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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The discipline of design has been fundamental in the adaptation of humans to nature and the increasing needs of industrialisation and technological advances. From the very first stone axe, we have created tools of increasing sophistication and our skills kept getting better. Experts today are now capable of creating simulated environments which were once as real and scary. Design has its deepest roots in arts, crafts and organised planning. Later the actual concept of design and its sub-groups like architecture, textile, furniture and graphic design started to emerge. Much later, service development design, industrial design, information design and many more disciplines grew out from the thick roots of basic design. (Deshpande, 2016) Although design has prevailed in India for a long time even before attaining independence, there seems to be a lack of documentation or almost no record of the evolution of design in India. The late 1950s was a significant year for Indian culture and education. It was a time of reappraisal and reconstruction of a newly independent country. India was faced with a task of nation building and balancing old traditions with new technology and ideas. (National Institute of Design, 2015) Design culture and design education have played an important role in the development of India since its independence and continues to do so in giving the country an identity across different aspects of life. The approach of design and design thinking in India and the world however has changed since its beginning. The focus of this paper is to explore how design has changed its approach over time. It also explores the reaction of India to the rapidly evolving practice of design and the ever- evolving design language in the world. It is imperative to understand this topic to speculate the future of design discipline in India and around the world to see what direction it is proceeding in.

The origin of design can be traced back to the writings of Roman artist, architect and engineer Vitruvius. His writings are among the oldest surviving documents about architecture. His book De architectua libri decem, presumed to have been written between thirty and fifteen BC, comprised the first handbook on architectural planning and design. In his first book, Vitruvius mentioned a guiding principle that has formed its roots in the history of design. “All buildings must satisfy three criteria: strength, functionality and beauty”. It can be said that he laid out the basic guideline for functionality in design much before its time. These guidelines were followed for a very long time until design was recognised as a profession and was practiced extensively. It was only in the mid- nineteenth century that the whole outlook of design changed. Industrial design was starting to be spoken about only during this period. (Burdek, 2002)

It was the mid- nineteenth century that saw industrial design in the modern sense like it is today. With the advent of industrialisation, massive machine labour meant increased manufacturing. This also meant that the entire product did not have to be designed and manufactured by the same person. The industrialisation in design grew so much that today a person in a big company is only responsible for the design of one part of a product. This division in labour increased employment, more profits as it helped in mass production and also encouraged a lot of young designers to take up design, production and marketing. (Burdek, 2002)

All the writings on industrial design recorded during this period focused on functionality, describing it as the primary area to be considered while designing a product. Exhibition buildings and other architecture were influenced by the modern design approach. The commission to construct the building for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London was given to Joseph Paxton. His palace, referred to as ‘Glass Ark' was an example of the design and construction methods of the nineteenth century. The construction of the building was completed in just four and a half months. The parts were manufactured elsewhere and were assembled on site. The quick assembling, the manufacture of parts separately for efficiency in production are aspects of modern design that started to emerge during this period and was a great success to be continued and taken forward for centuries there on. (Burdek, 2002)

New movements emerged in Europe during the 19th century. Art Nouveau in France- a period of international art style that prevailed from 1890 to 1910- took inspiration from nature and natural objects like flowers and insects; Jugendstil in Germany was a form of Art Nouveau known by another name. It followed the same principles as the former, translated as Youth Style from German, prevailing from the late 1800s until the First World War. The Modern style was another name for the same movement in England. All these movements stopped looking back at the past and began taking inspiration from the things around them in the present with nature being a huge part of their inspiration. Modernism was in full flow by this time and all the movements that emerged were following the same pattern in their own way- for example, Cubism, metamorphism, etc. (Burdek, 2002)

The discipline of design was slowly gaining importance all around the world at different paces and in different forms based on cultural backgrounds. Design was evolving in every aspect of life. Institutions for design education were being built; there was a global exchange of design languages across the world, every industry- small or big, started recognising the need for design and there was a rapid growth in the number of designers and makers of designed goods around the world.

While design was evolving rapidly in the West, India did not have formal design education or a design language for itself. This was soon after Independence that there was a search for the Indian identity across all aspects of life. In 1958, the Government of India realised the importance and necessity of a programme of training in design that would serve as an aid to the small industries and that would help fight the present rapid deterioration in design and quality of consumer goods. (National Institute of Design, 2015)

American industrial designer Charles Eames with his wife and colleague Ray visited India on request of the Government to explore problems of design and to make recommendations for a training program in India. They toured across India making a careful study of many centres for design, handicraft and general manufacture. They were informed by interactions with officials and non- officials in the field of engineering, architecture and in education. As a result of this study the India report emerged. In the report, they suggested that “in the light of the current situation and the seriousness of the basic problems, a sober investigation take place into the values and qualities that Indians hold important to a good life, that there be a scrutiny of those elements that go to make up a ‘standard of living'.” (Charles and Ray Eames, April 1958)

The Eames suggested that the investigation should be prepared to follow it up with the restudy of the problems of environment and shelter in the country as though it was being looked at for the first time, to restate the solutions to these problems and identify the evolving symbols in India. They suspected that much benefit would be gained if the search began from the small village level. The reason for this urgency was quite apparent. The medium producing changes in India, according to Charles and Ray Eames, was communication and not some influence of the West. “Communication is a phenomenon that affects the world, not a country.” (Charles and Ray Eames, April 1958)

India at this point was at a position to adapt these changes with great advantages; India did not have to make the same mistakes that the others made during this transition. India's problems were well defined: food, shelter, distribution, population. With the need of immediate action, a drive to feed and shelter was essential. It was no more a search for aesthetic development; it was a relentless drive in search of quality that had to be maintained for the republic to survive. (Charles and Ray Eames, April 1958)

Before NID- National Institute of Design, which is the first school in India that trained students in the discipline of design was founded in 1961, architecture graduates were the only group of students who had been exposed to a variety of training and discipline that might have prepared them for the kind of work that was needed. They were highly educated and had some background in the complex areas of environment and communication. Architecture students seemed to be the right group to be trained in the discipline of design and communication. Any other highly educated person with a higher than average potential for enthusiasm would make a good candidate for the educational program. The enthusiasm was important to discover values in everyday situations that are generally ignored. (Charles and Ray Eames, April 1958)

Charles and Ray Eames suggested that the students should be trained in the graduate school for a period of two years. According to the development of a particular student, they might continue working in the service branch of the institute, may be grabbed by a private industry, may be invited to join some branch of government service, may open a consulting office of their own or may return to architecture as a much needed and enriched version of an architect. (Charles and Ray Eames, April 1958) One of the main objectives of this education is to train students to not only solve problems but to help others solve their own problems which is one of the most valuable functions of a good industrial designer today.

Design in India has evolved ever since and is rapidly gaining importance in every field. The importance of design in India is magnified by the growing economy and the large population that needs design solutions. Design has the power of influencing lives of people and act as an integrator of values, aspirations and culture. India has a vibrant design industry and an ever-increasing number of design users along with a strong background of design education. Indian designers use their eclectic talent, their tradition, culture, insight and experience in their designs that stands out from the rest of the world. “Design in India has matured over time and continues to grow from strength to strength.” (Deshpande, 2016)

India is at a good position with designers who are capable to produce designs that are at par with international design firms and companies. While there are few qualified design experts, the quality of designers and quality of training is high. In addition to the qualified design graduates who have been trained in various design programmes, there are many professionals who are not formally trained, working as designers. (Deshpande, 2016)  For example, fine art students who acquire graphic skills do well as graphic designers.

Majority of design users in India are big businesses who absorb a large number of design graduates. Most small or medium sized enterprises lack the resources and the understanding of the value of design in terms of competitive advantage. Design is yet to reach small or medium sized enterprises as companies are shifting from low cost production to high quality services and design is perceived as an agent for change. India still has a long way to go in understanding, accepting and appreciating design and inculcating design culture among its people. A conscious effort needs to be made to enhance global effectiveness of Indian industry through design. (Deshpande, 2016)

The Indian Government is promoting and supporting design by helping set up design clinics and the establishment for more new design education programmes around the country. (Deshpande, 2016) The Government is also encouraging international support in design education through collaborations and invitations to lecturers and professionals from different countries. The next few years are very crucial for India's design industry as there is a phenomenal growth in the different sectors along with an increasing demand for design. The demand for professional design companies as well as trained design professionals is increasing. Some authors suggest that Indian design institutes need a transformation. There is a need to increase emphasis on research and doctoral education. (Deshpande, 2016) Trained designers are expected to think way beyond just artefacts and be more strategic in their work. The nature of design is become more pervasive; it is prevalent in every aspect of life and so should design education programmes.

Design is now branching out of its core roots into newer applications like service design, interaction design, user experience design, system design and information design. New tools and methodologies are being developed to apply these disciplines in the industry and the education also needs to incorporate these factors. Globally, design companies have started using design thinking and design methods. Different kinds of design services are developed globally – design of public services and green design are examples. Many non- profit organisations and small firms are making efforts to affect the lives of people at the bottom of the pyramid using design thinking. This effort is slowly attracting the attention of big companies who are willing to invest in these efforts to help make the people's lives better through services and system designs that empower and uplift the bottom of the pyramid communities. India needs these capabilities especially to contribute to national missions made by the Government of India. The ‘Make in India' mission is one such mission started by the Government encouraging more and more small scale industries in India to start making public services and products themselves instead of importing them for better quality and service. In addition to ‘Make in India' the Government has recently announced a ‘Design in India' movement to encourage companies to design their own products and systems using in-house design thinking. This mission also encourages young designers to pursue jobs and freelance in India and help the economy of the country grow better. (DNA, April 2017)

The increasing demand for design professionals is helping bring design culture into the lives of people in India. With the pace at which the importance of design is being understood and appreciated in the country, it is safe to assume that soon India will have a strong design industry capable of competing with big design companies around the world and be able to produce many more international quality products and services.

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