Friday, June 5, 2015

Reflections on Design Publishing in India

POOL Annual 2 Foreword June 2015

Reflections on Design Publishing in India
Foreword for POOL Annual Volume Two – June 2015

M P Ranjan
Independent Academic, Ahmedabad and Author of Blog Design for India


Very little is known about the early days of design in India because very little has been written about it anywhere. The news media and the wider general business and political media is simply not interested in design and they have studiously avoided any commentaries about design and designers ever since the Indian Independence. Design journalism was tucked away in back pages and remote corners of art and architecture reporting and sustained design publishing has been a long time coming and it still has a long way to go.

I have always wondered why this was the case till I read Gui Bonsiepe’s analysis of the evolution of design research and practice and its links to design journalism and serious design publishing that leads to the development of new theory. In his book “Interface: An approach to design” (1999) he tables the evolution of design publishing and correlates it to the evolving status of design research and practice in a country. Indian design education, research and practice has been flying under the radar for over 68 years since its independence and at this stage the country is just about beginning to acknowledge its major Institutions and we as a country are still in denial about its value to its economy and a culture forming resource and activity. It is only design scholarship of a very high calibre that will help change that condition.

While the country at large has been ignoring the design community and its institutions I cannot say that the design community has been ignoring the country and its needs. A lot has been happening and individual designers and clusters of design teachers have been bravely carrying on their explorations and efforts to work and contribute across 230 sectors of our economy but we are sadly not aware of these efforts since design publishing has just not covered these activities and achievements. Occasional conference papers and books from within the design research community rarely reaches a wider audience and designers themselves seem to hold the brief that if they just do their work diligently that work would speak for itself, which sadly is never the case. Further, understanding design which is a multi facetted activity is difficult since most of what is on offer as part of the synthesis is invisible in the form or performance if that offering. Design research is gradually revealing the complexity of the design discourse and strategies and values can only be made visible through detailed analysis and reflective ponderings about that very offering. Very elusive indeed.

Critical discourse is essential if we are to make the invisible value of design visible to policy makers as well as stakeholders alike. Design is today entering the Universities here in India and the possibility of a new form of critical appraisal has become a reality. However design research divorced from practice can once again become a sterile debate and far removed from the rich learning that reflections on practice can bring to our understanding of design and its role in development and in addressing real needs of our society. However, knowledge and understanding do not come without a process and here we need to recognize that even in the design publishing space we will need to journey through all these stages of first documenting our reality and experiences followed by discourse and debate about multiple points of view some explaining gradually understood concepts and strategies and through this sometimes intense debate we will glean nuggets of truth, all hard earned from the huge volume of experiences that would be the foundation for such theory formation as we go forward. True maturity will be achieved by the profession only when we are able to reflect on our collective practices and build an articulated body of theory, which would in turn inform a deep philosophy of education, research and practice in the days ahead.

Sudhir Sharma, Editor in Chief of POOL Magazine asked me to write a forward for the second collected volume of twelve issues at a stage when the magazine itself has crossed the magic mark of 50 issues in a sustained burst of publishing, which for me is a major landmark in the history of Indian design publishing. This gave me an occasion as well as a platform to look back at the seeds sown in the pre Independence days to bring design to the attention of the Indian intelligentsia. I find that there is very small clutch of people who have contributed to the bulk of Indian design publishing and it would be pertinent to use this platform to review some of these even if there is a need to look much deeper and expand on this statement as we go forward from here. When I speak of Indian design publishing I exclude journals about architecture, advertising, art and applied art and a wide body of scholarly writings about social cultural and anthropological studies, which have well-established journals of their own. I do not claim this study to be comprehensive but it is based of my personal experiences of trying to study design at the National Institute of Design Ahmedabad from 1969 and my experiences as a teacher at the school since then.

The very first magazine that looked at design and helped influence design policy was the journal started by Mulk Raj Anand in 1946 at the behest of J R D Tata and built up as a subsidiary of the NCPA, in Bombay, The Marg Magazine of art, culture and heritage. While it was not exclusively on design it was the only place that had some reflections on the emerging field in the early days. The vacuum was ably filled by the heroic efforts of editor Patwant Singh who first started The Indian Builder in 1953 and then Design in 1957 which was sustained till 1988. His critical coverage of architecture, exhibitions and industrial design was the only platform that provided any semblance of discourse for the emerging field of design across a number of disciplines. I recall reading about the MOMA exhibition of Industrial Design in an early issue of the Design magazine at the time when we were studying the very same objects at the NID Library and Resource Centre where the collection was placed after its journeys across India from 1958 and ending up at the Design Centre in Bombay on Bhulabhai Desai Road for many years, before ending up at NID. Very few Indian designers were showcased and even in architecture it was a case of celebrating the foreign masters such as Corbusier and the modern movement took root under their strong influence.

The first Interior Design magazine was established in 1978 with the first four issues of Inside Outside championed by Malika Sarabhai and edited by Sean Mahoney. This magazine was floundering although it had promise and was taken over by The Business India group and then sustained as a bible for the interior design and architecture community over the years. Malika Sarabhai went on with her publishing fervor and built up the Mapin Publishing house in 1984 that has continue to grow and produce over 300 titles capturing a rich fabric of Indian arts and culture in illustrated volumes that have been an useful resource for design. In the early years at NID the only other place where we could find mention of Indian design and designers were furniture journals from Europe where Mini Boga and Ritten Mojumdar were featured regularly in Mobilia in particular. Mini Boga built fine furniture through her Taaru brand in New Delhi and she was the only one to offer her designers royalty for their design when all others simply copied foreign models from Bauhaus and international magazines. Design did not have a place in the scheme of things in Indian industry in those days and even today it seems to be much the same with few exceptions, unfortunately.

Design publishing made several valiant but unsuccessful attempts within the Indian design schools and academia with the production of a few books and some newsletters and journals, which however did not sustain themselves. The National Institute of Design was set up in 1961 and in the sixties a few books and catalogues were produced culminating in the NID Documentation 1964-69. Gira Sarabhai was the silent champion of these early publications. She went on to build the Calico Museum of Textiles and there she commissioned numerous books, catalogues and scholarly publications that gave it a preeminent place in Indian design scholarship. The next round of design publications at NID came when the Sarabhai’s left NID and Kumar Vyas was in charge. The series titled Design Folio captured case studies of NID projects and the first issue appeared in 1973 and after Ashoke Chatterjee took over as Director it continued to be published and a total of 8 more issues were offered in 1979, 81, 83, 87, 88 and finally in 1991. These were all edited by R K Bannerjee. NID Publications Department was formerly created in 1989 with Aditi Ranjan as its head and with M P Ranjan and S Balaram she produced the first of the series called Young Designers where student Diploma Projects were showcased for the first time. This has become a regular flagship offering from NID and has been in continuous production ever since. The NID Newsletter was in production through all these years as an official organ of the Institute. After 2000 Dr Koshy with Vijai Singh Khatiyar and Shilpa Das created Trellis and Designed as two journals from NID Publications.

In 1969 the Industrial Design Centre was set up in IIT Bombay and a few years later Kirti Trivedi and Sudha Nadkarni came out with a series of IDC News followed the Ulm model as very smartly designed design folders with case studies and news from the IDC faculty and student projects. Kirti Trivedi extended his publishing efforts with a scholarly offering titled Abhikalp that was sustained over several issues. Conferences at IDC also helped create published outputs of which the Readings from Ulm is a memorable offering. Through 2009 -10 three issues of Design Thoughts were produced to share the thoughts of doctoral students through a journal edited by Ravi Pooviah. IDC faculty produced books and reports which were published and a made available through their office. IDC has since moved its publishing efforts online through D-Source, a project sponsored by the Human Resources Ministry which promises to make its teaching resources available to a wider audience in India so as to build a design culture across higher education and the project is partnered by NID Bangalore.

Access to the internet and a new environment of blogging and social media helped create another layer of design publishing that the education institutions and media organisations were not able or willing to provide. The Design for India blog by Prof M P Ranjan started in 2007 and has been active since to reach a wide audience. Individual designers interested in reaching out and adding their voice to the issues and concerns saw Sonali Sridhar offer DesignWala blog, Manoj Kotari had Brandinsight, The Little Design Book had a brief but influential existence and was created by four former students of NID. The other notable blogs were Design Thoughts by A Balasubramaniam and Thinking About Design by Deepankar Bhattacharyaya, both former students of NID. Besides these blogs we now have an active exchange of ideas over Facebook and via the social media sites such as DesignIndia discussion lists and PhD-Design List where several thousand designers and design teachers are in constant touch and sharing ideas and concerns with varying degrees of debate and discussion. However, all this put together is a very small output when compared to the huge body of work that is being done by the trained designers from the growing number of schools here in India.

It is in this context that we need to view the sustained offerings of the POOL magazines that have tried to capture the flow of work from the design profession and this layer of offering is perhaps the only available reference resource to measure the offerings of Indian design profession as it stands today. This volume of 12 issues includes volumes 12 to 23 issued from June 2011 to May 2012 respectively. At the time of writing this foreword in 2015 POOL Magazine has already issued 56 volumes and is still going strong driven by the passion of a small team led by Sudhir Sharma from his Pune office of Indi Design and he has also been sustaining the DesignIndia forum on several social media platforms to build a vibrant design community here in India. The brief editorials penned by Sudhir Sharma in each issue calls attention to the multiple concerns that face the design community here in India and I am sure that these will be heard sooner than later by policy makers and industry alike when the growing understanding of the value of design sinks into our collective consciousness at the level of government, industry, intelligentsia and general public, the Aam Aadmi in India?

Design publishing needs more contributors and several additional categories from reporting, explaining, arguing and reflecting if the theory and philosophy of the discipline are to become visible and become truly appreciated here in India. This will be an interesting space to watch in the years ahead and there is hope of major breakthroughs that are becoming visible to me through the efforts of some very committed designer entrepreneurs who have been rocking the boat and drawing attention to the value that they can bring to wicked problems that have remained entrenched across almost all sectors of our economy. We, as a nation, need design action across 230 sectors of our economy and we are still to become aware of these needs and design publishing will show the way forward I am sure.

End of Quote                                      ~

In this now published foreword I may have missed several significant contributions made to the field and some of these that come to my mind are listed below.

Economic Times Design Page by Sadanand Menon
Full page on Design was published weekly for over a year in the 90s

Economic Times Design stories by Makrand Kulkarni
Weekly column as a collection of design stories that came out in the recent past but did not sustain

Perhaps there are others worth a mention as well. 

One of these, is an early critical publication which is the contribution by Alberto Cannata and Soumitri Varadarajan who produced a book based on a conference at School of Planning and Architecture, (SPA), New Delhi titled Quality by Design in the 90s.

Prof M P Ranjan
Independent Academic, Ahmedabad
Adjunct Professor (Design) Ahmedabad University

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Whats Next: Future of Design Education

Whats Next: Future of Design Education

M P Ranjan
Independent Academic, Ahmedabad, India & Author of Blog

A confluence organised by the Pearl Academy, New Delhi, Noida, Jaipur and Mumbai on 19 and 20 December 2014 at ITC Welcomehotel, Dwarka, New Delhi used the World Café format. Here, the confluence was organised in four Sessions each with a thematic keynote by a design thought leader, round table discussions and summary presentations that included four major themes and each had four sub themes that were discussed across eight round tables with intensity and passion.

Key issues in design education are in constant change and these need to be monitored and mapped into current and ongoing programmes for the education programmes to stay relevant and stimulating for both students and  faculty. Young faculty need to be introduced to a variety of teaching methods and since they come from a variety of backgrounds they may need exposure to the tools and methods used by others across disciplines as well as across schools. Exposure to current thought leaders as well as being involved in intense discussions about design education will help stimulate change and open them to the major shifts that are desired 

A conference round table conducted using the World Cafe format is a great way to sensitise and inform a group of design teachers to several of these sweeping changes and get them to meet colleagues and share insights that can help transform design education going forward. The Pearl Academy management backed these proposals wholeheartedly and quickly moved into high gear to realise the event without cutting any corners. This post is a quick summary of our plans and intentions and the full documentation will be carried on the Pearl Academy website and the analysis of the insights and possibilities will continue well into the future.

The four keynote speakers and eight table mentors were carefully selected to provide leadership across the major themes and to take the table discussions to a very high level of quality.

Whats Next: Future of Design Education Keynotes

Session 1: Trends of the Future
John Thackara, Founder: Doors of Perception
An internationally well-known design thinker, John Thackara is a trained philosopher and a journalist. He started his career as a design correspondent / editor for newspapers & magazines like The Guardian, The Design Magazine and correspondent of the BBC’s The Late Show. John is the author of best-selling design book ‘In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World’, and of a widely-read blog ‘designobserver’. John organises festivals, events around the world in which communities imagine sustainable futures - and take practical steps to realise them.

Session 2: Pedagogy of the Future
Prof. Vijay Kumar, Institute of Design, IIT, Chicago
Prof Vijay Kumar’s research focuses on framing up emerging innovation opportunities in education, health care, communication, retail, social reform, and emerging markets among others. He has authored a very famous book for senior management, design strategists - “101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization.” 

Session 3: Curriculum of the Future
Dr Aditya Dev Sood, Founder/ Director, CKS New Delhi
A Fulbright scholar with two doctorates from the University of Chicago and a wide range of disciplinary competencies gained through a long and diverse education, including Architecture, Art History, Critical Theory, Comparative Literature, and Political Economy. Aditya heads this innovation consulting firm CKS. He set up CKS with a mission to provide ‘Real solutions for real problems’ in the areas of User Research, User Experience Design, Design Strategy and Innovation Management. 

Session 4: Learner of the Future
Satish Gokhale, Industrial Designer, Pune
Satish Gokhale, a Pune-based alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad has scored a hat-trick in winning national design awards in the area industrial design for three consecutive years. He has more than twenty five years of experience in product design. A versatile industrial designer, he has executed a range of design assignments ranging from a ball pen and a solar cell module to a ultra sound machine, a CNC wire cutting machine and a hand held CATV monitor. Satish has today over a 600 products in the market - in capital goods, medical equipment, automobile and electronic and consumer goods sectors.

Special Lecture: Inspirational Keynote: Design in Schools
Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder/ Director Riverside School & DFC
Kiran Bir Sethi is the Founder/Director of The Riverside School in Ahmedabad,In 2009, she founded 'Design for Change' (DFC) - the world’s largest movement of change – of and by children.  D.F.C. is now in over 35 countries – reaching over 220,000 schools.  In September, 2011, she won the prestigious “INDEX – Design to Improve Life Award”. 

Table Mentors at Whats Next: Future of Design Education

T1: DEEPANKAR BHATTACHARYA, Strategic Design Consultant He is a strategic design consultant and partner clients in developing user-centred problem solving processes.

T2: NICOLETTA MOROZZI Advisory leader – NABA University She is the director of the Fashion Area in NABA , Milan since 2010. Her professional activity spreads across the fields of fashion, art and design.

T3: JOGI PANGHAAL Design Professional  - He is a leader in bridging the gap between the traditional craft sector in India and the global, modern design sector

T4: RAHUL MISHRA Fashion Designer He is based in Mumbai and Delhi, and won the 2014 International Woolmark Prize at the Milan Fashion Week.

T5: SCOTT SKIPWORTH Academician, Think Australia is an Architect with 20 years’ experience and Acting Head of Academic Studies for Think Education's Interior Design program across various campuses as well as Online

T6: MADHAV RAMAN Architect and Urbanist He founded Anagram Architects in 2001 with a commitment towards delivering deeply contextual designs that encourage sustainable lifestyles

T7: VIKAS SATWALEKAR Design Academician, Apart from academic commitments, he has contributed significantly in the fields of Graphic Design, Publication Design, Exhibition Design, Identity Systems, etc 

T8: SUCHITRA BALASUBRAHMANYAN Academician, Author & Human Rights Activist Her doctoral work focused on the global-local contexts of the genesis of modern design education in India after independence.

Cue Questions on the Tables
Each table was seeded with Cue Questions designed in the form of cards that were placed on each one with reference to the themes and sub themes that were assigned to each table pair:
Session 1: TRENDS
S1: Keynote: John Thackara

S1/T1: Ecology:
Table 1 / 2
Q1. Climate Crisis. Are Designers responsible?
Q2. Consumerism being re-imagined for Sustainability?
Q3. How - Economy, society, technology and environment negotiate necessary “trade-offs”?
Q4. How can design slow-down ecological crisis?

S1/T2: Economy
Table 3 / 4
Q1. Are Designers responsible for the economic crisis?
Q2. Is the global economic crisis fuelling sustainable alternatives?
Q3.How can design enhance the value of the enterprise and make a difference on the bottom line?
Q4. How can economic drivers be part of the curriculum?
Q5. How can design shape economic value?
Q6. How can we integrate design into business thinking?

S1/T3: Networked Society
Table 5 / 6
Q1. How has the Networked Global Village impacted the world of design?
Q2. How is ‘democratisation of knowledge’ impacting learning?
Q3. Anti-globalisation movements. Role of technologies in organising these movements as grassroots movements?
Q5. Can we conceptualise a design institution that is self organized, accessible, democratic and sustainable ?
Q6. The impact of technology on multidisciplinarity in shaping design education. Are design disciplines re-organising?
Q7. Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (Prensky,2001). For the first time digital natives will become educators and will teach digital natives. How should they harness this strength /opportunity and what should be their newer challenges?

S1/T4: Social Groupings 
Table 7/ 8
Q1. What are emerging societal issues, re-groupings and industrial reorientation that would impact design?
Q2. The world has seen crisis – wars, terrorism, refugees, flood affected, crime against women, khap panchayat, and apartheid. What role can design play to create a resilient society?
Q3. The End of Sleep and 21st century capitalism – call centres, 24X7 industry, night clubs, hotel services. How is this affecting communities and the fabric of everyday life?
Q4. What will be the work culture of the future? Will the way designers work today, change? How?

Session 2: PEDAGOGY
S2: Keynote: Prof Vijay Kumar

S2/T1: Impact of Macro Trends
Table 1/4
Q1. Can we imagine a design institution that has sustainability at its core value?
Q2. How could today's teachers adapt to this sustainable institute and what should be their profile? What will be their challenges?
Q3. What will be the role of the educators in sustainable institutions? What will be defined as sustainable academic processes?
Q4.What cultural values will sustainable institutions stand for?
Q5. What will be the role of the learner and challenges she will face through sustainable processes?
Q6. How will it negotiate the binaries of global and local?
Q7. What do we envision technology's role to be in the institution for a sustainable world?

S2/T2: Cross-disciplinary Approaches
Table 3/6
Q1. What if the students decided everything in a design institution?
Q2.How could today's teachers adapt to this student-driven institute and what should be their profile? What will be their challenges?
Q3. What cultural values will this elective-driven institute stand for?
Q4. What will be the role of the educators in such a learner-driven institution?
Q5. How will such a student-driven institute negotiate the global and local binaries?
Q6. How will elective-driven institute articulate community?
Q7. What do we envision technology's role to be in the cross-disciplinary institution for a sustainable world?

S2/T3: Integrating the Social
Table 5/8
Q1. Is teaching a form of radical activism?
Q2. What can we expect from such a socially aware educator? What would be some of the challenges the educator will take on?
Q3. What cultural values will a socially aware institute stand for?
Q4. What will be the role of the educators in a socially aware institution?
Q5. What will be the role of the learner in a socially-aware?
Q6. How will this socially active learner / institution negotiate the global and local binaries?
Q7. How is the learner emerging as a productive force in social transformation?

S2/T4: New Design Disciplines
Table 7/2
Q1. How is the new social fabric impelling new design disciplines?
Q2. What are such new design disciplines emerging?
Q3. How will an institute that propels new design disciplines negotiate the global and local binaries?
Q4. What do we envision technology's role to be in an institution that propels new design discipline for a sustainable world?

S3: Keynote: Aditya Dev Sood

S3/T1: Looking for Impact Areas
Table 1/6
Q1. Enlist Areas that need design interventions for a sustainable world. Why?
Q2. Can we conceptualise a curriculum that directly engages with real life problems / impact areas for a sustainable world?
Q2. If we were to design a new curriculum that embodied sustainable processes and values, what would you propose as essential subject areas that it must cover?
Q3. How do you imagine teacher-student relation to be in an institute where the design is a way of life for a sustainable world?
Q4. What would be the success parameters of a curriculum that embodies areas that need design interventions?
Q5. Can you imagine and illustrate instances of use of technology in ways that could enable delivery of a curriculum that encapsulates ‘design for sustainability’?
Q6. What are the values that such a curriculum will instil in those who participate in a learning that promotes ‘design for sustainability?

S3/T2: Project Bank
Table 3/8
Q1. How could we create learning communities that are self organized? What would these learning communities aim to achieve ?
Q2. Lets design projects. How do we sustain and manage multi team student based projects?
Q3. How do we compensate external contributors in project based learning as an incentive?
Q4. How do we use technology to connect global expertise to project based learning?
Q5. Can we mentor students online and practically implement? What are the challenges to be negotiated?

S3/T3: Assignment Bank
Table 5/2
Q1. What are the values, skills and sensibilities at the core of design learning for which abstract non-prescriptive assignments are needed?
Q2. What kinds of assignments do great design teachers use to instill self-confidence as well as sustained practice without boredom during the skill development stage?
Q3. What are the qualities of good assignments for advanced learners and those for novice learners?
Q4. Enumerate abilities, knowledge, sensitivities and values that structured design assignments can instill in an extended programme of life-long learning. Example composition, typography, colour, material sensibilities, structure, modelling, sense making etc.

S3/T4: Shared Tasks Across Disciplines
Table 7/4
Q1. How do you imagine teacher-student relation to be in a participatory production of knowledge?
Q2. If we were to design assessment briefs for collaborative tasks / projects across disciplines, what could those be.
Q3. How would we manage multi player project with students from different disciplines?
Q4. How might we increase opportunities for multi player projects in our curriculum : With students from different disciplines; With students from other schools; With students from exchange programmes?
Q5. Can you imagine and illustrate instances of use of technology in ways that could enable delivery of such a curriculum & in Collaborative learning?

Session 4: LEARNER
S4: Keynote: Satish Gokhale

S4/T1: Models of Learning
Table 1/8
Q1. What is the difference from training a specific skill to educating a student to cope with a changing scenario?
Q2. How do we meet student expectations to balance general abilities and industry specific demands?
Q3. How can learning communities balance individual aspirations and social well-being?
Q4. Explore and articulate models based on experiential learning, hands-on learning and knowledge acquisition through research and instruction.
Q5. Explore and list possible tasks that the learner will actually do at the place of learning.

S4/T2: Open Source Institution
Table 3/2
Q1. Discuss models that enable the learner to make her own institution -- the Open source institution. 
Q2. Global explanations of e-learning are disrupting existing brick and mortar schools. What would learners need to sharpen skills and clarify concepts in a networked situation?
Q3.List possible tools, strategies and approaches to facilitate learning across a variety of subjects, skills and sensitivities
Q4. Make a bank of challenges that you would like the learners of tomorrow to take up.
Q5. How could tutors mentor self-efficacy and goal-setting in an open-source institution?

S4/T3: New Inspirations & Challenges
Table 5/4
Q1. What could inspire the 21st century learner?
Q2. What could be challenges she will face?
Q3. Could we conceptualise classroom exercises that make the designer an organizer of networks?
Q4. What are the challenges thrown up by evolving technology to learning situations and possible outcomes?
Q5. Global movements and socio-cultural realignments attract student learning interest. How do institutes cope with these diversity challenges?
Q6. Who are the thought leaders driving contemporary learning aspirations across disciplines in design learning?

S4/T4: Electives & Choices – Learner-Centric
Table 7/6
Q1. How do we manage the huge variety of aspirations to limited teacher bandwidth that is available in each teaching centre or institution?
Q2. How do schools manage an open menu option across disciplines as well as levels of expertise? Are there good examples that we can study or share?
Q3. What are the challenges of an elective-rich multidisciplinary university and what are the associated challenges?
Q4. What would be a profile of an elective-rich multidisciplinary institute vis-à-vis a traditional institute? Is the industry ready to absorb this graduate.

Documentation and Follow through
The event concluded with the announcement of the proposed Whats Next book based on the conference but the Pearl Academy website has already posted all Table Doodle Sheets and the keynote lectures on their website and next week all the voice recordings and visual data will also be posted for participant review and for the follow up sessions on social media that is a planned follow up which could involve a wider participation. We hope that this event will have a positive impact on new directions in design education here in India as well as around the world.

The Whats Next brochure can be downloaded from this link here on The Conference was conceptualised by Prof M P Ranjan as Conference Chair with the Pearl Academy team led by its CEO Sharad Mehra and Conference Director Dr Tarun Panwar and a dedicated team of faculty and officers at Pearl Academy.

M P Ranjan
Independent Academic, Ahmedabad, India & Author of Blog

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Design Thinking at Ahmedabad University: A new beginning for Indian education

Design Thinking at Ahmedabad University: An approach paper for a proposed course for undergraduate students

August 2013

Why Design Thinking?

We have constantly been amazed at the great creative actions of humanity, which can be seen in their key inventions and major evolutionary steps that shaped human civilisation and these have been initiated by generations of unknown creators over time immemorial. These creators have helped shape our civilisation through their breakthrough contributions by daring to experiment and create in the face of social isolation and ridicule by the prevailing orthodoxy. They contributed by innovating at the edge of society as stated by Alexander Doxiadis when he talked about the blue dots and red dots that represented the typical settlements where the blues were the majority conformists and the reds the crazies who were ostracised and isolated till a paradigm shift in society helped assimilate the thoughtful and insightful contributions from these isolated creators. These contributions included small or major improvements and change in processes, tools, arts, crafts, everyday artefacts, houses and public structures which we have conveniently labelled as inventions and innovations long before we could recognise these contributions as heroic acts of design thought and action.

We now know that these are early design acts that were not properly attributed in our historic references so far. We are now beginning to understand that design thought and action was central to all these breakthrough contributions and that it is a basic human activity and ability at one level that is as old as civilisation itself. The other form is a new and modern profession, and this is created by the professional education of a designer who would be able and sensitised to feel, think, act in an appropriate manner in a rapidly changing material and social world in an industrial age. Today in an era of information access and digital processes has brought on new possibilities for design as well as enormous challenges and responsibilities that require an ethical and feeling attitude alongside a sharp intellect and able set of hands. Understanding design and design thinking today is a major challenge since it has so many forms and those working in a variety of domains exhibit capabilities and competencies drawn from a vast array of traditional disciplines that have been integrated into the skill sets of a particular designer in his or her modern form.

University education has become dominated by vertical specialisations with little connect between the various disciplines and the emphasis has been on development of knowledge resources and capability within each domain of study. However it is increasingly seen that to solve real world problems and emerging opportunities there is a need for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary attitudes and abilities to collaborate and think across various styles of thought and action to ralise innovative possibilities that are around us all the time. It is here that many educators across disciplines are turning to design thinking to bring these new attitudes and capabilities to the various domains of specialisations within an educational and university setting. The core processes and capabilities afforded by design thinking training are listed and stated below.

1. Understanding the Context: Framing Intentions and Goals
Learning to understand the context and the social, cultural, material, economic and political situation that usually leads to trying to get clarity from a very complex set of signals and processes from the real world that help provide the essence of a direction for design thought and action. This kind of learning, like many others, does go through several iterations but at the end of these multiple cycles the level of conviction and sense of purpose is usually very high in the task and the purpose that it represents. This early stage learning is at most times very fuzzy and a great deal of flexibility is called for to be able to cope with the ambiguity that accompanies this kind of design exploration leading to the building of some convictions that are supported by the faith of these experiences. Many a times this conviction can be a source of great frustration since few others have the same insights that the design learner has garnered from the unique situations that has been investigated in some considerable depth. Designers learn that these early stage sense data needs to be trusted and not abandoned too early and this is the foundation of an innovation environment in which they choose to work. Lifetime of experiences are harnessed through the processes of brainstorming and mapping of the context and the various elements that may impact the situation that is being examined with a very open minded attitude that is inclusive in nature rather than by being overly critical. All this exploration is done with words and images and these need to be modeled in a composite structure that captures both the structure as well as the form of the situation under examination and this model is a dynamic one as it develops and responds to new circumstances and information and insights. Insights about the context and the particular situation are the most sought after by-products from these early stages of design exploration.

2. Research, Knowledge and Insights: Plumbing Information Sources and Dimensions
Design learning needs to develop both attitudes as well as ability with tools of information access and processing. The process of design deals with access to information to many classes of information types which includes published and reported facts and speculations and also field based observations and self initiated experiments that are contextually mediated to fill gaps in the current information or for a direct confirmation of some reported fact or speculation which cannot otherwise be verified easily, to list only a small sub-set of the huge variety of information types involved in design investigation. Designers have drawn from all kinds of disciplines, from the humanities, sociology, psychology and language studies as well as from the sciences and technology fields,  various tools and techniques that were previously perfected within these disciplines over the years of specialised investigations and these would be available in published form as textbooks from each field of study. For example, tools and procedures on field-work and observation of people in the particular design situation, are drawn from the standard practices and work ethics and techniques of anthropologists, sociologists a variety of humanities experts and these have been adopted and used in numerous cases of design research that I know of. The field of design research is growing with many of these disciplines recognising new roles for themselves in the whole arena of innovation and design action that is becoming recognised as a valuable area of work globally. Design schools too are beginning to adopt many of these tools and processes as their own and building competence in their use and analysis. The purpose of these design research efforts however tend to be focussed on finding useful insights for the design action and decisions to follow rather than be focussed on finding fundamental truths and new knowledge as a final goal of the particular design research effort.

3. Finding Structure: Mapping of Resources and Opportunities
Design problems are better understood by juxtaposing factual and observational findings with new proposals and imagined possibilities that are visualised at an early stage in a what if mode of thought and action. New scenarios for action come up for active consideration and these also inform the design teams about the possible gaps in their information that need to be filled as they move forward. These conjectural models can be subjected to early analysis using a variety tools and frameworks to conduct such analysis. The hypothesis and insights arrived at in these early explorations drives further design investigation in the form of advanced scenarios of parts or the whole of the design situation or in the form of narratives and stories that cover both the micro and the macro levels of observation and visualisation of the stated and imagined need as well as the consequences and potentials that are being investigated by the designer. This too moves through numerous iterations till a selection is possible of a few major alternate courses of action that can be taken to the next level of investment planning and decision cycles, be it the sharing of these models with stake-holders, conduct of further focussed experiments or the building of expensive prototypes of parts or the whole product or business offering, as the case may be. This also applies to visualisations at many levels of expression from the abstract to the real, such as pre-cognitive diagrams, doodles and fuzzy sketches at one end, that are the preliminary visualisations created in many cases intuitively by the designer for themselves in the search for possible configurations and relationships of the various attributes of the solution to the other extreme involving expensive articulations of scenario in the form of detailed drawings, renderings and models and even real material prototypes in many iterations in a search for new and particular configurations affordances that resolve the many contradictions that exist in all design tasks. We can call this an analytical exploration of the design situation using visual tools and processes that generate external models rather than numerical or verbal expressions, although in some cases even these would be used in conjunction with the visual as well. Many of these models can be shared with large groups of critical participants to find gaps in the offerings and areas of improvement may emerge from the suggestions that are gathered in this process.

4. Communication of Concepts: Negotiating with Stake-holders
Designers need to develop an ability to make their concepts visible at an early stage and to be successful they also need to be able to communicate these effectively to a wide range of stake-holders as well. The ability to work in a team situation with many stake-holders with different areas of expertise is critical and using verbal, textual and visual discourses is an integral part of design thought and action. Design action calls for articulate expression of intermediate findings as well as expressive presentations of findings and results of concept explorations along with justifications of investments that would need to follow to make the concept a reality. Therefore, interactions with numerous stakeholders and in most cases approving authorities with whom the interactions are both critical and necessary for the task to progress to the next logical level of action with funding and other supports, calls for fairly advanced skills of communication and language use along with multi-media presentation skills. The learning involved is in communication, in seeking collaborations and in understanding the responses with empathy to the situation and the needs and feelings of the identified users. For major projects of public utility there is the added complexity of public discourse and politics of governance that would need to be negotiated and navigated with competence if the design teams are to be successful.

5. Ethical Frameworks and Holistic Models: Synthesis of Positions and Informed Decisions
Values and ethical positions are a part of all design choice making and these would come up at numerous stages in the process of design. Learning to accept and process the feedback from stake-holders into contact with constructive actions is a great leveller, and it brings the design thinker into uncommon scenarios on the cusp of great change and this could induce change in the individual themselves, since some of this feedback could be cultural in nature or outside the accepted frame of the designers frame of “personal ethics” – for want of a better term, which may be reflexive and transformative in both directions. The nature of design calls for the practitioner to be widely informed about both technical as well as socio-political matters and be able to use these in the context of the task at hand. There are many instances of the designer embarking on a new path outside the scope of the current task based on the insights and convictions derived from the learning experiences embedded in the design task. Today we are finding numerous examples of great complexity that may contain challenges of trying to bring sustainability and social equity into design tasks that may have in the past been considered a pure technical exercise. Awareness levels are high and public participation in such matters is also approaching high levels compelling designers to adopt methods that could make the design process less intuitive and more accountable and with public visibility at all decision stages, particularly for good governance in public expenditure. Documentation in such situations becomes doubly important.

6. Exploring Alternatives:  Developing Strategies and Details for Parts and Whole.
Learning to design leads to be open to vast range of alternatives and in decision-making choices from out of the numerous alternatives of parts and wholes that are the result of progressive visualisations and experimentations conducted in the progress of the design task. The definition of the task itself is open to review and many a times the investigations and design investments have veered of into an entirely new direction as a result of this kind of review which is quite normal in a design situation that is complex and previously less explored. The ability to develop alternatives calls for flexibility as well as the ability to generate prolific variety of expressions that can shape possible futures through the mobilisation of many types and styles of thinking for exploration and synthesis. Design thinking has many modes of thought from explorative, analytical, synthesis, abductive, categoric as well as reflective thinking styles at various stages as the work progresses.

7. Developing the Self:  Learning New Attitudes, Skills and Concepts
Design students need to be curious people and they should have an urge for constant learning about changes in their environment as well as in society at large. The ability to find what is not known and to quickly learn the principles or alternately to find those who can help them learn is a quality that is valued in a design and education setting. The constant self development that we see in what designers do in their search for new and interesting bits of knowledge that would be of value in the future on some not yet anticipated task usually within the frame of interest paths that each designer traverses over a career of continued learning to cope with the new and the unexpected in their usual area of work and areas that overlap their multiple interest paths. This calls for high degree of self-motivation and a sustained level of interest that can be supported when the task becomes both difficult and in many cases frustrating when no progressis easily visible on the horizon. The attitude towards learning is one of curiosity and with a constant search for excellence and quality in whatever is being addressed.

Design Thinking Course at Ahmedabad University:
A Course Abstract Paper for an elective course created for undergraduate & postgraduate students

Prof M P Ranjan
Independent Academic & Author of Blog –

Course Title: Introduction to Design Thinking
Sessions: 30 sessions
Pre-Requisites: Offered to all students of Undergraduate and Postgraduate Programme at Ahmedabad University.
Objective: Broad based introduction to the processes and concepts of Design Thinking with a sensitisation to attitudes and action skills required to innovate and deliver new and compelling design concepts. Participants will be introduced to various processes and styles of Design Thinking using selected real world settings in the City of Ahmedabad — to explore, understand, structure and build new products, services and systems with the use of design and innovation processes. Help participants appreciate design thought and processes with a familiarity to key design thought leaders in the field through select readings, contemporary debates on issues and perspectives as well as online resources that are relevant and current. The assignments will give students an exposure to the hands-on minds-on perspectives needed for handling complex and wicked problems that are typical of design challenges and these collective experiences as well as reflections on these actions taken together will give them confidence to handle new and unfamiliar situations and use these processes and styles of thinking to create new and compelling offerings using design thinking as a way of living and action.

Methodology and Structure: This 30 session course is divided into 10 modules, each composed of lectures, discussion sessions on the Key Theme of each module and these are followed by structured non-prescriptive assignments for the students to work in teams to explore and discover the boundaries of the chosen task and navigate the complexities of the situation in exploring design opportunities through the set of structured assignments and learning to work in teams at the same time.

Course Content: Introduction to Key Concepts of Design Thinking through lectures, discussions, group assignments and presentations divided into ten major overlapping modules as listed below:
A: Key Concepts of Design Thinking
1. What is Design Thinking?
2. Styles of Design Thinking
3. Goal Seeking & Setting Research
4. Understanding Context
5. Visual Mapping & Resource Mapping
6. Categories and Trends
7. Compositions and Judgements
8. Opportunity Mapping and Scenario Visualisation
9. Communications and Reflection
10. Presentations with Business Models
(See supporting notes attached for a description of the design thinking models and stages as well as styles of thinking)

B: Opportunities for New/ Improved Services and Business offerings through design. Context City of Ahmedabad of 2015 - 2020
These are broad sectors within which there would be numerous specific design opportunities worth doing and these would be explored and developed as a theme each year depending on the context and current interest of the participating students and the imagination that they would unfold.
1. Food preparation and delivery                  9. Urban Farming Trends
2. Healthcare opportunities                          10. Garbage and Urban Hygiene
3. Urban Mobility challenges                        11. Web Enabled Services
4. Entertainment and then City                    12. Library & Knowledge Services
5. Public Spaces Utilisation                          13. Music Events and Competitions
6. Tourism and Heritage offerings              14. Social Networks for City Governance
7. Events and Festivals                                 15. Riverfront Opportunities
8. Education related needs                          16. BRTS support Services
And many more which would be developed as part of the early Goal Setting assignments in the early phase of the course.

Space and Facilities Required: Flexible space planning with appropriate furniture and lighting would be needed to conduct he various parts of this course. Lectures and presentation sessions would be for the whole group and depending on the total number of students the space requirements would need to be made appropriately. During each Module the groups would require access to lecture spaces provide with audio-visual facilities as well as clear wall spaces with white soft boards for display and discussion of posters simultaneously for at least five groups. Each group would be composed of 6 to 10 student participants and the class strength could vary from 30 to 50 participants each year. Each group would need a work space suitable for group processes in design thinking and preferably these tables and chairs should be stackable to clear the space for group presentations that would use the wall space around the design space.

List of key thought leaders and published resources: Design Thinking is a rapidly evolving field and more published resources are being made available each day as the field grows. We will keep a close watch on the evolving literature and suggest appropriate papers, books, web sites and discussion lists that the students can interact with as part of their course at the University. Being an introductory course, the selection will be governed by the material being suitable for entry-level students into the field of design and design thinking. However the University needs to invest in expanding their design related library so that these students can continue to use the resource long after the course in a continued learning setting and it would also encourage other students to think about using design as a key resource for their own projects and initiatives. We anticipate many such innovation initiatives from the student body once the course is set up and finds a place in the mainstream of the University offering.

Evaluation Criteria and Feedback: Students will be evaluated on both participation as well as performance. Participation will be on the basis of attendance and quality of participation in group processes. Results of group assignments will be graded for the group and not for the individual student. However, students not showing interest or effort in group processes would need to be counseled to ensure a level of learning that is wholesome and properly assimilated. The final presentation would be a public event and the concepts developed by the students will get live feedback from teachers, mentors, peers, as well as members of the community with whom they have interacted during the course. Attendance and individual participation tasks will carry a 40 percent weightage while group tasks would carry 60 percent.

Learning Outcomes:  Understanding of Design as an action discipline. Ability to frame complex challenges using design thinking skills and visualization of these for sharing with stakeholders. Familiarity with design concepts and tools with an introduction to key thought leaders. Familiarity with a vocabulary of design and innovation as they would be applied to a wide spectrum of opportunities and complex challenges.

Suggested References
1. John Heskett, Design: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2005
2. Jon Kolko, Exposing The Magic of Design: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Methods of Synthesis, Oxford University Press, 2011
3. John Thackara, In The Bubble, Designing in a Complex World, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005
4. Harold G Nelson & Eric Stolterman, The Design Way, Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World, MIT Press, 2012
5. Roger Martin, Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, Harvard Business School Press, 2009
6. Kees Dorst, Understanding Design, BIS Publishers, 2006
7. Bryan Lawson, What Designers Know, Architectural Press, 2004
6. M P Ranjan, Design Thinking Models: A Primer, The Author, 2013
7. M P Ranjan, Design for India, blog : , 2007 to 2013
8. M P Ranjan,, Archive of Papers and Books by the author,
Note for the record:

On 18 August 2013 the Academic Council of Ahmedabad University reviewed the proposal and accorded an in-principle approval to launch the course as an elective offered across several colleges of the University, This is a significant move since in India we have over 500 recognised Universities and the need for embedding design and design thinking into the 230 sectors of our economy is still a long way away, a journey that we started on this blog in 2007 on 14th June with the publication of our Mission Statement for the Design for India initiative.

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