Labels, labels, labels – adjectivizing the world.

Labels have always had a place – behind the collar and on cartons. That’s where they belong and that’s where they ought to stay. Make fashion statements out of them and we’re heading for big trouble. Because labels have a way of sticking beyond their life. Would you still call India “Third” world? See, the label just won’t go away.

Example #1 – Hybrid Design.

As though we don’t already have enough confusion around understanding “Design” – designers and non-designers both – our propensity for labels is adding clutter to the chaos. This recent Fastcompany article “Beyond Design Thinking: Why Hybrid Design is the Next New Thing” thrives in the romanticism of stating the obvious.

From the post … {an attempt to enlighten that fails to impress}

… This is where hybrid design comes in. It’s a progressive notion about the multi-dimensional craft of “doing things,” as well as a reflection on the interconnectedness of all kinds of design within the economic and commercial fabric of society. It balances the skills, talents and relative strengths of designers to create both physical and non-physical objects, and their refinement, delivery, and relevancy within a cultural, social and responsible context.

… In short, “hybrid design” is to design what “design thinking” was to “innovation”: the next level of design methodology based on a wider perspective, multi-talented approach that is still rooted in making things work.

Michael Nicolson’s comment

I don’t think you’re saying anything new here. How is this article about the “Next New Thing” if it has been already happening for a decade or more? You can make up catchy new terms and throw in as many hyphens as you want but it all boils down to one thing; design (and that always involves thinking, therefore “design-thinking” is a redundant term, as is much of the text above). Finally, since you are basically describing the profession of architecture here, wouldn’t it be easier to say that designers are approaching design the way architects do?

Avinash Rajagopal

Ummm…How is this different from what we were calling “Inter-disciplinary” two years ago, and “Multi-disciplinary” three years ago? Design by its very nature draws upon diverse domains of knowledge. “hybrid” design is a redundancy.

Matthew Holloway

On as a member of professional design community, I wish you would have stopped yourself from adding another buzzword to the bingo board and just written how this return to how Design used to operate is long over due.

My own comment is not charitable.

“But this whole labeling game is becoming very tiresome. I guess it’s a great attention grabber in the west but that’s where it ends. First we label something “Design Thinking” and then try to fit our notions to define what we mean. Then when things don’t quite fit or the shine goes off, we invent another label – in this case “Hybrid”.

Pardon my ignorance, but isn’t Industrial Design by definition, interdisciplinary? You say “Hybrid design is the de-facto merger of industrial, interactive, and brand design”. I recall my first design class where they told us that Industrial Design (‘objects’ at the time) was a combo of aesthetics (Brand?), ergonomics (Interactive?) and Function (Engineering?) – and now I hear you propose a new label for Industrial Design (?) that you call “Hybrid”.

Either you’re suggesting that we go back to Design School to relearn our basics or that Industrial Design has acquired a whole new meaning today than it did back then.”

Example #2 – Jugaad Innovation.

My last post about the Jugaad phenomenon deals with another potential label that’s already well on the way to attaining celebrity status. The problem is that the label belies the true import of the word. If you knew what Juggad really meant, you’d never never let it come near ‘innovation’. You’d almost be saying ‘Corrupt Innovation’ to the sheer amusement of us few.

Rajiv Mantri, in his brilliantly written essay the jugaad myth cautions – “It is time to stop celebrating the stop-gap survival mechanisms as pathbreaking innovation.”

Earthen pots and other types of jugaad may make good documentary film subjects, but we should remember that these are typically low productivity solutions with a below-par user experience. They should not be romanticised. India cannot become a world-beating economic force by under-investing in fundamental scientific research and celebrating the stop-gap survival mechanisms as path-breaking innovation. Such celebration and characterisation should be left to advertising agencies and other creative types looking for a story to tell.


Look around. The adjectives are strewn everywhere, waiting to be picked and prefixed. (Social, Frugal, Reverse, Jugaad, …) Innovation; (Emerging, Developing, Third-World …) Economies; – each with a stickiness that surpasses super glue. Try answering this – India is an emerging economy, what will you call it when we’re done emerging?

My case rests!


One Reply to “Labels, labels, labels – adjectivizing the world.”

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