Does size matter?

I was browsing through Uday’s Design with India site – it keeps evolving as its role changes – and reread the BusinessWeek article juxtaposed with John Thackara’s Door’s post on India’s National Design Policy. Both have one thing in common – the litany that for it’s size, India has far too few designers and we must start schools to educate more and quickly. China’s snapping on our heels, etc.

Well, my first question to this scenario would be: How much work is there right now in the market? Are design studios in India overflowing with work pouring in their offices? Are they feeling the shortage of qualified designers? Is industry feeling the need for designers? i.e. "show me the money"

My second question would be: Has anyone tracked what kinds of design specialities are growing in India? Graphic design has been in the news of late, and fashion design has demonstrated it’s international success. What about product design?  Or is the growth for cad monkeys detailing out the design engineering drawings of hastily drawn pencil sketches by international brand name designers?

If indeed the Government of India has given the go ahead for 5 more "institutes of design" on the NID model, let us assume the first batch will start to graduate and be ready to be employed 5 to 6 years from now.

Can the employers of designers today imagine being able to absorb 5 times the number of fresh graduates in the market – let us assume growth as it stands now. In fact, one should also look to see what is the current placement rate for different tracks graduating each year +/- 5 years from 1998. That should indicate where employment is growing, also to look at which fields students are entering regardless of their field of specialization in design school.

There are two ways that India and her design industry can approach this situation at the current point of time – one – choose to grow in numbers, but then keep in mind that the entire industry needs to grow the demand and awareness for design services in the meantime in order to reach the size that would absorb all these new designers gainfully.

Two – a more moderate measured growth, with focus on increasing the value of the projects and a strategy to move up the value chain. Why go through the boom bust cycle of mature industries in highly industrialized nations when there is no need to? Also, that was based on a period of high manufacturing concentration – something that with China already there, India already knows that they must shift their industrial focus and capacity in manufacturing in order to retain their competitive advantage. And all signs point to higher value, knowledge work based on intellect and reasoning.

More than 5 more schools of design – but which won’t hurt nor harm India, given it’s size at the moment – what Indian industry needs badly is design management – how to harness the innate creativity and intellectual capital of the employees. Anyone who has worked in India, particularly as a independent consultant or small design studio, knows only too well the general disdain for the fruits of the mind, intangible ideas and concepts as well as resulting inability to then be willing to pay full value for good design. That however is the nature of the society and culture, inculcated to us to pay heed to our betters, respect our elders, listen to our bosses etc etc.

This Asian quality of "filial piety" leads to more passive schooling system, ones which encourage rote learning more than encouraging curiosity and play – do we all not know of the 9 year old school girl with a back pack weighing 10kg with daily homework?

Singapore’s Design policy understands this shortcoming – the dissonance set up that you can, on one hand have creativity flower and the island become the intellectual hub of knowledge work [some of their more grandiose visions] and on the other, continue to socially condition a populace that hesitates to challenge the status quo. Innovation implies by its very nature that it exists solely to challenge the status quo. They have begun, in Singapore, to simultaneously support the tertiary education in design with university programs, vocational schools etc as well as begun classes in design and creative problem solving in elementary school. They’re making a long term bet on raising the overall creativity of their next generation.

India also needs to do the same. And soon. James Dyson has understood this crucial need to reach students when they’re younger, when their natural curiosity and creativity has not been tamped out with annual exams and tests that they must pass and with top marks. Can one of the 5 institutes earmarked in the NDP be a high school taking students at age 14?

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