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Pool Magazine talks about the Lopez Design’s Collaborative Forum

Dovetailing Together
Ruma Dhingra explains how branding and communications firm Lopez Design facilitates collaborations through an intimate, diverse and creative Forum  

Graphic designer Anthony Lopez, founder of Lopez Design, had a dream and it began with his pet mission of widening the scope of design through the very essence of what all of us human beings are engaged with – communication. Anthony realized when we meet people socially or professionally, we exchange notes about our work but tend to miss out on understanding the larger journey people make through their chosen professions. At his studio in Shahpur Jat in New Delhi, Lopez was enthused to start a forum that would bring opportunities for not only Lopez Design but for other professionals to learn about each others’ work processes. By selecting a panel of individuals coming from diverse backgrounds, Anthony wanted to facilitate the possibility of new, exciting and unexpected collaborations.

What the forum is all about 
The Lopez Design Forum is a collaborative interaction that takes place on the first Saturday of every month at the Lopez Design studio. The studio essentially invites 10 speakers from diverse backgrounds to come and take other participants through their journey of work. The idea is not just about inviting ten speakers to present at Lopez Design, but about ten minds sharing their journeys with ten other people. Anshul Kapoor, Architect at Lopez Design observes, “Of course it was intentional, but we have definitely also been lucky to always get people from very diverse backgrounds”. The last Forum for example saw a mix of people ranging from an apparel designer, a space designer and filmmakers to a self taught architect and designer, and last but not the least, a rapper. While it may seem like a one day event, almost a month of continuous effort and energy goes into making this mini conference happen – from food to invitations to individual preferences and what not.

The evolution of the forum 

The idea of the forum is not new to Lopez Design. The boutique design studio has a history of conducting internal forums where interesting activities like book binding, cricket, acting etc. were undertaken by the team for years. And then in 2014, a collaborative forum happened where external speakers, essentially graphic designers were invited. Former Project Director at Lopez Design, Jonak Das remembers that early in the game the group realised that nothing becomes an active and a well prioritised exercise unless and until it is made a discipline. Thus, the forum became one of the main priorities of the organisation. Anthony Lopez explains, “The idea was not to conduct an indefinite exercise but to build a group or growing repository of people that stays connected and alive.”

Looking back, Anthony observes that the vision and the format of the forum has remained the same from 2014 till today; the main difference is that it has become more organised in terms of programming. It has slowly opened up to a wider audience, exposing its activities through social media posts and live tweets. It is also accompanied by a forum repository and write-ups about the speakers on the Lopez Design blog where the internal team reflects about their key takeaways from the presentations. As the forums are now a way of life at Lopez Design, Anthony finds the clarity coming in that definitions of design and creativity need to be broadened. He believes the forum should not be restricted to people from the creative industry alone but to anybody and everybody who is addressing problems and trying to find solutions. Reflecting on how he sees this space shaping up, Anthony says that in the future it will become more and more gratifying, more and more fulfilling and more and more open.

The experience
While the original idea behind the forum was about collaboration, it has grown into an eye opener to different perspectives. Many participants and team members feel similarly about the effect the forum has had on them. Speakers as well as ‘people-behind-the scene’ share their varied viewpoints on how this has been a wonderful learning experience. For exhibition designer Oroon Das, who presented his work, attending the Forum has revealed how the design profession is much broader than most think. Nivedita Banerjee, a social activist says that the forum has helped her articulate her learning of design and she can now bounce these ideas off other people’s practices. Mayank Kaul, Textile Designer notes that we often tend to be running around engrossed in our projects but being a part of such a platform helps one take a break and just listen – no matter how diverse the backgrounds of speakers are, there is always a certain commonality of interest that binds together. Artist Aditi Saigal mentions that the forum has gravity to it and pulls one back in, again and again. Director Flow India and design consultant Arundhati Mitter mentions that through the course of one’s own work, one’s mind starts working in a particular direction and the alternative avenues brought by the forum help to liberate our thinking; this is a truly a luxury in today’s fast paced lifestyles. Sachin Sachar, Museum Designer sums up how, often in the process of implementation, one does not get time to reflect upon one’s work process and this kind of platform leads to paths for understanding new processes and adding a substantial amount of colour to the entire creative process.

The internal team at Lopez Design, also responsible for much of the organization behind the scene, bring fresh viewpoints. Prachi Grover, Graphic Designer feels that the exciting part of the forum is that one gets to meet people whom we can never meet otherwise and it provides an excellent opportunity for exchange. Ankita Singh, Project Manager finds that learning about the approaches and struggles of different people in their professional journeys is especially interesting. Crucially, the format of the forum allows intimate discussions for the group of people present and is not like speakers presenting on a stage, points out Deekshit Sebastian, Senior Designer at Lopez Design. It is apparent that the very environs in which a particular event takes place and the format in which it is conducted has a huge role to play in making people feel comfortable and speak about the ups and downs of their life without the fear of judgement.

The idea of collaboration  

The purpose behind the Forum is crystal clear in the mind of Anthony Lopez: it is the need to collaborate in not just multiple ways but in a directed way. Participants are carefully selected and come in only by special invitation. Lopez believes, “We as people are engineered not to trust others and tend not to work outside our comfort zones. The ‘I-factor’ comes primarily into everything we do, the ‘I’ needs to become ‘We’ and that can only happen through a collaborative dialogue, which is the only way to create transformation within oneself.”

As designers and creators frequently have a tendency to get attached to their own work, this closes all doors to many other perspectives. It becomes difficult as well to change the thinking patterns we follow without our realization. The challenge thus becomes to change something that is engrained in our DNA and so, open our minds to other possibilities.

Clearly, a large scale work of creativity can never be put together without people from different professions racking their brains. For instance, a good film cannot be made until and unless the director, writer, editor, music director and actors come together. The yen to work independently in most of us is more during our younger years, finds Oroon Das, but as one grows older, the need to value the skills of other people and incorporating them in one’s own work becomes prominent. Prachi Grover believes that since the world is getting more and more complex, we need simpler solutions; the idea of collaboration therefore becomes critical. The more minds that come together, the possibility of creating a simple solution that directly resolves the problem becomes greater.

While all this is one aspect of the story, it also becomes critical to acknowledge collaboration as a process which comes with a sense of equality for all partners involved. Jonak Das explains how collaboration is different from a hierarchical structure wherein one person dictates and others follow him or her. Collaboration thrives on the notion of equality and respect for each other’s ideas. Importantly, this whole way of working is fuelled today by the rapidly changing environment of work spaces where more and more hierarchies are breaking and everything is becoming less informal. “Interconnection and interdependence form the basic philosophy of any religion which eventually can be called the interbeing” – says Nivedita Banerjee, talking about how design or for that matter any creative process is a religion in itself due to its history and culture. The creative journey is as old as mankind and Lopez concurs, “The concept of collaboration is not new, but the future of problem solving and design is definitely in collaboration”.

Written by Ruma Dhingra with special inputs from Sujatha Shankar Kumar, A special thanks to Zeena Lopez for managing the forum and a very special thanks to the Lopez Design team members and speakers who contributed to this article.  

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