Designers Need To Move Into New Territories

Praveen Nahar, Director of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, on the increasing expectations from designers in the wake of climate changes and migrations and how design can address these challenges

A design is not just about beauty and aesthetics; it has to solve a problem and improve the quality of life. Designers also have a duty to initiate a dialogue on reducing consumption by coming up with common services. These, and some other innovative ideas came up during a conversation that BW Education had with NID-Ahmedabad Director, Praveen Nahar. NID has been at the forefront of spreading design awareness in the country, and has been instrumental in the National Policy on Design, besides offering expertise to several other organisations. Excerpts from the interview:

How has design become such an important area of study and careers in the last few decades, when products were made earlier too? Also, what has been the significant shift in the understanding in society?

A number of developments have contributed to make people look at this field of study. Design can be seen from different perspectives, like consumer goods, what we use in day-to-day life, quality of life and what people expect from experiences of using products and services. Industrialisation has gone up, there has been liberalisation in the last two to three decades. So, design is a differentiating factor for quality of products and for meeting diverse needs of people of the country. Because of these changes, appreciation of design, and of other creative professions has gone up. 

Being among the foremost institutes in this field, what role has NID played in spreading awareness?

We were quite way ahead of times. Many design movements across the world are as old as NID. Design as a profession also came up around the time when we established NID in India. The basic idea behind setting up NID was to help improve the quality of products in the country so that they would be export-worthy. Besides training, we also do consulting and design promotion. The government is among our clients; besides that, we have clients in many other sectors. We have also been involved in the framing of National Design Policy for the government, which helped set up India Design Council. We have also been engaged in design for MSME sector. For 10 years we did handholding as part of the MSME Design Clinic scheme. We helped set up several other NIDs in the country and handholded them for a few years. Because of the multi-dimensionality of the institute, we have played a very important role. 

What makes a design successful? What are the parameters of a good design?

It depends on the context but if it is fulfilling the purpose it is meant for, improving the quality of life, and making sense in the society and the environment, if it’s joyful and safe, it is successful. From economic perspective, people say that good design is good business but it has to serve the purpose it is meant for. For business, you make products that become obsolete, like mobile phones. So, success depends on what lens you use – economic or sustainability lens. 

So how are sustainability and environment concerns being addressed through design? And what are some of the initiatives of NID in this regard?

Sustainability is a very integral part of the teaching-learning at NID, since the beginning. We are particular about the material, the end of life of product, circularity, reuse and recycling. We teach some modules on sustainable designs and eco designs. The design should not be a burden on the environment.

In any production process, 70 to 80 per cent decisions are taken at the design stage and at that stage if you embed the idea of sustainability, it will go a long way. So, the material to be used, energy consumption, durability, and other factors can be decided at that stage and sustainability can be consciously deployed. Since these products are made in millions, the multiplier effect is immense. 

There is also the larger concept of how you design services instead of products. This is a major shift, wherein, instead of buying a product, we buy a service, so that we don’t need so many products, like renting a car, or having community washing machines. It’s also imperative as the impact of overuse of resources is quite visible. 

What is the aptitude that you seek in students at the time of admission and how do you groom them once they join the course? 

We take students who are inclined to come to the creative field. We are not looking at born designers but those who have the ability to observe, communicate, who can think differently and who have the ability to address the problem. They need to have a natural flair, the ability to appreciate the society and environment they come from and come up with possible solutions.

Can you also comment on the infrastructure in the country for design courses at the moment and what more needs to be done in terms of faculty and other aspects?

The country has a huge potential for design. Today, a lot of IITs have set up their design departments. And there are architecture institutions providing insight into design. Depending upon the domain of design you offer, they have to create infrastructure accordingly, and also the supporting skill sets required for that. Today, there are a large number of design schools coming up and setting up infrastructure. But at the moment, because of the sudden expansion of the field, there is scarcity of human resources, and it will take time to do so. 

India is in the midst of huge industrialisation and a large number of small and medium industries are coming up. So some of that infrastructure can be used as extension to the classroom. At NID, besides the classroom, we have always engaged with the industry and the real world and used the entire world as infrastructure. We are in the middle of the city and learn from there.

Faculty is definitely an issue because of the sudden expansion of the field and it being practical oriented, many of them take up jobs. Not everybody is interested to come back as design teachers. I hope that institutes will also invest in faculty development. 

Would you say that design is more of an interdisciplinary study?

Design is always interdisciplinary. In my opinion it’s not a discipline but draws from every discipline, be it management, social science, technology, humanities and art. It’s about a set of sensibilities.  But yes, the skill sets are taught in the domains of disciplines and verticals of programmes. The teaching is also interdisciplinary and we have faculty from social science, humanities, physiological sciences, economics, engineering and technology, architecture, fine arts and multiple disciplines of design. So we have a very varied and diverse set of people facilitating design education. Within design too, people find ways to collaborate and work together. 

What is the way forward and what trends do you see emerging?

There are many perspectives emerging but at the same time many challenges have also emerged. Besides sustainability that we have discussed, we have issue of migration and the binary of global and local, and other issues of the world that have to be addressed. Design has to get into many unknown territories. Multiple perspectives are required to come up with a solution. So I see that designers will have to work in participatory settings. The boundaries of discipline will shrink and it will become more transdisciplinary. Circularity will become a core. We will have to take a clear stand that consumeristic perspective will no longer help. People will have to become more conscious consumers. 

At the same time, societal sense of aesthetics and experiences is also changing so we need to address that. 

So, you need to move into new territories with which many people may not be comfortable. Designers need to expand their horizon and work on other areas of design. 

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