From traditional crafts to online games: how design principles are transforming the worldMadanmohan Rao
Seven design experts share insights on digital design, opportunities and challenges for designers in India, and the contribution of design thinking.
The popularity of Indian arts and crafts and the rise of a global digital economy are throwing up a range of opportunities for the design community. Experts from India, Switzerland and Poland share their insights on art, design and creativity in a chat with YourStory (see also our d-Zen section for more insights on design systems and leadership).
Online games: design and gamification
In a number of countries, online gaming has eclipsed sectors such as TV and advertising in terms of engagement and ad revenue. Highly successful online games include Hearthstone, Fortnite, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, according to Chris Solarski, author and director of Solarski Studio in Switzerland.
Their gameplay aims to accommodate all skills levels, not just "hardcore" players, and they run on several major platforms, making them accessible to a broad audience. “What is an especially strong characteristic of the current generation of players is that they're very social media-focussed and always on-the-go, which these games also address with social and sharing features as well as short gameplay lengths,” observes Chris.
Other games also have an ‘edutainment’ component. “One principle for edutainment design that I wish to highlight is that rank-and-point systems shouldn't always be the sole reward of the experience. They may be useful but also feel heavy-handed and even patronising,” says Chris. One alternative is to reward players with items or experiences that have pure entertainment value without the need to quantify everything.
He identifies a couple of other design principles as well: understanding the value of shape language as a universal visual communication tool, and the old adage that images speak louder (and are internalised better) than words (and other senses).
Through ‘gamification’ in business, gaming principles have been applied to activities like collaboration, quality improvement, and customer service. “Gamification designers can learn a lot from mainstream game design, where a lot of cutting-edge ideas are being developed,” says Chris.
The success of top online games has much to do with an acute understanding of the audience's lifestyle. Blizzard Entertainment's recent announcement to release mobile versions of all their titles is indicative of the trend towards on-the-go gaming with strong social and sharing tools, he adds. This trend also affects how developers interact with player-customers.
“Part of orchestrating a positive experience is to allocate time and funds, when possible, to develop content that isn't just about reaching objectives and ticking all the right boxes. Building relationships and stories are essential for long-term trust and value, even if such things are difficult to quantify,” Chris advises.
Art, design and technology
In addition to digital media, technology is reshaping art on various fronts. “Technology is allowing for creativity to be expressed in many different ways and intervening in areas where it's challenging for the hand by making processes easier,” observes Gunjan Gupta, Creative Director at Wrap.
“But I feel the mind and body are losing connect. Students are less and less comfortable working by hand and rely a lot more on technology to creatively express themselves. With 3D prototyping becoming such an essential tool, I feel the whole joy of getting your hand dirty while making a maquette is losing its place,” Gunjan cautions. The process of making something by hand is not about the end product but is more about the process; it is a place where errors give way to new ideas and directions, she adds.
“Despite the conveniences and impact of technology and the democratisation of design due to industrialisation, I still think the true luxury is a virtue of the hand. I am not trying to romanticise the idea of the handmade when I say that machine made objects don’t have a soul. What I am trying to reiterate is that perfection is an overrated virtue,” Gunjan clarifies.
In response, many designers are trying to incorporate the handmade feel into the manufacturing process. “I believe that the human eye is kinder to errors and imperfections than we think it is,” Gunjan jokes.
Art and design challenges in India
New design forms pose opportunities as well as challenges for traditional art and crafts. “Artisans represent the living traditions of a culture and are deeply embedded in the socio-economic fabric of a country like India. It is tragic on many fronts to see technology reproduce something of such historical significance at a fraction of a price, and in the process, compromising the position and livelihood of an entire community that has survived on this for generations,” Gunjan laments.
More art and design forums are needed for raising awareness and bringing international perspectives to the forefront. “As a country, we are still quite nascent when it comes to appreciating art as part of our formal education system. People need more educational opportunities about the role of creativity in everyday life and its connection to basic wellbeing,” Gunjan adds.
Traditional arts need to be given an equal platform alongside celebrated contemporary artists in order for India to survive its rapid modernisation without cannibalising its heritage, she urges. (See also YourStory's PhotoSparks series on arts, design and creativity.)
But traditional crafts can be given a contemporary feel through reinvention, new technology and transformation, according to Karolina Merska, designer and maker of pajaki or traditional Polish chandeliers. Multicultural awareness and uniqueness can take such traditional crafts to a global audience.
As good examples of contemporary crafts, she cites Campana Brothers' Racket collection, Patricia Urquiola’s Tropicalia chairs, and furniture pieces by design duo Muller van Severen. “They are successful as they are inspired by various traditional crafts and simple materials, and have been turned from ideas into exciting, contemporary pieces,” Karolina explains.
The scope of design can also be extended. “The biggest challenge is that design is perceived largely through a visual lens or aesthetically. I believe that it should actually encompass the human condition, socio-economic realities, and cultural touch points,” explains designer Sanjay Garg, Founder of Raw Mango.
“Designing in India is undervalued. This is probably due to a lack of awareness. The common misconception has always been that design is for the elite and the rest simply turn to the notion of jugaad,” observes Suprita Moorthy, Programme Director at India Design Forum, and Co-founder of Bengaluru ByDesign (BbD).
“Design should be seen as a large part of problem-solving. Whether it is decreasing work with a nifty household appliance or increasing sales through branding, design has the potential to solve problems. This needs to be communicated. When people are taught to see and observe design in a different way, they will understand the value and long-term benefits of it,” says Priyanka Shah-Bhandary, Co-Founder of Bengaluru ByDesign.
Design themes cutting across sectors today include design thinking. “Design thinking is at the core of effective strategy development and organisational change. You can design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. The design way of thinking can be applied to systems, procedures, protocols, and customer/user experiences,” Suprita explains.
The purpose of design, ultimately, is to improve the quality of life for people and the planet, she adds. (See also my reviews of the books 101 Design Methods and Solving Problems with Design Thinking, and the framework The ‘8 Is’ of Design Thinking for Startups.)
“The biggest misconception that pervades industry today is that design thinking can somehow be taught in a short workshop. The best outcome of these short courses is to develop an understanding of and appreciation for the power of design, and for organisations to bring designers into strategic roles,” explains Abhimanyu Nohwar, Founder-Director of Kiba Design.
But in some cases, it is taken as another skill development workshop, leading managers to feel they are now able to understand the importance of design better than designers, he cautions.
It takes years to “think and see like a designer,” to understand the physical, social and cultural structures of the world around us, its representation through sketching, and the elements of design, composition, colour and form. “The design process is a culmination of all these learned skills working together in harmony to understand a problem and define ways of dealing with it,” Abhimanyu explains.
However, unlike most management processes, design isn’t a purely rational process, and relying equally on intuition and rationality is one of its greatest strengths. “Unfortunately, design thinking is being understood as yet another rational process-driven methodology to achieve innovation,” he laments.
Organisations need to do the hard work of internal restructuring by including creative thinkers and designers in strategic roles and integrate creative problem-solving methodologies across disciplines with an eye to organisational transformation, rather than simply sending top management to “learn design thinking,” Abhimanyu urges.
“Design thinking isn’t a passing fad to be checked off on a list. When incorporated in its truest sense, design thinking can lead organisations to transformational change. Its holistic nature helps to understand the ecosystem around a problem before crafting a solution, something that is critically important with challenges like climate change. It can help show us the way to a sustainable future by putting humans at the centre of things,” Abhimanyu explains.
It is important to introduce cross-disciplinary learning, fundamentals of investigation (research), creative problem solving, and teamwork in Indian schools. “In an iterative manner, an overall shift of focus from grades towards learning and teamwork would help move children from a competitive mindset to a collaborative learning one, as has been shown by public school education in Finland,” he advises.
Some government projects are also reflecting an appreciation for design thinking, Abhimanyu observes. “Further implementation will probably require a mandate from the top, and it must be adopted at all levels, especially by implementation agencies. This shift has the potential to make government projects responsive and iterative, learning from insights on the ground, and effecting changes all the way to the top of the system,” he adds.
The design experts offer a number of tips for aspiring designers in a world of constant change. “Design is limitless and has the potential to change the world. Young people need to open their minds on how they can use design to add value; they need not be bound by their fixed notions and educational conditioning,” Suprita advises aspiring designers. “Unlearn, have the courage to fail, and think outside the grid,” she sums up.
Designers should also address India’s youth population. “Acknowledge the fact that millennials are the largest generation alive today. Accept that they are highly influential, impact the purchase decisions of peers and parents, and have a strong voice. Believe that they are truly unique as they are the first digital generation,” advises Revathi Kanth, Chief Design Officer at Titan.
The first step towards addressing the needs of this segment is to understand them. “Anticipate their evolving needs by keeping abreast of megatrends and their influence on millennials,” Revathi adds.
“India is a diverse country, but with globalisation and digitalisation, there is convergence in thinking. Demographics and geography matter less, psychographics matter more. Design can be sharply focused towards a diverse group which thinks in a certain manner,” Revathi observes. Other trends she identifies are the convergence of design with technology, and the importance of creating differentiated but relevant products and services.
Design is an exploration of both internal and external worlds. “For me, creative would mean to sustain culture and the changes around us. It means realising that tradition is not only linked to the past, but it is also an integral part of our culture and textiles. To think out of the box means that you need to be or placed in that frame or box which is challenging - keep your eyes open, look within yourself and keep your sight set on the future,” advises Sanjay Garg.
All the above experts and a host of other practitioners will be speaking at the Bengaluru ByDesign conference on November 23-24 at UB City. “Bengaluru ByDesign is a starting point to demystify the eliteness of design and to stir people’s imaginations to engage, explore and experience,” says Suprita.
The event aims to create curiosity and promote dialogue on topics related to technology, products, innovation, and sustainability. There are plans to curate several design pop-ups in other cities as well.
“We had a vision of creating a design festival that would democratise design and make it accessible to people from every stratum of society,” adds Priyanka.
The conference is structured along three levels: public (installations), education (workshops) and business (panel discussions). Partners include Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Anant University, Titan, TVS Motor Company, Asian Paints, and VU Technologies.
The conference co-founders themselves offer a range of tips for designers and entrepreneurs. “The world is changing at a rapid pace and new technologies are coming in every day. Willingness to change and adapt is necessary for any startup to thrive in today’s world. Any business in the field of design should be open to the trends and the latest technologies and be willing to provide end-to-end services in the domain,” advises Priyanka.
“Some of the best ideas and designs come from the old-school way to doing things - with a pen and a paper, with a drawing board or a vintage camera. New-age designers should not lose that,” she cautions.
Some of the most profound ideas come from self-awareness and understanding of human nature. “Designers should observe more and take inspiration from the world around them and within themselves,” she adds.
Collaboration is also an important practice. “I would advise designers to not limit themselves. While a lot of designers might prefer working by themselves, the most ambitious projects require collaboration,” Priyanka signs off.