In our fourth article on Bengaluru ByDesign 2018 by the India Design Forum, we feature practitioner insights from a dozen experts.
Day Two of the Bengaluru ByDesign 2018 conference featured an outstanding line up of 12 speakers from India, Italy, UK, US, France, and Canada. (See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of our coverage, and the d-Zen section for more insights on design and creativity.)
Held at UB City, the sessions covered disruptive design, the experience economy, knowledge sharing practices, photography, design education, fashion, design thinking, and even perfume design. The festival also featured indoor and outdoor installations, at locations like St Mark’s Circle.
Speakers identified long-term challenges such as integrating the inter-disciplinary nature of design into the silo-structured Indian education system, and the large opportunity in positioning urban studios as connectors between rural artisans and global markets.
Knowledge management and storytelling
It is important to systematise, promote and scale up knowledge sharing between grassroots designers, artists, craftsmen, artisans and social entrepreneurs. This includes activities like documenting local traditions, leveraging social media, connecting domain experts, creating mentorship programmes, and transferring knowledge through impact storytelling.
The British Council has a range of programmes in this regard, explained Parvinder Marwaha, Design Programme Manager, British Council. The programmes cover knowledge transfer and exchange, cultural revitalisation, and technology upgradation.
Parvinder cited examples from Thailand (free WiFi hotspots in artisan villages; knowledge exchange programmes at Chiang Mai University) and Northeast India (digital platforms for video stories by StoryLoom Films).
“It is important to involve the artisan in the design narrative,” urged Gautam Vazirani, Creative Strategist at IMG Reliance. “Artisans should also be featured in design conferences. Crafts give Indian fashion its identity. Handmade Indian crafts have so much soul and story,” he added.
‘Apple’s best kept secret’ – design for the experience economy
Effective design and branding should begin by answering fundamental questions of why, how, and what, explained, Steve Lidbury, Principal at Eight Inc studio, London. The brand design company was founded in San Francisco and has been described as “Apple’s best kept secret” and “one of the world’s most progressive design firms.”
Design and innovation can unleash human potential and move humanity forward, according to Steve. A company’s purpose should translate into delivering experiences for consumers, taking into account changes in communications, environment and behaviours.
“The digital experience is one that is increasingly becoming transactional in nature and built (rightly so) around operational excellence. However, what digital can’t (yet) do, is be empathetic,” he cautioned.
When designing future experience, it is important to consider the physical, digital and human connected journey as one holistic entity. “Consumers are agnostic to channel – they want one conversation, one voice, one seamless journey, and human empathy must sit at the heart of that,” Steve advised.
To create a seamless experience across channels and locations, design principles must be conceived holistically, as this is how customers engage with brands: holistically. “Principles should be designed with the purpose of translating brand values into something more tangible (and therefore meaningful) for customers that will resonate on an emotional level. We like to think of them as ‘Experience Principles’ that can, therefore, be relevant for omni-channel connected audience engagement,” Steve explained.
Mistakes, failures and wrong turns are a part of this design journey. “Be prepared to fail fast, but learn quickly. Failure is a critical part of the design validation process. What’s important is to understand why something failed, and how to synthesise that information into valuable insights that can be used to develop designs,” he advised.
Effective design should treat people as humans and not consumers. “We need more strategically-minded creatives and more creatively-minded strategists,” he urged.
Eight key design environment shifts captured by Steve include the move from demographics to psychographics; goods to experiences; logo to purpose; solo shoppers to affinity communities; later to instant gratification; channels to seamless conversations; advertising to sensory storytelling; and product display to brand immersion.
This leads to eight key design principles for disruption, which Steve listed as take risks; stand out; be channel agnostic; shift from commerce to community; move from utility to empathy; expand from transactions to relationships; holistic design; and win hearts, then minds.
As examples of these principles, he cited the Apple retail stores (underground stores, displays on kitchen tables, “Genius Bar”); Virgin Airlines lounges (massage, mixology); Lincoln showrooms in China (tea sampling, engineering experts); Shimano cycle stores in Singapore (the joy of cycling; books and stories of cycling); Airtel service centres in India (customer rep sitting side by side with customers); Nissan showrooms (“touch the brand”); and Barclays Bank (extended office hours, seminars for customers, mentoring sessions for SMEs).
Digital technology and design
A number of speakers shared how digital technology can be a double-edged sword for the design industry. While social media like Instagram have made discovery and inspiration that much faster, it has also made it easier to copy and imitate.
Instant access through search can take away the joy and power of serendipity, observed Rahul Mishra, Founder of Rahul Mishra Studio. It sometimes helps to get lost, but “the smartphone is too smart,” he joked.
Widespread usage of digital media has led many designers to only chase the latest trends rather than engage in deeper discovery and experimentation, Rahul cautioned. Too much interruption is bad if you are engaged in serious analytical or design work; he advised designers to switch off from digital media at least two days a week.
At the same time, use of software like ERP has helped his Noida studio connect to over a thousand weavers in villages around India, and can thus generate rural employment while reducing urban migratory pressure.
‘A’ is for agarbatti: the design of aroma
An eye-opening (and nose opening) lecture-demonstration on the design elements of perfumes was delivered by Jahnvi Nandan, Founder of The Perfume Library collection, and author of Pukka Indian: 100 Objects that Define India.
In a presentation titled ‘Green,’ the fragrance curator described some of the world’s oldest families of smells such as green smells, and handed out a range of perfume sticks to the audience with perfume samples made from roots of grass from Tamil Nadu. She even showed an image of a ‘poetry garden,’ with plants in the shape of letters and words of a poem.
India is known for popular aromas such as agarbatti. But for environmental and other reasons, natural musk and sandalwood are not viable as perfume sources anymore, Jahnvi explained. She conducts workshops on intriguing questions such as what do moonbeams smell like, and how can we photograph smell.
‘Think like a bat’ – creativity and design
To stand out and differentiate, designers need to be prepared to break the mould and challenge the status quo, advised Sanjay Garg, Founder of contemporary Indian textile design firm Raw Mango.
He cited examples such as the use of simple photographic advertisements rather than ornate sets, featuring people who are not established models, promotion via sales in smaller towns beyond large urban centres, and targeting non-buyers. In architecture, this could include designing small homes for slums or a small home for a large number of residents.
Designers should learn to think out of the box and literally upside down like bats, joked Bandeep Singh, Photo Editor at India Today magazine. In fact, images in the eye are actually projected upside down; the brain computes them for rightside-up rendering.
Bandeep showed a number of photographic techniques such as inversion and dichotomy for classic magazine cover images: two different views of a face to capture the tension between Hindu and Hindutva; parched land depicted as wrinkles on a farmer’s face; actress Swara Bhaskar holding a sledgehammer; the struggle for free speech reflected as a handcuff piercing a tongue; Baba Ramdev looking upside down at the reader; an inverted reflection of the Taj Mahal in the polluted Yamuna river; and fused face images of models and designers.
“All good creative things are always disruptions,” Bandeep said, citing jokes, comedy and mystery as examples.
Sustainability is a pressing issue in sectors ranging from design and manufacturing to transportation and construction. Sustainability can include recycling of old garments, explained Irina de Payevsky, Head of Education at Istituto Marangoni, Mumbai.
“Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil,” said Rahul Mishra. Reduce-reuse-recycle is one approach to sustainability, but a broader view includes a system approach and not just a product approach, he advised.
Sustainability should also address the creation of jobs in rural areas, and business model design should position urban studios as connectors between village artisans and global markets. Cities should not drain villages of talent and resources, and this concern should be addressed via sustainable design, Rahul urged.
Design institutions and education
Museums play an important role in preservation and promotion of arts, both traditional and contemporary. Government museums in India may have great collections, but the audience engagement experience leaves much to be desired, lamented Abhishek Poddar, industrialist and art collector. He plans to launch the Museum of Art and Photography in Bengaluru in 2020 as an independent venture.
More designers need to get actively involved in policy formulation for design in education and industry, advised Abhimanyu Nohwar, Founder-Director at Kiba Design. He shared lessons from his activities with the National Innovation Council, which included developing proposals for a National Design Innovation Network, Design Innovation Centres, and an Open Design School.
In dealing with government officials, it is important to be articulate, reduce jargon, understand roles and motivations, and offer opportunities for participation and collaboration, he advised. “Create a one-pager, not a nada file,” Abhimanyu joked, referring to the cotton threads used by government officials to bind together documents and files.
Since design is so inter-disciplinary, it has been hard to integrate it into a silo-structured education system in India, or position it as a driving force across industry verticals. Art and design should not be looked upon as luxury for the elite. “We need more designers in policy,” Abhimanyu signed off.
In sum, platforms such as India Design Forum, DesignUp, Design4India, and India Design Summit continue to raise the bar for spreading awareness and appreciation for the role of design in emerging economies such as India.
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