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February 12, 2018 - 24 comments

My experiments with ‘design’ and design thinking

Design has never been something that I have paid much attention to. I had always thought that design meant something fancy and artistic.

This thought was reinforced by people like my grandmother who would always say stuff like “designer hai” when she wanted to hand down ancient stuff belonging to my grandfather to us. She would say it with an impressed look on her face and her tone would be that of one doing someone a huge favour.

I would always fall for it, whether it was a white jacket which belonged to my mother of all people or a Sony ‘walkman’ when I asked for an iPod. She was and still is the ultimate salesman. She would give us stuff which when bought by her would have been cool and in vogue, but by the time we came into the picture, it would sadly have been obsolete or out of fashion years ago, with the air of someone handing out latest Rolex watches and Armani suits for free. When I grew up, design still meant designer only to me. This is part of being Indian I guess. We judge a product based on how much we have to pay for it. This is depicted in a Bollywood movie, where the hero pays 4 thousand rupees for a guava to impress the heroine. Only an Indian heroine can be impressed with such randomness. Anyway, this was when all my friends started obsessing over Nike shoes and Fasttrack watches. I also wanted those. And that, to me, was the pinnacle of designer-ness. I never thought design and designer could mean something completely different. I have also found that a lot of people still have similar or different thoughts about design in general. Given below are some of my observations on design.

 

Advertising level: Grandmother

Action ka school time.

When I was in school, till around class 5, shoes used to be Bata. That was it. No thinking, no choice, no doubts. You wanted shoes, you went to Bata.  Those Bata shoes were expensive, heavy and tough to maintain. Then Action shoes entered the picture. They caused a sensation over-night. Everyone wanted to buy those shoes. Their ads were all over. Every kid wanted to wear action shoes to school. They were essentially the same as the Bata ones. They were plain and black. But they were still way more popular. But everyone’s reason for liking the shoes was very different. Some liked the ads, some parents found them affordable. But in retrospect, it was actually just good design. We did not realise it then. Those shoes were easy to clean and maintain because they were not leather, they were light so they made walking around easier, they were soft so they were more comfortable.

Our parents might have known all this and decided to pay for the pair of shoes, but as kids, we just wanted them ‘cause the next guy had ‘em. I am not even sure if our parents thought this to be ‘well designed’. The concept of appreciating design for something like a shoe was non-existent.

Wow! What a painting.

Yes, this is something I have seen a lot over the years. Most of us in our country have associated design with art. So, when there is a beautiful painting or a dance performance (Indian, it has to be Indian) or a sculpture of Indian Gods being analysed, one can hear comments such as, “Wow. Look at the design da. Too good.” Or “Wow. Simply mind-blowing!” (Mind-blowing is incidentally one of the top ten phrases that irritate me, but moving on…)

There will also be this critical person who has a squint and says nothing but “Hmmm….hmmm…hmm.hm.” The word design has automatically come to be associated with the stereotypical Parisian artist with a beret on his head, or a Bengali film maker with a dhoti and sports shoes. Design has not entered the common lexicon. For us, there is no well-designed pencil or a well-designed couch. The couch is comfortable and the pencil is affordable. End of story.

But…..b-but… I am a writer!

I am quite the noob (for those of you who don’t know, noob is a gaming term that means newbie, fresher, greenhorn. Take your pick) in the design industry. I have been working as a copywriter for a year now. Wait a minute, copywriter? Then why have I been talking about design for so long? What the hell do I know? That is what I thought too. I entered my own peaceful world of making mistakes in commas and full stops and verbs and adverbs (much to the chagrin of my boss) and thought that this was my world. But, here at work and in my interaction with a lot of truly creative people I have learnt that design is not for a specific group of people.

Design is universal. A door knob fits your hand – design. A wash basin is at the ideal height for you – design. You sit comfortably on a chair – design. The marriage between design and functionality is a long standing one, but still a relatively new one to me. I am slowly realising that design, good design, is more than important for life. Good design is like a basic necessity. If that famous Hindi movie title had to be re-written today, it would be, “Round roti, fitting ka kapda aur weather-proof ghar” which basically means that everything, including the basic necessities of our life have to be well designed!

Design today

One always sees different teams from various colleges and big companies coming up with great ideas and products; from all over the world.  But in these teams, it has been my observation that the designers are never Indians. For the most, Indians are always involved in the technical aspect of the project. In any of the bigger global companies, Indians have reached the upper echelons of technology, but not design.It might not be a huge loss or a great topic of debate when one thinks of all the other issues plaguing our country, but in the long run I feel this will make or break our collective futures.

Like I mentioned earlier, a huge chunk of the uninformed think that ‘drawing and painting’ is design. It makes me cringe when a classmate of mine, who was one of the best artists I have ever seen, join an IT company. And there are not one, but many such examples in my own small world.  From different people I have met over the past year, including my boss, I hear about the clarity and vision of interns from various European countries. For them, design is part of their psyche. It is an integral part of their brain and comes very naturally to them. Their system and culture has to be given credit for this. Their countries and their cities are so well designed! I feel that the only way to rise up to their level is by introducing design as a compulsory course in our schools from the lowest to the highest classes. It should be as important as maths, physics, chemistry and the other smorgasbord of scary subjects. If the kids of our country are taught design along with the current curriculum, then we would go a long way in ensuring that we are equals in the global rat race.

 

Published by: Rezonant in Blog

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