Notes from Industry-Academia Panel Discussion at UX India 2015

A few weeks ago (last month to be precise) I was a part of a panel discussion at the UX India 2015 conference called Industry-Academia Fusion. The panelists were people from the Industry and Academia. There were a lot of discussions, deliberations and talking about the situation as it stands. It was a very interesting discussion, that brought upon many points that were critical to Design Education in India.  As someone who has spent quite a few years in the industry and then moved to the academia, I have been able to understand both perspectives and am often voicing my opinions from different sides.

A common concern amongst many people who hire designers, is that the quality of students graduating is not adept, or the industry has to train them on certain skills before they could get onto a project. Why is this so?  Is it even a justified demand from the industry? 

If we look at the early days of UX in India, there was always a certain amount of time given to fresh graduates to adapt the needs of the industry. A lot of the managerial people in the UX would not come from formal studies in UX, for the field did not exist then. It is only over the past 10 years that the discipline has seen more graduate programs being offered. The demand side has risen considerably too. 

Industry lead academia or academia led industry

A question that I am often found discussing with my peers is whether industry has become impatient or has the academia started to just fulfil the ‘demand’ of the industry? So the classic question then follows : Should the Industry lead the academics or should the academics lead the industry? You could be a proponent of either of the thought, but it is something that is currently at the helm of how design is taught at the institutes today.  

If you look at business schools they follow the former, whereas traditionally design schools have followed the later. 

But with the rise in “live projects”, internships, industry projects, placements driven curriculum, it is almost as if the notion of Design education is getting limited to precisely what the industry wants. 

A good example given by panelist was that of the US where a lot of the Academic research was used by industry to progress. Which meant that it was the academia leading the industry. It was here that the industry would set up research centres in colleges to new technology, research, innovation etc and then use that research to come up with industry ready products. 

In India, however the notion of research itself is not very prominent. Design schools are hardly encouraged to work on research. The culture of research is non-existent. Very few research papers get written. One way of changing that should be to encourage all faculty to write papers, articles and get involved in research. That is the true value quotient of any school. 

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It is well known and should be clear that design education cannot adopt the same ways of working as an engineering or management education.  So it can therefore never be the about the numbers and having too many students at a point of time. Design education is different because one has to pay special attention to the individual learning capacities. Someone could be a fast learner, someone could learn slowly. Courses need to be ‘designed’ in a manner that it encourages the learning. 

Speaking of learning, schools and colleges today need to rebuild themselves as centres of learning and not as training centres. While training is a short term thing, learning is a life-long process.

Academia and Industry should be different but work together
Even though there exists some difference in both, it is important that the academia and industry work together on certain aspects. Design education has multiple aspects to it. 

It is important to understand on what parameters are the graduates evaluated when they are interviewing for jobs or pitching for projects. As a good design school, it should be imperative that there is ample focus on these to prepare someone better for the industry.  One is the skill building (which is often evaluated by the portfolios of designers), second is the creativity quotient (which is evaluated by how innovative the designs are) and third is the critical thinking (which is hardly given importance during recruitment). 

How does the Industry engage with academia

A common misconception with the people from industry is that the only way someone can get associated with the academia is to teach by giving up your job. Well, if they were doing that, then the role of the academics would be lost. There are other ways in which one can engage with the academia. I am mentioning a few of them. 

  1. Intensive workshops on topics that are contemporary and relevant (Demand full attention of students by not having classes parallely)
  2. Float Long projects that the students can work on with the faculty at the Design School. (Make sure you pay the school for their efforts on this. Make your intentions clear when it comes to what you are going to do with the final results? Will the student and school also have any role to play in the IP that is created through the project ? Who owns the IP?
  3. Take guest lectures highlighting the work at the companies and its success by design
  4. Float short term projects (always engage in short-term projects first before a long project
  5. Hire students as interns (make it a compulsory part of your company)
  6. Find time to give back to Design colleges by mentoring students and making them aware about Design professionalism.

I would love to hear more from you on how you can encourage the industry and academia to create better learning experiences for the students.

Remembering Prof M P Ranjan…

It has been just over a week, since the Design fraternity in India woke up to the tragic loss caused by the sudden demise of Prof M P Ranjan, who has been the most revered Design Evangelist in India by a long way. His passing way has left too huge a gap both in the academia and the professional side.

Professor Ranjan was a Designer Teacher, whom I never had the fortune of getting taught by in person in a course in particular at NID (where he taught most of his life), but I am still hugely inspired by. Way back in 2003, when he was visiting the Bamboo centre in Tripura, he had stopped by at the Department of Design, IIT Guwahati where I was a student. His fascinations with processes and methodologies was indeed inspiring. His association for the cause of Bamboo and its revival or survival (depending on the way you see it) was highly motivating. What also remained with me was his eagerness to record all his meetings, and visits, then done with the Sony Digital Camera that he carried around. Later this tool gave way to the iPad, and the famed Selfie with Ranjan.

Later I was only fortunate to have read through his postings on his popular website. Design for India. There was so much passion into even the name of the website. Today when I reflect back, I must admit, his writings also played at the back of my mind, when I decided to come back to India after studying in the US for my masters. I wanted to contribute back in India and help the discipline of Design grow and find more takers here.

Finally I did a chance to sit through his classes in 2013, a good 10 years after I had first met him. During his meeting, I did remind him of our meeting in 2003, of which he had no memory, but I had clearly. In my capacity at the India Studio Director of  L’École de design Nantes Atlantique, we invited Professor Ranjan to Bangalore to take sessions on Design Thinking and Design Methodologies. This was when I happily became a student again. Sitting through those 3 days of workshop style classes itself was filled with joy. The one thing that stuck with me from these sessions was his emphasis on System Design Thinking and why we need to think about different stakeholders. A simple exercise like understanding the Pizza Delivery Service, and using that as a reference to teach Design Methodology is something that I will cherish.

M P Ranjan at TCD Class
M P Ranjan at TCD Class of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique (India Studio)

I also remember his excitement when I mentioned that I was a student of Erik Stolterman, Professor at Indiana University, whose book The Design Way was in his list of must read books in Design Theory. During one of the conversations over lunch, one thing that he did talk about is that Design in India has been there for a long time, if you look at the history of Indian crafts and the rich cultural heritage we have. Only recently it has become a profession. I have used this example a lot of times in my talks and interactions at conferences, as it conveys a lot about Design in India.

Professor Ranjan is a legend that will live on for generations, whenever design in India is spoken about. Such was his passion for Design in India, that over the past few years he became very vocal about opinions on Design. When governments refused to think Design (Thinking) could change things, he was there fighting it alone to let Design in India get its due importance. It was his vision for Design Thinking that led me to believe that it could help in running organisations. This is something that has even formed the basis of running my non-profit venture Happy Horizons Trust.

A few things that inspired me to the core, was his passion to share knowledge. Be it his articles, research papers, research methodologies, everything was accessible to all. Today, there would be thousands of students of his and researchers who would have his website bookmarked, as the information was too valuable. His postings on Social Media was followed religiously as well.

As A Balasubramaniam writes in his blog post, Onus is on us, I do reflect back on the things that I have got to doing after I started following Professor Ranjan’s Blog more.

I started teaching more. The more I taught Design (school kids to college students to industry professionals to company CEOs), the more i learnt. I started to share more. I started to engage more in discussions and realise the importance of theory to back up your claims. These are somethings that i can truly owe it to Prof Ranjan.

My brief interactions was Professor Ranjan was rewarding and something that I will cherish lifelong and only aspire to follow his footsteps towards evangelising Design in India.

The Goa Project 2015 talk

Over the past few years, nothing has driven me more than to be working in the field of Design Education. Whenever I get an opportunity, I try to talk about it and share my viewpoints and love to hear thoughts both from educationists and industry practitioners on how it can improve/change.

Here are the slides from my talk today at The Goa Project 2015.

I spoke on Design Education in India and shared my viewpoints on what are the things that design education needs to do. It was an interesting experiences sharing the views and engaging in discussions with people over the talk and the break thereafter.

A quick summary of the presentation are with these points :

  1. Design education in India is going through a transition
  2. There’s a huge supply -demand gap number of graduates and industry requirements
  3. There are more people ‘designing’ stuff than ever before
  4. The role of designer in organisation and society is changing
  5. We need to equip the designer with skills relevant to succeed in the 21st century
  6. We live in a more connected and complex world

You can view the entire presentation below..

Would love to hear your viewpoints and engage in more discussions on the same.

Rejoice. NID Ahmedabad as an institute of National Importance.

Design education in India just went one step higher in terms of more acceptance from the society and the people in the government. The realisation of the importance and role of design in the development of the society is important.  So, in my opinion, the recent passing of the NID bill in the Rajya Sabha, to declare NID as a institute of National Importance is a landmark thing. NID being the oldest design institute in India, had to get this. Today as I write this, there is more hope for design in India than ever before. This is driven not just from the perspective of education, but also the industry relations.

  • The bill will also enable the NID to undertake sponsored and funded research as well as consultancy projects.
  • It will enable the NID to conduct research and training in all disciplines related to design.
  • It would allow the NID to confer honorary degrees, diploma, certificates and awards and other academic distinctions and titles in disciplines relating to design.
  • The institute will now be able to award degrees to its students.
  • Also be able to open PhD Programs in Design. This was earlier being offered only by IITGuwahati, IIT Bombay and more recently Srishti school of Design (through Manipal University)

Image courtesy: Times of India, epaper.

 

NID Bill
NID Bill

I hope that the NID rewards the degree of Bachelor of Design, (BDes) the same that is being given to students at the IIT Guwahati, NIFT and other deemed universities undergraduate programs.  Ever since I got that BDes degree from the IIT Guwahati in 2005, I have wanted to see more people in my tribe. Though I have never faced any problem in my professional career, it was a bit difficult to explain the BDes degree to many, especially in areas of the country, where only BTech or MBBS or MBA are the degrees that they have heard of.

What we need now is a regulatory body to approve and look at the developments of Design Institutes in India. Technical, Management, Dental, Medical, Architecture education all has its regulatory body, but Design so far does not have one. Considering the amount of requirement that we have, I thing we are highly short on the number of design schools here. However care has to be taken to ensure that it does not go the engineering / management way of just increasing the numbers, compromising on quality. It was hoped that the India Design Council, would have that role of being the regulatory body, but its not been the case so far.

The Vision first series of discussions with the earlier government on the role of Design in the country and Visioning Design Innovation Centres to come up in the country. This does not directly translate to the setting up of more design colleges. Centres of excellence in Design, can be set up in numerous of the existing engineering and management colleges as well. A lot of the new IITs being set up have been involved in this process. I know of this happening atleast at the Disruptive Design course at IIT Gandhinagar and Department of Design at IIT Hyderabad.  The setting up of the DLabs by Indian School of Business, and its project of taking Design Workshops at Engineering colleges in India is commendable.

With the new government settling in, , in his post (an open letter to the new Prime Minister Modi) also writes about the possibility of a setting up of a ministry of Design in India.

  • The expectations are mounting and so are the problems. I want to draw your attention to do something dramatic, as is expected of you. Please create a new ministry: Ministry of Design.
  • The Ministry of Design can be the agent of change that you want to see. And you can count on the design community to join you in this cause.

These are all good signs for the progress of Design and Design education in India. The days ahead are challenging, because we need more professionals to get involved. It is good to see more professionals willing to come to Design colleges and spend time with the students. But the time is right to also make being in the design education field also a good career choice for designers.