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The First Princi.pal is a story waiting to be told. Meandering through the life of Dr. PS Mani Sundaram, it captures anecdotes of mixed flavour to highlight the genius of one of independent India’s foremost institution builders. Princi gave Regional Engineering College, Trichy (now National Institute of Technology) the distinction of consistently featuring among the top 10 Engineering colleges for 50 years running. His was a professional career that had to beat the odds of functioning under India’s political and bureaucratic regimes of the 1960s and 70s. Not only did he measure up to the challenges, his astute administrative sense made sure he did so in style.
A charismatic leader—administrator par excellence, pragmatic visionary and academic entrepreneur—he upped the ante of India’s higher education. Besides driving the astounding success of REC, he laid a solid foundation for Bharathidasan University as its first Vice Chancellor. His foresight has seen it grow from strength to strength in the three decades of its existence. Today the Bharathidasan Institute of Management stands tall as one of India’s premier Business Schools, rubbing shoulders with the IIMs.
2014 marks the Golden Jubilee of REC Trichy’s founding and a fitting occasion for a tribute to the great man.
Now is the opportunity for designers to use the power of design, not just to improve lifestyles but also to practice design in a way that balances social and environmental interests.
Advertising Design – the phoniest of them all
From an excellent post by Brian Ling suggesting design freedom + designer responsibility. He makes a strong point with the following from Victor Papanek’s Design For The Real World —
There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them. And possibly only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second. Never before in history have grown men sat down and seriously designed electric hairbrushes, rhinestone-covered file boxes, and mink carpeting for bathrooms, and then drawn up elaborate plans to make and sell these gadgets to millions of people. Before (in the ‘good old days’), if a person liked killing people, he had to become a general, purchase a coal-mine, or else study nuclear physics. Today, industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis. By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe, designers have become a dangerous breed. And the skills needed in these activities are taught carefully to young people.
In an age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself). This demands high social and moral responsibility from the designer. It also demands greater understanding of the people by those who practise design and more insight into the design process by the public.
(This essay was first published on Egology – The Ideafarms Blog on December 12, 2013)
Last year, Amit Gulati, who runs Incubis Consultants, invited me to participate in an interactive session to think through design ideas for a low-cost washing machine. The workshop brought out some very interesting and fascinating ‘ways of seeing’ that completely overturned the engineering / tech / product way of approaching design problems. Did we need to redesign the washing machine (Product) under stricter constraints [this is the way most people think – start with an existing product, strip it of features, use cheaper materials and processes, reduce quality and make it low-cost], or did we need to go up a level and reframe the problem itself.
Image Courtesy: Incubis Consultants, 2013.
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In the old days — as recently as the dying years of the last century — technology was trying to keep up with our needs. But instead of playing catch up, its pace overtook our needs. In the end, technology, especially those products that were powered by the silicon chip, won the race. Today we have more technology than we need and yet, rather than using what already exists to solve societal problems, we still go after creating more and more technology for the narrowest part of the pyramid – the top. Continue reading →
Ami Kassar is a typical accidental entrepreneur. Kassar had spent a decade in senior management with a large, national credit card company based in Philadelphia. When the recession hit in 2008, he suddenly found himself unemployed. His employer did not survive the recession-induced shakeout in the financial industry.
Entrepreneurs are folks that have no Plan ‘A’. But they have Plans “B-Z”.
Entrepreneurship is no accident. It is a choice. Contrary to popular opinion, choosing to be an entrepreneur is less about being your own boss or enjoying the freedom to come and go to work as you please. Being an entrepreneur, and a successful one at that, needs much more discipline than being in a job. The hardest part is that you have to take responsibility for yourself. It’s much more fun though – the uncertainty of your next paycheck, the fear of something not working, the prospect of keeping your team and partners motivated – and is motivated by the opportunity to make a difference.
Are you an entrepreneur at heart? Jump into the fray. Now is as good a time as any, especially here in India. And if you still have doubts, start by being an entrepreneur in your current role. Don’t wait for instructions. Don’t worry about policy. Don’t cry about the absence of an ecosystem. You have the chance to create an ecosystem that will allow you to grow. Follow your heart and go build the life of your dreams.
India is known globally for the rise of its information-technology and software industry. Yet in this video interview, Yasheng Huang, a professor of global economics and management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and essayist from Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower Simon & Schuster, November 2013, warns the country against becoming too dependent on those sectors. He argues India’s potential will only be realized if the country develops its manufacturing and services sectors, which requires labor-market reforms and significant investments in both education and social services. Without those, India will not only face growing social inequality but could also jeopardize its pipeline of college-ready students critical to the high-tech industry.