turned to design. In 2001 he established a new executive post: vice-president for design, innovation, and strategy, naming Claudia B. Kotchka, now 53, to fill it. She and Lafley knew they couldn't change P&G's culture without fresh eyes from the outside. So they made a major decision: Even as P&G began laying off thousands of top executives, middle managers, scientists, and others, it quadrupled its design staff. For the first time it hired a legion of designers who had worked at other companies and in other industries.In a second crucial decision, Kotchka dispatched designers to work directly with R&D staffers to help to conceive new products. This changed P&G's entire innovation process, making it consumer-centric rather than driven by new technology. To open up the company further, P&G started hiring different kinds of consultants. Among them were Design Continuum; ZIBA Design in Portland, Ore.; Chicago's Doblin Inc.; and IDEO in Palo Alto, Calif.Here's how it works at P&G: Kotchka contacts P&G's divisional heads, asking for a list of possible opportunities designers might address. Recently, the head of home care said it was time to look at bathroom cleaning. Kotchka brought in IDEO with the goal of helping out. IDEO and P&G's designers went out and observed people cleaning bathrooms around the world. In South America they saw women using brooms to clean walls and showers effectively and built a prototype combining a small hand cleaner with a long pole. P&G tested the idea via a survey. People hated it.But P&G hung in there. What is fast becoming the Holy Grail of innovation -- the "unmet, unarticulated" needs of consumers -- didn't show up in the survey. Instead, P&G relied on the informed intuition of designers and tested the idea again, using working prototypes. People loved the real thing. P&G then broke down the walls of its Mr. Clean brand, reached in and used the Mr. Clean detergent for the new product. The Mr. Clean MagicReach was introduced in April -- with a four-foot detachable pole. Mundane as this example may be, it shows how design strategy can generate innovative new products and sales.



check out the overview of design and innovation, see the August 1, 2005 Business Week Special Report Get Creative!)

Wonderful articulation of how Knowledge Economy is creating new frontiers and jitters at the same time in America.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Design Practice Myths

Just returned from the design summit… It was great to see a galaxy of highly articulate global speakers and wonderful arrangements. It reflects the commendable organizational efforts behind it. But, as Bala put it, it was designers’ affair and one missed the balancing effect that better industry participation would have brought (specially if CII is involved and the event is six years old, it is not asking too much). Probably this being a very first year where designers really got involved in the event in a major way, once can expect a better deal next year.

In the session where practicing designers spoke on the state of design in India, a pattern emerged on the outlook, that is a very positive indeed. Here are some issues that keep coming up in any discussion in the contemporary design scenario. Here is my opinion on these issues (not in the order of priority)- any expansion, disagreements and comments are welcome-

1. Business of Design is a bigger challenge than Design.
When designers have to get into basics of numbers, look at the balance sheets, go through legal deeds and understand the language corporate world speaks, it appears to be a ‘departure’ from ‘design’. One need to understand that once we launch on the route of design entrepreneurship, we are ‘designing our business’ as well and there is equal challenges and creative learning that is needed in this. All the professionals who move up the corporate hierarchy and assume some very senior positions, some times itch to hold the pencil in the later part of their careers (we have interviewed some of them at Onio). There is a different design wisdom at that level which has different relevance and value. It would only reflect once we walk towards the design-mature economy.

2. Scaling up of design business, usually results in dilution of design quality
Yes and no. Are we looking at ‘art’ or ‘design? When Infosys talks of having process standards for design, speed and scale that almost reeks of ‘software world’, there is usually a chill in the spine. Why are we so scared of losing the touch of all that is ‘sensible’ and ‘sensitive’ once the scale goes up? Why have we become so comfortable with ‘organic’ ‘family like’ small setups where everything is ‘withn control’ and cozy. Sure there is a way to co-exist for both the models- small and the big. World over, design companies have not been able to do the scale-up act. Even IDEO’s expansion to 5-6 locations across the world is purely incidental (that’s what Banny told me). Doesn’t the new world order in favour of emerging economies demands a new ‘design order’ as well?

3. Designers can change the world, but we don’t get enough attention/patronage
Yes, we have all the right thinking and tools that can bring revolution in the way our life-style, society and economy can gain and reach the zenith of civilization. But to make our presence felt, there needs to be individual successes first. Some bright soul who dares to take on these institutions (politics, industry, industry bodies etc.) on equal platform, speak and prove the ‘relevance’ of design, can bring deliverance to design fraternity. It may need more Sam Pitroda with powerful friends like Rajiv Gandhi. Collective discussions within us, is just the beginning, but we need glory in the field of action, rest will happen.

4.Only designers can do the creative thinking

There is almost a disdain for the other professions like management (MBAs) or Businessmen etc. I believe that seeding an orgnaisation and integrating all the right ingredients (including design) for its success for the stakeholders, is one of the biggest design challenges. Marwari, Punjabi and Gujarati entrepreneurs were probably brightest ‘business designers’ without any degrees, who went amongst strangers, studies their cultures, became one of them and successfully ran the businesses that laid the foundation of India’s global presence. Creative synthesis and Systems thinking, the two qualities that differentiate design discipline from other streams are sometimes inborn qualities amongst many. ‘Visualisation’ is the only element that is skill oriented and needs some training.

5. There is fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, we know, but right now we need to milk the ‘creamy layer’
Concept of working for SMEs is something that always raises issue of ‘subsidies’ and almost ‘charity’. Our own (Onio Design’s) brush with SMEs has not been an illustrative one. But this is my belief that there is a bigger paradigm to be unearthed. Here smaller design fee/royalty revenues can collectively become a fortune, if the processes of design and delivery can be designed well.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Design Summit Summation 2006

At Delhi airport, I can see the flurry of visitors who cannt be accommodated in the space available. New Aludecor panels are plastered all over. A new lease of life to the old building. A/C is not functioning I guess. CISF personnel are as lethargic as the Delhi police who used to man this place earlier. We have been discussing all that is 'good design experience' for the last two days. I won't say it was a discussion because 'presentations' for 16 hours can leave anybody's senses totally numb. I ran out of the last session where the panel was discussing about education on design. The narcissistic muses on design, the ominipotent remedy to all our maladies was once again the voice at this session too. Overall focus is shifting on 'design research' that was brought out by Motorola, LG (our casestudy), Intel and many others (including Ranjan Ranjan and Ranjan) also shared the views. Speed, scalability, emerging markets, collaboration, empowerment, design that can solve problems which affects and touches millions (i.e. Sam Pitorda's reference to telecom revolution, India centric solutions) and contextuality were some of the topics touched upon on the second day. Design agencies all seem to be putting across a very open and mature face of design. They all share the same woes still besides being very upbeat on the market. Difficulty in recruiting good designers, NID training very elitist designers, enjoying 'strategy' upgrade, managing large teams etc.were some common concerns that were voice by them. They even discussed how difficult it is to employ a foirgn designer in India (I wanted Karl to stand up and make a point there).

IDEO's presentation was nice and worthy of being elevated yet simple. However one can feel that even IDEO being IDEO is clueless on the next important role they are going to play in the world (or world of design). Will Reymond Lowey kind of design-equity would ever be back in the world? No one seem to know the answer, even if IDIOM is boldly proclaiming this on the bags gifted to all the participants.

And while I am writing this, I get to hear that the flight is delayed. Design is not about products or services is supposed to graduate to 'design of a business'. I am wondering at the alternative services in India whose sole USP would be 100% on time, but would charge heavy premium.....any takers?

More when I gt the next brainwave...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Onio, the seed and the sprout

In the name of the greatest one;

Onio Design has been a passionate dream woven together by the Karmyoga of two individuals. Right from the conception, Onio has never been a milking cow (read money), nor has it been an overnight success built on miracles. In the darker times for design market when industry didnot care for design or innovation in general because of ample supply of foriegn or imported 'products' and 'technologies', when the design studios were closing one by one in an ordeal of survival, Onio took birth and survived. Onio mastered the survival technique by learning the virtues of intelligently reading ahead and venturing into the unknown in child like play but with mastering the skills over a period. When product design was giving way Onio become a web-design company doing portals and corporate websites for software companies. When do-com bust took the toll on web-design too, Onio moved on and captured the grand-space of branding. When branding too started becoming common place, Onio thought it is logical to move up still higher in the value chain of innovation and tied up with Style-vision to offer trend-research. Onio knows how to learn the new and master the alien domains and move up the value-chain quickly. Onio also knows how to retain the core competence and hone it when market is dull.
All this has been possible due to inherent synergy within the company. Coordinated thinking and focused actions made it possible to go through the tough times and engage in futuristic possibilities while the purse stringsa are tight.

Now when the first phase of growth is over Onio needs to gear-up for the next phase of growth that entails bigger goals, broader mindset and more formal approach to growth itself. Usually, entreprenurs in design profession are known for conservative attitude to business expansion. But at Onio, the founder deemed it fit to understand the need for inclusion of a director with different set of expertiese and exposure that is not directly connected to design, but surely has greatest impact when it comes to expansion.

Anil, comes with hard-coded experience in USA as a matured IT professional over the last 10 years. The processes that are needed to standardize the practice so that it can be replicated and expanded have been mastered by IT industry and Onio believes that this expertise applied to design field would open the flood-gates of expansion in the ways unimaginable as of now. Together the power of 'organised creativty' would be unleasehed in the hitherto untapped market that India is sitting pretty on.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ten Trends Reshaping the Global Landscape

Home > Ten Trends Reshaping the Global Landscape
Ten Trends Reshaping the Global Landscapeby Van Wishard, World Trends Research

First, the modernization, urbanization and globalization of China, India and other Asian nations will be the most dynamic and convulsive event of the coming decades. Millions of people will have their personal and collective lives transformed to a greater degree, in a shorter space of time, than has been experienced by any people ever before.
Second, the world is still seeking a new geopolitical configuration. We are at the end of a 500-year period when the Atlantic-centered nations dominated world economic, political and military affairs. For the first time in modern history, China and Japan both have economies larger than any European national economy, and, along with India, may become the world’s center of technological innovation and production.
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Third, the accelerating tempo of life has now become a critical issue in mental health. The emphasis on constant change has created a clash of different time scales. The time scales created by technology clash with the time scale required by natural life. Unhurried time is essential for natural growth. Yet speed, which is the forced compression of time, is increasingly necessary for the modern economy. Some suggest that we’ve moved beyond the age of speed and have entered the era of “real time.” There is now, they say, only a single “world time.”
Fourth, the information environment in which the individual lives has been radically altered. Throughout history, the transmission of information, ideas and images took place slowly, taking weeks, even months, to move around the world. Such a slow pace of information travel gave people time to adjust psychologically to a new information environment. Today, we zap information, ideas and images across the globe in nanoseconds. People have no time to adjust, no time to assimilate the new information and shape it into coherent meaning. The result is uncertainty and disorientation.
Fifth, the Eurasian landmass will continue to be a source of uncertainty, and even possible instability, for some time to come. Russia has not yet truly entered a “post-Communist” era, as most of its political and industrial leadership was shaped by the influence of Communism. Even the Moscow Times noted, “There can be no denying that contemporary Russia is in its very essence a product of the Soviet legacy. Our whole life is still shaped by the influence of Soviet-style expectations. We are still governed by Soviet-reared rulers.” Recently, Russian officials met with the elite of Russian “rock” to ensure that a situation such as Kiev, where many Ukrainian rock stars supported the Orange Revolution, would not be repeated in Moscow. Such activity only underscores that it may be a generation before the psychology of Russia is truly free of the influence of seventy-four years of Communist rule.
Sixth, a destabilizing threat facing the world is potential violent political turmoil that, if not avoided, could produce global anarchy. The arena for this possibility is not only the Middle East, but also the nations of the former Soviet Union, which form a belt stretching from Ukraine across southern Russia, to Kazakhstan, to Kyrghyzstan, to Tajikistan, and including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The peoples of this entire stretch of the world are being awakened to the deprivations caused by archaic economic and political systems, as well as to the realization that such denials need not continue. How the U.S., Europe and other major powers together help ameliorate this situation, while not yet commanding our primary attention, is nonetheless vital to future world security.
Seventh, science is in the process of redefining our understanding of terms first given us at the dawn of human consciousness: such terms as “life,” “nature” and “human.” Increasingly, scientists are subordinating humans to technology. In essence, we may be abdicating our own psychological center of being and handing it over to the computer. Scientists tell us that when artificial and human intelligence are eventually merged, we will enter the “Post-human” era. Thus by 2030, we may have reached the point where the primary question will be, “What are humans for in a world of self-replicating technological capability completely independent of human control?” We thus face a policy and human crisis without historical precedent.
Eighth, globalization has moved far beyond economics and finance, and has now moved to a stage where western political, social, cultural and philosophical ideas are gradually seeping into the fabric of the rest of the world. While we Americans believe what works for America will work for all nations, we sometimes forget that cultural differences between the U.S. and other nations represent profound psychological differences. The critical question for globalizing nations is, “How can we modernize without losing our traditions, which represent our psychic roots?” Thus we Americans need to be far more sensitive to the acute emotional trauma nations are experiencing as they confront the varied effects of globalization.
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Ninth, the largest migration in history is changing the face of nations. In China, one hundred million people are moving from the country to the city. In the West, the European Union needs 180 million immigrants in the next three decades simply to keep its population at 1995 levels, as well as to keep the current ratio of retirees to workers. In Brussels, over fifty percent of the babies born are Muslim. In Germany, the death rate has exceeded the birth rate for decades, so the government now has to fly in planeloads of technicians from India just to maintain the German high tech structure. In England, there are now more practicing Muslims than Anglicans. The Catholic Church is facing the distinct possibility (probability?) that in coming years, Islam will become the largest European faith. In coming years, what it means to be French, German, Italian or English is going to change just as radically as what it means to be American has changed in the past four decades. Such changes suggest an increased inward European orientation at a time when just the opposite is needed.
Tenth, the world is in the midst of a long-term spiritual and psychological reorientation that is increasingly generating uncertainty and instability. This trend is best exemplified not by public opinion polls stating what percentage of the population believes in God, but by the character of the Western world’s postmodern culture. To understand the extent of this spiritual reorientation, look at the section on religion in any American bookstore. As well as books on Christianity, there are books on New Age spirituality, Buddhism, Nostradamus, yoga, fundamentalism, channeling, angels, miracles, Eastern philosophy, addiction, psychic health, mysticism, or finding meaning in life. All evidence of a massive spiritual uncertainty, and a search for some new spiritual dispensation.
The psychological reorientation can be seen in the breakup of our collective symbols and inner images of wholeness. For example, we once talked about “heaven,” which denoted the transcendent realm, eternity, the dwelling place of the gods. Now we just speak of “space,” which implies no spiritual connotation. It used to be that when we looked up in the sky at nighttime we saw the moon in heaven. Now we stand on the moon and see the earth in heaven. Heaven and earth have become one, and so our system of symbolic images has been jumbled. As the function of symbols and mythic images is to link our consciousness to the roots of our being, to our unconscious, this loss of historic symbols leaves little to sustain the inner life of the individual. So we turn to all sorts of chemical substitutes and pseudo religions.
These are just some of the forces reshaping the global landscape in the coming decades.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Design Research: onio's take Nov 2006

I wish I knew this conference (Wonderground) earlier, I would have surely sent some write-up. It is a new begining probably when Onio has set-up a small team dedicated to Design Research. Though it is happening after 10 years of our professional practice of design in India. But yes, now this dedicated team is actually earning money for, Indian clients are now just about ready to pay money for DESIGN RESEARCH seprately. This team is consists of Designers, Management Super graduate and Social Anthropologist (we could manage one..). But as we are getting into this, we are realising is that all one needs is a smart mind and power to absorb, connect, project and articulate.At Onio we follow something called 'MUST' model for design research (which is our own find). Market, User, Society and Technology, all are equal realities in the business dynamics today. Tweaking anyone of them would result in setting new ripples in the market. We have incorporated SENSING as two steps before DESIGN (Sense Strategise Design). So our pitch is that 'WHAT' (research)to do is becoming a bigger question than 'HOW' (design) to do. Thus even branding exercise at Onio starts with 'SENSING' first. Conventional 'Logo design' comes towards the last end (it is amazing to see that this part of 'skill' seems to have reached an 'autopilot mode'). Similarly, for product design, 'concept generation' is way too below in the 'gantt chart' of activities. And surprisingly, I have started understanding the worthless(ness) of 'three concepts' kind of approach. Focus is now shifted to honing the 'context' and hence probably single concept would work.Our model does not explore new academic evolution of design domain but surely puts across a highly applied model of making a difference in the market. A very big challenge we find is to explain to our clientele the difference between "market research" and "design research". Which some times pops a expected question , " Is this going to provide us price- point as well?". :)Our experience with the two extreme of clients a) large international giants b) small Indian entrepreneurial set-ups who want to launch world class offerings; has been very good. Both the ends clearly understood the language we are talking and the deliverables that are expected from Design Research. It is usually the medium/large size established corporation who seem to have a set ideas on research. But it is heartening that they have started the articulation of softer issues at the top level.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A brand character write-up I did

Brand XYZ

A journey of a small star towards its greater destiny in the infinite universe….a spark of life poised to take on the fears of oblivion, in the expanse that tires the powers, that be.

When the sunrays touch the earth, pick the selected rays; silky, satin sheet of light would fill the room that has mild colours. Sit and warmly converse about the snow capped hills in the window.

There are moments of truth that fire the being right where it aches. But we are born soldiers…soldiers of astral destiny…either way we belong to sky…we fight hard to remain aloft..away from the drudgery that obfuscates the lesser mortals.

When there is a call…run. Because there is nowhere to hide. Run and fetch the best tulips you can, princess awaits you at the other end of the lake.

When there is a call, run..because to run is to pray is to have fun…

Stars are bright…because they have fire in their heart. When there is light, stars have contributed their share….whatever small it may be…

In the winds of change stars go…galaxies vanish concept of light remains. Master the light and ‘change’ adds to the glory of light.


A journey of a small star towards its greater destiny in the infinite universe….a spark of life poised to take on the fears of oblivion, in the expanse that tires the powers, that be.

XYZ is focused and steadfast, it hold close to the values it respects….as if they are the only universal truths.

XYZ is poise and grace…it’s a great balancing act in the danger zone. Its care and caution in all too favorable..grit and warmth when times are against.

XYZ is speed. Slow, slips…speed transcends. When sight is blurred in speed, check the construct…road becomes clear.

XYZ is about minds. Minds that connect evolve and transcend the perceptible and the subliminal.

Reading some future trends

Some trends: Freshly fried (to be elaborated)
Manoj Kothari

Unorganized will become Organized
Sectors: Agriculture, retail, accessories, construction, jewelry, home services, wellness
Current scenario, % of market in unorganizedà predicted shift to organized
Statistics of productivity gain /loss for becoming organized
World statistics US/Europe how does it fare?

Organized will become Aggregate Monoliths
Sectors: Steel, Consumer gadgets, dairy products, software,
Move to the next consolidation (rule of 3-4)
Recent acquisitions

Monoliths will give way to paradigm shattering start-ups
Sectors: Entertainment, telephony, transportation, hospitality, health

Social mobility will thrive on pseudo adoptions
What seems out of place for a section, will increasingly become adorable i.e. car owner in a slum, vegetable vendor with a mobile camera phone, a software engineer with private aeroplane.

Pseudo Icons to show prosperity. society would need more pseudo-icons for show of prosperity.

Old time social elites would move to ‘luxurious naturalism’
Excess of indulgence would give way to ‘lost touch’. Recall of the elements, with out losing the touch of cushion.

New social elites would move to ‘middle-class kingdom’
Extend the kingdom they owned. Make it ‘posh’. Bring the ‘royal extravagance’ and ‘arrogance’.

India would become a verbal society?
Tacit cognizance and symbolic communication on which Indian society flourished till now, will increasingly become verbal. Verbal because there are no more gaps left in mind-space. There are no reserves….We are spending ahead of our income.

All that is remixed, will have a techno tweak…
From clothing to music to ambience…the next tweak is digital, heavily impacted by newly discovered technology.

All that is classic, will have a ‘happy wrapper’
Amzad Ali Khan’s sarod recital, on you-tube..but a clip that only lasts a few minutes, who has got a time for 3 hrs?

Space, will be biggest differentiater
Cut the clutter…leave large margins; visibility due to size; visibility due to missing slab, missing articulation, missing perfection, missing notes…

Still on……..

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shivers in London; where is the winter?

Why are so called 'mature design' economies are shivering in the imminent winter of 'Indian Design'. Will the Indians gobble-up the already sluggish design markets by offering every service at 1/3rd the price? Will Indians do in Design, what China has done in Manufacturing?
...several such discussion dotted my trip to London this time for Insight Indian 2006. The British are just too scared of Indian Design...though they may not even know what stage Indian Design actually constant counter question to these queires was- "Do you, after 30-40 years of design in the country, really worry that a Indian company can do renderings at a cheaper price?".."Does it really matter if Indian design company produces three alternative concepts for a salt & pepper dispenser at 1/5th the price British would charge? Is there so much of suffocation up there?
I think that entire design profession is undergoing evolution still...the need to notch-up higher in the corporate decision laddder is one of the bigger challenges that mature design economies should lead the way to. The thought leadership angle is still missing of present ina very weak format out there. Even as Prakash tells me, after his visit to all the top design companies in London, that the kind of work and energy that one sees in the these design companies, no way reflect that they are around for 30-40 years.....They should have created a new paradigm by now....they seem to stuck in a time-warp. One of the persons who is reponsible for Promotion of British Design got so flabbergasted after she saw the Onio brochure (which discusses the Design Research and Trends etc.) that she could no help saying "you guys have even reached here..then where is the place for us?" A pitiable viewpoint...I thought.


Insight India 2006-London

I have just returned after successfully organising 'Insight India 2006'roundtable in London, under the ambit of London Design Festival.This roundtable was organised by Onio Design in collaboration with Style-Visionof France. This first of its kind event organised by any Indian Design companyabroad, was attended by likes of Head of Design Procter & Gamble (Beautyproducts- USA), Steelcase (Office Furniture- USA), Hitachi (ConsumerElectronics), Pearl Fisher (Trends Consulting, USA), Symrise (Perfumes and FoodDesign, Singapore) etc.Aim of this event was to sensitize the European and American companies on DesignInsights and Consumer Trends for India.Onio also promoted the cause of Indian design by showcasing the works of twoother Indian designers there i.e. Abhijit Bansod (chief designer of Titan) andYogesh Purohit (Textile Designer). Other speakers included David Griffiths (heis a part of this egroup as well) and Prof. Venkat S. from IIIT.Participants were pleasantly surpised when they saw the quality of designunderstanding displayed through the case-studies and usage of cutting-edge toolslike Trend Research by design comapnies in India.Generally speaking, a very little information is available to world outside (notto talk of the awareness within the country), about Indian Design even afterseveral decades of presence of design in India. There is a significant amount of'visibility' work needs to be done by anybody and everybody connected to IndianDesign. I think we require Design Summits to be organised not only in India butall across the world. I am sure CII/FICCI is listenling....(in want of a DesignCouncil) ...Onio is now planning for a similar event in New York (USA), in collaborationwith Style-Vision again. Though the contents and precise structure is notfinalised yet, but surely Onio would like to take along some upcoming andinterested design companies. Do get in touch with the undersigned for the same.There is a huge update pending from London Design Festival...specially from theCII delegation...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What the hell is Design?

Now that I have spent more than 10 years living this word, some semblence of sense has begun to dawn. Before I went to a design school, the word 'design' carried vaguely the same ideas what the common man on road in India may carry i.e. something 'arty'..where a designer means at the most some nice looking things on computer....well things have changed now. At NID we were taught 'design' can change the world. It is a thinking process; way of going about things. Prof M.P. Ranjan, the think tank at NID says, "it is the intentional activity, that creates value" (ooooh....eating a chewing gum, to make bubbles is a highly intentional acitvity to create a highly valuable 'bubble', 'design' can not be put in such vague terms). One thing I believe is of prime most importance- DESIGN, whatever said and done, it is just an is not the grand act of BUSINESS or ORGANISATION it self. APPLE uses design to carry out business efficiently, but IDEO's business is DESIGN itself. So there is a distinction. Energy that is required to initiate and sustain a business or organisation is a much bigger energy than the 'creative energies in the domain of design'. Every activty in the business can have a design thinking involved, but it does not require a designer to do that. Entrepreneur, usually a living volcano's of energy, integrates so many thoughts that DESIGNERS call the 'systems thinking' and not only that, he/she is also mentally processing them to find a creative solution out of it. Thus insightful businessmen are gifted with 'design thinking' by birth. Thus some learn it at design schools and some get it by birth. Some learn it at design school and keep learning all their life, discussing endlessly the very origins...never be able to touch the levels of 'active energies' that a natural integrator would have reached on his own. There is a urdu sher-
Phalsafi ko bahas me, khuda milta nahi
dor ko suljha raha, sira milta nahi.

(A philosopher, discussing endlessly would never get to the God. It is like trying to find the end of an entangled mesh).

Friday, August 11, 2006

Innovation and Onio

Yesterday, David Griffiths, a leading design management expert practising in UK and India with equal footing, visited Onio. he had met me during CII-NID Design Summit 2005 at Mumbai and later I proposed his name as a facilitator for our London Roundtable (Insight India 2006), to Genevieve.
Daivd had interesting observations to make about Indian design industry. He thinks that Indian design industry is today what British Design Industry was in 60s. There was a boom in 80s where a lot of government focus shifted to design, to the extent of Mrs. Margret Thatcher, hosting a design summit at 10 Downining Street. So Britain is an 'advance design economy' today. It may take India another 10 or 15 years to reach there. He further explained that what is meant by 'maturity of design market' is to have complete ecosystem there i.e. if somebody wants to scale up the design operations, by 10 fold very is impossible to to in India today while it is much easier to collect trained design manpwer in various hierarchies in UK.
UK has more than 100,000 graduate in Design every year, while a paltry 500 in India (yes, he is not inlcuding the graduates from technology training centers i.e. Arena Multimedia or even Commercial Artists trained in Art Schools...why?).

My guesstimate is more optimistic. India would need 5 years to grab this opportunity by horns and make the new ecosystem happen. Nothing behaves lineraly in the new economy...not even the number of design school that would open in coming few years, nor the curiosity of new age consumers...all are growing in exponential fashion. The spark which has been present in India for more than 40 years, but never flared-up, would take much lesser time in the new realities compared to earlier leaps. Software Industry has already done a lot o ground work for many things to just flourish. Companies like Onio would become the highly-wanted companies in next 5 years..but this wait to the 'flight' would be full of heroic deeds...

Somebody asked hima question- if UK is already such a successful, advanced design country then why are there no brands or products coming out like 'iPoD'. David's answer aligned my thinking to Onio's branding and India's future. According to him it was no more about one or two 'sexy, cool, stylish' design stuff or brands. It is more about the kind of benefits that an economy draws by virtue of heavy focus on design (TESCO was his example at hand). If through a good design, a large chain of stores can reduce few grams of plastic from one of its product i.e.dustbins, it is a multi-million dollar saving in the material cost and transportation cost making through the year and the planet a bit less polluted...A combined effect of design thinking through the products, through the categories, through the organisation and through the country is enormous. It can transform the country by this "little integrated thoughtfulness".....which has been aptly called "pragmatic design' in the latest book named- "Design of Things to Come" from Wharton School Publishing.

Pragmatic Design is what is going to transform the "knowledgeware" that is accumulating over the years through software Industry, into a profitable and internationally tradable tool. It is no more about path-breaking inventions. It is about 'sensing' the changing life-style of people, tweaking the existing technology to fulfill the new needs and tactfully presenting the remix to the consumers. 'Remix' is not demeaning the word 'innovation' but abstracting it to the sociological realm, where this is a fully existent 'trend' across catedories.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Dot Com Years of Onio

It all started with uncertain business in Product Design which forced us to think of alternative sources of revenue, back in 1999-2000. While my brother Sunil, that time he was in Scotland, doing MS in Artificial Intelligence. He introduced the concept of website to me and pointed at a free website making portal (our page on this site still exists) in its primitive form. I still remember Prakash, my partner, stood for four hours at VSNL (the sole internet provider that time) to get an internet connection of 33kbps. Sending an email and getting one, was an achievement. Websites had started springing up. NIIT was standing tall that time, offering computer education as an alternative to Engineering and Medical careers. Our tryst with website started at IIT alumni meeting atMumbai (25th Dec 1999) where I happen to bump into a classmate who saw the year of graduation (19992) on my badge and happen to ask me what I was doing that time. When I said, I run a design studio. He casually asked if I could do a website for him, which I nodded affirmatively. No entrepreneur can afford to let go of such chances. "I will figure it out once I get an assignment', was an attitude that made us master of many things in shortest period of time...many times during our careers.

So I went for the first meeting with this batchmate of mine, who was setting up a portal for alumni of IIT and IIMs together. The technology consultant asked me if I was clear on the 'site structure' for this portal. I lost my head..what the hell is this site structure? What has a website designer got to do with that? ....The journey of website making, had just begun....We managed to do that assignment and many more in the years to come...including McKinsey India website.

Dot com bust took away the boom from our website business and we were back in product design saddle by the end of 2003. But during this period we managed to do several protals, interaction and interface design assignments, onsite consulting assignments for British Gas and NedLloyed even ventured into launching a portal of our own...(we almost did it:)) .

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Entrepreneurship: Interaction with INSEAD students

Yesterday I was speaking at a session on 'Business in India' at Taj President at Mumbai. This was a group of students from INSEAD (Singapore and France) campuses, interacting with new age entrepreneurs from India.

Other speakers included founder of, Mr. Anupam Mittal, founder of the chain Yo-China and Siddarth Runwal (from Mumbai's Real Estate business family). They spoke about usual issues in starting a business in India i.e. from family issues to role of traditional hierarchies in business to more than 39 licenses needed to run a restaurant to myths about cheap labour (because less productive labour turns out to be twice as costly) etc.

My case was different. Speaking about 'design entreprenurship' in India, I realised that we at Onio, faced a rather typical 'entreprenuerial problems' more than 'India problems'. A field called 'design' which was not recognised by industry, government and the society at large even after 35 years of presence in the local soil, had different challenges than setting a traditional business lines.

Two people just out of a design school with lot of zeal and determination...that is all we had (yes, all the entrepreneurs state this in their interviews). But what we didn't have was any 'reference' or benchmark against which we could compare and improve. Should we be a partnership firm or a private limited company? Should we try to show 'losses' in the very first year to escape taxes or should be show highest profits possible in order to get credit-worthiness? Should we recruit low-salaried 'doers' , who would work like a soldier for us or 'high-salaried thinkers' as well, in the team, who would tackle the clinents on our behalf and add value in the discussions. From very simple queries to very complex issues like how much equity to dilute for first round of funding, Prakash and myself have just used the calculated gut feel and gone ahead. Contrary to my earlier beliefs MBA degree or a 'must have' partner with finance background, really wasn;t required at this stage. Natural ability to 'survive' or the 'survival instinct' shapes an entreprenurial mind in such a way that it senses in 360 degrees all the time. Whether it is about learning a new trade or learning the legalities or handling an angry customer, the survival instinct comes to the rescue and emboldens the endeavours further.

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Different Beginning

This is my fourth shift in 'profession'....In the spirit of exploration, the voyage continues...from Engineering, to Product Design, to Communication Design, to Strategic Branding, to Innovation Consulting...(next drop would be at Futurologist).