On Eames’ words to India

In light of the fact that the Government of India has recently ratified the National Design Policy, I feel encouraged to add my two annas worth to the national debate, heated I’m sure plus fueled with scalding hot, sweet tea and many cigarettes, just like the entire design industry in India used to do back in design school.

I mean, come now, my fellow desi designers, have we not all sprung from the same metaphysical horns of the very same design philosophy handed over to our young nation [yes I can feel the waves of melodrama emanating from my words already] by Charles and Ray Eames in their famous white paper of – what was the year again, Ranjan? – 1958 I think that extolled the design virtues of the infamous and notorious lota?

Have we not rolled our collective eyes enough to the recitation of the shlokas that underscore the concept of the lota’s design and how it came to be long enough? I noted this very fact to Ranjan when we had dinner in NYC with Sudarshan and the Core77 guys. That Indian designers had for too long been blind to the fundamentals of design thinking as a strategic integration of the fuzzy empathetic user centered view that practicing good design forces on the practitioner [physicians begin to heal themselves but pigs aren’t flying yet, are they?] with creating economically viable business strategies for generating revenues that good bania merchants can from sheer genetic disposition. I mean, one should begin to suspect that some of the fruits of the careful arrangement of marriages are genetic breeding of certain traits as laid down by the whoever wrote the vedas, right?

Here is the true essence of India’s problem, one that Eames himself expected his industrial designers to be trained enough to ask, on a wing and a prayer, that to frame the problem correctly was to achieve half the solution.

So in order to maximize the potential of the Indian design industry, in fact any design industry that has successfully managed to keep its collective head above water in any third world or emerging economy that has a significant percentage of its consuming population be of the bottom of the pyramid strata, these very skills developed under, to quote Tom Guarriello [I know, twice in one day I link to the same blog!horror! shame!]

Members of the resource panel pointed out that India today exhibits
both the best and the worst of the world concurrently. India’s
overwhelming poverty and underdeveloped infrastructure are challenges
of massive proportions. At the same time, the opportunity to use its
position as a "special place" makes India globally unique. A key
question: what does India tell us about what design can be? Another:
how can design thinking be applied to the legal and civil aspects of
Indian life? It’s clear that "constraint-driven innovation" will be put
to its most stringent test on the subcontinent.

These should be words that every Indian designer should read and understand, that you and your entire industry is poised, just as the Times of India claims that India is, to rise as the emerging creative class or spike forseen by Richard Florida. Bombay of course and Chennai but Pune and Bangalore too. Delhi will straddle, as every capital city does, the divide between being innovative and creative and creating political and economic stability. The potential exists to create thoughtleadership by experience and example.

/end rant.

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