If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

The stated mission of the recent confluence by Pearl Academy was, “This two-day confluence aims at stimulating and inspiring participants to foster innovation and creativity, seek attention of cost-conscious and environmentally-aware consumers, discuss, debate and articulate the impact design will have in building our nation for the future.” Young designer Shivani Prakash gives an account of the confluence and her take on the future of design.

By the end, the confluence organized by Pearl Academy at the Hyatt appeared to be a success. All attendees were pleased to have engaged at length with the design fraternity. Prominent members of the community attended including Geetha Narayanan: Dean, Shrishti School of Art & Design, Biju Thomas: Founder & CEO, Final Mile Consulting, Poonam Bir Kasturi: CEO, Daily Dump, Dilip Chenoy: Chairman, SLIET. Hats off to the team for organizing everything smoothly. Except, a niggling feeling remained with me that we never did address ‘What’s Next?’ Throughout the confluence, the subjects that were raised were the same that we investigated at design school — designers need to be responsible; designers need to collaborate; design should be sustainable; design is user-centric.

What we question now defines the steps we take ahead; so, if we keep asking the same questions repeatedly, it feels we have misunderstood the concept of a circular economy. Where does this lead the future of design? 

Format and process

Part of the problem for the deviation from the agenda appeared to be the lapses in focus on impact of design for the future.The World Cafe Table format was followed to facilitate table discussions, which allowed participants to engage more closely with the process. However, the conference tended to focus on the potential that design holds to influence society rather than the future of design. A concentrated effort from the moderators on each table from Pearl Academy’s side was required to bring the discussion back, but that did not always happen. 


The confluence was divided into three parts:


Impact on society

“Sustainable design” is a concept that gained traction during the early 2000’s and since then has become a part of design.Talks included short presentations on how design needs to be sustainable and responsible. This aspect is a given and should not be treated like a new way of looking at how design needs to work. The short presentations also touched on the point of how design education must include “design for social change”. Well, it has been integrated within most of the design schools in India. Keeping sustainability in mind, the confluence itself could have been designed in order to give all paper used a longer life cycle.


Impact on industry

Integrating design thinking within business models has been a norm since the 1990’s. Ashwini Deshpande: Co-founder, Director, Elephant Design, put forward her view that the impact of design has not been monitored and evaluated in order to prove its effectiveness; it’s being done internationally but not here. Design firms like IDEO have been evaluating outcome and impact of design intervention for their projects. However, since design has not been systematically documented in India, its evaluation has also been neglected. Internationally, As Anthony Lopez put it across during his presentation, the why of what we do, the purpose of design in the Indian context is critical. Anthony established the importance of the Indian context and our culture. He questioned “Why is design not given the importance it deserves?” He felt our purpose as designers should be defined precisely. Design is about engaging with users at a primary level. Post product delivery, designers need to engage with users steering them in the right direction for design to reach its full potential and really flourish. It seemed that everyone realized how nowadays the “customer” is now the “user”. Table discussions brought forward how fellow-designers are unaware of the concept of consumerism and human-centric trends.


Designing education for nation building

A panel of India’s most influential educators/directors sat together and talked about how design needs to be integrated on public policy level. It is hard to believe we are still depending on the government. We know of few people and communities who have already taken up system re-design and implemented it bottom-up for the betterment of the entire community, for example – Barefoot college Tilonia, Project Potential. As a solution, an open design school is being created to democratize design education: D’source is an existing online resource for design education.

The second point of discussion put forward by Dilip Chenoy (Chairman, SLIET) and Shobha Mishra Ghosh (Senior Director, FICCI) was the rising need to equip students with adaptive skills to match the fast changing industry landscape. There was skepticism in the panel about whether tomorrow’s needs of the industry can be correctly judged. If the leaders of today are doubtful, then there is no tomorrow.

Well, What’s Next?

The confluence shed light on the fact that there is a lack of application of the design process to our daily lives. After spending the day skimming the surface of the impact of design, I feel it was more of a reminder for industry leaders that design holds the power to influence the nation. These were some questions that the day left behind for me:

1. Is India way behind when it comes to design methods being developed across the globe? Design academia have identified the need gap and are bridging the gap within course structures, but is the Indian industry ready for it?

2. Why was everyone talking about “design for social change” or “developmental communication” being integrated in colleges? Why is everyone suddenly realizing that the user exists? It made me realize that the integration of technology in design was not touched upon in any of the discussions, which will form a crucial part of the future of design. Sites like allow users to start learning under university professionals and then further build and grade courses by themselves under the professional’s guidance.

3. Can a lower-middle-income nation, where everyone has fought for a position by risking everything be able to forget their competitors and collaborate for the betterment of society?

Have these questions been attempted at all? If not, I hope they’re at least brewing.
We hope to influence What’s Next?

Written by Shivani Prakash
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