Have you ever drooled over a gorgeous Uppada silk saree but thought, “I’ll never wear it, so why fork out 15K for it?” Or wondered if you should spend tens of thousands on an intricately carved teak table at the handicrafts emporium? We despair over the urban chaos we are surrounded by, but are sometimes blind to the immense genius of Indian design that we regularly bypass as we covet foreign goods and ape foreign sensibilities in the ways we dress, do business or spend our leisure time. Perhaps, it’s just the right time in the journey of our country to just take a step back and appreciate the beauty of Indian design.
The Case for Going Vocal for Local Design
Pre-COVID, the teetering world economy was on the edge of a recession. Now, we are bang in the middle of one. Harvard Kennedy School Professor of International Finance Carmen Reinhart opines that “COVID-19 is like the last nail in the coffin of globalization.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call for “Going Vocal for Local” – a new avatar of “Make in India” he launched in 2014 – is intended to support domestic enterprise and boost local talent. India Inc. is stepping up to the challenge in various ways, including in a crucial one India has long been known for: design.
Indian Design Ahoy!
Design plays a crucial role in manufacturing, engineering, marketing, and management. India has a rich and glorious heritage of beautiful and intricate design. This is evident from our temples, architecture, textiles and crafts that have inspired designers from all over the world. Much of this innovation has been based on advances in chemistry, metallurgy and other sciences, underscoring how design can be the catalyst for a whole range of industries.
Throughout her history, India has seen waves of invasions and settlements – leading to a constant integration and assimilation of migrating people with diverse cultures and backgrounds. This has made our country a unique melting pot, giving it a timeless legacy and inheritance in the form of its arts, crafts, jewellery and embroidery. Several lifestyle and fashion brands take inspiration from Indian heritage and work towards adapting Indian designs and textiles to contemporary fashion to make them more relevant for the current generation.
Colour me indigo!
We all know of indigo, the eponymous blue of the Indian subcontinent. The charms of this vivid colour have been celebrated by textile designers, couturiers and fashionistas the world over. Have you heard of Indian yellow? This is a creation by dye makers in India who fed mango leaves and turmeric to cows and extracted the pigment from their urine. This colour has been the hallmark of many works of art as well as textiles coming out of India.
Such stories typify the pursuit of excellence that made Indian dye makers, artists, textile designers and cloth merchants of yore so sought after. This is the excellence that made Indian textiles sought after, making it one of the most lucrative sectors contributing to India’s share of global trade – a whopping 25%!
Other stories abound – of muslins so fine, British colonists cut off the thumbs of muslin-makers in Dhaka rather than compete with them; of indigenous innovations in sculpture, art and architecture – many of which last to this day. The stories are both nostalgic and painful, leading one to ask, what happened?
In an effort to bring those glory days back, over the past decade, the government has recognized the importance of developing the Indian design sector. India formulated and adopted a National Design Policy in the year 2007, and is one of the few countries to have done so. To implement the major provisions of the National Design Policy, it established the Indian Design Council (IDC) in March 2009. The IDC is at the forefront for the cause of design excellence in India. It works with the design community, educational institutions and industry to promote design in public service, business and society.
Today, most design activities and companies in our country are focused in four cities – Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi and Pune. The services offered by Indian design companies span various disciplines – interior design, architecture, fashion, graphic, industrial and automotive, animation and human computer interaction (including UX design).
Whither local design?
In spite of their capabilities in all the design disciplines, Indian designers have often been accused of aping the West without being aware of the potential within their own culture. In fact, even Indian design education has been criticized over the years for aping the curriculum of Western design centres. It’s time we regain confidence and take pride in our design capabilities, give Indian design its place in the sun – lest we lose our legacy and our skills.
The design industry could broadly be categorised into three: in-house design teams in large enterprises, design businesses, and freelancers. Many companies with inhouse design departments have excelled themselves in specific disciplines of design. For example, HiDesign (Leather Design), Tata Elxsi (Animation + New Media Design), Mahindra Composites (Automotive)…the list goes on! It is quite another matter that many small and medium businesses lack the resources or understanding of the value of design and design innovation as a source of competitive advantage.
Impetus to Design Education
The biggest companies are vying for more design talent, prompting design education in India to go from strength to strength.
Top institutes like the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad and the Industrial Design Centre, also known as IDC School of Design, were envisioned more than 50 years ago. Over the years, other design schools such as the Srishti Institute Of Art, Design And Technology (Bengaluru) and the MIT Institute Of Design (MIT ID), Pune have been providing top quality multi-disciplinary design education.
In the current climate, we may be facing a wide set of challenges, but we have an opportunity to script a turnaround in our economic growth on the back of our demographic dividend. Indian youth have rising educational aspirations and an openness to pursue alternate careers.
A trend to take heart from is that several young and upcoming Indian designers are going back to their roots, embracing the traditional and developing uniquely Indian aesthetics. Design schools are also becoming aware of local needs and realities in the ongoing evolution of design education.
With so much going right for it, can India become a leading influencer in global design and seize new possibilities? Only time will tell. As we look forward to a new dawn in Indian design, we leave you with an observation of past glory to draw innovation inspiration from:
“Something has been said..about the high industrial development of the Gupta times, when India was looked to, even by Imperial Rome, as the most skilled of the nations in such chemical industries as dyeing, tanning, soap-making, glass and cement…The Moslems took much of this Hindu chemical science and industry to the Near East and Europe; the secret of manufacturing “Damascus” blades, for example, was taken by the Arabs from the Persians, and by the Persians from India.” – Will Durant, The Story of Civilization
Follow us on our social channels. We are showcasing ‘Going Vocal for Indian Design’ this July. You can also send us your thoughts and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org on how we can support design in India. Bring them on – let’s celebrate!