Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Reflections on DCC2008: Priyadarshinee Mohapatra

Image: Model of the Design Process proposed by Priyadarshinee Mohapatra and sent to me by email along with a description of the model that is quoted below.

Design is complex and challenging, as it involves both analytic and creative solution to a problem. Designing a product, not only requires a designer, but also needs the understanding of human experience on it. It's a task involving not only the designer but also the target users for whom it's designed. For any design solution it's important to follow the design process which is an iterative process. Design concepts and concerns-2008 by MP Ranjan has taught the "design process" in a very effective and planned manner. It's a wonderful experience to be part of this programme. It has a clear path/process from "recollecting the known" to "discover the unknown" and finally "creating design opportunity" while solving the problems in a given context.

What you already know:

In the first level, it's basically "recollecting the data already exist in your mind". It's self exploration phase. So the information is collected from every individual based on "self knowledge" and "on what he/she believes in". It's followed by group brain storming to make it more precise and determine the information architecture, structuring and reflecting the same on a visual metaphor. A visual metaphor gives a complete overview of the context. A strong visual metaphor is self explanatory.

Initially, though the group had less information, eventually the information was created by self exploration and group brain storming. Truly said by Ranjan "You never know what you know and you can challenge any modern age computer".

Discover the unknown through research:

The next level, we had to "discover the unknown" through research and field study. During this phase we were exposed to real world to know and find out information. Finally, we incorporated all the information on structure and metaphor. The collected insights give a complete idea about the real world problem. It helped us to create personas and to understand the common man's mental model about the context. From insights, one could make out "What is already there?"and "what could be done?"

Creating design opportunity:

Finally design opportunities created by analysing the observations and insights from field research in the given context while solving the problems. The issues were pointed out in a group brain storming. From various ideas, every individual has to take one idea or design opportunity and give a detailed solution to the real world problem. The solution has to be presented visually to make it self-explanatory.
I worked in Gujarat group. My learning through the whole process was a lot .It was not limited to my own group only, I also learnt a lot from other groups as well.

Thanks & Regards

Priyadarshinee Mohapatra
Strategic Design Management (SDM)

Late Night Edition: DCC2008 Paldi01

Image: All four groups ready with their respective models, stucture and metaphor for the theme of Food across four regions of India. Uttarakhand (top right), West Bengal (bottom right), rajasthan (bottom left) and Goa (top right).

Working with very few breaks the teams were all ready for presentation by 2.00 pm in the post lunch session, a little behind schedule, but this is acceptable since it is the first time that these groups have worked together and much learning is still to come. The results are quite encouraging and in the evening we had completed the discussions and presentations of two of these groups, Uttarakhand and Goa. We will report in some detail about these presentations in another post. However for now, the two presentations were actively participatory with a number of students coming forward to make critical and constructive statements, a good sign towards a healthy peer review culture in the days to come.

Design journey-DCC-2008-PG campus

Image: Sonal Chauhan with Prof M P Ranjan in the DCC class at Gandhinagar.

It has been a great experience being part of DCC team.
This was my very first encounter with DCC as well as Professor Ranjan , since I have joined this institute very recently.
In My college days we had no opportunity to learn this course and it was added later for the fortunate ones. Being from the so called “Design Community” I believe that design is what you think you can do to enhance life, product, feelings, experiences, dreams or aspirations .But what leads you to design outcome is your approach towards it.

I must admit DCC-2008 has added a new dimension to my design approach. Though seating on the other side of the students, I was very much a student . But it was a dual learning for me i.e. student as well as faculty trainee( a new breed of Student).It was great to learn ways to achieve design solutions.

KNOWING THE UN-KNOWN – was the first assignment where focus was on the first hand data that one would have stored in mind consciously& unconsciously. Gathering that data (Brainstorming) and using it to make model structure followed by metaphoric representation - would have been quite a task for beginners. It was a process which would lead you more and more towards identifying unique design opportunities as you clear each step (read: assignment here). I have witnessed it that students had to work extremely hard and they were enjoying to dig more and more to gather data/information. Learning was so much from the student presentations that I felt like getting in to one of the group and actually going through the experience of making of that learning.( which, I couldn’t allow myself - with some block)

ME BORD – was more to identify ,analyze and assess our own self. Again knowing the unknown in a way. It was to know one’s love, pride, fear, mental block, inhibitions, strengths, weakness, commitments, dreams, policies, nature and other interests.
What was equally important here was coming with information/ideas and making it in to visual communication .We all know the power of words but this targeting power of images.( Image power) And it is so much true, that some times you cant have enough words to explain or express and same can be done very crisply with just one image.

Having open forum to debate , discuss and express views , at the end of every presentation involves further crisscross of data, brainstorm, a new emerging approach, people’s eye view and a lot more that (may be my dictionary would limit me with).
I relished that part of it more since, I was not part of group presentations and so the rich experience they have had.

Working hard and making people work hard – is something every student must have learned from DCC and so have I( all in good spirit).As working in groups have certain advantages as well as disadvantages. And DCC module surely adds those group dynamics and leader ship qualities to the students.

I wish i was there in each of the class gathering. Myself was quite a silent observer through out the class and would vouch for the constructive feedback that came in with each presentation, from the Professor Ranjan, Harini, Ayan, or student group themselves. I am thankful to all for sharing such rich experiences . My best wishes to Gujarat, Kerala, North East, Punjab groups for their final presentation and ahead.

Late Morning Edition: DCC2008 Paldi01

Image: Work in progress with all teams rushing to meet the new deadline which has been posted at 2.00 pm.

Groups have reassembled after the break and working almost non-stop with a few hours of sleep over night. The metaphors are taking shape and the structure is being frozen by each of the groups exploring Food, Inflation and the Economy as the major theme for the brainstorming assignment.

We will assemble again at the studios after lunch and take group photographs of all team members in front of their presentation models and then move on to the review of each presentation by turn. The first group to finish and report will have the first go with the presentation. We look forward to it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Early Morning Edition: DCC2008 Paldi01

Image: Tired but not floored, work in progress early in the morning in the NID studios where four groups have spent the late night grappling with the categorization of all the data that was generated last night and in the evening rounds of brainstorming.

The studios were still quite empty with a few students coming in in small teams to get back to work and meet the 11.00 am deadline for the group presentations scheduled today. The signs of a new form of organization is seem in the materials strewn across the rooms and in the semi-finished work sheets that will be made ready after the breakfast sessions and all the students come back to the studios. Harini went across the studios at 9.30 am to bring us some insights of the work in progress and we do look forward to the major presentations later in the day.

Late Night Edition: DCC2008 Paldi01

Image: Groups at work late into the night sorting and organizing the discovered words in order to find a meaningful structure that could adequately provide a shared view of the understanding developed by the group members during their team brainstorming sessions.

The four groups worked in their respective spaces in the SDM studio, PD studio, Drawing studio and the Old Canteen space to develop a structure through the categorization of all the words that they found in their group sessions. Using cards and post-it stickers the groups argued late into the night till they achieved a form of shared perspective on Food and the specific region that had been assigned to them at random. The students discover the dept of knowledge that each of them harbors in their lifetime of exposure to places, media, events, people and all their daily experiences with food as a very personal and closely held layers of experience of a lifetime.

Image: Groups leading towards the creation of models and structures that could show their shared understanding of the subject at hand, Food in a particular region of India and the various attributes and connections that could be useful going forward in the design journey.

Harini Chandrasekhar who is helping Rashmi and me during this course went around the studios at various times during the night and also helped negotiate late night access to the studios from the main gate security carried her camera to give us these images of work space and action that the teachers would not see when the groups met the next day to make a presentation. We have been using this form of photo documentation for the past ten years ever since we got the first digital camera that changed the equation between cost and volume of pictures. My first SONY, a Cybershot 707, a 1.7 MegaPixel camera was among the first digital cameras at NID in 1998 and in that year it helped me record as many as 50,000 images of students and activities in my class and across NID which I have been sharing with our students as a tool for reflection on the progress in the class. We have used many such cameras in the years past and now NID has hundreds of cameras moving about if we were to include the phone cams that our students carry and capture images with. An image aided pedagogy took firm root as part of the DCC course and at the end of each batch all the students are offered all the images in a reduced resolution so as to fit on a standard CD-ROM. Today we offer all the images in full resolution on DVD-ROM’s as well as place all the images in real time on the NID server called UNSECURE which is accessible to all our students and faculty and these have become collectibles for some interested students and faculty.

DCC2008 Paldi01: Brainstorming and Categorisation about Food

Image: Brainstorming at an early stage with varied levels of expression

The four groups have started the process of exploring what they already know about their chosen subjects, namely, Food, Inflation and the Economy with respect to the four regions that have been assigned to each of the four groups. The groups are working on the following regions as listed below:
Group 1: West Bengal
Group 2: Rajasthan
Group 3: Goa
Group 4: Uttarakhand

Image: Categorisation at an early stage with groups discussing possible approaches

As usual they all started with a fairly superficial list of words after a hour or two of discussions and when the teachers came around for the review they were all working on organizing the few words that they had listed out in the first round of articulation. This led to some discussions with each group when we stressed on the need for a greater depth in both the number of word ideas as well as the variety of concepts which would be only discovered if the lists were truly random and done in an intense session with active participation of the group. This led to a second round of brainstorming and this time a far more elaborate set of words emerged and some groups “got it” and they had a rich texture of concepts that could be seen strewn across the large page on which they did their brainstorming capture. Others still had the all dominating list-mania and found it difficult to abandon a lifelong learning of making lists in an organized manner, but this would change as the groups met each other and saw the difference in the approaches and what it did for the richness of texture and content of the brainstorming sessions.

The groups have now started caregorising the discovered words and they are using both post-it stickers as well as index cards to sort and re-group the discovered words into some meaningful categories that they could use for the development of a structure that would have a shared meaning for all members of the group. The process is always full of debates and arguments but eventually time constraints lead to some form of negotiated settlements even if these are not fully satisfactory to all participants. This makes the design process a bit like the political negotiations that take place when contentious issues are being examined in mixed groups and a deadline forces the settlement of the matter in a form of truce with some give and take from all sides.

Image: Categorisation at a fairly developed stage, more cards and several sub-groups discovered

Tomorrow the groups will be converting their found structure into a memorable metaphor that could support and enhance the reading of the subject and its content as a composite image that could aid both recognition of the core features of the categorization as well as the overarching theme of Food and the name of the region that the group is addressing. The choice of image and the use of its parts to map out the discovered structure will determine just how successful the group has been in translating the understanding from the structure to the making of a memorable image that will remain in ones mind and aid recall of all the subtle attributes and features of the explored subject, which in this case is Food, Inflation and the Economy in the context of the four chosen regions and also as an aid to look forward to setting a platform for the further work to be done to expand the groups understanding of the subject and the context in which they are located.

Monday, July 28, 2008

DCC2008 Paldi Batch01: Course commences today

Image: Four volunteer coordinators and views of the class in session at the NID Paldi Auditorium in the morning and the post lunch session.

The theme of Food, Inflation and the Economy continues into the second batch for this year with the first batch at Paldi forming their groups and commencing work on their first assignment, mapping what we already know from our life experience. The subject and theme is Food and the four groups are to look at four assigned regions of India, namely:
Group 1: West Bengal
Group 2: Rajasthan
Group 3: Goa
Group 4: Uttarakhand

The members were drawn from all the participating disciplines namely, Animation Film Design (AFD), Transportation & Automobile Design (T&AD), Product Design (PD), Textile Design (TD), RMIT Exchange Students (RMIT), and Strategic Design Management (SDM 2nd year batch). We asked four student volunteers to step forward and act as coordinators and each of these coordinators was asked to choose one member by turn from each of the disciplines so that each group was composed of students from all disciplines. Each group has 17 members including the coordinator.

The four groups will now sit together and brainstorm to discover what they already know about the subjects of Food and their chosen region with an aim of developing a meaningful structure that could aid their deeper understanding of the subject at hand. Once they have categorized the words into an agreed structure the group would develop a metaphor on which they can locate their structure before making a presentation to the whole class which is scheduled for Wednesday (day 3) at 10.30 am in the Drawing studio on the second floor at NID Paldi.

In the discussions and the lecture that preceded the group formation we were able to discuss the massive changes that have been taking place in our understanding of design, both at NID as well as across the world. I was able to touch upon some of the directions with the use of my prepared models and lectures such as Understanding Design, the IDSA lecture titled “Giving Design Back to Society: Towards a Post-mining Economy” (download here the presentation pdf 812 kb) and my EAD06 lecture titled “Creating the Unknowable: Designing the Future in Education” (download pdf file of the paper 50kb and presentation 4.1 mb here) which was a description of the DCC course as it is offered to the Foundation programme at NID and its evolution at the Institute over the years. This gave us an opportunity to discuss briefly the role of the Bauhaus and Ulm schools of design in the shaping of modern design as we know it today and how this has been further transformed at NID and through the work of design thinkers across the world. In particular we referred to the contemporary books by Klaus KrippendorffThe Semantic Turn, Harold Nelson and Eric StoltermanThe Design Way, and the early work of John Chris Jones in shaping the whole area of design theory in the 60’s and through the mid 80’s as the movement in Design Methods and Design Processes. We used the Wikipedia entries on the subject by a quick web search using Google, very convenient indeed. I hope the students take the keywords discussed in class and connect with the larger history of design through their research on the web in the days ahead.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Design Opportunity Mapping by Groups at Gandhinagar

Image: Views from the group sessions at Gandhinagar on the last day of the course.

The four groups have gone into a huddle to develop and visualize Design Opportunities across all the categories that they have identified as areas of need and value. This is being done by the members sitting together to visualize each opportunity that comes to their mind on the format that was provided for the purpose. On an A4 size sheet we have four quadrants where the students can draw and write briefly about what was visible in their inner eye and their imagination.

The groups would continue to explore the possibilities as they come up in their conversations, visualisations and debates about priorities and possibilities in the context of India today and tomorrow. From the several hundred design opportunities that we expect to emerge from each group the students are expected to categorise these into meaningful groups so that these could be discussed and evaluated in some depth. From the set of thumbnails that emerge from this stage of group processing each student is expected to select one that they would like to explore and elaborate into a more developed scenario.

Image: Views from the group sessions at Gandhinagar on the last day of the course.

This scenario visualization would need some time for the incubation of the thoughts and images so that both the form and the structure of the specific design opportunity could be developed in some depth and through this process the individual student is encouraged to keep in active discussion with peers for their feedback and encouragement. Like an entrepreneur each student would examine all the dimensions of the design opportunity and then prepare a composite image on an A3 size sheet of paper that could tell the story that has unfolded through this process of imagination and articulation.

Image: Format for group capture of design opportunities and one case study from the Punjab Group.

These individual scenarios as well as the group’s categorized thumbnail sketches would be reviewed by the whole class on the next Saturday at NID, Paldi campus with all students being present for discussion and a photo session for reporting the final outcomes to the blog members at large.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

DCC My learning and understanding so far . . .

Image: Bhavin Kotari in the DCC2008 class at NID Gandhinagar campus.

It has been great learning experience to have associated with DCC since last three years as co-faculty so as to say. But, I was more of a student without having to do any assignment etc. What I have observed and understand is the kind of enormity this course is offering . . . Kudos to Ranjan, the main course faculty at NID, Ahmedabad. Unlike few other courses, this has always been awaited by the students and particularly of Strategic Design Management ones. Though, the course title says ‘Design Concepts and Concerns’ (DCC), it invariably covers many other aspects like Design History, Design Thinking, Design Process (as it was known before probably), Design Advocacy, Design Politics, Design Entrepreneurship to name the few. In all, the potential and importance of design across the sectors may be as part of design advocacy. Apart from this you get to here about and from many people working in the field and industry (many of them are NID alumni, who are doing wonders) and also the experts visiting depending upon the luck.

It is very good to learn the teaching methodology, which is very well tested and more importantly accepted by the students. Also the ability to put them (student) to work . . . (I must share even during the festive seasons, be it monsoon fiesta or Garba at NID). The importance and connection of design with images / pictures / drawings etc and its role became quite clear to me. I could understand how one image conveys the meaning and is worth more than 1000 words, especially when Ranjan explains with the example of drawing the road map and explaining the same with words with long description.

It has been a great learning for the people like me to learn so much about design in such a short period and to be able to appreciate the design thinking and its association with user, confusion as good state of mind and likewise many other things.

This course also offers very good group dynamics and ability to work in a team . . . My best wishes and many congratulations to all the four groups of PG Gandhinagar the first batch of DCC 2008 to have put in great efforts working around the theme of ‘FOOD’ in broad areas of Panjab, Kerala, Gujarat and North East region through brain storming, generating scenarios, mapping the same with metaphor and at last coming out with design opportunities. Keep up the spirit; I am sure these learning would be quite helpful solving many other design problems at different levels.

Reflections on DCC2008: Neeta Khanuja

Image: Reflecting on the assignments and lectures during the DCC course Neeta Khanuja has proposed this model of her understanding of the Design Process. Her description of the diagram is quoted below from her email message sent last night.

Exploring and being present to Reality:
Designing is something that cannot be done in isolation. As said by Ranjan in one of his lectures: Difference between a designer and an artist is that an artist works in isolation and comes up with a creation that is an expression of his inner self but a designer is the one who explores the real world and with his creative aspect comes up with an output that works as a solution to the real world problem. So exploring the real facts and knowing the present scenario initiates a designing process and is crucial in itself. This exploration can be done by observing and experiencing the real world. Talking in context of our DCC assignment that was food and inflation in Punjab, brainstorming, interacting with real world and getting insights made us present to the current scenario in Punjab.

Identifying problems and visualizing futristic possibilities:
On being present to the real scenario next step a designer is supposed to take is to figure out the reason for his research. This reason may be a problem that he tends to solve or it may be an urge to create something which is not there but has a potential to exist and which can have a positive impact on the current scenario. In our assignment in this step we identified current problems and futuristic possiblities related to food in punjab with a vision that 'Current problems and possiblities will lead to future opportunities'.

Following a procedural approach:
There is a specific process that is to be followed when it comes to designing. No solution can be designed out of the blue without the presence of a supporting
process. The process that we followed for our assignment consisted of three steps:
Making a structure,
Metaphor representation.
It is not a matter of concern that how many times a process is repeated but the point that matters is that the process is whole and complete within itself so every time it is done all the three steps should be followed.

Finding solution and visualizing opportunities for figured possibilities:
This is the step when creative aspect works at an optimum level. The output of this step is in the form of Design Opportunities. Design Opportunities can be looked upon
as fruit of the whole process. In context of our DCC assignment this step in itself consisted of two steps. First is figuring out design opportunities in a group. This will be the sum of all the ideas of group members. Second step consists of taking a design opportunity that inspires us as an individual, exploring all its aspects and coming up with a detailed scenario.

Giving a visual representation to the reached output :
As said by Ranjan: Visual Representation of one's concept is the skill that a designer should always possess. In our assignment we will end up in visually representing the design opportunity we picked up in a way that the concept gets conveyed to others with all the details and insights that we have for it.

With Regards,

Neeta Khanuja
NMD 2008-09

Friday, July 25, 2008

Information from the Field: Presentations by Groups

Information from the Field: Meeting Experts in the Field


The Punjab group occupied the NID Gandhinagar Auditorium as their presentation space and transformed it into a truckers paradise with a mandi ( a market) and a dhaba (a roadside eatery usually on the highway) on the side of a highway with the front of a truck at one end and the back of another at the other wall, both connected by a line of trucks marked on the ground, each representing a particular aspect of the theme, Food and Punjab economy. The group had earlier done their brainstorming to articulate what they know about the subject as a group and they had built a model and transformed it into a metaphor that could capture the essence of what they had discovered that they know. Based on this model they developed a research strategy to search for ‘experts in the field” who were accessible near Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar or those who could be reached in the brief time available by phone or through the web so that they could fill in gaps in their understanding of the context as well as obtain insights that they could use in the next phase of their design journey which would deal with the identification of design opportunities in their chosen space. The larger than life image of the truck front was anthropomorphized with the turban of a Sardarji, the Sikh driver who would represent Punjabi persona for the rest of India. The back of the receding truck at the other end of the room had panels that helped categorise the key issues that the groups had discovered and prioritized after their meetings with the experts, people from local dhaba, Gurudwaras and from Punjabi households near their school.

While the team efforts at visualization was highly appreciated by the per group reviews the presentation had the feel of a White Paper used by Planners. Here the critique focused on the depth of macro- issues that the group had brought to clear focus but what was missed was the texture and feel of the micro aspects dealing with food from Punjab, the taste the content and the opportunities that these represented for design action in the future.


The Kerala group persisted with their Boat House image for their second presentation and on the wall of the house-boat they had a structure mapping the various relationships that they had discovered during their engagement in the field with numerous Malayalees living and working in Gandhinagar. These people from Kerala had an association of about 1500 people mostly working in the Government of Gujarat and some who acted as service providers retailers and provisioners for the community from Kerala to meet their special needs. The structure was far improved version of the one they had presented in the first phase but still lacked the particular details that were so critical for design understanding. The group did attempt to make a list of design opportunities but the cloud and birds in the sky in one corner of their model was not enough to capture the richness that lived in their minds but was however not visible to the others outside the group. The group did develop a good deal of discussion with their presentation and it was becoming evident that the whole class was getting clued in on the finer aspects of design discourse since there were lesser questions for clarification and more incisive comments on the subject and content of the presentation from the class participants.

The impressive image was indeed huge in scale and the bananas and coconuts used in the diagram did capture the feel of Kerala from a distance but the finer aspects still eluded the group in their representation although the descriptions made by individual members did show a much deeper understanding in their minds but this did not show up on the image. This was pointed out to them as a missed opportunity in the attempt to show and tell. Words alone may not be as expressive as those supported by image scenarios that could deal with the form along with the structure while the story unfolds as the presentation progresses.


The Northeast group also took the first tentative steps of building a terrace cultivation model in the first presentation to a more expressive model of the terraces using a three dimensional construct to represent the fields on the hilly landscape and with a backdrop of hills to represent the potential and the findings from their foray into the field to meet experts. The group had visited several local institutes in search of people from the Northeast and through this they did connect with some new and interesting insights about food and the local economy. However the approach did not help the group visualize the finer aspects of their findings since the model did not have any images dealing with the words that they had used as sign boards that were stuck onto each layer of the terraced fields in their model. Like the Kerala group they too had succeeded in making a well categorized structure of their findings with each zone in their model dealing with one major category but the visualization opportunity was however missed. Further as the team members made their presentation each of them would read out from a list in hand and they did not use the model as a prop for their show and tell which made the presentation less memorable for the audience since although we had a huge model in front of us the group did not use it to make their presenation. However such failure was useful for the teachers to make the critique which is good learning for all the class.

The group did emphasise the huge cultural diversity of the region and the diversity of food types and the range of tribes of the region, which represented a great opportunity for exotic offerings from the region as a whole. This group had an area that was less known about and with fewer experts to be found at short notice and they however had to do a lot of imagination to fill in the gaps in information from the field.


The Gujarat group was the most fortunate on the one hand since they were immersed in the region that they had to study but they were also disadvantaged by the short time that they had to do their research. The presentation of the group used two powerful images, one of a dancing Garba Girl in her traditional dress of Gagra and Choli with a Dupatta and the other with a map of the region that was overlapped with some of the key industries and infrastructure that contributed to the food economy of the region. This model was particularly expressive and the team was able to use the images to good effect in making their presentation memorable. The various parts of the dancing girl were used to categorise their findings about the food habits of the Gujarati and also about the various food types that the region had to offer. They explained their findings with a great deal of conviction about the organization of the food types and then went on to map out the areas of opportunity for the Gujarat region in the whole spectrum of Food related economy that includes the dairy industry, the fishery industry and the vegetarian snack food industry which uses the specific advantages of the Gujarat geography, culture and location as well as the entrepreneurship of their people.

The Gujarat team presentation was particularly rich since they were able to transform the class understanding of the use of personas in the capture of insights from the field. They met up with several well chosen individuals who were modeled in the form of personas and the story of these individuals helped capture the abstract information in the form of real and tangible insights that were informed by a particular context in which each of them were situated. So Induben, Amit Patel, Nilesh, Bhavana and Tasneen each offered a rare but coherent insight that the team was able to bring back to support the arguments that the team had to offer during their show and tell session in the class. The Amul Girl featured in their model just as the SEZ that is now the talk of the town in Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad and the Gujarati thali and the Farsans or fast food of Gujarat all had their place in the map that the group had on offer, a rich and visually stimulating insight indeed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Decoding DCC

Image: Preliminary Presentation in NID Gandhinagar Foyer. Panoramic pics by Ayan Ghosh

I am attending Design Concepts and Concerns (DCC) a second time after 2004, when I joined the National Institute of Design. In 2004 I had a different maturity level and undertook the course from a student perspective, but now I see DCC from a larger holistic context, the reason why I am attending DCC 2008. On the first day (July 14th) Ranjan introduced the course to the five batches of new students of Lifestyle Accessory Design, Apparel Design and Merchandising, New Media, Toy and Game Design and Strategic Design Management and clarified their doubts on the objective, and content of the course.

On the first day among many issues that Ranjan touched upon while introducing DCC, one was regarding scratching the surface of information around us to understand and investigate an agenda from a holistic point of view, rather than forming opinions based on superficial data which we "believe" is true. I would like to comment on this aspect and elaborate it further. The view points are entirely my own understanding and is open to criticism and debate.

We take information for granted, which is acquired through a vertical thinking system of learning, received, or I would say imitated from school, family and culture, which is based on previously transferred knowledge gained through a system of error identification and elimination process, thereby aimed at the most convenient mode of survival.

Much of the information we know around us is a concocter of myths and stereotypes. On one hand stereotypes are important because they allow us to make quick decisions, and no matter how much we try to avoid them, they are unavoidable aspects of the cultural coding system, especially in India, which being a high context culture, much of information is implicitly recorded and understood.

For example our names carry so much information about us, which may not be true at an individual level, but that will be immediately used by the society around us to compartmentalize us and put us in some kind of established memory pattern, so that we are easier to recall later.

For example, if I say my name is Ayan Ghosh, it immediately establishes my ethnic identity of being a Bengali, and a Hindu one. This has been built up historically by other people whose surname were also Ghosh, like Aurobindo and Amitava, and who were all ethnically Bengali, and religiously Hindu. Being a Bengali will next stereotype me as being from Bengal, or more narrowed down, from Calcutta. Being from Calcutta will lead to a next level of stereotyping with historical, political and cultural associations with Calcutta, like communism, fish cuisine, and football. This process keeps continuing.

However, when stereotypes are assessed individually, it is easy to see that in most cases they are nothing more than myths. I might be from Gujarat, a socialist, a vegetarian and a chess player and still be a Bengali, but this idiosyncrasy will stay only with me. This is mainly because we form stereotypes based on our direct personal experience with only a very small fraction of the larger entity. We do not form a stereotype of a community after interacting with thousands of people from that community.

Even if we don’t want, our brain will start grouping patterns, and it is very difficult to change each persons’ personal stereotypes no matter how much of that might be a myth in reality. This happens mainly because change is seen as a threat to survival, and the risk involved in diverting from an established survival pattern. The information we carry in many cases needs referencing and collaboration to validate its authenticity, because in most cases we do not personally experience them. For example I didn’t see India getting independence on 15th August 1947, but I believe in it through a system of historical validation by people who personally experienced it, which doesn’t make the incident a myth, but a real event of consequence.

The roots of these myths are formed through information around us. Information is experienced through all our five senses, which maintains our consciousness, and thereby confirms our existence. They are therefore crucial in building an absolute sense of reality around us. Everything around us is information, and the brain through a process of systematic and complex codification understands this information.

Every code has an encoding and decoding system, which we have learnt through a stimulus-response process of imitation, repetition and error. This selection and rejection process leads each individual being subject to a different set of individual codes, and this results in all of us developing our own unique belief systems.

A belief system is what balances the meanings and proportions of rationality, humanism, ethics, morals, aesthetics and other abstract values within us. They are so rigid that challenging them proves severely detrimental to our emotional sanity and cognition stability. That does not mean that they shouldn’t be challenged, provided there is absolute conviction in the purpose for the change. Changing belief systems reshapes our entire perception of reality. However reality itself is immensely ambiguous, which is formed through our individual and communal understanding and pursuit of an absolute truth.

Image: Preliminary Presentation in the NID Gandhinagar Foyer

For example Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system was the established truth, which was perceived as real, and therefore the prevalent belief system for thousands of years till the arrival of the Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus in the 16th century. Copernicus's new and blasphemous heliocentric theory was published in the book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) during the year of his death (1543), though he had arrived at his theory several decades earlier. It redefined the notion of reality altogether and today, after 450 years it is an established truth. In Copernicus’s case, and later Galileo’s, they faced persecution, which was a result of severe cognition dissonance faced in accepting a new theory by the church and the junta. However, we saw how truth was determined not by an absolute value but entirely by the belief systems of the majority of the population, which is not constant, and subject to changes and challenges. The same challenge to established truth values took place when Charles Darwin published his seminal book, the Origin of Species in 1859, denouncing biblical creationism and proclaiming evolution through a process of natural selection.

Similarly, in approaching a design problem we must break, or at least suspend those prevalent belief systems within us. While countering design problems, we tend to carry a baggage of stereotypes, caricatures, prejudices and myths, which leads to a pre-conceived direction of thinking, which if followed might lead to disasters in the long run.

This reminds me of Sherlock Holmes explaining Watson the process of detection while solving a crime case. Holmes says he looks for clues first, not a suspect. He then observes, analyses, introspects and articulates on the findings to narrow down on the possible scenarios and finally identify the most likely suspect, which is reached through a process of elimination of the least likely scenarios. He compares this process with how Scotland Yard goes about by identifying a likely suspect first and then looking for clues, which will implicate the unfortunate suspect to the crime, which in many cases leads to the real culprit being overlooked.

Therefore it is important that we approach design thinking through a process of analyzing, reasoning, observation, introspection and articulation and remain as objective as possible in our approach. This also means that we need to suspend our system of vertical thinking as well, to allow us to laterally spread our thought processes through visualization and imagination.

For me, standing on a visually flat world and arguing it is round, like what Galileo did, is nothing but a brilliant example of the lateral thought processes. He did it, because he had the imagination to visualize the world from space, much before Yuri Gagarin went up in 1961. However, by suspending the vertical system I do not mean ignoring it completely. Off course, Galileo had the rational conviction to back his idea.

The vertical thinking pattern is necessary to generate quick information based on previous knowledge, but to find new insights we should also look laterally, and seek solutions not only through arguments but also through an alternative way of looking at things, and most crucially, through imagination, which should be the strongest skill set of any designer. Only through such a system would be able to translate each problem into opportunity areas. Gagarin witnessed one thing, which Galileo didn’t imagine, which was expressed in the following quote:
The Earth is blue. How wonderful. It is amazing.

I guess at a macro level design is ultimately aimed at creating, sustaining or increasing convenience and efficiency. Not necessarily only in humans, but also in the animal kingdom and environmentally. As a result, each design intervention, which we feel is making a major difference in the convenience levels of the end users, is implicitly appreciated as a successful model. Contradicting this assumption, historically there are myriad instances where convenience in one area has led to severe inconveniences in other areas, maybe not always in the short run, but in the long run. This happened because convenience or efficiency is not a constant universal truth but is again, what the majority believes in. If the context changes, so might be the convenience of the majority.

Image: Presentation by Punjab Group

For example, the invention of the automobile and indeed one of the most significant inventions ever, the internal combustion engine in 1859 by Etienne Lenoir. It leapfrogged an era of alternative energy replacing animal, steam, wind and water energy sources with fuel energy. Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Henry Ford did enormous service to humanity by immediately identifying this potentiality and implementing them at a global level through mass production of automobiles and motorcycles, and perfecting the assembly lines, thereby raising new benchmarks of speed and quality.

However, a hundred years later, it is the pollution which has been created by the enormous levels of carbon dioxide emissions that has been produced in this meantime by automobiles, which is now leading to serious global warming. Within just fifty years of its invention, in 1951 Elma Wischmeir became the millionth American to die on the highway. Nowadays millions of people (between 23 to 34) are victims of road accidents caused by automobiles around the world each year. Huge amounts of metal have mined out of the earth to meet the ever-increasing supply chains. Was all this taken into consideration at the time of the discovery of the automobile, or were this seen as minor inconveniences in the attainment of the larger goal of mobility?

Image: Presentation by Kerala Group

There are many more such instances, which makes me skeptical of the real value created out of new opportunities. I feel it is very contextual and extremely relative, depending on whether we have the foresight to fully understand the consequences of its implication. I might be solving some problem in the short run, but in the long term it might have a butterfly effect which might be cataclysmic. In the case of the car, it has solved one convenience: mobility. Instead it has created havoc in multiple domains like safety, environment and resources. So where does the benefit of its invention fit in? I personally feel that each solution itself is not an end to the process but rather produces a new process itself. It is not a line but a circle, with the problem and the solution running around each other rather than being at the two ends. I feel a design solution creates a new problem or multiples of them.

Going further back, Johannes Guttenberg made the first information revolution by inventing the printing press in 1454, which created a huge global requirement for paper. Paper still forms one of the most heavily manufactured items of daily consumption worldwide, and also one of the most wasted. Although it increased literacy, record keeping and communication, it also resulted in the clearing of huge tracts of forests to supply pulp. Although it is biodegradable and recyclable, still it has created severe pressure on the tropical rainforests around the globe, endangering several species in the process.

Image: Presentation by Northeast Group

Similarly the invention of dynamite by Alfred Nobel in 1867 for the purpose of mining and blasting for road construction has become one of the great killers over the last century and a half. The cell-phone might have revolutionized telecommunications but it has also led to subsidiary rise in health risks, privacy, crime and terrorism. Computers might have revolutionized information accessibility and communication, but it has allowed the flourishing of pornography, cyber crime, hacking, internet fraud, and severe psychological, ergonomic and cognitive stresses.

Coming back to the comparison between the vertical and lateral thinking formats, for example if we reach a wall, following Aristotle’s philosophy of reductio ad absurdum, we can either break it down brick by brick to move ahead. Or according to Edward de Bono, we can dig below the wall to come out on the other side, or we can get a ladder to climb over it, or keep following the wall till we reach a gate. This ability to generate alternatives to address a problem is the most crucial aspect of a creative design professional and needs to be sharpened as a skill by regular practice.

Image: Presentation by Gujarat group

I personally feel that is what DCC initiates students into. Breaking of existing stereotypes and looking into newer insights. Learning how to value even the most exceptional cases which we might otherwise overlook in catering to the majority. In case of existing stereotypes, the onus would be understanding the reasons for its existence, and to what extent they are valid. It is a process of deconstruction, reconstruction and reorganization of our established neural networks and experiencing the difference it makes to our thinking.

The subject of food as a primary area of focus I feel is a very apt one, provided the global shortages being faced of late. Roti (bread) constitutes a basic survival icon along with kapda (cloth) and makaan (shelter), and it is so omnipresent that we generally do not think much about its massive implications in almost every other aspect of our existence. This exercise will give an insight into the various cultural associations involved with the eating habits of a place and the dynamic forces that affect them at the marco, meso, micro and maybe also the meta levels.

More posts to follow,

Ayan Ghosh

P.S: I also would like to refer to Ranjan mentioning about the role of images in the design process, which he confessed, he had reservations on its impact. As an aspiring photographer, I myself have internally and externally debated the purpose and ethics played by images at a level of addressing and solving problems. Their role seems passive since it lacks physical dynamism, but that tension is triggered by the psychological, emotional and compositional quotient the image generates, making it indeed one of the most powerful metaphors of change.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fast Food -> Slow Food

Image: "Fast Food" image search on Google Images

When everybody is moving towards fast food (or packaged food) there is another movement called “slow food” (back to the past). Basically, slow Food is good, clean and healthy food. The food we eat should not only taste good, but it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal or our health and most importantly, food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.

A famous philosophical statement coined by René Descartes is -- “I think, therefore I am”. Marketing people, however, have manipulated the statement to -- “I Consume Therefore I am”. Consume, consume, consume.... We are surrounded by advertisements that tell us to buy more, eat more, wear more, so on and so forth. In contrast, when we talk about the “slow-food” movement, the philosophy is that:
“We consider ourselves as co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process.”

In India, for example, we still have interaction with local food vendors (vegetable seller, small grocery shop owner, or milkman, etc.), but gradually we are adopting the super market / mall culture (especially in metro cities) where the production and consumption of food is segregated. Everything is prepared in the confines of the kitchen-hidden from view, then served ready-to-eat in a platter. So there is that human-element missing – of being able to atleast see, smell or just wait for the food being prepared; of the vendor asking you about how much spice would be okay (talk about customization!) and finally having it served hot and fresh right into your hands. That’s what we’re missing!

In developed countries, the interaction pattern is now almost gone. Kids don’t even know who is producing milk… cow or super-market?

This debate is endless, but do give it a thought when you go out eating the next time.

Few interesting links about food / packaging waste: “interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva”


Saturday, July 19, 2008

DCC2008 Regions and Teams: Brainstorming and Structure

Image: Four teams of students, Punjab (top left), Kerala (top right), Northeast (bottom right) and Gujarat (bottom left). The names of each of the team members are listed below.

Four teams were formed to explore the theme of Food, Inflation and the Indian Economy from the perspective of what the team members already knew from their life experience. This was carried out through a couple of rounds of brainstorming that was followed by categorization and a process of finding an agreed structure that had a hierarchy of concepts that are arranged in a meaniungful manner. This structure is then reinterpreted in the form of a visual model that could be shared with the class as a whole and the Gandhinagar Atrium was chosen as the venue for the presentation and each team was assigned one wall space on the four sides of the Atrium.

The groups presented their findings by turn, Punjab, Kerala, Gujarat and then the Northeast. The class slowly warmed up to the mode of discussion since in the beginning they were not yet quite used to open discussion and debate in a constructive manner. However as the day moved on they became more vocal , asked questions and then started making comments and sharing insights and experiencing the peer review process that is so important to design understanding. Prof Klaus Krippendorff has often repeated his conviction on many online design discussions such as the dialogue of the PhD-Design list, that design is always mediated in language and as designers we will need to understand this dimension of the design discourse if we are to use the process effectively. In his book the Semantic Turn, he has developed this idea into a well structured theory of design that is still not understood by the design community at large.


Sanjay Kumar (Coordinator), Abhishek Dwivedi, Kanika Malhotra, Gauri Kathju, Deepak Nanaware, Ruchika Sarda, Kirti Anand, Shambhavi Gupta, Shambhavi Gupta, Sharanya Rukmangadhan, Charuta Bhatt, Kabeer, Vidula Aher, Ritu Ganguli, Austin Davis, Pritesh Dhawle, Purvee Jain.


Darshana Tatibandwale (Coordinator), Salil Bhargava, Jyoti Rani Rajput, Shuchi, Ramshi P Hamza, Rohini Shitole, Shubhi Shrivatsava, Neeta Khanuja, Swati Agarwal, Raghavendra Singh, Ankita Patel, Ishita Singh, Shakuntala Marndi, Sumeeta Chanda, Ashish Kumar, Kanika Bhadwaj.


Sanmitra Chitte (Coordinator), Prasurjya Phukan, Ananya Chatterje, Gavin Francis Remedios, Niharika Sethi, Amanjot Kaur Sandhu, Neety Rai, Shailaja Pahuja, Asif Kureshi, Sanjeev Gupta, Gauri Pandey, Janki Mallick, Nalini Bhutia, Swati Bhartia, Vikas Gupta, Venus Mehandiratta.


Archana A (Coordinator), Priyadarshini Mohapatra, Vipin Singh, Xavier Dayanandh, Abhishek Maithul, Pranav Gupta, Ritika Mathur, Sagar Raut, Midhun Subhash, Chetan Sharma, Awantika Kumar, Fatima Jaliwala, Pranita Mujgelwar, Linda Lee, Pranjal Rai, Prarthana Ahuja.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Gift of Food

Dr. Vandana Shiva, (pictured above giving her acceptance speech for the Right Livelihood Award, she received in 1993, ”..for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern development discourse.”) is today an internationally acclaimed environmental activist. She trained in quantum physics and philosophy of science, in her speech she traces her journey and motivations that led her from physics to grassroots activism in the fields of eco-feminism, bio-piracy, biodiversity and intellectual property rights combined with research and advocacy in these areas.

In 1982, she founded an independent institute, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun dedicated to high quality and independent research relating to important ecological and social issues of our times. In 1991, Dr. Shiva set up the Navdanya movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seeds.

She makes the argument that ''Patenting assumes life in all its diversity to be a human creation. It also allows Western arrogance to loot indigenous knowledge, as in the case of neem or turmeric or ashwagandha, and then charge royalties on it. It reminds me of the Salt Laws imposed during the British Raj where Indians could not make salt so that the British could charge royalties. Mahatma Gandhi stood up and said: "Why should I pay for something that the sea gives me for free?" Today, we have to realize that the seed is free, the neem is free.''

Through her activism, research and writing, Dr. Shiva continues her persisitent campaign to empower people and put pressure on the powers that be. Her books include Water Wars, Monoculture of the Mind, Staying Alive, Protect or Plunder?, Globalisation and Terrorism, and she is co-author of An Ecological History of Food and Farming in India. She is also the author of several articles, many of which are available online.

In one of her articles - Gift of Food she explains the traditional Indian concept of 'Annadana' -
''One of my favourite images in India is the kolam, a design which a woman makes in front of her house. In the days of Pongal, which is the rice harvest festival in South India, I have seen women get up before dawn to make the most beautiful art work outside their houses, and it is always made with rice. The real reason is to feed the ants, but it is also a beautiful art form that has gone on from mother to daughter.
The indica rice variety's homeland is a tribal area called Chattisgarh in India. It must be about fifteen years ago that I first went there. The people there weave beautiful designs of paddy, which they then hang outside their houses. I thought that this must be related to a particular festival, and I asked, "What festival is it for?" They said, "No, no, this is for the season when the birds cannot get rice grain in the fields." They were putting rice out for other species, in very beautiful offerings.
Because we owe the conditions of our life to all other beings and all other creatures, giving - to humans and to non-human species - has inspired annadana, the gift of food. All other ethical arrangements in society get looked after if everyone is engaging in annadana on a daily basis. According to an ancient Indian saying: "There is no gift greater than annadana, the giving of food." Or again, in the words of the sacred texts: "Do not send away anyone who comes to your door without offering him or her food and hospitality. This is the inviolable discipline of humankind; therefore have a great abundance of food and exert all your efforts towards ensuring such abundance, and announce to the world that this abundance of food is ready to be partaken by all."
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