Thursday, July 21, 2011


Onio completed 14 years last week on 14th July 2011. In the fast evolving economy bubbling with increasingly aware consumers, India-centric innovation is just about taking shape. I remember the very first years of Onio where we were struggling to find product design assignments and were actually forced to take on graphic-design assignments for sheer survival. Later, we almost became a dotcom supporting portal design company.

 The beginning of design-led innovation renaissance in India started happening only in the last 5-6 years. It has happened not because home-grown companies developed a love for design and innovation but it is because the foreign companies started feeling the need to differentiate their products in the emerging economies. However, everyone is a winner in the scene that is unfolding now. Innovation frontiers are getting pushed for the better.
Keener and deeper understanding of emerging users is becoming a defacto method for new product development. Statistics, though being a backbone of any decision, has now found a competent partner in qualitative research methods. This rapidly changing scenario affected Onio in several ways.

ONE: Our team had to constantly remain under ‘hyper-learning mode’. I don’t understand how an established company in this field claim that they have a ‘process’ for innovation that is ‘tried and tested’ over decades. Knowledge gets obsolete faster than the computer chips! Our team had to struggle its way through the methods learnt at college which were antique at best, to grapple with emerging technologies, consumers, socio-cultural scenario, evolving clients, new tax regimes and often, far-off travel.
TWO: We realized that innovation is not a one-way process. It is not about hiring an agency, and ‘fill it, shut it, forget it’. It is about constantly working WITH the agency. Hence a good innovation project is about equally dependent capabilities of the ‘handler’ as much as the capabilities of the consulting team. Often we have seen mid-course corrections in the briefs. No word, even if coming from the head of the company, is sacrosanct, in a world dominated by consumer voice today. Working closely with all the stakeholders is the only reality.

THREE: There are no shortcuts on the hyper-busy route to innovation. Long experience, digital simulations, imported technology, media power, Chinese connections or an expat CEO- none can hasten the evolution of a winning idea. They can surely soften the impact of early failure but user insights, systems thinking and constant prototyping are some time-tested methods which take their own time.
FOUR: All it takes is ONE primed and energised mind to lead the light in the innovation projects. It may sound contradictory to co-creation, team work, collaboration etc. but it is not. In times of information hyper-flux, organised innovation is still a single-lead challenge only to be supported by other stakeholders. In order to cut the multiple options at a given point of time in the innovations process, real synthesis can only be precipitated by this one mind.

FIVE: Real innovation is only complete with beautiful looks. India, a country obsessed with ‘functionality’ and ‘value for money’ is often misread as a market that does not pay for ‘good looks’. Several failures of products like Renault’s Logan car and insights from several of our own researches prove that the Indian market gets over the initial flush of low price and decent functionality much faster than businesses think. Infact, ‘decent functionality with dashing looks’ (or DFDL) is my understanding for guiding the future innovations for ‘emerging markets’.
FINALLY: Fourteen years is all about a ‘new teenager in town’. In the world of modern design and innovation which has luminaries starting from Leonardo da Vinci, fourteen years are really nothing. Each day, new start-ups are being born out of new energy and confidence of emerging India. Everyday, new stories of ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ are polishing new beautiful minds. Onio is a small flicker in the illumined new world of innovation. Innovation always makes some people live better lives, generates wealth for many and makes certain societies and countries stand up and be counted. Onio however, believes that it is time for a ‘balanced call now’. In the years to come, when the teenager takes a little walk around the town, hopefully he will mature into a fine human being who is compassionate, intelligent, courageous and forward looking.

(in pic: 14th Anniversary March of Onions)