After the new economic policies arrived, the key goal to emerge before India was to make the ‘Made in India’ slogan some kind of a hallmark of excellence as was ‘Made in Japan’. Then, a bit down the line, this was overtaken by the serendipitous success in software and offshoring, thus making ‘Serviced out of India’ a proud label to sport. Today, in the new millennium and the age of ‘experiencing’, yet another goal has emerged, captured in the legend ‘Designed in India, Made for the World’.
Human society has travelled from the agrarian to the industrial to the knowledge to the now creative or experience avatar. Apple and Google highlight the way things have changed. Business and enterprise have switched from creating satisfaction for the consumer by meeting her need for products and services to providing the right experience. Form, function and image have converged with technology to offer this.
And when it comes to creating a pleasurable experience, design becomes the king. It is the designing edge of Apple and not its technology (any number of firms can and do make an MP3 player or a smart phone) that has made it a leader. And then there is Google, which has challenged Apple’s brand supremacy by becoming a symbol of participation.
In a world where technology and quality become givens like hygiene, it is design that makes a brand stand out. To win, Indian business has to create brands that meet the stated and unstated needs and desires of customers. It needs to use “design as a fundamental tool” of business, says Darlie Koshi in his new book, Indian Design Edge (Roli Books). Designing is no longer just about giving a product or service a pretty or elegant look. Design has to begin at the beginning by researching what the customer consciously or unconsciously wants or even something that she might want (create a new need). This helps shape the product. Then designing needs to delve deep into a society’s cultural history and folklore to discover the idioms and metaphors which help emotionally link up to the customer and create brand loyalty.
This is why designing has become a system and is moving from the tactical to the strategic. “The age of the storyteller has dawned”, “design is ‘storytelling’ for products,” both in depicting the product and communicating its message. Hence, it is all important to understand and articulate an Indian design idiom. “The new generation of designers have an opportunity to strengthen India’s design edge by decoding the tacit knowledge embedded in the crafts... I strongly believe that Indian crafts need to be perceived not only as part of our cherished heritage but as foundation for innovation tomorrow,” argues the director of the National Institute of Design (NID).
A successful example of delving into tradition to create unique contemporary brands is Titan’s heritage collection of watches. Its designing inspiration springs from the history of Indian architectural heritage and its many influences. The same can be said of Titan’s Raga collection, which uses artistic and creative themes of the past to design watches for women that are ornamental and modern. The KAARU design house travels down the same road and exhorts, “Create designs that are highly contemporary but completely based on the spirit of the land.”
Modern Indian firms which have embraced design strategically have clear successes to show for themselves. A good number of them come from the world of automotives — successful SUVs like the Scorpio and Bolero from the Mahindras and two-wheelers from Bajaj (Pulsar) and TVS Motor (Scooty). There are also the elegantly designed kitchen ranges from Hawkins and the Elanza range of luggage from VIP. And of course, there is the technology determined Thin Edge line of watches from Titan.
While these are encouraging successes, there is no question that designing as the core of Indian brand-building is still in its early days. There is a huge design deficit in the country (India has at most 10,000 designers whereas the US has 180,000) and the yearly output of trained designers is a mere 1,200. At the present rate, the design advantage of Italy, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore can take centuries to match. The good news is that, unlike in many areas where there is not even a credible pathway identified to make up the deficiencies, designing in India has acquired a roadmap for progress and given itself an agenda in the last few years.
Koshi played a key role in getting the government to adopt a national design policy last year and set up a rolling venture capital fund of Rs 10 crore with a grant of Rs 3 crore for this year. Plus, the decision to make the NID — which sits at the peak of a pyramid of different levels of design curricula in different teaching institutions — a deemed university has been taken by the government and the final legal enabling is awaited from the University Grants Commission. Six design schools in the country have come together to put in place a common entrance test, the National Entrance Examination for Design, and a loose group called the Indian Design Institute Alliance formed.
But a long agenda remains. An Indian Design Council, made up of 50 national notables, is yet to be set up. Also in the pipeline is the setting up of the Chartered Society of Designers, a professional self-regulatory body, and an innovation hub. The latter is essential as today designing requires high technology capabilities. India has a long way to go before it can call itself design-driven.
7 months ago