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India Design Forum: Looking Back

Radhika

One day in the first week of March I came across a tweet sent out by a friend asking if anyone knew what the India Design Forum was about? I usually am trawling through twitter-feeds and blogs to read up on what is happening in the design field, in India and else where and this was the first I was hearing about it. It was most surprising that none of my colleagues from the design field had heard of it. As I began digging deeper, I realized that India was to have what was touted to be the ‘first ever design festival’. This event comprised of a “Design Trail” and then the “Design Forum”. The Design Trail [March 2 - March 8] was a week of movie screenings, exhibitions, workshops etc. The Design Forum featured 40 speakers from around the world, from various disciplines of design. The speakers had to examine how design informs the “world and change our lives, every day.”

The event was organized by Rajshree Pathy, an Indian entrepreneur and contemporary-art collector. She organized the event with her daughter, Aishwarya Pathy, through her south India-based Coimbatore Centre for Contemporary Art. The event had an impressive list of speakers, featuring Paola Antonelli, a leading American curator for the MoMa, Karim Rashid, an America-based designer, and Indian experts like automobile designer Dilip Chabaria, graphic designer Sujata Keshavan, fashion designers Manish Arora, Shilpa Chavan. Two special programmes “Visualising Marathon 2012″ and “Trend Union Seminar in India – Design and Fashion Forecasting” helped university students take on complex social and real world issues through data visualisation in collaboration with leading designers like Lidewij Edelkoort, a fashion expert from France.

Indian artists enjoy international recognition. But when it comes to design, apart from automobile design, interiors and fashion, very few designers get their due. Indian Design is still viewed with the context of textiles and traditional handicrafts. The India Design Forum aimed at opening dialogue and establishing the fact that India is definitely on it way to becoming a design hub in it own way. The IDF, with the tag line of “The Power of Design” suggested that design is no longer for the elite crowd and that the time has come to shed this elitist image. Karim Rashid’s talk began with the change in the design industry from designing for mass production to elitism to going back to a “designocracy”, as we are beginning to witness now. But with the high profile of the people speaking and the high profile of the people attending and only about 100 students present, made this event a completely elitist one. With a lot of representation from the fields of Industrial Design, Automobile Design, Fashion Design and Architecture, members from the other fields of design like Graphic design, Sustainability and Urban Design and Service design were conspicuously absent. Given the Indian context of exploding population, and the significant inadequacies in terms of basic infrastructure [housing, sanitation, transport], we desperately need to integrate innovation and design thinking in the way we approach our services and the way that lives can be  improved across the various segments of the society. A lot of buzzwords around humanitarian design and design for social impact were heard but none of the speakers actively spoke about it. These are things we have so much potential for in India and there was not one who spoke at length about it. “We are  still caught up with the crafts and craft inspired product designs and architecture inspired Interior Design, or mythology and culture inspired Fashion Design.” says Kshitiz, a Design and Research Consultant, based out of Bangalore.

IDF: Karim Rashid, Satyendra Pakhale, Paul and Suhasini

I also feel that having 40 speakers over 2 days must have left very little time for discussions and debates. There needs to be more of student involvement as well, in terms of presentations, exhibiting their works and time to interact with the industry stalwarts who have graced the occasion with their presence. For decades we have relied on The National Institute of Design and the handful of IIT’s and the few top architecture schools to produce many of our country’s finest designers. But with new design schools mushrooming across states, it only means that more and more students are turning to design and India needs to cater to them as well. We [Indian Designers] need to wield this tool and figure how to improve the quality of life in India.

Design in India is still in its nascent stage. It has a long way to go and having this kind of event at this point may be one the best things that has happened to it. Instead of blindly aping the west, India has to embrace the modernity of design and at the same time retain its traditions and cultural sensibility. With innovations sprouting from every nook and cranny of the country, and the manufacturing industry just growing, its not difficult to imagine India as one of the leading Design hubs in the world.

Related Reading:

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