Why India must become more aware of product designs (June 29 is World Industrial Design Day)
In India, World Industrial Design Day goes as unnoticed as a new film released without any star; yet most of us have come in touch with hundreds of products designed by industrial designers in our daily life. We have loved products, used them, abused them and hated them as much since time immemorial.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2007 the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) has been celebrating World Industrial Design Day every year. This year, it has requested the global design community to answer a simple question - What is Industrial Design - in video format and post it on its website http://www.icsid.org.
The big question in the Indian context is why are we not tuned into this yet? The world is evolving and the industry of industrial design is expanding. What better time than on this international day of observance to reflect on how the profession of industrial design is defined today.
Industrial design propagates ideas of an inclusive and integrated collaborative approach in designing products with insight into the consumers mindset. This approach has led to many innovative design solutions and have benefited end users. Take the example of the iconic product of our time - the iPhone. It was driven by Steve Jobs but designed by Jonathan Ive of Apple Design Studio based out of Cupertino, California. Thus, iPhone truly represents an inclusive and integrated collaborative approach in designing products with an eye for details in design. The success of this has made every company worth its name in the electronic industry to take the 'minimalistic desig' style.
Collectively, we too have imbibed these aesthetic sensibilities in spite of the fact that most Indian sense of colour is bright and vibrant. Thus, industrial design helps every culture to imbibe its artifacts and tastes. Strange it is when you see labourers in India carrying European style mobile handsets of Chinese make.
In India we have Titan which has built a considerable reputation by using design as its strength in building brand. Automobile companies in India too have realized the benefit of industrial design the most. One can ascribe the success of the Mahindra XUV500 in recent times and the buzz created by its distinctive styling to a house of industrial designers.
Yet, the common man is unaware of the nuances behind the products sold to them: who creates them? Who produces them? How they are sold? The main reason for this is that the number of industrial designs produced in India is miniscule as compared to the West. This means that more and more educational institutes offering design courses are needed if we want to be known as world class design creating country. If that infrastructure of a creative talent design pool is not available, India will be known for its cheap production costs but not highly talented designers.
LG and Samsung have taken over the world market because of nurturing creative design talent. We in India, at the level of decision-makers and implementers, have to understand that the fruits of design thinking can be savoured only if we can create an ecosystem for new creations and not by reverse engineering or copying alone.
This World Industrial Design Day let us break the following 10 myths about design:
Myth No.1: Copying/reverse engineering mantra.
This myth that cheap copies through reverse engineering is the survival mantra has to be demolished by original in-house design creations. This is the sure way to finish a company's future by not imbibing the design culture into the DNA of a company's R&D.
Myth No.2: Design doesn't impact me. This is the common man's belief: Why should I care for the June 29th World Industrial Design Day? Products affect all of us, more so the environment, and are a reflection of our eco-socio-culture belief system collectively. When civilizations are discovered by archeologists, they tend to look at the artifacts/products of that era to learn more about bygone eras. Hence, design is a reflection of who we are as a civilization and our achievement as a human race.
Myth No.3: Design is styling and all about looks.
This is, in fact, more popular with people who have no knowledge of industrial design and is formed from the mindset of downgrading the perception of the design profession, especially by people from the engineering discipline, who derive sadistic pleasure by condemning anything outside their comfort zone.
Myth No.4: Design is investment. In fact design is PROFIT in action today. If a company doesn't act today to apply design, it will cease to exist. It is, in a sense, where it emerges from the mindset that the best way to predict the future is to design it. A company that has understood this has benefited a lot from design.
Myth No.5: Design is specialist. In fact, design is so non-specialist sometimes that everyone can claim they know design or their wives/daughters are from art school and hence have a better sense of design. This myth is perceived since most design is experimental and hence anyone and everyone, even customers, can use common sense to proclaim a design as''enlightened'.
Myth No.6: Design is hocus-pocus. Design has an element of art in it but with a twist that it can be learnt systematically and implemented methodically. This myth gets its hangover from the belief that outcomes are not guaranteed every time and are very subjectively measured. Success has many known and unknown parameters; so why single out design alone as hocus pocus?
Myth No.7: Design is expensive/exclusive. This myth derives its strength from the high visibility of expensive product brochures displayed and promoted in the media. In fact, design is for all and has to be inclusive. It can also cater to the high-end segment but is equally effective in low-cost products.
Myth No.8: Design is parts/components. In fact, design is as humane as possible as it addresses the needs of a human being. Design is being humane; parts and components happen to be some of the ingredients to prepare a recipe for good product designs.
Myth No.9: Design is mainly in the arts and handicrafts sectors. Design is currently used in collaboration and in sync with management, engineering and technology as much as with arts and handicrafts. Design plays a vital role in developing new experiences and innovative humanization of technology as much as in identifying opportunities, in business as well as social enterprises.
Myth No.10: Design happens in the West. Last but not the least, in India, most perceive anything with a foreign label or even foreign-sounding better designed than in-house design talent. In fact, the scenario is fast changing as most MNC design hubs are based in India in cities like Bangalore, Pune and Delhi. These companies value design and hence nurture design teams thousands of miles away but our own home-grown companies have the wrong notion that design can't happen in India.
(28.06.2012 - Prof. Prakash V. Unakal is Senior Associate Dean, Business Design, Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, Bangalore. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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