Thursday, April 19, 2012

Emperor of the New Bind

An advice for freshers in the creative industry

Over fifteen years now, we have been involved in recruiting designers and other personnel connected to creative industry. Every month now, at least a hundred resume and portfolios from fresh graduates land-up on our company email, seeking internship or employment. In a small company like ours, it sometimes becomes difficult even to acknowledge all of them. Surprisingly, in an industry that is 50 years old in India, it is difficult to find people with experience more than five years on a consistent area/platform. So the creative industry, especially designers, ends up employing a whole younger lot. I have been noticing that there has been a change in expectations from ‘fresher’ in the profession. Our own knowledge leadership in some areas has progressed from just 'product design' or 'graphic design' swiftly to ‘Design Research’, ‘India Insights’, ‘Megatrends & Foresighting’, ‘Productisation’  'Creative Engineering' etc. while speed of delivery, like any other field, has also gone up. I thought it would be good to jot down some of the basics that we struggle to inculcate in the freshers. Infact this may be useful to all ‘freshers in the service industry’ on how to prepare brace for the changing professional world around them.

1.      QUICK PRIMING:  Lead team goes and meets clients. Understands their business complexity and vision stages. Team also expounds the work done earlier at Onio at length and comes back charged with the mandate to be handed over to the creative team. At this juncture, seniors in the team are looking for quick resonances of the though process within the team. A classical mind suggests “this is just the beginning of the assignment...just collecting information right now”- While the new mind actually puts the project on the mental assembly line already. Mind starts searching immediate correlations, possibilities and some time even some preliminary thoughts on outcome, without getting attached to it.  In a days’ time, the new mind has actually chewed the content and it is now ready with a set of some important questions for the client. New mind’s best tool is Google and the best friend is solitude. New mind is absorbs fast and tries to run concurrently on conception and delivery.

2.      STRUCTURE IT: Sun Tzu says in the ‘Art of War’- “that army shall win which arrives first and waits for the enemy”. In the era of downpour of information and reducing attention span, it is stupid to let the audience /boss/client structure the content pushed down to them. People want to grab the sense of everything you are saying, top down i.e. they quickly want to understand the macro-context and then a ‘bit’ of micro. Rarely someone wants to go whole hog in your presentations. We work with European clients as well with Asian clients. Koreans would insist on putting complete story on one slide, with top five conclusions/actions also. While Europeans would call it kitsch and would go in a more story telling way. However, our experience shows that the world is tilting to East now. How fast a person can assimilate thoughts and how smoothly one can put them in visual hierarchy, gets the cake.

3.      HOT FRONT SEATING:  It is usually cozy back there. The one on the front has to go through the grill of handling comments and expectation on the opposite ends. Sooner one gets the taste of being there on the front, the faster his/her personality gets the boost. Those who let themselves fall in the background, remain untouched from the brutal shocks of ‘prim and proper communication’, tight deadlines, negotiation on the delivery front etc., but they also lose all the glamour of meeting high & the mighty, travel to far off places and also building a personal brand.

4.      10000 HOUR RULE STAYS: Well this is not my proposition. Malcom Gladwell already proposed it in ‘Outliers’. I am just copying it for the sake of validating his point of view and supporting it with my experience. We have seen how smooth talkers with no-substance winning the first chance, but sooner or later, they fall like a dry leaf. Getting a good command on any domain and any skill is going to take years. More than often, you would need a good guide and a mentor in the initial years, who could happen to be a tough boss. Persevere it. People who found their way inside Onio by being street smart were also shown the street soon Organisation has its own mind. System, sooner of later, ejects a person not really fitting in. On the contrary, those who began humbly; built their skills brick by brick and remained honest about it, proved to be the winners and became a darling of the team.

5.      POSITIVITY MEETS POSITIVITY: As one enters the organization, one comes across a variety of people and a variety of vibes. A happy lot will be envied. A disgruntled lot will try to increase their clout. The neutral lot will try to see the newbie with indifference and “let’s see” eyes. It is up to the new entrant, to pick up the right side of the situation. No system can hang in negativity for long. It resolves itself one way or the other. So make sure to listen to those who are still anchoring positivity. There must be deeper reasons. 

6.      CURATE YOUR WORK: Care for your work and your work place like ‘painting of the Monalisa in Louvre’ respectively. However ordinary the job and the work place is, it must be taken just about a little less than the worship (equating the daily work to worship, denigrates the spiritual realm, in my opinion).  People who forget to close the door behind or to put the chair back in place when they leave, are actually the people who can’t find the document in time or can’t recall an important conversation with the client. People who were found to be careless in communication were also the people who were careless in their work. Though there are exceptions everywhere. Seniors are always looking for a person whom they can trust for full delivery of a task assigned. People who are half committed to themselves, are also half committed to the work and the company they are working for.

AUTOEXPO 2012 - Memoirs

Better late then never. This post was written long back...didn't get to post it.

We chose to go there on non-media and non press day, primarily to see how consumers react to the new launches and experiences created by the emerging biggest auto market of the world. And just to put on the record, people/consumers didn’t disappoint us, but the new products on display did.

Queue to get into the Autoexpo- of those, who had a valid ticket

Car colors are spilling over to LCVs now

One of the eye-catcher styling- Renault Dezir

Real-Virtual integration at Maruti Stall- LIKES
on facebook are displayed instantly on the large screen at the entry and exit

Camera styling now crossing over to scooters- TVS Qube

Affable styling of Maruti XAlpha concept- reminds of Swift- the hot seller
hatchback small car

BMW stall- Launching the Mini - Thanks for lifting it up for public view- Crowd swelled to unbearable levels later

Entering the expo at 11am in the morning, we were on our toes till 6pm in the evening. Seven hours of visual blitzkrieg and several pulls and pushes in the crowd, left us utterly tired. We entered through gate seven, and headed straight to Maruti pavilion. Lack of proper signage is not something new to Indian eyes. While malls, roads, airports and hospitals are getting the due upgrades which India didn’t think, will happen to it so fast, signage and navigation guidance is a missing piece in the puzzle. Western best practices of certain distance, and certain signage are followed, but the kind of crowd that swells up in India is something unforeseen under ‘global best practices’. We need bolder and bigger signboard that can be read from 30-40 feet away. Signboards that are placed below 10 feet height get obscured by the people themselves. Once inside the venue, you are literally left to guide yourselves by looking at the tallest hoardings/banners of the halls. Later, I noticed some people passing by the hall, where huge banner of Mahindra was hanging (though the brands like Renault, Enfield, Hero, Bajaj were also present), saying “arey chal, Mahindra ko kya dekhna ( hey, let’s skip Mahindra)”.  Searching for toilets was not so difficult. One can just ask any guard and he promptly points the direction. However, there were no sign of the signage here, which is assumed to be a basic mandate for any event of this size.

Maruti, stall stood out, in my opinion on several counts. It did present an aggressive styling stance in the new concepts, missing so far in vanilla mode it has been running. The small SUV styled on the lines of Swift, appeared to have got the elements of bold and robust styling along with elegance of the Swift. Indian sensibilities are not tuned to the extremes. Or I would say, there is a feminine touch to styling that Indian mind seeks. XUV of Mahindra has been styled with ‘prancing leopard’ as an inspiration yet it does appear ‘feminised’ in several elements. I also overheard that though Maruti presents several new ideas and refreshing styling in the concept models, but fails miserably in translating them into real products.  Maruti’s application of new color scheme on the existing models was refreshing. Use of multi-hued matt-metallic colors was refreshing. It was a sort of déjà-vu for us, as we had forecasted these colors for mobile phone two years back. Trickle down of trends from accessories to automobiles takes this much time. Another interesting element common to many stalls but more aggressively used by Maruti was using Facebook registration desk and fingerprint terminals at each display that picks up your ‘likes’ and runs a scroll on a giant screen at the exit. Exhibition design today is getting digital more and more. TVS stall had a giant cylindrical screen (360 degree), of around 10 meters diameter, with a co-ordinated projection through several projectors, creating a seamless experience of giant screen around you. Later, I met the MD of Insta Group in the flight on way back to Pune, the company who designed and executed the stall. I did congratulate him for the good work here and how his small company, which has acquired a  few companies abroad, is trying to make an Indian dent in the global exhibition industry.

In 2006, when we conducted the first ever Mega-trends conference in India, along with Style-Vision of France, the film ‘Dhoom’ was just released. The trend ‘Magic Kingdom’ took note of the economic and infrastructure revolution in the country and predicted that everything mega, over sized, super-powered and over designed is about to come to the country. One can see the power-bikes on display at Autoexpo and can see that this trend has matured. From TVS to Suzuki to Hero, all had put up ‘power’ version of the bikes. Polaris had put up the off-roaders on display. As the Trend ‘Hypershift’ predicts the boom in ‘activities’ rather than ‘relaxation’, in the times to come, off-roaders and SUVs or SUV looks are a foregone conclusion in automotives.

My personal favorite in styling was Renault’s Dezir. The sensuous curves of Ferrari legacy were well contrasted with Techno-fluid grills. Bionic design of seats,  gull-wing doors,  combined with magical use of LEDs were some of the interior elements that complemented the styling. Pixel from Tata was another refreshing styling. Reva redesign proved to be disappointing. Rear treatment of Reva made it look more boxier than it currently looks.

Bajaj’s RE-60 seemed to have lost the sheen it originally envisaged. People commenting on TV “arey, auto ko ek wheel aur laga diya hai (just another wheel added to the autorickshaw)”, had already toned down expectations.  We got to know that the primary market for RE-60 may actually be south-east Asian market rather than India. My own calculation with regards to Indian auto-market is that Bajaj is committing the same positioning mistake that Tata did with Nano. For an autorikshaw owner, Nano might now appear a worthwhile option after spending few more bucks. Indian consumers still get driven not by absolute virtues, but with relative comparisons. In my opinion, Bajaj should quickly plan another upstream product in small car range to fully utilize the potential of the innovation they have cobbled together without a foreign partner.

One of the noticeable things this time, at least for me, was presence of ‘Brand accessories’ by Enfield and Yamaha. Though the Enfield stall was badly designed the write-ups and the display of brand accessories was impressive. India is just about beginning to get the taste of ‘brand cults’, which are a purely western phenomenon.

We could not see the BMWs, Volkswagen, Merc stalls closely as the crowd swelled to a level where you are guided by the push and pulls of the crowd. One of the things common between them was that unlike others, despite having a large exhibition area, they enclose the stalls from the top also and use empty spaces and lights to maximize the appeal.

Overall, this year’s autoexpo proved to be standing at a lower alter than I expected. It did not have enough inspiring content- products, displays, event management and the perennial hunt  ‘India Insights’ – all seemed to be wanting. Probably this is the reason that this blog post I wrote immediately after coming back from the expo, yet it is being put on the net after four months.