Thursday, November 01, 2007

Manoj Kothari's Impressions from World Design Congress - Connecting 07

I just came back from ‘Design Event of the Life time’ – as described by Bill Moggridge of IDEO. During 4 days of non-stop design discussions from 17th to 20th October, close to 2000 people from several walks of design and the world, huddled together in the busy precincts of Hotel Fairmont and surrounding areas in the bay area of San-Francisco. From founder of Frog Design Helmut Hesslinger to current CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, futurist thinkers like Paul Saffo and Bruce Sterling, upcoming American designer Yves Behar and other usual suspects like Philips’s chief designer Stephano Marzano etc. all spoke at length on design and future of design. One could see a sizable Indian gathering with Dr. Koshy, Pradyumna Vyas, Uday Dandavate from Sonic Rim, Mookesh Patel, Surya Vanka, Poonam and Geetha from Srishti, Unmesh Kulkarni from Philips, myself and several Indian students who are studying in USA. Dr. Koshy, Manoj Kothari, Hari Nair and Unmesh were amongst the speakers (who were in the list of whopping 142 sessions which split the audience in 8 parallel sessions).My expectations were grand. I expected grand new dimensions of design, new articulations of the philosophy and new dimensions of practice across the world would be discussed. I was largely disappointed. Though it was enthralling to listen to some of the speakers like Sir Ken Robinson on creativity. He spoke withoutany Power Point for 45 minutes and people gave a standing ovation. It was refreshing to hear new point of view of Bio Mimicry (learn from the nature) to bring new concepts i.e. CO2 is not poison. It is poison if we do not learn from mollusks who convert CO2 dissolved in water into Calcium Carbonate shells. etc.IDEO’s presented the case of ‘DESIGN THINKING’ (they are done with product design…they have done thousands of them). Case of Aravind Eye hospital (I think Mysore), where they could reduce the cost of lens from 400$ to 4$ and able to conduct close to a 100,000 operations a year, was used to illustrate the design thinking. Several speakers made it a point to use work done for Indian (emerging) markets as a feather in the design cap. India was the hot favorite though the point of view appeared quite naïve to native Indians sitting there (us). Also, one expects that the design mature economies where three generations have worked on design (as an example Walter C. Teague’s grand son was felicitated there), are still groping for new directions and new articulation of what design and designers should be doing. If INTEGRATED and FUTURISTIC thinking is called ‘DESIGN THINKING’ then it is being practiced by all visionaries for time-immemorial. Design, to the common mind, still evoked images of ‘Beautiful Product’ and not of ‘Beautiful Solution’, as we expect it to be. Probably time has come to re-brand DESIGN. Its classical definition of ‘Creative Problem Solving’ or new definitions of ‘Exploiting Hidden Opportunities’ both have not touched the masses and already become clichéd.Another prominent theme of discussion was ‘INTERACTIONS’ apart from design for the third world. However, the speakers and case-study presentation sounded stale to me. They do not bring news anymore. I think Indian design community is moving faster than the world and it is about time that more case-studies from India start going out. The socio-cultural complexity that the emerging markets of China, India, Brazil and Russia (along with Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia) present can not be grasped fully by the approaches familiar to us now. My presentation was on ‘Intentiability, that speaks of new design research methodology for such market. However, no other such discussion happened. Although it was primarily a designers gathering as usual ( I did not come across many CEOs being quoted or being greeted), who do not like ‘portfolio presentations’ from fellow designers, but I think that is a very powerful way to propagate the cause of design. What is stale to designers may still be a fresh insight for rest of the world. I think CII-NID Design conference as well as Pune Design Festival should strongly focus on PORTFOLIO PRESENTATIONS from fellow designers. Ultimately the design community gains when media has more masala to quote from the individual design projects. Richard Seymour did present their work for Virgin Galactic (was far from inspiring). Yves Behars’ 100$ laptop was interesting, without being exciting. Philips’s case of revival through design was very professional and did account for overall business overview apart from usual ‘form’ and ‘function’ discussion.There was a mention of ICSID and ICOGRADA not coming together for even grand occasions like this one. For a change I was happy to see an Indian name doing rounds in ICSID board (Dr. Koshy). Kudos to Dr. Koshy, he has a great political voice in the international design circles that is badly needed in India, as much as the good body of work from the design community.There was a small informal meeting of all the Indian participants to discuss the agenda and structure of CII-NID Design Summit, coming up in Dec. Idea was to choose the good speakers from this conference to be invited there. While we need some international sparkle to woo the media, I think the time has come when REAL STORIES from the ground (SMALL and UPCOMING, design lead organizations) should get the limelight on the podium through design community. Trying to call all the usual suspects, who are jet-setting between conferences, presenting the same of old stuff in different settings, is a no brainer for anyone anymore. There are hundreds of new start-ups in India, lead by innovation savvy entrepreneurs who understand the new Indian reality of retail boom, educated consumer, socio-cultural nuances, anti-colonial mindset and Indian’s new mission to go global. Design community will win if they are made the AMBASSADORS of design. Not to forget that PORTFOLIO PRESENTATION should be made an essential part of such conferences (at least in India). I think a good strategy is to divide the speaker list this way- 20% foreign, glossy speakers, 30% Indian design community presentations, 30% Design led new age companies from India, 20% Education and Policy presentation.Overall, this experience did tells me that excitement is shifting to India and China for reasons beyond market reality. However, we, the design community, needs more mature articulation of ourselves in all the forums that speak DESIGN even remotely.

Sunday, July 15, 2007,4149,1528654,00.asp

By Jim Louderback
"Why isn't MP3 dead yet," complained reader Matt Bieschke to me in an e-mail. "I've been waiting a long time for MP3 to die, and it just seems to get more popular."

Are there better Alternatives? There are, and they solve the problems. Microsoft's WMA, MPEG-4 AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) used by Apple's iPod and iTunes, and Ogg Vorbis all create much smaller files that sound as good or better than MP3s. Ogg Vorbis is free for all, both on the encoding and the playback side. WMA includes built-in digital rights management (DRM), and Apple has appended its own DRM to AAC—which makes music sellers happy.
Why hasn't MP3 been unseated? Formats, once widely adopted, are very hard to change. MP3 has become a lowest-common-denominator format: A device simply cannot be successful without supporting it. Why? Because so many users have invested so much time in creating and downloading MP3 files, and they'll resist going through gathering and encoding all over again. There's simply too much material in MP3 format floating around for us to change over, even with all the benefits of newer formats.
I don't disagree with your assessment of the MP3 format...
MP3 will never die.
it's not about adopting new standards; it's really about making money.
What's it going to take to change? I've developed a law of technology adoption, which I modestly call Louderback's Law: Unless a new technology includes breakthroughs in at least two different dimensions—without adding hardship along the way—it will not supplant and older, established one.

The idea of "LOWest COMMON DENOMINATOR" is a strong idea. BIC has become LCM of the pens. MP# has become the LCM of music. VICKS has become LCM of cold-relief balm in India..and SURF has become LCM of washing powder....very very difficult to replace the first movers advantage. First mover, that went to the masses....

Power of LCM is a greatly unarticulated that defies the idea of value creation through premium branding and the language of 'desire through scarcity'. At least we can say that it works slightly differently for a mass-marketeer visionery. Trading products under one brand umbrella and creating a product that flows like water in the market is totally different ball game.

Contextual Enquiry Primer

Contextual inquiry is based on three core principles: that understanding the context in which a product is used (the work being performed) is essential for elegant design, that the user is a partner in the design process, and that the usability design process, including assessment methods like contextual inquiry and usability testing, must have a focus. … For example, interviewing during a contextual inquiry study usually does not include set, broadly worded questions. Instead, the partnership between the interviewer and interviewee is used to create a dialogue, one where the interviewer can not only determine the user’s opinions and experiences, but also his or her motivations and context.” Also see Contextual Enquiry – A Primer.

Interesection of Concepts, cultures and context

Associative Barriers And The Medici Effect
The contextual objective of collaborative software is to create what’s called The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts & Cultures. “When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.” In medicine for instance, inkjet technology is applied to develop layered pharmacuticals which time–release different medications in sequence.
Only through redesign of associative webs and barriers making up the stuff of context can information technology realize its potential, and avoid the ultimate context failure: groupthink.

Another good quote

"He who innovates, will have enemies in all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and will find only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new"-

Niccollo Machiaveli- The Prince

Innovation Process

“The nature of innovation — the inherent definition of innovation — has changed today from what it was in the past. It’s no longer individuals toiling in a laboratory, coming up with some great invention. It’s not an individual. It’s individuals. It’s multidisciplinary. It’s global. It’s collaborative.” — Sam Palmisano, Chairman, President and CEO, IBM

IBM chief makes my job easier :)...makes Onio's job easier and makes the design industry a wee bit closer to public education on design.

Another quote which attracted my attention-

“Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” — Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO, News Corporation

and yet another one-
The report quotes CEOs as saying:
"partnering is “theoretically easy” but “practically hard to do.”…”having a few beers together is not collaboration. Collaboration is a discipline.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tips on Ethnographic User Interviews

Key points for Ethnographic User Research

Keep the list of questions ready in your bag and in your mind (not in your hand).
Try rehearsing the entire conversation through one or two sample interviews. This would get you into the groove.
Always go in the team of two. Better if one person is a woman.
Take some time, especially in the case of home interviews, to make the person/family comfortable in talking to you.
If they are talking to you, never be in a hurry to ask the next question.
Idea should be about ‘broaching the topic’ and not ‘asking a question’.
Note all that is happening around. Do not focus the camera only on the person who is speaking. While the voice is getting recorded, camera can actually pan the surroundings.
Note the brands that are in use, around the subject.
Note the body language.
Take a round of the market, to see the environment, ads, messages, trends in that living habitat.
Never. Be too apologetic about the interviews. Some of the subjects are too keen to be interviewed.
You can prompt/help them for certain issues, if they are not the talkative kind.
Also note the people and their interactions around the subject.
Take a look at the architecture, interiors etc. and articulate in the report.
Carry visual concepts to illustrate the ideas, but use them after significant comfort has been approached.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pick of the day- Defining Design in Indian language

Here is some knowledge, I picked up from the discussions in yahoogroup, on what is the word in Hindi/Sanskrit for DESIGN-

"It is neither surprising nor sad that we are not ableto get an exact equivalence to 'design', an English word that during last eighty years has gathered layers after layers after layers of meanings, nuances and interpretations. The French who are at least ten times as fiercely proud of their language as we are ofSanskrit (or Hindi or Bangla, or Tamil or any of thefourteen Indian languages) have recenly settled downfor DESIGN with no change of spelling. Germany had alredy done the same while Russians (quite cleverly, Ithought) desided to add an entirely new word to theirlanguage, spelled DIZAIN"- H. Kumar Vyas

Friday, May 11, 2007

'Seeking Authenticity'- New Trend -UPolitical

This comment caught my eye, aftermath the UP elections....a perfect case for 'Rootine' trend that Onio has proposed for the year 2007.

"Running a single-handed campaign, sans celebrities, catchy advertisements, audio-visual displays or any other vote-pulling antic, Mayawati only concentrated on her new social engineering experiment of wooing the once "untouchable" Brahmins to act as a catalyst to reinforce her strong base of Dalits in a highly caste-ridden Uttar Pradesh."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Maturity of Design lead Economy

While design community in India is trying to gaze the shape of the the elephant, like the legendary blind men, some things are but predictable. Contexutal differences in applying the 'design best practices' is different from stages of maturity of the market or business practice. What would be maturity of the design business in India? Will it be just a replication of what Scandanavian countries are today? Will it just mean better looking products, thriving companies, improved infrastructure, ethnic craft based product boom and masses consuming more of thoughtful products? Will it mean that the way my carpenter works will change; they way maid mops the floor will change; the way bank treats me will change; the way goverment collects my personal data will change; the way buildings look in rural side will change; the way communication sweeps aross media will change? Probably all of them together....

Does it mean that a ditto copy of what has happened in mature economies+local needs, is the 100% projection of India as the design lead economy?

I see every country brings a tweak to the 'design' world from its own perspective. Recently I read that China is now one of the biggest manufacturer and exporter of cosmetics in the world. The world is guzzling what chinese aestheic senses are producing...China is shaping the beauty of the world (in a way). One can sense the chinese colour pallette in toys and plasticware already. World's kids are getting moulded to certain sensibilities through these toys and plasticware. There is democratised, more accessible and affordable to everyone, new toy on the shelf everyday for sure. So Taiwan, Korea and China have learnt the tricks of European design and mixed with their own sensibilities to evolve a new design language. India is yet to speak that language. Whenever that becomes visible there is going to be visual changes for sure, but there should be some thought level changes are but expected. I won;t be surprised if some of the thoughtlines create flutters in the design world across the shores.

Coming back to maturity stages, it appears to me that it is only a matter of time that cetain things will happen-
a) Design becomes integral part of corporate world
b) Design becomes a tool for SMEs for growth
c) Sensing paradigm takes root in market faced innovations
d) Disruptive processes are borne out of the shear madness that Indian market presents
e) 'Art' comes back in day-today objects
f) Multiple organisational bodies are formed to channelise certain efforts in this segment (Design council or not..
g) Industry shake-up happens as world wakes up to design service market potential in India (Kishor Biyani of Pantaloon is 'outsourcing' the IT needs to IBM in India...does it ring bells?)
h) 'Design' is broken up into more specific sectors. 'Furniture and Retail Design', 'Animation Design'...etc. Creative Services would be the overall gamut to address.
i) Boom in regional markets in the interiors of India will bring the crafts back..(it would be surprising..that craft revival will not be because of the Walmart sourcing from these people, but because of the own countrymen becoming conscious of their needs).

Current generation would be the 'speedy' generation who want things accomplaished all in their life one would surely take a pause and reflect....:))

Appliances are brcoming a beautiful furniture

Here is an example of this trend....

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Design in India: The View From Within : Manoj Kothari writes for BusinessWeek

The author, a strategist at Onio Design in Pune, says a big boom in innovation and design is coming

India has a small, busy community of professional industrial designers (around 3,000 in total). And for them, things have never been so good. While we hear from the European design professionals and interns at my design firm, Onio, how hard it is to find a decent design job elsewhere, many young designers in India find companies lining up with lucrative offers even before they graduate.

The software industry needs designers to beef up its graphical user interfaces; brick-and-mortar businesses need more traditional corporate design; and product-led companies have started turning to serious innovation and design. But while the overall mood is upbeat, the country's businesses are nonetheless sharply divided when it comes to their ability to absorb or apply real innovation. Here's a brief, personal take on the different attitudes being shown toward design in India today.

Let's begin with startups. There are two types of startups in India—and you see them in all industries. The first is spawned by the second or third generation of a well-to-do business family. These chief executives are aggressive and more attuned to a Western model of experimenting with new ideas than their elders, and they have generally experienced the power of good design.

But these guys suffer when it comes to major decisions that involve large changes or expenditure. Their boards are invariably still made up of older, more traditionally minded family members who make pushing forward a design-driven agenda less than smooth sailing.

Software for the Indian Market
The other kind of startup is usually the child of a team of technocrats who left flourishing careers to give shape to an idea—in other words, the more traditional, Silicon Valley style of company. Increasingly, entrepreneurs who were embedded in engineering want to convert that knowledge to capitalize on India's booming gadget market. These startups are more open to innovation, ideas, and expenditure than are those in the first category.

Transtrite, for instance, makes GPS-based vehicle tracking products, which are gaining popularity because of newly constructed expressways across the country. I should note here that despite the media frenzy about the Indian software industry, software products designed specifically for the Indian market are still a rarity. So this is a fledgling group, but one set to have increasing impact in the coming years.

Next are the traditionally successful companies that used to rule the Indian market with their once-great products that may now be badly dated. These are feeling the heat of competition from local companies as well as from better-designed foreign products, and are far from visionary.

Owners cling to an attitude of "We know what works for us. We know the market. Give us a design to match that foreign brand, and we'll take care of the rest, we've done it before."

Big Businesses, Old School
Part of this attitude comes from the monopoly they enjoyed in the past, and part of it comes from ignorance of the reality of innovation today. Sporadic or incremental innovation does not accomplish anything, and these companies are heading for a disaster unless they do something radical—and soon.

Then there are the established Indian business houses. These are usually a part of bigger conglomerates with multiple business lines—making and selling diverse products such as soap and software and employing designers across all their companies.
In general, all have done well in understanding the language and worth of design. I'm talking here about companies such as BlowPlast in office furniture systems, Titan in watches, Onida in consumer appliances, or VIP in luggage.

But today, some in this category are suffering from a problem of having enough insight (the starting point of design) to decide the course of innovation, but not enough to implement it within the new market realities, which are changing at a faster pace than ever before

Another Round of Mediocrity
In one meeting with a TV giant that had better remain nameless, I asked them why, when they've ruled the Indian market for so many years, they had not managed to become the Sony of India? Total silence. Even though they have a full design studio (doing reasonably good work), their products don't differ much from other international players who are putting all their financial and design might into eating the Indian pie.

Once these companies understand that they have to innovate, they don't seem ready to take the riskier step of continuing to do so. It will take another round of mediocrity and failure before they understand that engaging with higher paradigms of design is not optional. These companies have the potential to become shining icons of Indian design, but they need a visionary leader to take them there.

The fifth category is the most recent—multinationals wanting to localize innovation for the Indian market. This one comes courtesy of the booming Indian economy and signals foreign awareness of the end of the Indian consumer's love affair with foreign products.
Once upon a time, everything with an overseas label sold well. For years, foreign companies operating in India considered Indian consumers "Third World" residents who would be happy with any foreign label, and who didn't have an idea of ergonomics, style, or evolved taste.

Getting to Know You
Products that had proved unfashionable elsewhere were introduced in India, but then the Indian consumer began to catch on. Traditional segmentation and economic capacity-based studies don't wash any more. Gone are the days when Indian consumers would buy whatever was presented to them.

With many choices and plenty of information on what is available—and what constitutes world-class quality—consumers know what they are looking for. So now companies planning for a longish stay in India are seeking more local insights into the minds of their users.
One of the companies we are working with is Volkswagen, which is using a mix of market statistics, ethnographic research, and trend research to understand the dynamics of the Indian mind. They still have design studios far away from Indian soil, but there is a sign of increasing Indian involvement in their innovation process—at last.

The last category is the large public sector companies, hitherto untouched by "design." They are the legacy of pre-liberalized India and still enjoy huge support from the government in terms of money and policies.

Design here is a not a mandate. Usually it is forced by competition—one of the senior managers decides to try it out. The problem they face is that it can take a long time before the power of design is truly understood by all tiers of a hierarchy. So they continue to struggle with good design, bad design, and no design all lumped together. But these companies are becoming bigger beacons of design. They are ready to experiment.

Excitement Ahead
So where does it go from here? Well, the Indian economy is booming. Consumers are showing signs of becoming discerning mature buyers and users. Companies are ready to spend money and take risks. The government even declared a National Design Policy (though the effect on the ground will take a long time to become visible) (see, 2/14/07, "India's Designs on Innovation").

New design schools are opening every year (there are more than a dozen now). Design companies are getting their acts together to attract investors and grow (WPP invested in Bangalore-based Ray+Keshvan, Tessaract became Idiom with the help of Future Group, Onio got angel investment.)
Internationally acclaimed design houses like IDEO are on the prowl for their piece of India. Even the Italian government has seen the opportunity and is promoting the Italian design industry heavily on Indian soil. All of this points to an exciting road ahead for design in India.
There are hurdles for sure: the lack of a trained intermediate layer (design engineers and design managers) or a governing body for design practice, the lack of skilled supporting resources such as model-makers and prototyping companies, and above all, the lack of trained designers in the country may slow the big boom of innovation that can transform India. But it's coming.

Manoj Kothari is founder, director, and senior design strategist of Pune-based industrial design and branding firm Onio Design.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Europe Impressions:2007: more...

Driving past many cities and observing airports everywhere, I found that all the advertising and communication in Europe is highly 'functional'. They don't show a 'happy family' for everything from soap to car. Finally consumers have understood that soap is a soap is a soap. It can do nothing to entice a boyfriend or to make a girl a beauty queen. Care for skin and removing the dirt is the work that is expected out of it...that is it. There are no long and boring stories to be told there. I see this trend coming in some of the product categories in India as well.

Stationery shops are my place of interest when I go to Europe. Though Pune also has exclusive super stores of stationery and one can find exclusive stuff here as well. But the kind of deep-ranging that can be seen in each product category is usually absent in India. I can see 5 different coloured corrguated papers. The regular brown paper my son uses to cover his notebooks is also available in several colours and exotic finishes like silver.....this ordinary craft paper has been turned into an object of desire. While sharpners and erasers have taken on a chinese look because of obvious reasons, notebooks, papers, high-end pens etc. have still retained the European flavour. I was delighted that Chinese onslought has not taken a toll there and quality is still respected.

Europe Impressions:2007: March Brands, People, Design and more

I visited Europe 5th time this March, with all together new eyes. Agenda this time was to be there as a speaker for Insight India 07, the event that I ogranised with Genevieve of Style Vision and Axel Olessen from CIFS. But I combined this with a family outing to meet the Dutch and Austrian friends and thier families as well. It turned out to be a good idea that though in the short stay of seven days covering 4 cities, we had to skip entire Amsterdam city including Van-Gogh museam. Insights into the European living was tremendous this time where we met a young couple just starting their life, a well settled modern family with 3 kids and a family living with 3 generations was all that a designer-trend-reader would look for.

I also took a tour of Stroget, the shopping street of Copenhagen with Genevieve. Luxury brand have come to a saturation of innovation. The accessories at Gucci or Louis Vuitton look drab and unexciting apart from the price tag and the brand equity they carry. A walk to Zara showroom was revealing. I had studied the rise of Zara and other new age companies like Skype a few days back. Zara is run by a spanish family and they change thier clothing products every 3 weeks. It is based on a strong local supply-chain (unlike IKEA which has a global cupply-chain). Zara offers affordable middle-end fashion garments with the tweak of 'new every time' one visits the showroom. At the same time, Zara sits next to Louis Vuitton and does not fill its showroom as if everything is under discount. I like the model and the feel. Visit to Ikea in Amsterdam (this was second time I visited IKEA...first was way back in 2000) was revealing too. The price tags on products suddenly appeared accesssible for an Indian buyer. A small wooden chair or stool that would cost Rs 4000 in India to make, were selling for for Rs 1500. IKEA has already announced thier plans to enter India. I won;t be surprised if Indian homes would be IKEAised and would lose the local identity. Even if local carpenters copy IKEA catalogues and make the furniture they surely introduce the 'stronger colours' or some 'decorative elements' on their own. Now that director of communication for IKEA attended our event (Insight India 2007), I see some ground breaking work by IKEA on Indian market (both on Product Design as well as Communication front).

Axel Olessen, the managing director of Copenhagen Insititute of Future Studies observed that not many Scandenavian companies had participated in our event because they are currently focused on China. According to him, Danish people are 'traders' and have a 'herd' mentality. Only some of them have noticed the changes in India and they are two years away from the Indian market. Copenhagen did appear to have the design consciousness more than Vienna or London etc. From telephone booth, trains, hoardings and day-to-day items did have a touch of thought. But then, it had no history of a city that usually glues me to a city. The kind of 'ancient air', Paris, Londond, Salzburg or Vienna exude, was totally missing from Copenhagen. It appeared to be a modern kid brought-up in luxury and good manners but rootless in culture. There was some sort of disdain for cultural harmony anyway...I felt (talking to Jessica and Genevieve and experiences from Sonali).

Living in Europe is costly? Stan bought a sort of row house with area approximately 3000 sq ft. with a garden attached, in Amersfoort. A sort fo luxury home when we think of Mumbai, Delhi or Pune, all 360,000 Euros. Any decent row-house in Indian cities would cost 1.5 crore rupees anyways. I took a taxi in Vienna from Barbara's home to Airport which is around 15 km distance. The taxi was a luxurious Merc and the charges- Euro 27 (i.e. Rupees 1600). I don't think we can get a Mercedez Benz for Rs. 1600 in Mumbai.... Mobile phones, cameras and refrigenrators and computers....cost the same in India and where is the difference? A glass of water cost nothing in India (literally) compared to Rs.100 in Europe. One can get a decent one time food for Rs. 100 in India while you need to spend Rs. 1000. So food is extremely costly. Prakash had a good observation...wherever human touch is involved, things would be super costly in true... a haircut would cost a bomb in Europe while it costs nothing in India...should we talk about massage? :)

more to come....lest I

Monday, March 12, 2007

Humane by Design?

Many years back (when my salary was Rs. 4000 a month), one of the co-employees of Eicher Tractors who used to report to me, asked Rs. 50K loan from company for wife's heart operation. Company took out all the HR files of this person, checked for background records, deliberated for a month and said 'yes'..with a rider...He should not take it for granted..".it is a special favour company is doing to him...make it clear."...I was told to communicate to him.

I explained to him the company's position. He showed no emotions. He was my father's age. He heard me quietly. Then after 5 days he came and told me that he did not want the company's favour+money..he had arranged the operation free of cost in Sai Baba hospital in Andhra... :)

Interesting read on Riches of the world...:from Rediff

Steel baron Lakshmi Mittal leads a pack of 36 Indian billionaires with a total net worth of $191 billion, according to the list of richest persons complied by Forbes magazine.
As many as 14 Indians have joined the coveted club, raising the net worth of the country's billionaires by around $90 billion.
Mittal, who heads the world largest steel company Arcelor Mittal, is the fifth richest person in the world with a net worth of $32 billion.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates continues to be the richest person in the world for 13th year in succession with a net worth of $56 billion among a record 946 billionaire pinned down by the magazine.
India's rich are marching towards the top the table with brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani, who split up their family's conglomerate, joining Mittal for spots among top 20 richest people.
India now has the largest number of billionaires among the 20 after the United States.
Mukesh, chairman of Reliance Industries, with net worth of $20.1 billion finds 14th spot and Anil is the 18th richest person commanding a net worth of $18.2 billion.
An interesting statistic that the analyses throw up is that Japan's 20-year reign of cornering highest number of billionaires in Asia has ended and it now has only 24 billionaires with combined worth of $64 billion.
The list has 178 newcomers including 19 Russians, 14 Indians, 13 Chinese and 10 Spaniards as well as first billionaires from Cyprus, Oman, Romania and Serbia.
Two-thirds of the last year's billionaires are richer and only 17 per cent are poorer including 32 who dropped below the coveted figure and out of the list.
The billionaires' combined net worth climbed $900 billion to $3.5 trillion which equates $3.6 billion apiece, the magazine said.
The average billionaire is 62 years of age and ingenuity, and not industry, is their common characteristic. They made money in everything from real estate to coffee, dumplings and ethanol.
Among those on the list, 62 per cent made the huge fortunes from scratch.
The United States has 415 billionaires which translate into 44 per cent of the total. New faces include Starbucks chief Howard Schultz, ranked 840th among the richest. It has 55 new billionaires and total net worth of its billionaires is estimated at $1.36 trillion.
Hind Hariri, daughter of slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, drops off the list and Germany's 23-year-old Albert von Thurn und Taxis replaces her as the youngest billionaire.
China's Yan Cheung, ranked 390, makes a history as the country's richest person and is one of the three self made women in China to debut on this year's list. They join the exclusive rank of self made women including Oprah Winfrey ranked 664, J K Rowling (891) and Margaret Whitman (754).

Friday, February 16, 2007

More thoughts: National Design Policy+ SMEs Insights

As a sequel to my thoughts, I also think that we are misssing a point if we do not connect
'DESIGN' to 'ENTREPRENEUR' (noun+verb both).  A successful entreprenur is well rounded as a 'design thinker'. He has a capability for going by 'gut feel', penetrating insights into market and society and hunger for making things happen through internal synthesis.
Similarly, there are numerous examples where 'designers' have turned into an entrepreneur (beyond starting a design consulting company, like me).
A country should be promoting 'design' and 'entreprenurship' at the bottom most level of industry and enterprise. This may encompass the technology start-ups, craftsmen and micro-suppliers to SMEs and multinationals.
Two days back I attended and spoke at a SME conference in Mumbai, organised by Financial Express. I already knew that this sector is a sleeping giant for great Indian dream, but this seminar brought sharper focus on that. Here are the learnings, which all of us should know and add-
SMEs constitute-
a) 95% of Industrial production and 40% of the total export is through SMEs in India
b) Employing close to 3.5 Crore people
c) Producing over 7000 products
d) Adds to 7% of GDP (..point to be noted)
Last october a new category has been added to SMEs, called 'Micro-enterprise'. Government identifies them based on the investments in 'plant and machinery' i.e. for manufacturing sector - micro enterprise has max investment in plant and manchinery of 25 lakhs, Small scale <5 crores, Medium 10 Crores. Similarly, for service sector (like design companies), it is 10 lakhs for micro, 2 crores for small and 5 crores for medium scale enterprise.
This conference attracted around 100 odd SME owners and several SME business heads from Banks and Financial Institutions like RBI, CRISIL, SBI FACTORS etc. etc. I spoke on 'Life Beyond Balance Sheet' i.e. Innovation. I learnt that there is dire need to have a good standard presentation on 'WHAT IS DESIGN', which all of us can use. All of us (practising designers) have been making our own pitch presentations since olden days that changes according to the 'design literate' and 'not so literate' clients. It would help if under a national initiative, a lot of visual communication material can be made just to address that single question, in a simple language (no mega talk).
Secondly, coming from a design company, my presentation had some visuals of 'before design'  and 'after design' images. They always make a good story. While everybody else has flat presentations (either verbal or too much text), such industry groups welcome the visual change in long events.
Thirdly, some of the basic things that we learn at design school like 'gestalt laws' and how to apply them in day-to-day corporat life, can provide a lot od interesting discussion. We do not need to always use 'iPoD' as a pivotal design prop.
Fourth, I also talked about how to get design help i.e. name of the institutions, design companies etc.... I listed them all...But there is no single point-of-contact I can refer...probably Prof. Kirti Trivedi is listening and he would spruce up the site to make it single authentic resource of design support.
Best regards
Manoj Kothari
NID-AED-PD-97, IIT Bombay B.Tech. 92
Onio Design Pvt. Ltd.
Sense| Strategize| Design 

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

street_furniture_at_mumbai_fort: Can we copy good things across country: Open Source

This is what I saw outside Jehangir Art Gallery. Strong Stainless Steel,
simple structure that guards a tree and also provoides public seating in
crowded streets of Mumbai. If something can last in Mumbai, it will last
anywhere in the world...

My views on National Design Policy

I have only seen the draft that appeared in the news papers a few days back. Here is what I read in that-

1) First and foremost, it is a very strong note that government is finally taking a note of a profession that country needs so badly. We all know how Korea has transformed itself through successful implementation of its 5-year plans on Design. Although it has been more  than 40 years since NID was started in India, and more than a decade of liberalization, that now we see some signs of definitive 'intent' (no action still) in the governance. Kudos to the team that pressed for it.

2) A policy statement like this would certainly culminate into 'some' action on ground (even if 10% of what is promised, implemented in next 3 years…country should rejoice). It also means that policy statement reads like a utopian bonanza. I see no specific focus within the agenda….for example,  SMEs need the intervention of design the most. They are the ones who would be key drivers of Indian engine for Innovation. Where is the specific highlight on them? They all go under 2 lines, while design education and awareness is hogging most of the 'intent'.

3) There is no specific mention of 'design practitioners' who are the flagbearers  of design. The whole idea of Design in India rests partly on their shoulders too. It is like talking of health-care improvement without mention of Doctors…

3a) Design, to deliver successfully, needs not only designers, education institutes and industry…but a collective eco-system that includes small-time suppliers, fabricators, artists, artisans etc. Small scale industry today is looked upon as just a 'supplier' to organized players….but in a 'design' led economy, this SSI base itself can become a hot-bed of innovation..This becomes a 'design eco-system',,,,this requires a mention and focus in the vision document….

4) 'Crafts' is a favorite phrase to indicate the Indian heritage, whenever we discuss Design and India. But apart from generic statements like 'we should promote' Indian traditional crafts and 'orginality'..there is no pointers that reflect a thoughtful discussion behind the text.

 5) From a vision statement itself, the policy should have spelled out the course…i.e. first two years would be focused on 'Design Education and Awarenes'…next two years would be focused on 'Promoting culture of Innovation in the Indian industry' etc. etc..

 6) It is still using 'design' as a 'noun'…missing the whole notion of design as a 'verb' which is the central idea of 'attitude and process to innovate' in today's times.

7) There is no connection …not even mention to touch upon 'cultural anthropology' and 'history'…where is the 'Indian ness' coming from? No mention of research on what could be the Indian Design…..all that we practice today is a western view on design….whole idea of 'sustainability' is a western idea, built into original Indian thinking already….It is imperative that while National policy focuses heavily on 'Exportworthiness' of 'designs', there should have been a due space for 'softer' and 'essential' issues.

 Manoj Kothari

Onio Design Pvt. Ltd.
'Begin Differently' - Sense | Strategize | Design


Friday, February 09, 2007

SME Revolution in India- Role of Design- You've got stuff?

Hi All,
A shift from the current tenor of discussions...
We are standing at the threshold of SME revolution in India. The engine of growth that transformed China and Korea is about to get started in India too, fueled by growth in Auto-sector, manufacturing sector, R&D outsourcing, exports etc. etc. While the grand talk of 'design' has its place, there is a direct and visible role for design and designers in propelling the top line and lifting the bottom line of SMEs. The second generation family businesses and new age start-ups are now getting hungry for 'innovation' if not for 'design' in the holistic sense. This is the time when the iron is hot.....Design community needs to get its act together and create success stories in series...Somebody and everbody needs to fire-up the 'perspective' of think beyond immediate think beyond foriegn think beyond new imported think beyond Indian market....
I am speaking at the SME WORLD Seminar at IMC, Mumbai, organized by Indian Express (on 14th Feb ), on how design can transform SMEs. I need the success stories where designers have done their due. If you can send me 'product' pictures (before/after) with sales/profit figures would be a contribution to the cause. Yes, I would make sure that the due credits are shown.
I am deliberately focusing on Product Design, as that is the next 'Graphic Design' :).
Suggestions, comments welcome.
Manoj Kothari
Founder Director and Senior Design Strategist
Onio Design Pvt. Ltd.
Sense | Starategize | Design
NID-PD 97 | IITBombay B.Tech Mech. 92

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Intuitivity, iPodability, fuzziability etc. etc.

Yesterday I saw the TED podcast of JeffHan's intuitive computer interface. Today I came across a new free (so far) brainstorming tool real cool...intuitive..just like a person laden with thoughts would like to do...not to be bothered by 'dragging and droppings' but flowing ideas..just keep writing....This is in the aftermath/backdrop of launch of iPhone...moving two fingers over the screen to enlarge a picture. 'Click' is about to die, the way 'dialling' died after the invent of modern telephones...Key-board manufacturers need to worry?

I have some lingering doubts in my mind i.e. touching the object, that you see...the same screen where you see your photo or information...touching with fingers may have some cognitive mismatch....And isn;t it funny that western world prefers not to touch the food (use spoon) but when it comes to touch dead-materials i.e. monitors they want to use fingers...more and more products would join the bandwagon of using intuitive interface ....too much use of fingers over the life-less material would cause numbing sensation too soon...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Eternal Bard :)

Tere dar pe sanam hazaar baar aayenge,
tere dar pe sanam hazaar baar aayenge,
Ganti bajayenge aur bhaag jayenge.......

Equity advice for Design Entreprenuers

For fellow design entrepreneurs,

I have seen this thread some time back but could not reply. I think the time has come when designers running small companies need to let go of the 100% hold and expand the reach with someone else's money. It is easier said than done. We at Onio have had several rounds of discussions with 'VCs' and 'Angel Investers'. In this process I also met and got some guidance from my IIT classmates and collegues who have played the equity game several times till now. By the way, Onio also successfully managed some capital inflow last year through an angel investment.

There are thousands of books on how to write a buisness plan and how to judge a VC's offfer. But I am answering only some top-level inquiries in the minds of a design entrepreneur. But please remember that like in colour theory, there are thousand thumb rules....but when you are in the middle of it...and your gut feel says, it is a 'Go'...then dump all the rules and just go for it...

Here are my learnings-

1. How much is your business (services) worth?
In the DotCom times...people valued their business up to 10 times their total turnover (there are several parameters in terms of kind of accounts/brands being handled, age of the business etc...I am only touching upon some thumb rules...). You can also cut your pie at your 15-20 times your profit. If you are holding IPRs which would make tomorrow's iPods then it can be 100 times your profit as well :).

2.How much should you let go in terms of initial equity?
Expereinced people advice that lesser the better. Don't let the 'control' go to a stranger for few bucks. 10%-15% is good enough dilution. Take money from two people with smaller chunks of money rather than from single entity. But Investors would never settle for less than 25-30%. Figure of 26% has special legal angle as, it give 'vito' rights to the investor, against any decision taken by the board. So you should probably stop at 25%.

But underline is that all depends on the deal you are getting. If APPLE is buying you stake and offering you some money for 98% stake for you company, hmmm..may be that 2% is worth more than 100% of you company all your life :).

3. How to gauge the investor?
People say that this is like an arranged marriage. You have a gamble of you life...but you need to be informed. You need to be informed about the background of your investor, as much as he needs to be aware about your corporate health. You need to meet the people at the companies, he/they invested in earlier. You need to do some 'googling' etc. It is never about how big a company and how influential a person, is investing in your company, it is more about 'personal comfort' you have with your investor.

4. What about Debt funds?
Yes, if you can garner bank funds, loans etc. for your next leap, please go ahead. That is the esiest way to save equity dilution for next expansion. We at Onio also managed a Credit Line, from a PSU bank, which came handy for buying office etc. It rquired a good gentleman bank-manager and a lots of explaining on what we do...A credit line of few-lakhs is a first option every entreprenur should try lose nothing, but you get a support-life-line for liquidity crunches.

For more info, write to me personally.

Manoj Kothari
Founder Director and Senior Design Strategist
Onio Design Pvt. Ltd.
NID-AEP-PD 1997, B. Tech. IIT Bombay 1992

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Against Racism

A scene also took place on a BA (British Airway) flight betweenJohannesburg and London. A white woman, about 50 years old, was seatednext to a black man. Obviously disturbed by this, she called the airHostess. "Madam, what is the matter?" the hostess asked. "Youobviously do not see it then?" She responded. "You placed me next to ablack man. I do not agree to sit next to someone from such a repugnantgroup. Give me an alternative seat." "Be calm please," the hostessreplied. "Almost all the places on this flight are taken. I will go tosee if another place is available." The hostess went away and thencame back a few minutes later."Madam, just as I thought, there are no other available seats in theeconomy class. I spoke to the captain and he informed me that there isone seat in the business class. All the same, we also have one seat inthe first class." Before the woman could say anything, the hostesscontinued: "It is unusual for our company to permit someone from theeconomy class to sit in the first class. However, given thecircumstances, the captain feels that it would be scandalous to makesomeone sit next to someone so disgusting."She then turned to the black guy, and said, "Therefore, sir, if youwould like to, please collect your hand luggage, a seat awaits you infirst class."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Insight India 2007 at Copenhagen | Onio Design

Greeting from Onio Design!

Is your company/client involved/interested in Innovation for Indian market?

This is to invite you for an exclusive event ‘Insight India 2007’, March 15-16, 2007 at the Danish Design Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark being organized by Onio Design and Style-Vision in collaboration with the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies (CIFS), Copenhagen.

Onio is an integrated design and innovation consulting company with clientele like LG, IKEA, Volkswagen, McKinsey, TATAs, Godrej, Siemens, HPCL and several small to mid-size companies to its credit. Rated as one of the top Design Companies in India (Business World, 2005), Onio is spearheading the design revolution in India. Our partner, Style-Vision, France is one of the World's leading Trend Research company with clients that include Sony, Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, Philips, Adidas, Burberry, Estée Lauder, Chanel, Peugeot etc. to name a few. Onio and Style-Vision co-edit MegaTrends (a quarterly trend report, authored by 15 creative thinkers across the World).

Onio Design and Style-Vision have earlier successfully organised ‘Trends workshop 06’ in Mumbai (Feb 06, Sponsored by Pantaloon and attended by likes of HLL, ITC, Philips, Titan, VIP, TI Cycles etc.) and ‘Insight India 2006’, in September, in London (with participants from P&G, Steelcase, PearlFisher, Hitachi, Symrise etc.).

This unique interactive two day event is for people who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Indian consumers, from a 'traditions, trends and design' perspective.

Who should participate- Those who play a key role in shaping the innovation strategies for Indian market (in products, services and communication front) i.e. country heads, head of strategy, brand managers, product heads, communication designers, product designers, R&D heads and marketing heads.

We invite your participation and hope to share useful insights that would shape the market in years to come. Networking with global managers is a promised return.

For participation, please fill in the registration form for the round table (open to 20 participants only). For more details, click-on to .

With warm regards,

Manoj Kothari

Onio Design Pvt. Ltd.
'Begin Differently' - Sense Strategize Design

Ph(O): +91 20 2729 2173 Ext- 202 (D)+91 20 3290 1392
Telefax- +91 20 2729 2174

USA(O) +1 -610-295-5179

Survey 1/3, Plot 15
Next to Amar Apex
Baner Road
Pune- 411 045


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Excellence in Design

What is Excellence in Design?

I am going to face this question this afternoon from Prof. Sethuraman from NID. He is on a sabbatical, posing this question to practicing designers.

Well, question is a tricky one. Just like asking what thirst is, to a fish in water….what is light, to a lamp…Somehow it is easy to say the measures of excellence in other fields. In engineering, it is optimum energy usage, material usage, minimum human interaction, longer span of uninterrupted working etc. could be easy parameter to home on. Design, as a profession is changing its ‘brand character’ since last few years. When cave-man first discovered usage of fire and used a wheel for various things is now called the beginning design. What Onio is doing to lot of SMEs to go global through innovation strategies and product overhauls, is also design. What NID does for Bamboo development, khadi development and crafts rejuvenation is design too. And what initiative Sam Pitroda and Rajiv Gandhi could do to India’s telecom scenario and make the telephone available to a remote village through innovative small-exchanges is also called design. Sustainability in industrial production is design, energy and architectural conservation is also design……well, is America’s attack on Iraq is design too? India’s emergence as a powerful economy is design too? I think and I live, is it design too? One needs to get real. Design needs to get real as far as the definition goes. Design thinking and Design skill are not to be confused with each other. Design thinking can pervade humanity, but design as a skill, can only be available to trained few. This skill of research, articulation and correlation of human needs, then visualization and prototyping of solutions is something that needs training. This skill is what is needed in the developing economies the most. Skill not only in the visual arts (we already have thousands of colleges and institutions teaching visual arts in the country), but the skill of creating innovative, usable, optimized and humane products for the new society. ….
( I could not complete this …and meeting already took place…here the views are after the meeting synthesis)

It is important to understand the difference in the times we are living compared to classical origin of design profession. Speed, the new driving force of life around us today. Speed food, speed working, speed strategy, speed dating, speed marriage……life is hinging around speed. More output can only be achieve by speed….hence every science is pushed to increase the speed. But this speed is also causing visual blur…and psychological backlash. On one side the entire design (in fact every industry) industry is catering to this speed and consumption, on other side there is hue and cry in one lobby trying to discuss the separation in ‘sensation’ and ‘cognition’, the ‘touch’ and the ‘image’, the left and the right brain, the speed and the restive reflection, the blur and the synthesis. This speed has given rise to existential problems….loss of identity and anchors. Who am I , is the biggest question that faces the today’s sellers and consumers.

Result is that the design has become –
a) Integration at a highly complex level (‘Simplexity’ as a trend has been discussed in many forums). It is no more about singular exuberance i.e. good form, grear function, or great economics. It is no more design for a consumer or manufacturer, it is design for the value-chain.
b) Success is also collaborative process (individual excellence or intellect is subdued under the weight of consortium approach)
c) Sensation, skill, insight, experience….has got devalued under the weight of cognition, strategy, thought, words and images.
d) Technology, has emerged as an important differentiator that can bring cheers or tears, through the value-chain.

Excellence in such a scenario is highly fragmented phenomena. It is no more elemental success of aesthetics, or economics or usability. It is about integrated success. It is about collaborative win. It is about ownership that every contributing partner could bring to the table, where the rewards were kept. But caution, while it all seems every ‘extroverted’ phenomenon, excellence still remains at the core of individual. Sethu talked about ‘satisfysing’ (satisfying individual needs and aspirations).

Another thought occurred to me from ancient Indian philosophy….’Sarv jan hitay, sarv jan sukhaya’…(for benefit of all, for happiness of all). Could this be Onio’s philosophy?

Parting shot- Does Onio design strive for ‘excellence’ in design?