Openness to ideas and competing with global benchmarks is the key to our design success

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A retrospective of Design Talk, a webinar organised by CII, and supported by NMIMS School of Design

“The world of poduct design and R&D is an international world,” said Dr Naushad Forbes, Co-Chairman, Forbes Marshall. “In order to compete effectively with the best, we must stay open to leading ideas and resources, whether in technology or in welcoming designers and engineers, from across the globe.”

He was speaking at the inaugural session of Design Talk, a series of webinars organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), in collaboration with World Design Organisation (WDO), and supported by NMIMS School of Design. The discussion marked the beginning of a CII-led initiative to sensitise Indian stakeholders about the benefits of investing in design and following good design practices. Featuring Dr Naushad Forbes in conversation with Prof. Manisha Phadke, Director NMIMS School of Design, it was an illuminating, hour-long discussion on the various aspects of design, its future, and the role it should play in building our nation. Other attendees included Prof. Pradyumna Vyas, Senior Advisor, CII; and Mr Srini Srinivasan, President, WDO.

Mr Srinivasan pointed out the pressing need to facilitate innovative design through open collaboration at a global level. “Sustainability is enshrined in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and it is imperative that we focus judiciously on it at all times,” he noted. “We can involve local communities for idea- and knowledge-sharing on a particular topic, and collectively develop solutions for design challenges in that particular context.”

Dr Forbes spoke at length about the role of design, humanising technology, localising design, building aesthetic public spaces, sustainability, and motivating design culture, in our organisations and the country as a whole. “There are two broad roles that design can play – it can help companies add value to their products, and it can improve our society through well-designed products, services and interfaces. For instance, our public spaces could benefit enormously through real design inputs.”

Prof. Phadke talked about developing a mindset to consume public spaces. These spaces designed with traditional and sustainable materials should enable ownership behaviours in users. In response to her query on the necessity of a societal approach to improving public spaces, Dr Forbes advocated a layered approach, noting that design-consciousness needs to be adopted very systematically and consciously before it can actually take root. He suggested that we begin with urban planning to improve building standards, followed by a peer-reviewed design process to systematically create public places. However, he also cautioned against the government being responsible for running the spaces, as public-run properties rarely fare well in terms of efficiency.

To illustrate the role of design in a social context, he cited the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project in Ahmedabad. Once an unattractive area, today the riverfront has emerged as one of the best-developed and most popular public destinations in the city. In comparison, popular public places in other cities have developed in a haphazard manner, with little attention paid to the overall efficiency, beautification, or design. The careful planning of the Sabarmati Riverfront exemplifies how design and aesthetics should be implemented in a public space.

Dr Forbes also spoke about the necessity of scaling up India’s design capabilities, “The role of design needs to be a larger and deeper enterprise, in terms of how we manufacture our products, services, and public spaces. So, we must educate engineers about design, and instil confidence in designers to build a design culture in an organisation whilst designing products and services.”

It is currently estimated that the industry needs 62,000 designers this year in India alone, and this demand is expected to continue rising in the coming years. In this scenario, Dr Forbes’ views on the need for more capable designers and a systematic approach to design are especially significant.

Prof. Pradyumna Vyas summed up the discussion at the end as he recounted Prof. Forbes’ view on humanising design by infusing dignity, responsiveness, and a judicious balance between economy and sustainability, in public life.

The full Design Talk session can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/cZnVHdEq024