Sunday, August 08, 2010

It rains in July

It is a scorching sun in April and May. Even though the corporate budgets are usually sanctioned by March every year, they start spending them only by the rainy season. Every year we look forward to the monsoon in Pune as it changes the entire landscape to a lush green countryside. People start talking of treks and outings. Amidst heavy traffic, messy roads, absence of the sun and a lot of work at hand, we forget which day of the week is it. Occasional walks out of the office for a hot vada-pav (Very Indian potato filled counterpart of hamburger), and a hot masala tea is usually rejuvenating, just like calls from old clients and contacts who suddenly start resurfacing around this time. Every year we run into a dilemma of increasing our manpower muscle for this period or rather stay lean for the drier times of the year.
This year appears to be special. There is a lot of positive design news around the corner. India has got a ‘designed’ symbol for the rupee. It is a sign of India’s emerging status in the world economy. It is a great sign too that the symbol has been designed within the country and not farmed out to a fancy firm in UK or USA. Though personally I think this symbol may need revision soon. The usual ornamental/curvy nature of Indian aesthetics is missing from the current symbol along with visual solidity that I would like to imagine in a currency symbol. This entire exercise has brought Indian design and specially FONT design for Indian language in focus for sure. My friend Hashim P M (owner of Design Difference), a trained computer engineer-turned-communication designer-turned font designer would look forward to this new focus on the Indian economy.

Onio completed 13 years on the 14th of July. I got married to Onio and to Sonali the same day. What is thirteen years for an upcoming company in an upcoming profession in an upcoming country? Sometimes it takes several generations to make a dent that the world can notice. No, I know of exceptions like Infosys. But that is an exception. In thirteen years we have seen two deep slowdowns and survived. We undertook several tangent steps in these years that creative services company would rather not take. One of them was of taking in an active partner along with taking in strategic investments and successfully managing the share buy-back after three years. An immense amount of personal and organisational learning happened which has really prepared us for bigger leaps in future.

Another one was successfully running a KPO in design visualisation services, which is usually scorned upon in the design community. However, Onio has learnt better structured and process oriented delivery apart from a lot of learning on communication management. Creative services and structured delivery normally don’t see eye-to-eye.

My efforts in breaching the logjam of ‘design being something that ‘designers’ do in design studio and strategic decisions are taken by managers’ seem to be bearing fruit. Trend Research was something that caught my fancy a few years ago as one of the tools to attract the corporate mind. Scenarios for future, was anyway a passion for me. However, futurology per se was something that corporate clients were not ready to pay for in these years. Hence trends were something more tangible, immediate and strategic visualisation that went ahead with has paid dividends. Our recent assignments with super large consumer product companies in strategic trend research, across Indian shores, have been an exhilarating experience for Onio team. With these assignments we seem to be entering a new phase of Design practice which is in some ways a pioneering step for us as a country.

Last week the mainstream business newspaper, The Economic Times carried a special feature article on Onio (, as a leading company using Design Thinking for corporate business strategy. Our work on Secure Meters’ Brand Integration strategy, using Corporate Ethnography was celebrated on the masthead of the newspaper. This was surely a happy moment for me personally and for Onio. But beyond this, it was also a proud moment for the entire design community seeking recognition in the business circuit worldwide. Core77, the international design portal immediately snapped up this news and put this on their front page. Although, these are still tiny specs in recognition of the universe of creative thinking that a nation may need, yet my brand strategy mind says that more ‘touch points’ would always help take the cause ahead.

A large manufacturing led consumer product Indian brand is trying to adopt Design as a differentiator. Conversations with the senior management, after they sat through our research methodology presentations were quite revealing. They constantly kept talking about Colour, Material and Finish rather than the product innovation overall. “Changing product has serious implications on our assembly line, our vendor base readiness and the commoditised pricing in this market”. This made me wonder on what could be the driver for their sudden love for CMF, when they claimed to be number one in market already?

“It is the brand at number five, market share wise; they have much brighter and attractive colour options compared to us. They are not at the top in market share but number one in mind share and we better worry about that”. Design, has to make a beginning somewhere.