Opinion

Interested in design? Look around: there is enough happening to find inspiration

Visvapriya Sathiyam
11th Jan 2019
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From schools and colleges introducing design thinking to books, documentaries and podcasts on design, the discipline is finding more takers and becoming more mainstream.

Victor Papanek begins his book ‘Design for the Real World’ with the following words:

All men are designers. All we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity.

A lot has gone this year for design in India and I am amazed to see how rapidly design is systemically proliferating into the fabric of our society – from schools and colleges to government, media and daily news.

Go back to 2015, and ask a college kid about design; it is likely that he talks about computer-aided design or fashion design. Today, there is more awareness for design because of d-schools, design studios popping up in every city and public and corporate design events (Adobe, SAP). We can even say, that today in India, design is accessible to all, not just the designers from design schools.

Design in K-12 schools

It didn’t come as a surprise to me beginning this year when my son’s school set up a design lab for students in Class VI to VIII. The school follows the International Board from the US, where design thinking is embedded in the curriculum. Children at age 12 are exposed to the design mindset such as the ability to collaborate, empathise with people and build prototypes to validate their understanding.

My own little experiment teaching design to children made me realise that design can be taught systematically to children from age six, the moment their observation and empathy for the world around them begins to take shape.

What I am really excited about is this: Can design be a regular class like Math or English every day in school, right from Class I to XII? Can children use design to create or change things in the real world and not only solve hypothetical problems inside their design labs? And can design get into public schooling that is lopsided towards technical rigour today?

Picture: A seven-year-old’s definition of design during a children design camp we did at SAP.

 Design at technical and business schools

We know that engineering and business schools are introducing design thinking into their curriculum. As a result design has become popular amongst college students. Large companies are realising that teaching design to engineering graduates is critical for business. The one way to scale and fill the appetite for design would be to create that awareness right at the beginning, at universities. Knowing this gap very well, design schools like Srishti in Bengaluru offer part-time Master’s in Design for the engineering creatives. Compare this to 2008, when I switched from engineering to design, I had nowhere to go.

The next leap for engineering and business schools would be to embed a good dose of design courses as a core part of the curriculum. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to do a course on typography or graphic design to sharpen your creative side? Shouldn’t every engineer complete minimum credits on design courses for graduating? After all, design is about humanising technology.

Design as a primary skill in corporate

Every multi-national company that values design today, like SAP, IBM, 3M, Steelcase, Accenture, Honeywell – have their home-grown design educational programmes for engineers. Corporates that onboarded the company-wide adoption of design thinking now feel it is important to push further and sensitise the organisation in design doing – the real craft of making products useful and usable. For example, you can read what we do at SAP, spreading the design fire within our engineers.

Design events in cities

We have design weeks in many of our mega-cities like Bengaluru, Pune or Kochi. In these events, people come together to share and learn to solve problems together in a design-ish way. My favourite this year was DesignUp in Bengaluru. If you haven’t been to a design event this year, make it on top of your agenda for 2019. You will learn more about design than reading 10 books on it, just in one day.

Design events are also doubling up as change drivers. At DesignUp, I learnt about the South African design event, Design Indaba, that does a three-day immersive design conference every year (one of the best rated creative event). The rest of the 362 days they engage with and teach their volunteering attendees to make their country better, wherever they live – from designing benches along pavements to designing full-scale museums. A few days ago, DesignUp and Design Indaba opened up a challenge to solve social problems in India, encouraging anyone to design with them. A few years ago, such design challenges were within the walls of design schools and studios? Now as a normal citizen with no design background, you can put your creative hat to good use. (The challenge is open until January 20th, 2019!)

Design in news

Every morning we read about sports, politics, stock market and startup stardom. Behind most of these shifts there is mostly a design story, seldom covered. It took the legendary design writer Phil Patton more than 10 years in the 80s to pull up the design scene in New York City, with his rigorous and consistent writings for the New York Times. Thanks to YourStory, design is being read in the daily news also in India.

In the West, design writing is an aspiring profession that can land you a decent job in Fast Company or Wired, TED or even lesser known publications.

Design in media and books

My most used media channel is podcasts. It is a driving routine to listen to the podcasts on design – TED on Design or Roman Mars – 99% invisible (the best stories on design from America). One humble attempt in Indian podcast scene along similar lines is Audiogyaan that curates opinions of designers from varied creative fields. Netflix ran a series on Creative Indians, like the western equivalent of American designer’s series Abstract. All of these provide great inspiration and information.

How about design books from India? I have these: A Pukka Indian, 100 Objects that Designed India and Sar, The Essence of Indian Design. There is tremendous scope; for design books from India, for India, by India are still far and few.

Coming back to the kid from 2015

In the last three years, we has seen the rise of design outside the elitism that design had to a selected few.

We know that design is for all, irrespective of any specialisation, much like writing or reading. We are seeing that the Indian economy (particularly the IT industry) is building a huge appetite for design.

We are ready to push the button further and encode design into our schools, colleges, government, media, daily news and into our social fabric, with our own Indian identity.

Make one tiny goal for 2019 for design, if you are new to design – visit a design event, read a book, listen to a podcast, watch an iconic design documentary.

And when you are inspired, inspire others to design. A seven-year-old wrote a nice definition for design:

Picture: From the d-camp for children in the age group of six to eight that we did at SAP

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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