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?