Design in India, an Interview with Janak Mistry

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A series of professional lectures and visits in companies are presently organized for the A5 TCD students. Janak Mistry visited as guest lecturer last Friday to give a talk on innovation and design in India, present his work and interact with students.
Janak, a product and retail designer, has lead design projects for the Future Group, Elgi, CISCO, Titan Industries, TVS Motors and many others.
Janak began to work as a product designer in 1988 in New Delhi after graduating from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. He partnered with Bani Singh in setting up a furniture design, manufacture and retail company between 1990 and 2002. Than, at Idiom design in Bangalore, Janak has worked for 8 years closely with some of the most innovative, dynamic and diverse industries in India. The evolutionary processes in India’s economy since the beginning of the 1990’s gave rise to the organized retail industry for which Janak has done extensive work. At present Janak works as a design principal in Srishti labs.

Which design or designers influenced you during your studies at NID?
On one hand I was influenced a lot by European and South American designers of the time, but at the same time was very interested in appropriate/indigenous design solutions for a local context.

What is a designers task in India’s evolving economic model?
It’s a very crucial one. The designers role is that of a synthesizer of the many divergent and fast changing scenarios the country is going through and finding sustainable solutions in the many emerging domains.

What do you mean by saying, designers seem to have lost the focus from USER centric design to CONSUMER centric design?
This is a personal take! The difference being, USER centric design is where there is a NEED based demand of a vast majority ( for example healthcare or education for the poor) that needs to be catered to. CONSUMERS driven design on the other hand is more business and profit driven. The retail industry has been the primary driver in fueling consumerism and aspiration driven growth.

What are user-centric needs in India?
Health, Education, Housing, Transportation, Agriculture and many other Needs, both, at the the Bottom well as in the Middle of the Pyramid.

What is the Indian identity in Design?
India is positioned as the new and emerging market in the Global scenario. This is being looked at as an opportunity generating scenario on all fronts. However this rapid economic growth will come with its own set of problems. The biggest challenge that designers will face in the years to come will be that of developing User centric and not Consumer centric design and also ensure that the emerging market scenario does not result in a loss of its Identity.

Which perspective could students keep in mind looking at India’s design landscape?
The geographical and cultural landscapes of this country offer challenges that designers cannot ignore by designing generic products for the masses. If designers are to be the ‘architects’ of India’s future they will need to start focusing on keeping in mind the needs of the user.

Where can our TCD students discover genuine Indian design?
All around us! Design in India cannot necessarily be defined in its classical sense. There is are many visible examples which have a conscious design intervention however there are many more where design intervention is by non designers … for example the Mumbai dabbawalas (men,who deliver food from homes to offices) or even the dhobis ( washing and ironing man) system design are examples of complex systems that work.

Which skills should young designers develop?
Today’s designer need to be exposed very early to REAL life scenarios. For this the designer not only needs to be equipped with the right skills and tools to map out opportunities but go beyond this and commit themselves to these scenarios.
The most important skill set a designer today needs is the ability to look at different contexts, and to become part of a scenario they are designing for. Design from inside and not from outside. Ironically, globalization has made us more interdependent than ever but our new lifestyles have also led to a decline in local community interdependence.There is a dire need for us to understand each other before designing for each other. Our diversity and collective experience can surely enrich our environment,provided we drive the design processes from our respective basis and with mutual respect.There is a need for a strong LOCAL, NEED-based approach to design.

Could you describe your design process?
The process aims to bring design innovations that would result in greater convenience, reduced costs, creating design aesthetics and features that create an exclusive IP in collaboration with the client.
Brief: A contractual record of the client’s requirements,scope of work, deliverables, schedule, costs, background information.
Research: Qualitative research on competitors and get a deeper understanding of technologies, future trends, constraints, opportunities, and the existing array of competing products
INSIGHTS:
Articulating the key insights gained by research and study of problem area which sets the design direction and boundaries.
IDEAS
Analysis: brainstorming, concepts generation, materials, processes, and synthesizing design solutions.
Design: Intensive design employing mockups,reviews,and refinements. Development of aesthetic form, functionality, interface, colors, and finishes in 3D CAD format.
IMPLIMENTATION
Detail: Detailing of mechanisms, fits, joints, cladding. Full-scale mockups, testing, evaluation of results,validation and refinement of design

When you speak of a need-based approach of Design, what could be relevant tasks for designers in India?
India used to relish its past fame as a water prosperous country. Today we are moving towards becoming a water stressed nation due of rapid urban population upsurges and unequal distribution. The demand for water has tripled at a time when the supply of water services is inefficient with socio-economic diversities. Along with the advent of modern independent lifestyles, water consumption in urban centers has compounded due to a sharp increase in habitat density and with every household having multiple washrooms, washing machines, gardens that need manicuring and cars that need washing.
The solution to this surely does not lie in merely designing new products that probably consume less water but also in redefining our lifestyles in order to ensure a sustainable future.

What about the current garbage crisis in Bangalore?

This is a result of the urban population boom and consumption coupled with a lack of infrastructure.
Solutions to this will not be found in systems design alone but also in Product design and more importantly, lifestyle changes.

Janak Mistry

Interview: Sabina von Kessel

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