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 ...it 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...