Writing on Design

At the UX Now conference last week, I was speaking to fellow designers and academicians on the dearth of good literature coming out of the Indian design fraternity. So while, we live in interesting times, where people have a lot of devices and avenues to read on, there is lesser original content that is being published to read. When it comes to writing, we in India flair pretty badly at it.  As a result, we continue to rely upon literature that from other contexts, which are more likely from the west.

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I speak a lot at conferences and do multiple workshops on Design, Design Thinking, User Experience and when it comes to giving materials as pre-readings for my workshops, it all boils down to finding articles from a totally different context. I truly feel that we need more writings from here. We need to have more good literature on Design from India. Design in India is heavily influenced by culture and the ways we respond to it. Our business ethics are different and our structure of the economy is different too. So it makes sense to read more about it. For long, Design in India has been ‘inspired’ by the west, and it is time to change that.

As a part of a class I am teaching this semester, I am seeking the students how to write. I am a firm believer that designers today need to be better at writing and conveying their thoughts. Needless to say, it has been challenging. I strive to get at least one paper out of the class. My only goal for the class is to ensure that students learn how to write well.

Why is it difficult to write?
We struggle to write, because people spend lesser time reading lengthy articles. In the age of instant gratification, reduced attention span, the plethora of information available at fingertips, and information in shorts, it is difficult to expect someone to devote a lot of time to read an article. Even though the average time spent reading has gone up, it is more with multiple short articles or information bits in that of 140 characters and smaller news notifications. Building arguments in short articles is tough and if your piece does not have the sufficient interest from paragraph to paragraph, one has  lost the reader.

Coming out of the writers block
This is more challenging that I thought it to be. For people who were accustomed to writing (like me), getting back to doing it regularly after a considerable amount of time (few weeks to months), is immensely challenging. The mind is too fickle to concentrate on the writing part, and gets easily distracted. It is important to make writing a habit. Only then will one come out of this block. Pledge to write at least a minimum number of words every alternate day, if not everyday.  I remember the days when I wrote long articles. I need to get back  to doing so.

Writing in the Flow
I am striving to get into the flow of writing more often. Bring in discipline is important. It has to be done. I am now looking at at least 1 if not 2 articles / post on my website every week. There is so much to write about. From politics, to environment to education to wicked problems to governance. Design in India is seeing a resurgence, with its value being felt across disciplines. Therefore its the best time to write on design. 

If you have any particular thoughts on how to write better, I would appreciate some in the comments too.

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.

Design in the School Classrooms : ICoRD 2015 paper presentation

This is the paper that I presented at the International Conference on Research in Design 2015, held at IISc, Bangalore, January 7-9th. The paper deals with my experiences with Design Thinking and how we are using that in the work at the Happy Horizons Trust, to improve the quality of education through various activities and projects.

The paper was co-authored by one of my student Jean Haag, a final year Transcultural Design student at L’école de design Nantes Atlantique, India Studio. 

Paper Abstract :
For Design to change from its elitist image, there is a need to implant the value of design from a young age, because design is not just elite. The impression of Design to be a tool for Problem Solving (in its analytical, rational and intuitive thinking) is of most importance.  There can be no better place to inculcate the values of Design than in the schools. Fundamentals of Design, when integrated with the pedagogy, can result in better forms of learning and a shift from the traditional forms of rote learning. Tools like Visual minutes, understanding typography, design thinking patterns, critical analysis, gamification, etc can result in a better way of problem solving and hence learning. We applied these through different activities held in schools across India and across different demography and take inspiration from the findings of these to present in this paper. In the end the paper proposes tools from the world of design that can and should be adapted to the activities done in the schools, in order to present a better learning environment and quality.

Drop me a note, if you would like to read the complete paper, and I shall mail it across.