Thinking Design podcast is a student initiative to record conversations and thoughts of eminent visitors to DJAD (DJ Academy of Design, Coimbatore) especially in the Indian context. With the extended vision of bringing Indian designers under one roof, these podcasts aim to store and archive legendary minds so that their knowledge and wisdom are accessible to us and even to the generations after. In this 2018 podcast, DJ Academy students speak to Anthony Lopez, Principal of Lopez Design in New Delhi on his thoughts about his design journey, education and the future of design in India.

After his initial collaborations and ventures, Anthony Lopez began his own firm Lopez Design in 1997, taking on the onus for all things to come. In Thinking Design, he talks about his early tryst with the National Institute of Design and while he chose graphic design as a profitable vocation, his work in ‘everything design’ has been a lifelong passion.

The diversity of India and the demands of our 1.34 billion population, the need for design schools to create programs to address complex local problems, cumulative effects of technology, the new spirit of innovation, the challenges of designing in a continually transforming world – Anthony addresses all this and more. Ultimately, what does it take for an aspiring student designer to realize your passion? The award-winning design firm’s founder walks you through being persistent with every trial, ambidextrous, responding to change and working round the clock to deliver the best with unwavering self-belief.

Here are a few excerpts from the podcast —

DJAD: How did Lopez Design start?

AL: I was lucky to get my first job offer at Oriole Design, an exhibition design firm in Delhi. After a stint there, three of us from NID got together and formed a multidisciplinary design firm in Delhi, which we ran for 5 years. Later I managed the production, labour and vendors for another friend in the export business. Two years into this, I felt a strong inner urge to be independent. I started out on my own with a clear belief – ‘whatever you do, do it yourself. If things go wrong only you are to be blame’. That’s how Lopez Design began.

DJAD: How influential was that space (NID) for you?

AL: Now having travelled all over, I can say, it’s one of the most beautiful and inspiring modern design institutes that I have seen. Surrounded by young, smart and talented people, I was constantly being influenced by its spaces, its departments, its enormous library and everything in it during my time.

DJAD: Then, what led you towards Graphic Design?

AL: The visual medium’s potential attracted me more – it also gave me many possibilities and areas to apply oneself. Now looking back I can say that it allowed me to develop very strong thinking and articulation skills, simultaneously allowing me to spread my tentacles. Both my thinkering and tinkering attitude led our firm to be where we are today doing ‘everything design’.

Being ambidextrous also sows the seed of how your thinking shapes and that’s where the power comes from. I think basically for me, visual communication was one of the founding pillars as well as to later develop strategic thinking.

DJAD: Where do you think the design field in India is today where design colleges are concerned?

AL: We need many designers to design for the needs of 1.34 billion people of India. Policies and decisions need to be taken in context to our geographical vastness, our diverse languages and cultures. We are actually many nations put together and that makes us complex. Problems in one village or district are different from another.

So how can you solve the problem of open defecation, by just building one type of toilet and mind you, just toilets? To me this is a classic complex problem and it needs many different solutions. And therefore, we need many designers or problem solvers across various domains to solve the problem at local levels. China, with a population 1.42 billion, has about 350 design schools while we have got only about 30-40 design schools. Now look at the number of engineers coming out of India every year – 1.5 million. We are over engineered!

NID currently takes on a huge number of students, a 100 plus every year compared to during our time, when only 30 students across all disciplines were taken in. The faculty student ratio was near 1:1 when we were there – attention and interactions were more intense, which made you richer.

I think it’s still the same in DJAD, which is fantastic! But the important thing would be to get people who can be stimulants – faculty, visiting faculty, guest lecturers – essentially people who can be great mentors and motivators. Design schools require to create lab like conditions, and stimulate students, besides teaching skills.

DJAD: Looking back at your time at NID and interactions with young designers today, what do you think has changed?

AL: Times have changed drastically. It’s the pace at which everything happens now. There would be long spans of time when we lived with certain innovations. Let’s take the telephone, so my father and grandfather lived with the telephone for their whole life and there was nothing beyond that in terms of communication technology right?

Now, switch over to my generation where I have seen this huge body of transformation happening in my one lifetime. The impact it has had on society is huge. The term ‘change is constant’ applies very much these days.

So the way design needs to be taught today needs to change drastically because the mind has to adapt to the implications of high frequency of innovation. We have seen just how the invention of the mobile phone as impacted everything we do, how we think, behave and everything connected. And while we are consuming this we are already beginning to see AI, machine learning, big data and blockchain network bringing about a totally new paradigm shift. All this is going to have a massive impact in ways we cannot fathom.

So how do you prepare yourself as a person, as a thinker, as a designer – to comprehend the outcome, to understand and apply yourself in this constantly moving and changing context? It’s quite a challenge. The amount of knowledge and the speed of acquisition of knowledge needs to be extremely high. You’ve got to be hungry like nobody’s business.

DJAD: What advice would you give to students who’d want to eventually start their own practice?

AL: Self- belief. You’ve got to believe in yourself, and you should be willing to fail and fall. If you ask me why I started my own business, why not work for somebody else, I don’t know the logic. My family would not have been able to support me if I was down on the street. But there was some idiocy in me which told me that ‘kartein hain’ and this I can attribute to self belief.

The other aspect is ‘ambition’ which is very critical for every person. You have to be tremendously ambitious and driven. People associate it with money, as that’s what people see it translate into. But I think ambition should be about producing good and credible work, about fulfilment. The byproduct of good work is making money, recognition and respect. And this is not difficult, because there’s so much to do. We are here in India, not in Europe or the US, where things have been done hundred times over. So irrespective of whether you do business or work for somebody, there are tremendous opportunities in our country.

The last and the most important, which people give least value today, is a strong value system. Your self belief and ambition should be based on values. You should never try and compromise on these.

DJAD: What advice would you give to a young design graduate?

AL: Work hard, extremely hard. It’s important to be true to yourself and work towards your goal. We give up too soon or we come up with excuses, knowing very well all along that we have not tried hard enough and rightly.

It’s also important to surround yourself with good peers, pushing them to invest time in giving you true criticism, challenging you to add value, opening you up to new possibilities.

Don’t expect to become great overnight. It takes time. Malcolm Gladwell speaks about this in his book – ‘The Outliers’ He speaks about all the greats who have put in 10,000 hours of practice into becoming world class. Now that’s roughly 2 hours per day over 10 years. Now this is very doable, right?

Now if you look at my earlier argument, do you have 10 years to become world class ? So the contradiction is that because the world today is fluid, how will you gain that ten thousand hours of practice in any given field?

Today, that search for knowledge is something you should engrain within yourself. Because the world today does not allow you to be stagnated. Adapt or die. You have to embrace uncertainty like nobody else and be one with it. This is going to happen more in your life than in mine.

DJAD: So, at the end it’s about collaboration?

AL: Yes, but it is also about opening yourself up and making yourself capable to collaborate. That’s an important tool and skill to acquire, that I can work with people, that I cannot work in isolation. As I say, we are ordinary people doing extraordinary work.

Thank you for having me here at D.J.Academy, its feels very good to be on your campus.