Design as Social Capital

All good design leads to Social Capital. It is at the core of everything we design. Some call that process the user-centred design and some as human-centred design. The notion of Social Capital relies on building solutions that are based on Reciprocity, Trust and Cooperation.

A lot of the population in India still does not have access to the basic amenities in life, and when we talk of building solutions that are going to be useful in these contexts, the Social Capital is something that one cannot ignore.

When working in the development sector, towards creating solutions that have high impact and are long lasting, one should seek help from Social Capital.

These are the Slides from my talk at the UX India 2016 conference, where I put out an open call to the UX community to leverage the notion of Social Capital and build highly impacting solutions.


Conquering Fear : My Thoughts on Entrepreneurship

I have been an entrepreneur at heart and have been trying out quite a few things. When  I reflect back on my life so far, I think there are certain instances, which I feel have inspired me. To me, entrepreneurship is all about conquering fear, and only by doing so one can be happy. Only when one is Happy, can one be an entrepreneur.

I spoke on this topic at the SAM UTH, event in VIT Vellore, on the 23rd March.

Design Day #8, Bangalore 18th May

I have been a huge proponent of the Design community in Bangalore coming together regularly and interact with each other. Often this happens only over projects, but the need to just come together more informally as well. Bangalore really needs a Design event that happens on a regular basis. There are two things that I am a part of and facilitate.

One is the movie+design nights that I host at my place from time to time, and the other is the Design Day event organized by Aashish Solanki and his team.

For those not familiar with the event, here is more about it.

Design Day is held on the third Saturday of every month, and a theme of Design is selected. There are two talks followed by a JAM session for an hour. The whole thing starts around 9:30 am and goes on till around 1:30 pm. The talks and JAM sessions are related to the theme.

The event is open to Designers and non-designers who share a passion on design and perhaps want to learn something about design.

The upcoming event is on the 18th of May and the theme this time is typography, something that I really enjoy!

Design Day Poster
Design Day Poster

You can register for the event here
It is FREE, though registration is must for arranging the logistics and arranging for passes to the Microsoft Accelerator office where it is held!

I spoke on the theme of Design Education at the last edition of Design Day. You can view my presentation from the same in this earlier blog post .

See you on the 18th!

Story of Design – Design Day talk

On Saturday 20th April, I gave a talk on Design Education in India at the Design Day Event. The event is a curated, monthly, free for all event that serves to act as a platform for designers to meet, interact, network and engage in conversations around design. The theme for the last one was Design education, and every month the theme changes around one aspect in Design.

We as designers often wonder,why is it that we have so less design schools in India, in spite of its rich legacy in crafts and culture. Where are we now and what is the future of Design education in India ? Do we really understand what is Design and the professional practice of design?


On Design Education in India – notes from the DDEI Conference

Design in India is going through interesting times. While there is the huge demand of designers from the industry, there is a crisis in terms of quality resources graduating out of the existing design schools in India.
In a country of 1.2 billion people there is only around 45-50 Design schools and institutes. (Compare this with Beijing which alone as around 120 Design Schools, Seoul – 80 Design schools, Singapore – 40 Design schools).
Today more people are aware of the role of design and designers in their organizations and the products and services they create. However the quality of designers that they have to choose from remains a concern of many.
Here is the gist of the conference taken from my notes I took during the conference.
1. There is a huge need for Design education to reach out to the other 80% of the Indian population that do not have access to Design education presently.
2. How does Design education come out of its elitist image, and be affordable to a wider audience.
3. Where does India get the faculty to teach Design? This is been a major concern across all Design institutions in India.  How can the teachers be trained as processors who make more socially responsible designers / people.
4. Can the language and grammar of Design in India be around the notion of Innovation for Improvement and towards building an inclusive development of society.
5. Whether the original “India Report” (proposed by Charles and Ray Eames for the establishment of National Institue of Design [1961]) is being followed in the present state of Design education in India is debatable. Many feel it has deviated.
6. Design was at the helm of development in the 1960s (Nehru’s Vision), but then fell behind in the race with engineering and management schools.
7. Design education should not just go for numbers and become like a processing industry, as it would then end up becoming an industry like Engineering schools which produces many unemployable graduates.
8. In the realm of all of these, how do we create design programs that is internationally recognized and takes care of contemporary issues faced by the country (and world) today.
9. Design education in India only recently got some recognition from the government. NID was upgraded to an institute of national importance after 52 years of operation. The Design Policy was launched in 2007. The India Design council was set up only in 2009 to promote Design education and Design across sectors. It is aimed that this body would have the authority to approve Design institutions across India, like the way Council of Architecture (COA) does for Architecture schools.
10. It is important to bring in the notion of Research driven Design into the Design education.
11. With the growth of Technology resource base in India, should that be included into the Design education curriculum. There should be avenues for cross disciplinary collaboration between designers, engineers, management professionals.
12. What should be philosophy for Design education in India going forward, after having gone through the American Styling to European elitism to thinking rationally on larger impact of design?
13. Designers should be taught to design not just in products but as systems (which are informed by the businesses, sociological decisions) and shows the versatility in its outcome.
14. Mentorship in Design education and profession should be promoted to educate about Values in Design.
15. Design education should be like seed farming, and the schools nurture the seeds, which go out and flourish in their own way, creating impact.
16. Design schools should be like incubators.
17. Adopt Design Thinking in Design education that is Multidisciplinary and is informed by Engineering, Classical Design, Social Sciences, Arts, Business Logic.
18. Design education should also look at faculty development in Design to be able to teach design.
19. Design projects should be taken up from real time problems in Cityscapes, urbanization, produce for common people, etc.
20. In the past Design was about making things beautiful, then it was about creating experiences and enjoyable. We would need to start designing for Values.
21. Designers are seen as Conceptor, Conductor, Connector.
22. Design is Logic. Design is Magic. Design is Music.
23. How can designers help convincing the cynical CEOs on the impact of Design.
24. What is the intrinsic, interdisciplinary nature of Design?
25. There has to be a more strategic approach to Design education in India and not get stuck with the craft based approach to Design that India can flaunt.
26. Develop a language and vocabulary for design in India.
27. Design schools should provide designers the knowledge about Safeguarding design and Design rights, and implications of company Shares, stake in creations.
28. Designers need to go beyond the “Us (Designers)” and “They (Business)” paradigm of interacting with communities.
29. There is a huge shortage and need for Designers to become Entrepreneurs.
30. Designers should have a healthy adoption of aesthetics to purely functional designs.
31. It is harder, and okay to take on a real-world problem and fail at solving it.
32. Design solutions cannot happen spontaneously. Ideas can happen spontaneously.
33. Designers need to let go of the expressionist attitude to truthful & honest solutions.
34. It is okay to compromise on highly individualistic experiences (subjectivity)
35. Designers need to get better at technology literacy.
36. Designers should be able to trash their own ideas and critique their works.
37. Designers need to build a strong sense of design rationale to show how the research informed the final design.
38. Product life cycle is very short these days. How do designers address this issue?
39. Can Design adopt Open University approach and use the power of the online medium to impart design education worldwide?
40. Can design education be collaborative in the times of the Internet?

Designer's dilemma : Which conference to attend?

It is really interesting to know that every major city in India now has atleast one Design conference. As a result of this, we designers are often confused on which to attend! Some of these conferences also rotate from one city to the other. What conference to attend depends a lot on asking yourself, what you want to gain out of the conference. For some networking is always on the agenda. For some it is just to soak in the creative positive energies that flows during this conference.

I was just going through the details of two of the upcoming and interesting conferences in India.
I wanted to give some information about both. If you were to attend just one, I would recommend the Goa Project. That is my personal opinion based on my profile and interests. For the record, I am going to be attending both of them.

1. India Design Forum. (March 15th, 16th in Mumbai)
The India Design Forum- a private registration only program features two days of talks by highly acclaimed design experts from around India and the rest of the world.
Going by the past experience of me attending it last year, I know that The India Design Forum is more on the lines of an international (and elitist) event.

India Design Forum 2013
India Design Forum 2013

The need for such an event in India is important. However one thing I did not like about this conference is the inability to ask questions to speakers. The format is such that you just hear from “designers”. If that’s the case, I am often wondering, we do that anyway through the videos we see. Though nothing to give away from the tremendous networking opportunity the IDF provides.

If not for the IDF, people in India would not get that chance (as yet) to listen to speakers of such high profile in person.

The second is The Goa Project, which looks really awesome!
2. The Goa Project. (March 28th, 29th, in Goa)
A unique social experiment that brings dreamers and really passionate souls across platforms together for an unconference. If you love what you do, you should attend this.
Think beautiful strangers, great minds and sun kissed bodies on the beaches of Goa. All you need is a little imagination. And a BIG dream. Watch it take flight. With a little help from your new friends.

It would have talks and sessions around multiple tracks:
Entrepreneurism / Film / Performing Arts & Music / Society / Fringe / Visual Arts / Master Class.
There will be lectures, workshops, discussions. You get to experience all of these, at a Beach in Goa.

The Goa Project
The Goa Project

The purpose of The Goa Project is to create confluence among interesting and diverse people. Maybe you will learn a new skill. Perhaps you’ll be sprung out of your comfort zone. You might even meet people who can bring your personal projects to life. Together, these instances of confluences will collectively ignite our minds and spark our souls.It is here where you can expect collaborations to happen in terms of identifying interesting people to work with, to listen to, people who are of a younger age profile, and more energetic.

I was discussing the same with my students too, and I appreciate the value that listening from great designers bring to the education, but we do that a lot in our classes too, through videos. However the personal interaction with the legends is always a welcome thing. Then the IDF is a nice conference to attend. However if one is more of the entrepreneur kind, a social experiment like The Goa Project is a must attend!

Some other factors that you should definitely look into when making a decision.

Traveling and moving around
While there is always the option of taking the flight, going to Goa is easier by bus too.
Bus to Goa is around 12 hrs while the Bus to Mumbai is around 20-22 hours (from Bangalore where I am based out of)
Inside Goa, you can always hire out a scooty/bike to roam around. In mumbai you would have to rely on taxi.

Getting an accommodation in Goa is way easier than getting one in Mumbai. There are beach shacks to prime hotels in Goa to stay in. In Mumbai accommodation is expensive. You probably have to stay in a far off location, then travel around 1.5 to 2 hours to get to the NCPA, the venue of the event.

My Verdict
If you were to ask my opinion, I would recommend to go to Goa Project. Not because I am speaking there, but because I think its a better platform to engage in discussions around various topics and really add valuable inputs to your Design Thinking and open up your mind towards the newer Design Projects. It allows you to hear from real life stories from people who are passionate and have tried, succeeded and failed at many things.

The good news is that both the events are on different dates. And as a result of it, I am attending both!

Notes from the Indian Design Forum 2012

A few days ago I got back from Delhi. The design community headed to the first version of the India Design Forum, which was held at the Le Meridian hotel in New Delhi on the 9th and 10th March 2012. Amongst the attendees were a lot of people form Europe, some form the Americas and  some participants from Indonesia also. With the amount of buzz that the word design, design education, design driven startups and anything related to design is creating in India, the event holds a significant position.

To the IDF
To the IDF

This was marketed as the first International Design conference in India, which actually its not, but lets just ignore that for the moment.

This post is not meant to be a press release of the conference and neither a summary of what other people spoke, but just a personal reflection on the event and a constructive criticism for the event .

First the positives

The organizers had done a great job in getting a very good list of people to attend as speakers. That itself must have gathered a good crowd. So full marks to the organizers to  at-least reach out to the folks who otherwise would not have graced a design event in India.

I was impressed with the organization in terms of its venue selection, (you would be foolish not to like a posh 5 star hotel) , the effort put into the  whole planning out and the scale. I have seen and been to bigger ones outside India, so this was good to see here as well. The halls were really big, the stage was awesome and so was the audio – visual facilities to help follow the speakers well.

The conference started  with the pretext that design should come out of its elitist image. This notion was further highlighted in the talk by the renowned designer Karim Rashid in his talk.  However the conference was elitist in its highest sense. It felt very much like an elite crowd had come upon the stage and were making these presentations one after the other and boasting of the work they had done.

The tagline of the conference was “The Power of Design”. I really struggled to find and answer as to the power of design in what? In making people spend more money  or making them want objects of desire.

IDF 2012 - The power of Design
IDF 2012 - The power of Design

I felt that there was a lot of presentations around Product Design, Fashion Design and Architecture. Failed to see many presentations on other aspects of design in Sustainability, Design Research, Service Design, User Experience Design, Graphic Design, which are so crucial to discuss in the context of India.

So in my opinion the Power of Design should have been focused around bringing about a radical shift in the way the government and government bodies functions, in the way the services are offered, in the way lives are improved across the various segments of the society. The conference had nothing of that, but it would not be right to expect that as the intention of this conference was not that. When the minister for Industries Shri Kamal Nath gave the inaugural speech, there was a context being set that yes that perhaps Design for better governance, or industries or the could be a topic of discussion over the two days. However that was not the case.

In the talk by Paolla Antonelli, the senior curator from the MoMA (USA),  spoke about the design that the world is talking about and she spoke about case studies of examples form last year. A lot of the buzzwords were around Humanitarian Design, Design for Social Impact etc. However none of the remaining speakers spoke about these topics. These are things we have so much potential for in India and there was not one who spoke at length about it. We are  still caught up with the crafts and craft inspired product designs and architecture inspired Interior Design, or mythology and culture inspired Fashion Design.

So the other thinking that was kinda bothering me was that I must have got more reference of Italy , Paris, France, London and New York in the whole conference than anything related to India. There were a few sessions devoted to that, but not many. So the question that comes to my mind, is that; ‘Why can’t forum like India Design Forum have sessions dedicated to India and by that I mean not just showing designs created in India, but sessions FOR India.’

I personally believe that the moment the sessions are dedicated towards India and Design in India, you would have great discussions. You could bring in all the great design names and houses from around the world. But put them up in a great discussion on how they see the Power of Design in moving India forward. For them we should not present a picture that for us The Power of design is to adopt Jugaad, and built low scale products and facilities in the name of innovation, like the Tata Nano; but something larger than that. I would love to have them blast the design scene in India if they feel its not approprite. I would love to talk with them on the point that Design is not a DTP job but an honorable practice. I would love to have them discussion and I would sit through that.

That brings to my other major issue I had with the conference. When you call the event a Forum, you need to plan the time table in a way to give time for more and more discussions. In the way the things were planned there were over 50 speakers, who were speaking over the 2 days time. Now I would have totally loved if there was say just 30 speakers also, but there were sessions where the discussions was engaging. With over 50 speakers, and many of them showing works in the genre, the audience was left with lots to grasp in short time.

Some of the speakers were of such a high profile, the audience hardly had the courage to ask questions. On top of that, you had the organizers asking presenters to finish soon. The discussions , Q&A were all skipped and in the end what you were left with is a presentation that highlighted the work of the designer. Now that is something that can be viewed  online as well. Stories were missing from many of the presentations. I am a firm believer that you show lesser number of quality stuff than show a large amount of work in a rushed manner.

So often these presentations at IDF felt like portfolio review with the audience as the Jury, and the Jury had no real power to discuss the work. So what this resulted in was the audience not really being able to say the difference between the work done by Dilip Chabria versus the work done by the Italian firm that presented.

Maybe my understanding of design is a bit different than the rest. But to me, the conference as such felt more more arty than designerly. Perhaps it was with the people attending the conference and their attire, or the space in a 5 star, or the presence of certain artists, or the art exhibitions. If I attend a design conference, I expect everything to be designed. If there is a situation where an error could occur, I need to design in way that the error is prevented.

I also think a forum like IDF should also have exhibits from the best of Student Design projects across India. This has been a regular feature at various design conferences worldwide, and was missing here. If India is to  become a powerhouse in Design, the world needs to know not from the Indian origin designer settled in Netherlands or America, but in India and students are good channel to know that.

With the number of design educational institutions growing in India (I head one of them) , there are bound to be a lot of people who are more interested in knowing what the Power of Design is to improve the quality of life in India and what is being done at the training in design level itself.

I had really high expectations for the conference. I still have. I know that this is a starting year, and that there will be a better conference next year. It’s just that I am not satisfied completely.

If the idea is educate “masses”, it should not happen in 5 star hotels. Audience matters.” ; commented a contact from Twitter, who is also into Design education. Triggers an interesting chain of thought. Do we really need to have the event in a 5 star hotel and ooze with elitist image. Can the event me more affordable and approachable for the common man / designer.

In the end I felt, it was a sincere attempt to get the elite of the world of design to a platform which is definitely needed (?) in India. There  was an overdose of Product Design and Architecture, some Fashion Design. Hopefully in the years to come, they can expand the gamut of topics covered under the umbrella of the design in India.

To me the meet up / conference / forum felt like more like a design gathering to get an update on what others are doing. In order to make its mark as a quality conference, the organizers need to be made aware of the recent things that happen in Design conferences and make the conference more “Designerly” , which should not be mistaken for an elitist identity and denoting style.

The conferences are no more a one channel thing. There is a dialogue that needs to happen, so that the audience can leave feeling satisfied of learning something new and enriching. I think the event would be a lot better next time ! This time was an eye opener. Next one will be lots to learn! 🙂

So dear organizers of IDF. Our thanks is due to you 🙂 For the real eye-opening event! Great effort in the organization! We expect more in IDF 2013 now. The IDF event can serve as a good nexus with the design worlds that exists outside. It aims to be an influential platform and that it perhaps can be.

But the questions remains, influential for whom.

Why I love Canvera – notes from a Tweetup.

One of the amazing things about being in Bangalore, is that you are always surrounded by some amazing people, who are so passionate about what they do. It is no wonder that it is the Startup city in India and you get to meet amazing entrepreneurs. Dhiraj and Peeyush from Canvera are two such folks!

I have been a loyal Canvera customer since quite some time now, and was recently at a Tweetup organized by Dhiraj and team. It was something that I could not miss, especially when the a thing on the agenda was to show around the Canvera’s production facility. As a photographer, it is very simple to just see the final output in the form of a photo book. But it has always fascinated me to know the level of complexity that one goes through to get a book that is more like a piece of art in itself. The awesome books that come out are a treasure of memories and a testimony to that is that all my clients who have received the Canvera photobooks have loved it!

Needless to say, all were amazed at the amazing facility in terms of the equipments that are being at par with the best in the world, the quality of paper and the processes in place.

What impressed me most was the attention to detail that is paid at every step. Whether its in the consistency across printers or the lamination of the pages or the cutting of paper or the multi level quality assurance checks or to ensuring privacy of the customers and the photographers.

It may sound easy, but when you get to know that all these have to be done in a maximum turnaround time of 48 hours, you are left amazed! Moreover the challenges that they face by doing a business in a country like India, is something you have to appreciate the founders for and taking up the challenge.

Another thing that has impressed me a lot at Canvera (and which hope is never compromised) is the customer service. From the attention given to each query, and being patient with what is needed, it is very much evident that the folks out there take Customer Service very very seriously.

A trip like this had my respect level for the founders and the people involved in the smooth running of Canvera, go many levels high! When your belief in something becomes stronger, there is nothing but a world class product and service that you can expect, and I have been thankful that Canvera is able to provide that so far!

The company tagline is “Take Pictures. Leave the rest to us.” , and I have slowly come to firmly believe that.

The rise of SoLoMoN

My recent talk at STC UX conference aimed to throw light on why everyone is a designer and is contributing to the co-creation of UX.

We user experience designers, live in exciting yet challenging times. From the rise of social networks, to the evolution of different devices and platforms, to our design decisions being governed by someone else, the excitement for the field is unbounded.
However the excitement also comes with its set of challenges. Design being discussed in the board rooms, poses a lot more challenges. While its an indicator that it is being given its long due value, it also leads to a lot of expectations.

This also allows that a lot of people start pitching into the design process. The rise of the adoption of Agile framework at work places, the decision making in design is starting to get faster and often without much thought about ideas.

Another phenomenon that is gaining momentum, is that with design gaining more prominence across projects, often we end up having many more people who need not be from a design background, to contribute to the designs. These come mainly from the Business teams, the technology teams or even the marketing teams. This is also corroborated by the fact that there is a rise of a lot of crowd sourcing platforms. Design faces a lot of challenges when going via a crowd sourcing platform. As a result of all the above, the UX field is undergoing a paradigm shift.

In a follow-up to my earlier article on Co-creating the User experience, I recently gave a talk on the same topic at the STC UX conference, held on 27th August at Bangalore. Here is the presentation that I used in the talk: