Is the Indian design revolution here at last? One has to just step back and look around, and there are products like the Tata Nano that force you to believe the country is moving up the designing ranks, slowly but unmistakably. In fact, the country is bringing a new way of thinking into mainstream designing. Banny Banerjee, who heads the design programme at Stanford University, spoke to DNA Money’s Nirmal John on how the phenomenon was influencing the designing world. Excerpts from the interview:
How is the emergence of India and China changing the way designers look at the world?
I think China and India are alike. They are both visible forces. With the constraints in India, if you really work within them and come up with a world-class and high-quality offering, then that would mean you’ve cracked it for the entire world. Think about it. If you can design say a high-quality medical device that can withstand the tough conditions here and is of ultra-low cost, then we will have an offering that can blow away the world. The West hasn’t been forced to have that kind of a product, which is really economical. That’s where I think a lot of innovation occurs. The scarcity of resources is the driver for innovation.
How far down is India in design-oriented development?
I wouldn’t call it early days in terms of chronology, but we haven’t had a culture of design. We have had a culture of accepting things that came our way. Culturally, we have only just taken that turn into innovation in design. The present generation of 20-year-olds is a very different beast from the previous ones. I sense that they are much more open and active. This makes them really capable of taking designing the way it ought to be taken. If what I am postulating is true, then we are marking a different era in design and also design education in India. But we need to take design out of fashion design and furniture design and throw it down the alley where it really matters. The real magic of design is being a catalyst in creating a large-scale impact. That is what being in the leading edge of design means.
Environment is a hot topic. How is this emergence of environment consciousness affecting the designing world?
The key is to know how environment is affecting the thinking behind the design process. Because design is one of the few fields that can create real change. There aren’t many fields like design, which could be at once holistic and proactive. When it comes to environment, mankind seems to be riding a car that is heading straight towards a cliff. The car’s accelerator has been floored and there are no brakes either. Given the nature of this challenge, there aren’t too many fields out there that can step up and make a difference. Design is singularly well-positioned to act as a catalyst in this change. This fact is having a deep effect on the designing world because it allows room for emotions unlike in areas such as engineering or business. Given that, there is recognition that design is a darn good answer for this problem and it happens to be populated by people who have strong opinions and who care. So, environment is having a profound impact on design. Practically, every design programme has a sustainability angle to it these days.
What have companies such as Apple done right to become design-centric?
Companies such as Apple are actually extremely human-centric. They believe that they are not creating a product. They are creating a full eco-system, which is modifying behaviour. They respond to the fact that people are not just logical creatures and respond to them on many different levels including the emotional aspect. Take the iPhone for example. Imagine how much blood has been spilled in Apple to bring it down to one button. It is very easy to have 20 buttons. It is inordinately hard to simplify just like originality is very hard to pull off. At Apple, this happens because of the people in the top such as Steve Jobs, who are visionaries. They are extremely sophisticated controllers of what needs to be done. They are very unforgiving and uncompromising in their ways. Their model is very hard to replicate.
With globalisation, is there a dilution of local identity in fields such as design?
Yes, there is no doubt there’s a change. There is certainly a change in the value system as to what constitutes good aesthetics. Having said that, people are far more confident now than they were earlier, especially in terms of expressing themselves or not conforming to norms. There is a certain calibration of what you are. I think it is a case of globalisation finding roots in local phenomena. In a way, globalisation works both ways.
Aspects of traditional design, which we thought were dying, are finding new avenues.Is there also a certain overplay of similarity, especially in architecture, with all the glass and steel buildings?
I don’t know how qualified I am to comment as I haven’t experienced too much of contemporary architecture in India. But I think there has rarely been a design in India that has really worked with the climate or one which has really worked with the economics. Bringing architecture that mimics what happens in the West is not enough. You need to ask yourself what your design is really for. Currently, the value system with which you design a building is directing resources towards a certain kind of show, which is not grounded in the matrix of where we are. I am not impressed with the architecture I see in India as I don’t see too much of architecture that is grounded in rock-solid integrity. I am not trying to say that the only architecture that I like is something which has elements of our long heritage. There are some architects here who are absolutely brilliant. But, at the same time, there are some who make a killing on coming up with buildings that people are being conditioned to think is cool.
6 months ago