Now go be awesome! “Do Good” Design

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 ten all

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.

via Nimble Design Firms should Do Good | Design Sojourn.

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Of Godmen & GUIs

The ‘Fast-unto-death’ theatrics of the past few weeks, allegedly (sic.) in a fight against corruption in India, have urged me to finally bring this article out of my closet. I wrote it fifteen years ago, almost to the day, for frogdesign‘s rana#3, a brilliant in-house publication that they shelved inexplicably. 

Godmen were around those days too, (their business model hasn’t changed) snaring people into their spiritual concoctions and exploiting India’s superstitious side. GUI was a term almost nobody had heard then. We in India still speak out the letters, not ‘gooey’ like the rest of the world does. Read it, like it, hate it, keep it, share it. Here goes …

India, at the end of History …

… is mystical and hi-tech.  Impoverished and affluent. A billion-strong society in a pulsating state of chaotic equilibrium. Cows and cars share city streets.  Superstitions abound and Godmen flourish.  We will show our palms to people who promise a peek at our destiny, or say they can chant away a terminal disease. We have much to learn, but the world can learn a great deal from us …  Continue reading

The VALUE of Negative Innovation 101

This morning’s HT Business piece “Can India become the Coca Cola of the BPO sector” by my friend N. Madhavan, (twitter: @madversity) shows how India is steadily cornering the ‘back-office’ business. His article got me thinking about whether this has happened by design or is the kind of happy accident that made India an IT superpower by the Y2K paranoia of the west. Here’s why.

The Indian service industry is fast mastering the art of Negative Innovation. When they try to add value they end up becoming a nuisance.

Negative Innovation Case #1: 0.75p for Voice SMS, Value Added Service (VAS) –  Airtel.
I scroll down my list of contacts and call N. Madhavan. Maddy’s on another call so this ‘friendly’ VAS kicks in telling me I can leave a voice sms for him. Easy! So what does it ask me to do? Without hanging up, I have to dial his TEN-DIGIT-NUMBER followed by STAR or HASH (I don’t remember which) and VOILA!!! . . . I can leave a voice sms for him. #Fail. I was telling someone the other day that if Airtel could show me ONE . . . O N E person who had ever used the service, I’d eat my words now and forever more. VALUE for whom? Continue reading

Innovation 101 – The Jugaad phenomenon

This post is meant for those of you who have set up automated alerts for the new magic word ‘Jugaad’, the most fashionable innovation thread about India these days. Several innovation ‘gurus’, management experts, authors have latched on. The common thread – they’re mostly based in the US and are of Indian origin. The more equal of us. Keith Sawyer calls it a ‘fad from India’ and that’s exactly what  it is.

Business Week* reports on a management fad from India, that goes by a Hindi slang word, jugaad (say joo-gaardh). It means “an improvisational style of innovation”. It’s “inexpensive invention on the fly”. It sometimes has negative connotations, like cutting corners. The idea is that it doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy; it’s just good enough to satisfy immediate needs.

>>*See the comments at the end of the article.

Don’t be fooled – Jugaad is jugaad and innovation is innovation. Jugaad is a dangerous mindset – you heard right, a mindset. You ‘fix’ things by simply putting together bits and pieces, never mind that they don’t fit or that the final product is unreliable, unsafe, whatever. When something goes wrong, you can always use the excuse of not having time, resources, skills, etc. After all you did achieve ‘cheap’, didn’t you.

Maruti Gypsy 2020?

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Designing for ‘Yesterday’

 The year was 1997. I’d blame it on youth.  I have a vague recollection of being a frustrated Industrial Designer – evangelistic, passionate and vocal – struggling to make my Indian clients see the light. Internet was still in its early days and Industrial Design wasn’t even a notion. The following article found its way into a glossy that nobody read – they just bought an odd copy to display on coffee tables for status value. Let me know what you think.

Low-cost food warmer

  “It is never too early to employ design – almost always too late.  Design should be used to create the spark and not to fight the fire.  It is also important for designers today to recognize that people are now more educated about design and quality.”

Designing for Yesterday (1997)

( A tossed salad of roles, experiences, ethics and goals.)
      “… for them that can think with the heart!”

Client:“… so that’s settled then.  We hope you can work out something that’s    really different and looks like a SONY …” 

Designer:( looking slightly puzzled) “Sure!  But you haven’t yet told me when you want all this.”

Client:(smiling) “YESTERDAY, of course ..!!”

When you first hear something like this, you can be quite amused.  It’s funny!  But somewhere underneath, it’s very profound.  It reflects a culture – a particular way of wanting things to happen

We always seem in a hurry of the tearing variety.  Design time is invariably difficult to accommodate due to  “market pressures”.  Or because design came as an afterthought.  Therefore, YESTERDAY ?!! 
It’s like saying that it should not matter much whether the salt is in the dish or consumed separately while eating.

Many “packaged” collaborations have been observed to “pick” product models that are already obsolete in their countries of origin.  Their moulds are cheaper (read — free to the seller) and the Indian consumer will still be delighted with the “new” option (read — has no choice). 
Therefore YESTERDAY ?!!
It’s like going to a mediocre hotel to eat stale food at prevailing five-star prices. Continue reading