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India as a Design Source is Inevitable

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As an industry, we have to give the Indian design talent a platform; the industry must believe that investing in design is fruitful.

I would like to begin with the premise that the future, or should I say, the not-so-distant future of design in India is actually going to be brilliant. We are a sizeable fraternity in the business of fashion and lifestyle, who have put our careers on line, in this firm belief. But, for it to happen, we must do a few simple things. First, let us define who else needs to believe in this bright future: Design institutes/design students/government agencies/exporters/brands/retailers et al.

The point is, do we recognise:

  • The true potential of design as a business enabler?
  • That design on a platform is a scientific process and is logic driven?
  • The true potential of the indigenous design fraternity?

Among all the things that have already been done – government initiative on R&D/ design education/ a back-end to service ideas/ abundance of indigenous crafts and techniques to draw inspiration – this by default exists today.

Where’s the gap?

The gap exists in quite a few parameters like process understanding, the tendency to dilute, conviction (or the lack of it), and last but not the least, dismal marketing effort.

  • Process understanding (designers and industry): The logic required to design potentially viable ranges is as simple as, understand the back-end so as to be able to generate concepts and ideas. Understand the front-end, so as to be able to deliver relevant products. The issue is that designers and the industry must understand that this involves research, and hence time and cost. Having put in this research, time and cost, the result is a product of relevance. So simply put, adhering to the design process results in a “relevant” product.
  • The tendency to dilute: Take our educational institutes, for instance. We start something and if it’s half successful, we expand without the requisite infrastructure (in this case, without teachers). We have more fashion weeks than clients. At some point we must be sticklers for quality and stop this urge to dilute if we are to make a mark in any sphere.
  • Conviction (largely industry): As an industry, we have not given the Indian design talent a platform, primarily because the industry does not truly believe that investing in design is fruitful. For those who do invest, the infrastructure is made but the investment required on people and systems is ignored.
  • Marketing the potential: As already stated, we don’t have a product to market; hence a potentially great talent pool is not going to see the light of day, and worse, a great business opportunity might go untapped.

Change, but how?

First the good news…

  • From an industry observer’s perspective it would be fair to say that the industry is showing a grudging acceptance of the need. There is, however, no clear vision or intent to adapt to the process. This is good news because half a decade ago, the design animal was not even a discussion.
  • The ever strengthening “India image” in the space that occupies the mind, thanks to IT, biotech and our doctors and spiritual leaders, is going to ensure that the coin drops in our own minds and the western mind. Thus, India as a design source is inevitable.
  • The economics of it: If I want to export, if I want to retail in domestic goods, if I want to service a brand, I will need a product, hence it must be designed. The belief is that market forces (domestic and international) will ensure India has a bright design future.

Addressing the situation
 

Accept the obvious solution: Why is something so painfully obvious not being seen? The fact is that product is designed all over the chain, the need is to consolidate this information at the right time to be able to fully utilise and get the best value from the process of design. is the answer.

If all the stakeholders accept that design is a process of research/planning and suitable , their understanding would lead to educated decisions which would maximise eco efficiency and benefit across the chain. Poor design planning is one of the largest causes of inventory stockpiles as well as opportunity loss.

So rather than getting into the need, let’s focus on the acceptors and get into the ‘how’. My contention is that the approach must change and it will because the very economics of it will make it happen. The question that arises is how fast; if we believe the sooner the better, then the following must happen:

The path to design enlightenment
 

Filling the gap is the path for any organisation wishing to achieve success through design. The logic is simple: the key is acceptance and execution. Hence in a nutshell, the contention is that success through design could be achieved through:

  • Acceptance: Recognise the available talent pool.
  • Process understanding: The process delivers relevance, not pathbreaking design. The R&D process for true innovation is another core issue that needs to be dealt with at both the micro and macro levels.
  • Conviction: The industry basically needs to have faith in local ability and back it with investment. If this happens we have a chance for creating a bright future for design in India.
  • Curtail the tendency to dilute.
  • Market the potential of intellectual property (IP) and design.
     

Confession
 

India has:

  • Thriving design institutes
  • A sea of ready minds overflowing with talent – no idea how to bring it to fruition.
  • A top heavy industry with lots of IP largely used to satisfy personal agenda at the cost of bigger gains.
  • An ailing industry, used to crutches and easy options, waiting to get a boost.
  • Crumbling infrastructure.
  • Red tape
  • A grudging acceptance of the need with no clear vision or intent to adapt the process. A time when people are reluctant to invest in basic needs, leave alone future return investment.
  • All this means this is the best time/opportunity to invest in creating IP. For when people are ready to invest and become established entities, they will move ahead and reap the benefits while the laggards and shortcut artists play catch-up and stumble.

Lastly

One of the biggest favours this industry can do for itself is to become transparent, and pool resources for a common goal. The power of this approach can be seen in our neighbouring countries like Thailand and Hong Kong, where integration of the industry is the key driving force.