When I studied at the National Institute of Design, formal design education was greatly influenced by the  notion “West is best”.  All designer superheroes were from developed nations. The NID symbol was designed by Adrian Frutiger, a highly influential Swiss typeface designer. The books we referred to were from Europe, Scandinavia and America. The ideas that followed, were also inspired by Western models. It promoted the belief that we can easily transplant a solution from the West in India. After all, doesn’t the signature of Coca-Cola works for everyone?

What was wrong with this picture? Our problems are Indian. Therefore, our solutions must cater to local context, culture, behavior and use, planning for how the scenario may change. This realization came to me more than a decade back when I was making a presentation. Some in the group were from the Netherlands. They were impressed but asked – where is the Indian-ness?

What is Indian?
The question got me thinking.  I constantly struggle with what is design? What is Indian?

Credits – Ogilvy Mumbai for Hindustan Unilever Ltd.

200 years of British rule brought about a defined change in the way we perceive ourselves – a third-world nation looking up to developed nations. As a nation, we were not confident with who we were, and therefore, we projected ‘other selves’. Our identity became merged with many others. In rural India, we still find bits of that real India while in cities, technology, trade and travel has changed our perceptions. Now, Indians are recognizing that we need to find the core of India. Over time, our design community has realized that ‘being Indian’ is important to make a real transformation in India. It brings pride of place and more critically, a sustainable way of life. Many designers are looking at India’s past and figuring out how to contextualize it for the present. We at Lopez Design, looked for another direction to foster this changing climate.

Evolving our visual culture
In ancient India, the written form was less used but we had a strong oral tradition. People largely relied on our visual culture and the narratives grew from mythology and associated symbols. We used painting and depiction to tell stories in good depth. In our project for Mercer, we took this trail and created stories, where each depiction has 7 to 8 contexts around it. We engaged with detail and playing with graphics, varying how we see from near and far, a tradition practiced in Indian art and architecture.

We made the leap in identity design in our project for the Bihar Museum. The simple, universal identity we created, simultaneously embraces complexity and layered symbology, true to an Indian way of expression. In our latest project for a home rental solutions company (yet to be unveiled) India is celebrated through colors, culture and treatment, even though the symbol is universal in nature. Our project for Ayushman Bharat HWCs embraces regional arts and crafts by creating a common template which could be varied for every region. We moved away from the designer taking control and encouraged local people participation, a daring step. Meanwhile, for PMNCH’s Partners’ Forum, we engaged with the craft of Pipli with the concept of repurposing and commerce. Within the framework of delivering contemporary design solutions, we are carving an independent path. This multifaceted thinking is bringing the authenticity.

What we believe
Stories are linear, but the brain does not function that way. It’s magical how we can multitask. Our use of a non-linear approach creates free-flowing visual narratives. It’s not going to look like work from Pentagram or Sagmeister and Walsh! We aim to do one-of-a-kind and never-done-before. We also believe giving away what we do is more important, share the stories of what we have done, open up the dialogue.

In a world dominated by economy, we want to take the humanistic path to finding the true India. We are lucky to find a client like PMNCH, who wholeheartedly agreed to give away the designs to the Pipli artisans. These beautiful designs have been gifted to the craftspeople, so that they can take them forward. In the future, we hope that a global firm will come forward to take over the marketing and sales. An identity, we have found, is the seed of the organization. With nurturing, it can grow into a tree and one day, a forest.