FUTURE OF DESIGN IN INDIA — 1/2

I just attended a debriefing meeting organized by ADI (Association for Designers in India) on the future plans of the India Design Council and there were important pointers on how the Indian design fraternity works and thinks. India Design Council is a body that the Indian government formed to evangelize and ‘regulate’ design practices in India. It has been around for nearly a decade, but largely unheard of ! India Design Mark is one of the tangible initiatives taken up by this council and every year.

Points discussed in the meeting sounded rather all too familiar e.g. How to regulate the education quality of mushrooming new design colleges (Is India facing acute shortage of ‘good’ faculty in design)? How to form a chartered society of designers like chartered society of engineers? How to make Design more relevant in the industry? Then there was a lot of discussion around supporting craft and the craftsmen in India, around ‘tangible’ design — ‘good design’, ‘better finish’, ‘better products’ etc. And there the usual suspects like — the government should listen to designers.

In my opinion, the discussion seemed cut-off from the large-scale changes taking place in the global business universe.

For two decades, I have been hearing the same rant in global forums on design, by designers — “We make great stuff. We are great thinkers. We can change the world. But business/government does not give us a s***”. Few years back I attended and spoke at the World Design Congress in San Francisco. There were speakers from the third generation of designer families. It was the same rant even there. Late professor M P Ranjan from National Institute of Design in India, one of the most articulate proponent of design in business and governance, wrote volumes on how design sensibilities must find a place in everyday life. But to no avail. Things happen; when the timing is right.

‘Design is a strategic move and not just a tactical add on’, has been one constant undertone of the profession. Businesses have been used to taking the design strategy for free and pay only for the tangibles since ages. But then the grand unveiling of ‘Design Thinking’ happened and it was a game-changer (to a point!). After years of struggle of running a conventional design company, I realized that time has arrived where design ‘doing’ must be separated from design ‘thinking’ and ‘Turian Labs’, a fresh research and strategy consulting brand was born. Things have improved drastically and since then, our competitors are no longer only limited to design companies but business strategy companies. Our contact point has shifted to business leaders and policy makers rather than R&D heads or chief designers. We are consulting and training hundreds of executives, entrepreneurs and senior management across business sectors into this new-found art of Design Thinking.

This forking of the design profession into ‘Design Thinking’ and ‘Design Doing’ is a phase that is going to last for at least a decade (in my view) before ‘holistic creation’ takes over again and the two paths fuse together, as the classist would argue. But before that, we stand witness to great changes in technology that is shaping our lives today. And it is not going to be the same ever. We are passing through a VUCA reality. Businesses — from banking, healthcare, media and IT services are facing a severe setback of the impending future due to automation, sharing economy, smart revolution and on-demand services.

Organizations are struggling to make sense of the new reality. A simple example — will car-dealerships be relevant tomorrow when people would rather rent than own a car? Or what will be the role of a TV channel or a media house in the age of mushrooming online video content?

Education is another sector which is shifting from the core. All knowledge is all available for free online. In a recent conversation with an educator of textile design, he said that his profession is almost getting extinct. If you have a nice-looking pattern as a picture on internet, all it needs is a machine that will convert it into a fabric. Every entrepreneur can become a textile designer now but vice-versa is difficult. All these young textile designers coming out of design colleges have a bleak future if they stick to the core field (they will have to switch to alternative careers like merchandising etc.). It is a digital revolution in progress.

So these changes are causing the great forking of design profession. But legacy institutions are either largely ignorant of this or rather trapped in the archaic details to take any note. Torch-bearer institutions like NID/IIT or Indian Design Council should step forward and create a future forward white-paper on design education. Bodies like ADI can look forward to creating a white paper on emerging contours of the profession of design, which is now spilling out into the management. The great forking, combined with disruptive changes in the job profiles (where 50% of design jobs will vanish in next 5-years due to technology, including current form of UX design) will result in restructuring of education drastically. Here are more pointers that IDC can think of taking up in favor of the imminent future of design:

1. First and foremost — Create/solicit pedagogy of Indian Design thought/thinking. It is presently scattered all over. Time has come to NAME it and differentiate it from the western pedagogy. One does not have to stick to FRUGAL INNOVATION or DESIGN THINKING. Facilitate co-creation workshops across the country with the practioners, educators and experts to extract the new name and pedagogy. Aggressively promote it worldwide. Focus on claiming this mind-space of the world around it. It is a large mandate and will probably take time to settle in.

2. Include professionals who are not designers but have been practicing design/design thinking for long as a part of the committee. Broaden the mandate for inclusion/inclusivity.

3. Once frozen, document and help propagating as a standard methodology in government departments undertaking innovation.

4. Create a yearly white-paper on Design Education in India. Endorse whitepaper on future of Design profession which ADI (Association of Designers in India) may take up

5. Create directions for faculty development programs, which can be taken-up by individual institutions. Channelize exchange with other such programs across the world.

6. Build baseline set for Design Thinking curriculum at school level. Hundreds of schools are now looking at internalizing this.

7. Build a baseline set for Design Thinking and Innovation courses in MBA programmes.

8. Mandate a tiny-showcase of Indian Design thought and make it available for all Indian trade-commissions abroad

9. Build a digital show-case of Indian design cases. And yes, that does not mean just physical products or services. It can also be about experiences? Can there also be the success stories from IT sector, services etc.

10. Policy advocacy with the PMO for Design-in-India pitch

11. Help Indian cities get a Design Capital tag through smart city program.

Several design companies have been shut or have been acquired in the recent past. Design is becoming more and more intrinsic to any organization, stretching all the way to change-management. Design Thinking and Digital technologies together have opened the floodgates for design professionals and they are likely to change the contours of the entire profession forever. This is the time to apply sensing to the entire upheaval and move the cursor beyond the conventional meanings and applications. Else the profession will move on and follow the Darwinian path, much like the rise of IT sector, irrespective of institutions!