Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Young Designers of India: Time to Act

Nothing succeeds like success. Talking alone, goes only as far. Economy is bubbling and the new breed of Indian designers is ready to take on the world…just like the last generation. Not only in India but across the world, designers have been talking of changing the world for almost a century. India is on a threshold of change; a tectonic change. It is just about time to stop conferencing, stop talking, stop musing and get going with piercing speed into doing own bit. All this while when economy was waking-up, there was time to philosophize and surmise. Now even if we can implement 10% of what has already been thought, India can prosper and world can benefit.

Everyone knows there are bigger problems in India of illiteracy, water, power etc. etc. Designers should forget about them. Yes, no point yelling for grand purposes if they are not within your reach immediately. Having grand ideas and miniscule power in hand can only make a day-dreamer out of you. Finally one needs a Shahjahan to have the power and money to patronize a grand idea of Tajmahal. Alone the architects and the artists could have achieved zilch. Wait for that turn, keep the hopes alive, converse about the ideas in close forums but in open, just act.

Business today are looking at design finesse; the finesse of skills. Skills that can match the skills gotten by the grand daddies of the design world. Nobody is looking at how many awards you have won, or how many forums you have spoken in…India still needs a person who knows how to draw well; how to visualize the futuristic and pragmatic products; how to articulate the nuances of the consumer sentiments; how to interweave the local concerns with the business needs; and how to convert the wonderful looking digital renderings into a tangible and sensible product through good engineering.

All this will add up to some world class brands from India. Do we know a single brand that speaks globally today? There have been some overtures off late. There lies the next challenge for Indian designers to align with the businesses that have global vision rather than living in the small dungeon playing with narcissistic muses. Every designer should be aware of the ‘sustainability’ concerns, but does not mean that every designer India produces should only cater to ‘craft sector’? Who will build the luxury brands? Who will create the new aesthetics? Who will generate enough money that philanthropy will have a chance? There will be designers and there will be people who create wealth.

Designers should stop talking to fellow designers. Yes, start talking to the world. All the conferences that revolve around good rounds of ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’, would do no good to design tycoons in making. They were good in the years when there was no shoulder to cry on. It is time to gird up our loins, take a knapsack the romp the areas still untrodden.

All these will happen, but no alone. For this, you don’t need to create another forum for designers. I am talking about finding the right patrons; who see value in the design thinking; who see value in a great mind. That is a reality of design world and will remain. Align with the organization that has vision of going beyond the obvious market statistics and that has the eye for details while the working on the mega ideas. Such organizations or individuals are the torch bearers of change in India that will be. Talk to them, try to look out for them, eulogies them, enrich their brand equity, strengthen them in the way you can. That will surely be a step in the right direction, unless you have a will and power to be one of them. Till then, stay quiet and work hard. Smoke less and save energy. You will need it tomorrow.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Leading by scenarios: Learning from the kids

I came across this exercise conducted by Sonali, a friend of mine who caringly teaches kids under 10, where majority of them are from rural background. Kids were told to write a story/essay on their village and then draw it out. Results were surprising. Story-telling, could be so telling...I knew but this was illuminating... Look at how vivid and clear imagery do kids carry, of their village-

Now look at the second one. This kid is from a village called Vashi, which actually has been gobbled up by the expanding city of Mumbai and one can see the multi-storey apearing in the picture. There is a train station in which three trains are standing.

These two images below, show how a village by the highway appears to a kid. Kid could see the jungle thick with trees beyond the village, and a highway divides the jungle and the village. Along the highway there are many restaurants....(you can see the chairs and the table)..even the milestones and direction boards are visible here.

This kid shows a temple which has lots of stairs to climb, as an important element of the village. One can see another temple in the background. Roads are more clearly marked and houses are relegated to side elements here.

This kid draws out her village as the one full of houses...no trees, only jungle of buildings ...one can see a church in the side. Houses are also multi-storied and not huts. There are no clearly demarketed roads like in the earlier cases. It appears to be more of a case of a 'slum' or some ghetto areas of city depicted rather thn a village.

What clicked in my mind is that the way child can be so illustrative about his/her imagery if once queued with words, the same way designers can pick-up better concepts, they can conceptualise better if brief is told as a scenario, rather than what many of us are familiar with.
I am sure some of the best leaders in the world also rule through 'scenarios' rather than 'instructions'.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Vision Monologues on Packaging and Innovation in India


Packaging is no more what it used to be. Nice wrappers are a passé. Beautiful ‘experience’ is the new world of packaging. ‘Out of Box experience’ is what is being talked from ‘Apple’ to ‘Nike’ to ‘Chyavanprash’ alike. That is the new economy in India.
From plastics to multicoated papers to corrugated sheets to natural materials, packaging is redefining itself. Finishes and printing technology that is available to all, however high-tech they be, become a no brainer very soon. With increasing access to this wide variety of quality packaging, consumer’s attention span is reducing and they seek fresher experience with every purchase.

Another important tweak in the game is the structural packaging that never went out of the fashion, yet new demands are being generated everyday because of changing lifestyle. Gifting becoming a big trend in India, will see the need for better small packaging soon. Postal department will soon see an overhaul of the packaging options in the lines of western countries. Retail revolution will bring along packaging for stuff that is never sold in the western markets and would need totally Indian thought i.e. semi cooked chapattis.

While ‘experience’ is defining the front end, ‘sustainability’ is on the tail-end now which could soon catch-up as a buzz word in the cluttered market. Indian consumers could soon be looking for ‘recyclables’ stamp as more of a necessity than a fashion statement. Indian culture is used to REUSE. This could become a great differentiator for a packaging company, if applied with a focused vision.


When whole of India is talking volume and scale, one must gear up for the next challenge beyond volume delivery. Well the answer is ‘Innovation’ which actually is a no brainer today. But most of the time, innovation is sporadic, personal opinion based rather than based on sensing from the ground; very very ‘current situation based’ rather than futuristic; too much controlled by current technology rather then based on ‘insights and the need of the user’. This is usually the scenario in companies that have grown organically or have a traditional management set-ups. Have you ever wondered, when the bathrooms are becoming smaller day by day in the apartment system and they all are rectanglular/square, why the buckets, tubs, mugs etc, should still be circular? Just to save the mould cost?

‘Design Thinking’ is about infusing the thought of COMPREHENSIVE & CREATIVE thinking at every part and every level of organization (not just product design). From Design to Dealer, and from Plant to Product, every link in the chain should resonate with making things better. GOOD LOOKS of the brand, product, packaging etc. are just the very first manifestations of it.

Very recent example is Tata’s Nano car….it is not just the product design innovation…the innovation has happened across value-chain…from component design to supply-chain, to retailing plan…all have been creatively put-together to leverage the scale and economy. Pantaloon (Future Group) has trained several levels of top management in ‘Design Management’ in a pioneering effort. They really believe that Design Thinking alone can give them insulation against poaching and foreign brand invasion.

The Design Thinking is what Onio takes ahead in all its interactions and offerings, deeply grounded in ‘strategy’ based on ‘sensing insights’.

We believe that Indian brands can do wonders if they learn how to seed the future with insights into fast evolving social patterns and combined it with systematic innovation/design-thinking.

Alchemy of Innovation: Design Thinking At Onio

Innovation is a complex phenomenon today, immersed in the deep web of market dynamics, individual preferences, regulations, technology, user contexts, cultural nuances, brand legacy and several other interacting factors. Designers and engineers who are fresh from college are severely trailing behind the preparedness needed for innovating in such a paradigm. Here is an elaboration of some criticalities as we experienced in last one decade of managing an innovation hub-

Endless iterations, trying to accommodate every point of view (from boss to client to user) can sap out the essence of good idea. A pragmatic call on where to put the foot down; how to retain the essence of initial conception; how to articulate the process by which the concept has evolved so that super-boss does not wipe-out the work in a sweeping sentence etc. are some of the key learning that need to be inculcated in the new force that joins the team.

We have seen that clearly there are two kinds of people, those who constantly upgrade their own knowledge base, skills and those who don’t. The first kind would always find ways and means to browse through the latest update in their field, be it a good looking design idea or a good piece of graphic They are the ones who would insist on subscribing to a new journal and would fret if that does not happen. They would have a personal network of friends who refer them tips and leads about what’s cool. They would have their strong opinion on the things around them and will express it through blog as well. This creed is the real life line of an innovation center. Other kind are usually driven by what is right- Boss could be right or the client could be right. They always put customer first, and rightly they won laurels for completing assignments on time. So a right balance has to be struck between these populace in the team.

Innovators, as a creed, hate documentation. This is one last useless piece of activity that always pushes them to an internal revolt. However, this is a step that no innovation center can afford to ignore from day one. The process that went by, new learning that took place, team that played a key role, new materials that were explored, finishes that work on particular surface and not on the other, how the client reacted to particular line of ideas, and what strategy worked in terms of presentation …..last but not the least, getting the final story together that would come handy selling similar assignment to the next client. These are the things that an innovation center should take up with an alert priority but usually not possible due to looming project.

Innovation ideas with a free-flow, open the flood gates of thinking through the design competitions. They are a good way to rejuvenate and synergize the sluggish teams. They can do what a great people manager can not, for an innovation team.

Structured and forward thinking is not everybody’s business. Some are naturally gifted for this, while others in the innovation team are more hands-on people. They revel in perfecting a hand skill and find all the ‘thinking part quite boring. Library and the workshop both have their own place in the innovation team. Inspirations and sense of achievement both would differ for these to kinds and should be treated differently.

There is a technical term of this kind. However, here I am referring to ‘ability to quickly give a physical/tangible shape to ideas’. Prototyping could be done on a paper through sketches or it can be done in a fabrication workshop or it can be done in a stereo-litho machine. Scenarios and prototyping is one big capability any innovation team requires. This, combined with story-telling capabilities become the power-drive for the innovation center. Nurturing the ‘prototyping’ capabilities is one of the key goals of managing innovation.

Over the period we have realized that ‘design’ per se is a commodity i.e. once told what needs to be done, there are several qualified teams who can do that in a clinical precision. But today, WHAT TO INNOVATE is a bigger question then HOW. Ethnography, cultural trend reading, social psychology, user trip etc. are some of the key ingredients of a new age innovation team which give a highly gilded edge to the innovation team.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Perfection and Speed

I read it somewhere long time back, but I reconfirm it-
" A common trap for design thinking is searching for perfect designs—the belief that there is a single right answer to a given problem, and a designer should be able to realize it given enough time. In many cases, the best possible design (if there is such a thing) isn't worth more than a good one, especially if it takes twice as much time to find it. "

However this quote does not discount the role of 'attention to details', only limits it in a pragmatic way. This combination is becoming rarer and rarer.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Learning to Liberate

Basics of creativity are still the same. Young kids at Akanksha Foundation (working on making education a pleasant experience amongst less previleged kids at Pune) could learn the deft knife movements on car papers to create these beautiful paper bags. Sonali, the volunteer teacher at this center just showed them this once and kids could pick up the skill in no time. It was amazing to see then the body of work around Japan, kids could generate and learn. No amount of class roon teaching, not even digital lessons would have helped this unless they immersed themselves in creating charts and props and interactive games on Japan.
In a path breaking step, this foundation wrote to schools around the world to join this initiative make kids of their school to become pen pals of Akanksha kids. It was amazine to see schools world over responding with zest to this call. Soon the letters were flowing across the borders. It was not emails, mind you, but hand written real emotion filled letters. I think there are some basics which are not going to go away. Teaching and learning- education over all, has some basic goals- as Krishnamurthy says- "to liberate". Unless education liberates the mind, there is no education. When we were conducting design research on an education portal for a world software giant recently, we found that how Indian kids are passively busy with tuition classes, hobby classes (forced by parents), TV watching and home-works....there is not time for PLAY..no time for SYNTHESIS....Parents are busy, so are kids. Every one wants to be the topper of the class and at the same time, speak smartly in the gatherings....Race to the top begins early in the childhood, leading to very very fragile nervous system by the time child grows up to become the citizen of the country. Education system in India needs an overhaul. Overhaul towards a more open, playful, interactive and real experience based learning. When will schools learn this. When will parents learn this?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Organised Micro-Innovation is the Key to New India

Micro-Innovation is not new. Several organisations are already in place trying to tap the rural innovation, individual innovation etc. etc. I am talking about institutionalised micro-innovation. Something like creating a super-computer using the networked millions of home-computer.
To be expanded....

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rejoinder to Tata Nano

'पैसा आने से अमीरी नही आती, अमीरी की आदत डालनी पड़ती है"(Luxury is a habit, not a perk)- I heard this dialogue in a soap opera. India is yet to get used to the new found wealth. When I drive the car, I am not only careful about the way I drive, but I am also account for other's hap hazard driving (usually two wheelers). This creed of two wheeler owners who go criss-cross on road, will start driving cars on day (Nano) and soon they would understand the problems they used to create. I think it would be a win-win situation :).

Lighter note aside, I am dead serious about certain public best practices falling in place once a SYSTEM of good infrastructure falls in place. Vashi railway station in New Bombay is an example of this. It was one of the path breaking step in Station Building as far as India is concerned. People had not seen sparkling granite flooring in station buildings 10 years back. everyone was sarcastic about the concept "hmm...what about the paan-spitters, that plague India) ". Well, this station survived the paan-eaters. People behaved. It is no more about 'India is like this only'...it is just wealth, well applied... my dear.

Tata Nano

One can call this a phenomenon of the year. The amount of media coverage and raging debates it has generated is unparalleled in the recent times. World is just about to understand the term '1 lakh'. I wont be surprised if it is inlcuded in the dictionary in the coming years like 'bazaar' and 'pyjama'.

Autorishaw drivers see the silver lining in it. It is an achievable dream. They can afford to buy it and replace the old rickety contraption they were cursed with, which saves them neither from hot and sultry climate and nor from rain. 8 million 2 wheeler buyers in India (one can assume that out of them at least 4 million would be just bike owners -without any 4 wheeler ownership), who dream of one day owning a car, can make this dream come true. I used to wonder and pity Indian traffic policemen, who themselves have never driven a car, usually make money on 2 wheeler owners. They rarely stop a car to check the papers and license. Probably there is some colonial remanents in that interaction which stops them from questioning the car drivers. I guess, Nano is going to level that off.

Auto-rickshaw should be called an inspiration for Nano. As a design student I have seen a million attempts on redesigning Autorikshaw for modern Indian cities. But none saw the light of the day. One wonders was Bajaj, the owner and maker of legendary autorikshaws, sleeping all this while on this gold mine? They could have easily made variants of this three wheeler that would be styled nicely enought to entice a family car-aspirant. Monopoly is the mother of lethargy in the orgnisation. Modern times where competition only survives on high adrenalin of innovation, such legands are doomed to go the Darwin's way.

There have been several voices of Indian roads choking to death with 8 million Nano on roads in next few years. When a rich man buys a hummer that guzzles the gallons on road, or keeps 4 cars for a family of three, is it not an atrocity on road? I think every one should have a fair chance of polluting and enjoying life :). As a reader of Trends I can assure that a counter trend would alreayd set in by the time Nano reaches its peak i.e. return to two wheelers. Those who want a bet, get in touch.

Last but not the least, I read reviews and reviews of this car. No designer was named for this styling/innovation. Mr. Ratan Tata was the sole designer and visionary. Styling/Industrial Design must have played a role here for sure, but it was rather puny in front of other innovations in supply-chain, engine design, engineering materials and distributions strategy it seems to have pulled off. 'Design myopia' can never get a better panecea than this. This is the begining of India thinking in design on a broader level. Indian sensibilitites in design relate to 'Indian usability' more than 'Indian aesthetics' (at least as of now).

That all for now!! I am awaiting an Indian luxury brand with as much curiosity!!