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.