Good design: A necessity not a choice

The National Institute of Design was first established as the National Institute of Industrial Design in 1961, firmly clasping its tie with Industry. Even as the first formal institution in India was renamed NID, design was hardly understood as a field integral to the structure of society and industry. Creative practice and industry however, have always been entwined with social structure and livelihoods in India. Our centuries-old traditional practices of thousands of crafts have evolved following patterns derived from place, local materials and needs. This has been a difficult legacy to take forward as is. While many designers have determinedly re-contextualized craft, weaving it successfully into their products, overall, design has evolved in the modern framework with its first footprint post-independence, on a separate path.

The journey to Make in India

NID was set up under the Ministry of Industry with the clear mission of churning out design professionals who could serve the industry – textile, product, furniture and ceramic, and film and communications for the media industry. Still, for alumni of the Institute, even 25 years since its inception, it was a struggle to be integrated in the real world as design was mostly viewed as a superficial need. Design appeared to propose value-additions that were not quantifiable. Now, half a century later, the common perception of design as a cosmetic feature, associated with style, fashion and branding is finally beginning to be replaced by the notion of design as a measurable influencer. In every area – from inducing social change, industrial innovations, better products usability, convenient public transport systems to comfort of well-designed living spaces and communications for governance – design today is far more recognized as a real necessity. The tie between economics, industry and design ratifying better business and returns has possibly been the best advocate. Globalization has further ensured that we step up to competition with brands and experiences from all over showcasing the obvious benefits of products that are attractive, user-friendly, functional and beneficial to better lifestyles. Coimbatore Centre for Contemporary Arts, founded by industrialist Rajashree Pathy launched the IDF (India Design Forum) in 2012 to engage with design evolution. In September 2014, Prime Minster Narendra Modi launched the Make in India program towards transforming India into a global design and manufacturing hub.

The National Design Policy

The need for a policy that streamlines design into all the sectors of Indian industry has been long overdue. Long before he was appointed Director of NID, Professor Pradyumna Vyas was actively seeking for design to move from the peripheral skin to get its true place as the nervous system of Indian infrastructure. Vyas has been instrumental as part of the team formulating the Government’s National Design Policy, which was finally put out in 2007 recognizing the strategic role of design for national and international competitiveness. Stakeholders from the government, heads of industry, policy makers and designers formed the core team. Proud of combined efforts finally coming out into the mainstream, Professor Vyas elaborates, “The framework was created with the aim to protect design opportunities – this forms one major portion of the policy. Design education, promotion, awards and exchanges – the policy is about all of this.” Design educators and professionals in the forefront like Pradyumna Vyas have continually championed design because of its broad-based nature, to be applied to over 250 sectors of our economy with a systems approach. “Retail, medical, infrastructure, safety, security – to name just a few – all sectors require design.” Vyas sums up some of the crucial aims of the Design Policy:

  1. To see that the design industry and culture grow in the country and become mainstream not fringe activity, right from policy level
  2. To be a part of the curriculum in both main and secondary education, in both schools and engineering colleges
  3. Participation by the ministry to create Innovation Hubs and Museums, to promote understanding to show how design connects people and environments
  4. Setting up Design Clinic Schemes right from micro levels with the intention of taking design to the doorstep of small scale industry

The India Design Mark

Satish Gokhale, who heads multi-disciplinary design studio Design Directions out of Pune, is a well-known figure in the design industry. A National Institute of Design alumnus, Gokhale was first inducted into the program of the India Design Council (IDC) soon after the India Design Policy document was launched in 2007. At the inception of IDC, Gokhale was the only product designer to be part of the panel. Now, almost a decade later, many more designers have been appointed. Navigating his way through uncharted ground in those early days, Gokhale recalls some of the best efforts seen in the i-mark. The Japanese have a natural sense of aesthetic, a need for order and harmony and the idea for this was inspired by the JDP – the Japanese Institute of Design Promotion. In fact, the India Design Mark is done in alignment with the Good Design Award, Japan. Says Satish, “Let’s be clear! The India Design Mark is not a competition. It’s not an award type of recognition. It’s about distinguishing the quality of a product.” Similar to the ISI certification for products, the i-mark sets the platform for excellence and innovation by certifying the product as good. Soon, this recognition became quite coveted in the industry and IDC started to get repeat applications. Satish sums up, “Medium and small industry are cognizant of i-mark. People are bothered about getting the certification.” In a country that has a troublesome low of natural design sensibility, the i-mark is a great way of institutionalizing the need for better design. DIPP, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, which is responsible for industrial policy and intellectual property and rights, works under Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. Especially where design institutions are now popping up a dime a dozen, Gokhale emphasizes the i-mark as important in making the distinction for worthy design. In the recent Make in India fair held in Mumbai, i-mark had a good pavilion.


Coming full circle

Looking back at those early days, Vyas recalls, “Management and technology were growing up in multifaceted ways. Reverse manufacturing was in demand. Manufacturing policy was going ahead.” Yet, there was no clear demarcation of how design could be worked. Gokhale notes the landmark achievement of the committee. “The design profession has been formally recognized by the government. Designers are part of the seminars and programs happening at CII.”

As Director of NID, Vyas is both an ardent educator and facilitator of design schemes in the industry. Making programs with employment-based design opportunities have played a very important role. “We encourage people to set up their own units. At the Bamboo Research Centre and the Railway Design Centre, we train youth to see how services can be improved. Our Natural Fiber Design Lab is about how we can give life to the jute industry.” This close proximity of design, research and innovation labs has aided the incubation of professionals for entrepreneurship in both successful and original ways. Products and infrastructure that could not have been imagined otherwise, have come out of these unique partnerships. While clearly, we have a long way to incorporating design into the many layers of our fabric, it is already proven how critical the design approach is for the synthesis of many fields and in bringing a urgent outlook to creating better lives with greater understanding of all things considered.


(L to R) Prof. Pradyumna Vyas, Director NID, Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, Hon’ble Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Commerce & Industry, Government of India  and Shri N. Chandrababu Naidu, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh at INNOPROM, Ekaterinburg, Russia in July 2016. Image Courtesy: NID, Ahmedabad

Written by Sujatha Shankar Kumar, Image courtesy: NID
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