NID and WeSchool: India Design-centred Universities Visits

While I was India, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the National Institute of Design (NID) (http://www.nid.edu) and WE School – Welingkar A Business school (http://www.welingkar.org). These visits provided me with some key insights into design education past and present, as well as its potential future directions.

NID’s R & D Campus in Bangalore Visits

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In Bangalore I visited the R&D campus of NID, which was set up in 2007. This campus offers three IT-based programmes: Design for Information/Interface Design; Design for Digital Experience and Design for Retail Experience. They offer industry, research and design consultancy (called the Design Clinique) with students and professional involved in live projects. I was taken around to see some of the current projects including the redesign of a library, a documentation of traditional Indian crafts, and using historical evidence to show what Hampi (an important religious centre) would have looked like in its prime.

Hampi project

Hampi project

Hampi project

Hampi project

Documents all of the traditional crafts of India project

Documents all of the traditional crafts of India project

Documents all of the traditional crafts of India project

Documents all of the traditional crafts of India project

My trip to the R&D Campus gave me insight into how design education started in India. In 1961, on the back of governmental commission piece of research called ‘The India Report’. A governmental school was established as an autonomous Institute in Ahmedabad under the department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, a part of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. The following provides some context on this (but the report itself is well worth a read, as looking back at history can help give us clarity on events today).

In the 1950s India was establishing itself as a newly independent country, trying to balance age-old traditions with new technologies. This was an era of rapid industrialization, and the government was keen to set up an instituteof design and needed guidance for a training programme that would aid small industries to prosper, and that would resist the rapid deterioration in design and quality of consumer goods. Famed American industrial designers Charles and Ray Eames, were asked to conduct this review by the Indian government, and they travelled throughout India, meeting with craftspeople, architects, scientists, industrialists, educators and philosophers along the way. In NID words:

 ‘The Report recommended a problem-solving design consciousness that linked learning with actual experience and suggested that the designer could be a bridge between tradition and modernity. The Report called upon future designers to re-examine the alternatives of growth available to the country at that time.’

During my visit to NID, I was part of conversations and presentations with their staff around current and future design markets. At the moment, with so many products on the market, design is being integrated with IT in order to provide services – for example, Redbus.in, a bus service whose website enables passengers to view all of the possible options for travelling from A to B, anywhere in India. You can also book and pay for travel on the same website.

In the future, the NID academic team would like to see designers being able to freely access knowledge from different subjects, and for those in different disciplines to do the same with design knowledge. Also when introducing design into a business or public sector organization, designers can offer support to other fields until they have their own independent in using design.

As design moves into different fields, NID academic staff feel design will need radical leadership which talks clearly about the outcomes and impact of design, with solid case studies that show the evidence of these outcomes. They felt that achieving this would require design becoming free of authority: that is, focused less on ‘who said what’ and more on how approaches were implemented.

At the same time, we still have to remember how design can add value in different-sized businesses. For example if you are in a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), developing a product with an intuitive design approach that does not follow a process may be of value. In a large company with lots of employees where design is becoming a part of strategy, there is more need for a clear process of design that people can follow. So it’s important to be aware of the value and approach in different contexts.

The key insights that I took away from NID, and which the academic staff had mentioned, was the immediate need for case studies of design that demonstrate outcomes. These would be of value in convincing governments to see design as an important part of innovation in both business and the public sector.

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We School in Bangalore Visit and Workshop

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I was invited to host a design-thinking workshop at the WE School an Institute of Management Development and Research. Founded over 35 years ago, the WeSchool has branches in Mumbai and Bangalore. I first heard about this institute, and their aim of putting design thinking at the core of their programmes, from Idiom’s co-founder Sonia Manchanda who led on their rebranding from Welingkar to the WE School. The School offers a broad range of postgraduate programme from e-biz, business design, healthcare and retail management to a PhD management programme. I was very interested to find out more about them!

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Outdoor teaching spaces

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In the workshop I hosted with WE School’s innovation and business students, students carried out two activities: (1) Using context and value mapping (LINK) to explore the value of design in different business segments and (2) Creating a service to bring design into the core of the selected business. During each exercise I was really impressed by the students’ knowledge of design, their ability to state why and how design would add value to different businesses, and their consideration of the key factors and stakeholders needed to implement their services.  At the same time when they presented they were confident and persuasive.

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Following the workshop I had a conversation with Dr. Anil Rao, the WE School’s Dean and Director at the Bangalore Campus,along with several of the faculty members who talked me through the school’s background. They see a need for a radical change in management education, requiring a different mindset that is more about discovering and prototyping in a cross-disciplinary learning setting in order to meet the needs of changing markets and an increasingly complex world. This has led to an integration of design thinking approaches into their management programmes, meaning that students have a business mindset but also an exploring and prototyping approach to management. Walking around the campus and looking at their facilities, it was clear to see that this was a different kind of learning environment – still formal but more relaxed, with outdoors and indoor space for lecturing, with a prototyping workshop in the process of being built along with a prototyping kitchen for students to use and experiment in.

With strong links to industries, the students of the WE School are moving into strategic roles in Indian businesses, spreading the design thinking mindset and promoting the need for more design focus within those organisations. At the WE School the students have the time to develop elements of a design thinking mindset that is relevant for business. Also the staff members who don’t have a background in design thinking want to learn how to make design make business sense – BRILLIANT!

In summary…

I was interested to discover that, until recently, taking a design subject at university would not lead to a degree qualification but to a diploma. This is not ideal when Indian families place a lot of importance on education, with a great deal of respect and preference places on the professions of engineering and medicine. But recently the Indian Institute of Technology, ITT in Mumbai has led the offering of degree to PhD level qualifications in design, with others now following suit. Interestingly enough a key market for design has historically been in textiles, so that is the type of training ITT had provided in the past. From 1990s-2000s market reforms led to the establishment of a range of private design schools, for example Sristi Design School in Bangalore (set up in 1999) Symbiosis Design School, in Pune (set up in 2004), IILM School of Design, Gurgoan (set up in 2004), Maeer’s MIT Institute of Design, Pune (set up in 2005), Raffles School of Design, Mumbai (set up in 2005), DJ Academy of Design, Coimbature (set up in 2005), Design Institute of India, Indore (set up in 2008) and DSK International Institute of Design, Pune (set up in 2008). For full history of design education, click here.

As the market grows for design in other fields, I am interested to see what new models are formed and what elements are used to help foster innovation in different disciplines – particularly as the areas of education, healthcare and local government are using design to help improve quality of life instead of just helping to sell stuff. For example I found out from my trip with the Minas Government in Brazil (see related post ‘My time inside‘) – who were developing their own co-creative approach to development of public policy – that they wanted to apply design thinking in order to prototype policy before it becomes too big and costly to fail. But on the other hand, in the context of a government you cannot been seen to fail, even if they are wrong they tell themselves they are right. All the people in the local Minas Government had come from one governmental training school. So, what if design thinking was integrated into the way that the Minas government are now train in polite? It would be amazing! What I am understanding now is that when design moves into new fields, more value of design is shown and new reasons for why it is critical to innovation in the field is articulated. In a broader context, one thing I have learnt about emerging markets is that you have to educate people – but as soon as they get it, they will leapfrog innovation, as if it come out of the blue! They are not to be underestimated at all!

One last thing: I would like to thank Shashikala Satyamoorthy at NID, and Prof. Prakash Unakal at the We School for hosting me for the day, big thank to you both it was great learning experience.

 

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