The Design Observer Group


Posted 02.21.11


John Thackara

What Kind of Design Institutes for India?



A decision by the Indian government set up four new National Institutes of Design (NIDs) in the country has sparked a lively debate about the kinds of design they should teach.

An influential group of design thought-leaders has launched a campaign called VisionFirst that calls for a "rigorous co-creation process to bring clarity to the models of design education that India should seek."

VisionFirst applauds the new institutes as “a significant step towards leveraging design to enhance the country's ability to innovate, and in using design to enhance the quality of life in the country.” But the group also expresses concern that the new institutes “will be a lost opportunity if we follow a predetermined route and end up replicating expired, limited and ineffective models of design.”

The VisionFirst group includes Uday Dandavate, co-founder of SonicRim; Ashish Deshpande, founder of Elephant Design; S. Sundar, president of the Association of Indian Designers; the writer and blogger M. P. Ranjan; and the educator Jogi Panghaal, India Associate of Doors of Perception.

In a pamphlet launched yesterday VisonFirst propose a "nationwide and rigorous co-creation process" to stimulate fresh inquiry and bring clarity to the models of design education that India should seek.

This “grand open, global conversation about design education in India” could unfold on the internet and in print media, says the group; it could conclude with a international conference to share the insights and emerging directions in design education from around the world.

“To remain competitive in the global marketplace” argues VisionPlus,  “industry must respond to new sets of challenges. Users are seeking more than usefulness and usability. They are looking for emotional connectedness, commitment to green values, transparency and fair use of labour.”

The Indian government has published a Request for Proposal that invites consulting organizations to bid for finalisation of the model for setting up campuses for four new NIDs. This approach, warns VisonPlus “may exclude new and innovative ways to imagine new institutions.” The group is concerned that India's government may “commit to building infrastructure for a pre-supposed form of a school, both in building and content that is actually in desperate need for re-imagination.”

Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations, and recent chair of India's Knowledge Commission, has told VisionFirst that he supports the creation of 40 innovation clusters in different parts of India to serve different sectors of the economy, and sees a need to have a 100 NID’s in India.

The debate in India coincides with the launch by Doors of Perception of a new project called Xskool.. (Declaration of interest: This writer is director of Doors of Perception.)

The idea of Xskool is to set up a training platform that will help the next generation of design teachers and leaders "make a fundamental transition to a new kind of design — one that creates social value without destroying natural and human assets".

More on Xskool shortly.