Thursday, August 14, 2008

Individial Visions for Food Security in India: DCC2008 Paldi01

…>…Design Concepts & Concerns

Individial Visions for Food Security in India: Scenarios developed during the class DCC2008 at NID Paldi in the past two weeks.

Image: Individual offerings for the scenario visualization assignment at the end of this DCC2008 class at NID Paldi.

Scenarios visualized by NID students for the broad range of issues identified by them while working in groups over a period of two weeks in this particular session of the Design Concepts and Concerns class at NID Paldi. It is ironical that there is so much to be done and the country is facing severe food inflation but the investments in design efforts to solve these problems on a long term basis is almost zero.

Image: Another group of students from the DCC2008 class with their individual offerings of imagined scenarios to address the real needs of food and the design opportunities in our economy today.

It is not that the country does not have the money to address these issues but most of the money is spent on making standards and on testing rather than on innovation which will promise a better future for our people. This year we have as a nation spent a huge sum for trying to avert farmer crisis in the form of the loan waiver scheme that was announced by the Government of India while a small fraction of this amount spent on a regular basis on farm based innovation and the building of imaginative prototypes for the future would have given long term solutions. I hope that we will see such investments in the near future with the National Design Policy having been launched last year. However agriculture, education and health are still not on the radar of the policy makers since they seem to be only looking at luxury products for exports and not at real needs across the land that need design

…>…Design Concepts & Concerns

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Incubating Design Opportunities: DCC2008 Paldi 01

Design Concepts & Concerns

Incubating Design Opportunities: Food, Inflation and the Economy: DCC2008 Paldi 01

Image: West Bengal team with their huge Sun icon and the design opportunity thumbnail images distributed along the categories identified by the Solar flares, each named in an appropriate manner.

After trailing all the other groups and getting sharp critiques from their peers in the first two assignments the WB team has come back strongly to make a clear statement showing a huge leap forward in their understanding as well as their articulation of all the design opportunities identified and sketched by the group members. The model and the visual presentation was very powerful indeed.

Image: Goa team with their radial model surrounded by all the thumbnail sketches of the design opportunities shown as a horizontal display with the viewers traveling around the model to look at it closely.

Goa team continued their effective radial model and they offered a modified structure and this time to accommodate the categories that they have identified for their numerous design opportunities for the theme of Food, Economy and Inflation with reference to their chosen region, Goa.

Image: Rajasthan team in front of their display of design opportunity maps that have been broadly categorized into areas of concern and value.

Rajasthan team used the broad categories of Ecology, Awareness, Culture and Economy to arrange all the design opportunities that the team members had articulated during the thumbnail brainstorming and exploration phase. They are seen holding their individual scenarios based on an agreed selection arrived at through peer review within the team.

Image: Uttarakhand team in front of their display of design opportunity thumbnails in the NID Foyer and they hold in their hand their individual scenario visualizations.

Rajasthan team had an interesting categorization of all the design opportunities that the team members had imagined and articulated. These were divided into broad categories through a process of sorting and categorization and they used the categories of Education, Food Preservation, Community Development, Industry, Water (Mineral), Transport and also a special category for Policy and Legislation that was also proposed.

Image: Detail of Goa model and design opportunity thumbnail sketches

Design Concepts & Concerns

Design Opportunities Presentation: Water, Sun, Hills and Desert

…>…Design Concepts & Concerns

Design Opportunities Presentation: Water (Goa), Sun (West Bengal), Hills (Uttarakhand) and Desert (Rajasthan)

Image: Goa group took their radial model and modified it to accommodate all their design opportunity thumbnail sketches along the various categories identified by the group (Right) and the West Bengal group used the Sun as a metaphor to map out the various categories in which they arranged all their design opportunity thiumbnail sketches (Left).

The four groups dealing with the theme of Food in the four selected regions of India made their group presentations in the NID Foyer yesterday. Goa, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan were the areas of focus for this batch of DCC2008 which just concluded at Paldi and this gives us the platform to reflect on their offering during this course. Just as the Gandhinagar students had explored four other states of India these students gave us a glimpse of their imagimation for the issues and opportunities that they saw after their journey through the various stages of this course that included the exploration of the theme leading up to the development of design opportunity maps and then onto individual scenarios for one idea that they felt needed their full attention.

Image: The celebration at the end of the course with students and faculty bunched around the Goa model that was displayed on a group tables moved in from other rooms near the Foyer, impromptu but instantly effective.

The groups gathered at the Foyer at NID Paldi and each put up their design opportunity maps for all to see. The sky was overcast and the sun was almost gone but fortunately the lights in the foyer were discovered and this gave a renewed life to the presentations and we were able to photograph all the submissions and also record the individual scenarios which will be shared in another post after the groups have been discussed in some detail.

…>…Design Concepts & Concerns

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rajasthan: Song, Drama, Theatre and Games as Metaphor

Design Concepts & Concerns

Image: Team Rajasthan with their Board Game as metaphor and their Puppet Theatre to drive the point home.

The Rajasthan group used all the devices in the book to make their presentation. Starting with a song and a puppet show they told a story of a Princess and her new fangled ideas for bringing prosperity to a dry land. However the plans go dry and some problems emerge needing the attention of the King and his consort as the story unfolds. Their understanding of the complex interplay of various factors come out clearly in their first blast of theatre and drama to make their point.

Image: The Rajasthan team used a digital presentation to share their detailed structure for Food and the various categories of influencing factors, very detailed but long winded.

A very detailed structure gave the team a fairly deep understanding of the factors but since they used a digital medium that was linear in the mode of viewing the audience could not quite keep all the factors in their mind. This led to the discussion of George A Miller and his concept of the number seven and the limits of the mind memory span. This gave the class a view of an alternate platform that could be used and they could examine the pro’s and con’s of the various methods used by all the teams.

Image: Multiple views of the Rajasthan groups presentation using various methods to share their exploration of the theme and share their findings and insights with the class.

This group had the benefit of all the other presentations since they came last in the sequence but not to take away from the offering from the group the class appreciated the rich show and tell that they used.

Design Concepts & Concerns

West Bengal : Boat Fish and Fish Boat as Metaphor

Design Concepts & Concerns

Image: West Bengal team members with their Fish-Boat or Boat-Fish model.

The West Bengal group bounced back and surged foreward after the drubbing that they got in the first round of building models. What they missed out everyone else got to learn from, “fail early to succeed sooner”, as the slogan from the IDEO group says.

Image: Team members explaining the various parts of their model of Food in the context of West Bengal using their metaphor as an aid.

They chose to make a three dimensional model and the disadvantage was that it had more that one side and they had to work twice as hard to mark both sides of their Fish-Boat or should I say Boat-Fish metaphor to capture their understanding of the West Bengal food scenario as they had understood it after their meetings with their experts.

Image: Multiple views from the group presentation and the discussions that followed from the West Bengal team show.

The team however still did not have the deep understanding that a coherent structure would have provided them and the critique was sharp and the discussions quite revealing. The effort of making the huge model was however appreciated by all the particpants. However the consensus in the end was that the group missed out on using the richness of the model fully since the categories were quite macro and the finer aspects were not integrated into the final model but kept on the various external elements still to be brought into a central area.

Design Concepts & Concerns

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Design Scenarios for Food Security: DCC2008 Gandhinagar

The four groups at Gandhinagar had a week to make their individual scenario visualisations that was based on the thumbnails that the groups had explored in the previous week in a visual brainstorming mode, each in a huddle in their respective studios or under the tree in the back of the mess block where Punjab group had located themselves.

Each of the groups are shown here as thumbnail images and a bigger image of the individual scenario will be posted when the group members find time to send me the email of the supporting text which is still awaited.
Click on each image below to get an enlarged view of the scenarios. Punjab:

Image: Punjab group and their individual scenarios for design action in India.

Image: Kerala group and their imagination for the way forward as individual scenarios visualised and shared with the class.

Image: Northeast group with their mountains of ideas culled into individual scenario visualisations based on their own convictions for the action going forward.

Image: Gujarat group with their real business like models for rapid deployment of food based scenarios based on their very rich model and exploration as a group.

The four groups in Paldi – Uttarakhand, Goa, West Bengal and Rajasthan – too will be working on their group thumbnail brainstorming and over the weekend on their individual scenario in consultation with their group members in a peer review and supported process, in other words with a little bit of help from their friends. We look forward to their presentation in the NID Paldi Foyer on Tuesday 12 August 2008 at 5.30 pm.

Goa Group: Fish, Boats and Beach as Metaphor

Image: Goa group with their massive model and metaphor representation with the Fisherman in the foreground and the Goa Tourist map and persona in the background.

While the Goa group had very rich palette of images to support their presentation it was their structure that was truly memorable. Using a radial structure they built their structure about Food, Inflation and the Economy with the Meta factors around the circle and the process questions along the radial axis. This gave them the possibility of using the rings to represent the various parts of their structure in a very interesting manner.

Image: Radial model of the rich structure by the Goa group with the Fish, Boats and Beach Metaphor with the Fisherman in the foreground.

The structure model was further strengthened by the use of small iconic images strewn all over the diagram that helped us locate the major ideas visually while getting an overview of the structure. The Move in understanding was huge. While the first presentation that was based on what the group already knew was skewed towards a sort of outsider view of tourist Goa the second round saw the group connecting with all the right kinds of people who can be called experts and this led to a huge shift in understanding.

Image: The Goa team making their impassioned presentation with all members taking the stand and making a pitch with a very high level of motivation.

The presentation which had all the team members participating was truly memorable and of a very high quality. In the teachers experience this is by far the best effort in many years in the PG programme at NID. I would request the students involved to make a textual note of their experience and to share this with all of us so that this experience can produce durable learning that Prof Bruce Archer had told us about when he visited NID in the early 80's to give the Sir Misha Black Award for excellence in Design Education to the then Executive Director of NID, Ashoke Chatterjee. He told us that experience by itself does not produce knowledge, but it is the reflection on experience that does create deep and durable knowledge.

This assignment is therefore a way for groups of individuals to first map out what they already think they know about any chosen subject through brainstorming and categorisation followed by rounds of modelling to find structure and finding a suitable metaphor to map the discovered structure for all to see and understand. The next assignment has the students sharing their understanding with real experts and through research and the process of modelling, finding structure and making a metaphor so that the findings can be shared in a coherent manner. This process also has the effect of clarifying the concepts in ones own mind as well as in locating insights that would drive the process of opportunity mapping and decision making as the design process goes forward.

The other two groups too have completed their second round which will be reported here later in the day. We need to meet today to review all the MeBoards, perhaps in the SDM studio and the final opportunity maps as well as the individual secnarios will be exhibited in the NID Foyer on Tuesday the 12th August 2008 at 5.30 pm IST. We have booked the Foyer space through the NID Academin Administration and we look forward to a live participation from faculty, students and invited guests.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Uttarakhand Group: Mandi as Metaphor

Image: Uttarakhand Group assembled in their Mandi Metaphor for their presentation.

The Uttarakhand Group was the first to complete their model by the evening today so we decided to have their presentation while the other three groups would have theirs tomorrow morning. The team worked out a way to reuse their Himalayan Mountain range model by using it as a backdrop to locate the wild life and fauna of the region while the main exhibit was that of a Sabji Mandi or vegetable market through which they tried to explain the current level of understanding about Food and the chosen region in the context of design possibilities going forward.

Image: Uttarakhand Group assembled in their Mandi Metaphor with the teachers included.

The Mandi metaphor was however not used as effectively buy the group to make their presentation as it came out in the discussions and critique that followed the groups presentation. According to the comments from the teachers it showed a lack of an articulation or visualisation of relationships that formed the core of the concerns that the group had indeed identified and expressed as very interesting images of islands of concerns that were arranged on the backdrop. The four main headings of Production, Distribution , Consumption and Impact did offer the group an adequate framework for linking the various sub-groups and issues that were in the field of vision but the audience felt that they missed showing the linkages between all the issues covered there.

Image: Uttarakhand Group assembled in their Mandi Metaphor as the class presentation progresses.

Further the lack of detail at the next lower level of the structure was also pointed out in the arguments and comments that followed. The Mandi visual was quite effective in getting a feel of the place and the context as a whole and I used the metaphor of the Constellations to show that association of star groups were given meaning by showing the invisible lines that gave the groups its form as a visual symbol which made it memorable and recognisable in the rich ground of all the other stars. Each illustration was rich and when the team explained the model it was clear that the team had come a long way forward in their understanding of both Food as well as the context on the ground in the Uttaranchal region through their meetings with experts in the field, but the group failed to tell us who they met and how the insights were actually collected and put together in their model. In all the group efort was appreciated by the class particularly since this group was able to meet the very tight deadline and come through with a fairly high degree of effective representation and discourse.

We do look forward to some rich presentations from the other three groups in the morning tomorrow. The order of presentation will have the Goa Group making their presentation at 9.30 am and this would be followed by the other two between 10.30 and 12.30 pm tomorrow. The afternoon session is for the next lecture on Design Opportunities after which the groups will start work on their next assignments dealing with Design Opportunities in the area using the formats that have been developed for this purpose.

Down the Drains

Image: Ayan Ghosh at Gandhinagar and Paldi DCC2008 discussions

I feel a primary aspect to be understood while analyzing the role of food and its importance in its current context is to examine how humans consume food, which is after all what its main function is. This consumption pattern has never been constant, and has changed considerably depending on the way food has been cultivated, stored, transported, re-stored and eaten. These systems have been considerably modified by the various discoveries, innovations, improvisations and inventions which continued to evolve since humans settled as an agrarian society.

Some main events in the journey of food have been the discovery of fire and the plough, and a basic understanding of time and seasons, leading to agriculture. This new form of foraging, through cultivation, was helped substantiality by innovations in irrigation techniques (like the Archimedes’s screw and the Noria) and extensive canal building. Later, architectural innovations followed in the form of dams and later more sophisticated aqueducts built in ancient Rome.

However, the pattern of agriculture the world over remained unchanged for thousands of years, although techniques might have differed from civilization to civilization depending on the climate and topography. The most significant innovations that boosted the production capacities of fields to feed the increasing global populations happened in the post industrial revolution late 18th and 19th century, with development of fertilizers like Ammonium Nitrate, pesticides, and other mechanized innovations like the development of tractors, and threshers.

Limitations in preservation options reduced the transportability of food which being organic in nature starts putrefying in short time. The organic nature of most food either allowed it to be frozen or dried. Drying substantially altered the nature of the food, while freezing was expensive and exclusive. Food storage changed drastically since the 19th century, with Nicolas François Appert inventing canning in 1809, which contributed significantly to Napolean’s army’s mobility and Europe conquest. Appert himself didn't know how the process of heating canned food helped in its preservation worked, but was later explained by Louis Pasteur. This was followed by breakthroughs by scores of inventors contributing many small advances in cooling machinery leading to the perfection of the refrigerator. This allowed surplus food to be stored in its actual state for many days domestically, and also to be transported overseas on long journeys. Later innovations in packaging design also contributed hugely in optimizing trade.

Human Movement
Various events and inventions in other domains contributed greatly to the food industry, like globalization, colonialism, colonization, international trade and human migration. Globalization, which has its roots in the silk route trades across Asia and Europe, contributed in the spice economy, which thrived for hundreds of years. Colonization, starting with the Spanish conquests of the Americas, resulted in many new food items being introduced to Western countries. After colonization of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, whence it moved to southeast Asia and then the entire Asian continent. The Spanish also brought the potato and tobacco to Europe. Similarly the British Empire introduced tea from China to Sri Lanka, India and Britain and the USA.

Colonialism and the industrial revolution also catalyzed an unprecedented amount of human migration the world over, which gave rose to new consumption requirements and opened up endemic food cultures to new markets.

Image: Ayan Ghosh at Gandhinagar and Paldi DCC2008 discussions

Alternative power
Shift from traditional energy sources like animal, human, wind and water to steam, coal, fuel and electric also revolutionized the way the food industry expanded over the last century and a half. The industrial revolution triggered the concept of the factory and the mass production of food. It also led to the invention of the railways, automobiles and lastly the aircraft. The last three are of major consequence, as it allowed surplus food to be exchanged between countries through exports and it also allowed fast and networked system of food distribution, thereby preventing widespread famines.

As a result…
However all the above mentioned factors have also contributed in a serious fall out of food wastage which is a result of the ability to acquire surplus food. Since we can acquire much more than we consume, its inevitable that there is a great deal of surplus in the hands of the upper classes in the first world countries who can afford such benefits on the basis of a higher disposable income. Previously we cultivated only as much can be consumed immediately, but the option of preservation has made us uncertain to the consumption amounts, since there is always back up.

In the USA
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) calculates 20 percent of the country's food goes to waste, representing an annual value of about $31 billion in lost resources. Such wastage is not productive, sustainable, or ethical. While food is being squandered in rich countries, 800 million people around the world often do not know where their next meal is coming from, 166 million children are undernourished, and 1.2 billion people live on less than a dollar a day.

In Britain
Britons are throwing away £10bn worth of food that could be eaten each year. About £6bn of the wasted annual food budget is food that is bought but never touched - including 13m unopened yoghurt pots, 5,500 chickens and 440,000 ready meals dumped in home rubbish bins each day. The rest is food prepared or cooked for meals but never eaten because people have misjudged how much was needed and don't eat the leftovers. The complete £10bn consists of food that could have been eaten, not including peeling and bones, the researchers say. Tackling the waste could mean a huge reduction in CO2 emissions, equivalent to taking one in five cars off the road.

In India
Its a matter of concern even in India where it was announced in the Rajya Sabha in March 2008 by the Minister of State for Food Processing Industries (FPI) that wastage of harvested food items is estimated to be around Rs 58,000 crore at various stages of handling due to lack of adequate post-harvest infrastructure, cold chains, transportation and proper storage facilities.

Food = water
A new report by the Stockholm International Water Institute has determined that the wastage of food means wastage of a large amount of water. According to a report in Discovery News, given that crop production uses about 1,800 trillion gallons (1,700 cubic miles) of water a year, almost 40 per cent of which comes from irrigation rather than rainwater, that loss represents a lot of water. The report says that in the United States itself, up to 30 per cent of food is tossed out each year, worth about 48.8 billion US dollars, which is equivalent to flushing 10 trillion gallons of water down the drain.

Why so?
There are many reasons for the humongous quantities of food wastage. They vary culture to culture. Economy, social status, cultural habits all play a part, and many solutions have also been suggested in the past and continue to be done. Rationing food had been a popular concept in socialist countries. It is however an economic control, aimed to provide food to those who cannot afford it. Denying people who can afford to do so the right to food is never going to be accepted universally in a democratic political ideology.

However, I personally feel that the problem hasn’t been understood yet, and all solutions are working at a preventive level rather than a curative level. Waste food management is happening because waste "is happening". It is broadly accepted that completely eradicating food wastage is not possible and every effort should be taken in minimizing it. One possible source of finding the root cause of why we waste food I feel lies in our evolutionary past, and how it has shaped human psychology. Maybe somewhere within our subconscious the million years old hunter-gatherer psyche is winning over the thousand years old settler-cultivator psyche. One aspect of study that has been undertaken in this direction deals with how humans and all other animals behave with food, and is called optimal foraging theory.

Optimal Foraging Theory?
A central concern of ecology has traditionally been foraging behavior. In its most basic form, optimal foraging theory states that organisms forage in such a way as to maximize their energy intake per unit time. In other words, they behave in such a way as to find, capture and consume food containing the calories while expending the least amount of time possible in doing so. The understanding of many ecological concepts such adaptation, energy flow, competition hinges on the ability to comprehend what food items animals select, and why.

Furthermore, the absolute limits of the range of food types eaten by a consumer in a given habitat are defined by morphological constraints, but very few animals actually eat all of the different food types they are capable of consuming. Optimal foraging theory helps biologists understand the factors determining a consumer’s operational range of food types, or diet width.

At the one extreme, animals employing a generalist strategy tend to have broad diets; they chase and eat many of the prey/food items with which they come into contact. At the other extreme, those with a specialist strategy have narrow diets and ignore many of the prey items they come across, searching preferentially for a few specific types of food. In general, animals exhibit strategies ranging across a continuum between these two extremes. Recently, scholars have connected optimal foraging theory to prospect theory, noting that survival thresholds might be responsible for human attitudes towards risk.

I am personally still trying to understand the full implications of the optimal foraging theory and how it is directly linked with global food wastage but I sincerely believe in its existence. Somewhere down the line, through a protracted history like I mentioned, the process of accessing food has got distorted too fast, which has contributed to this current phenomenon of over-consumption. Wastage happens not only in food, but in almost every other form of consumerist products, which is a thematic redundancy phenomenon in modernist and postmodernist society at large.

A huge shift has occurred at the options level and the time level, which has led to the disparity in the intake and outtake proportions. The handling time and search times required for access to food in the current urban set up is minimal, which means we gather up much more than what we can consume. The energy requirement levels have stayed the same, since humans have been more or less engaged in the same energy expedient tasks since cultivation started. What might have altered is the energy supplementary levels, which is a result of the consumption disparity. Our dietary patterns have changed so drastically since the dawn of agriculture (at least in the urban areas), that the amount of food required to meet the necessary energy levels have also been distorted. In most cases we consume more, to bridge this gap.

We fear that we might not be able to meet this shortfall,be there a crisis or not, and so the ones who can, they consume more than what they need. They are not to be blamed entirely, because the surplus they are consuming is being made available to them in the first place. Its a huge and complicated cycle of economics and ecology, but very little research has actually been done into the subject, or maybe I haven't myself delved into the subject in depth as yet.

Maybe this in itself is a design research subject which can be expanded on for addressing the cure rather than the prevention part. Maybe an apple a week can keep the doctor away, as well as one a day.

Ayan Ghosh

"The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think."

~ Gregory Bateson

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sustainable Food solutions and Waste management

Image: Food wasted in a week: US Department of Agriculture. In India food waste starts from the field due to poor storage and transport facilities at the farm end itself.

An immense opportunity waits to be tapped with regard to Food waste. Enough cannot be said of the amount of waste that is generated in particular by the consumerist mentality of the current generations in terms of food and several aspects relating both directly and indirectly to the food industry. The primary problem that can be seen clearly is one of distribution. The cycle of demand and supply can be met with much greater ease if only a strong distribution network could facilitate it. In India, the land of contrasts, the issue is always one of extremes- Of simultaneous drought and floods, of slums and high rise buildings that share a wall, of children who study in the dim light afforded by the street lamps while others live in over-lit mansions and most strikingly, of starvation and excess.

What will it take towards creating a food network that will be sustainable worldwide? The answer is complex on many levels and yet calls for immediate consideration, action and solution. With the liberal policies of globalization undeniably linking everyone together through good times and bad, no one is spared the consequences of the actions of the other. There are many simultaneous and conflicting consequences that arise as a result of our agricultural policies and the technology that is implemented. On one hand, there is an increase in yield per unit of land as a result of which there is less requirement to cultivate new land. This leads directly to facilitating the sustenance of numerous natural life forms and securing their habitats. At the same time, this comes at the cost of permitting enduring harm to natural resources such as water and soil by imbuing them with immense quantities of prolonged chemical exposure and this leading to a speedy deterioration on these fronts.

The immediate challenge confronting us now is in increasing the production of food to be able to meet the demands of the future without any harmful impact on the environment. Another significant challenge in this realm is to ensure that everyone has access to adequate food to live a fit and fruitful life.

In order to be able to live up to the needs of the future and tackle them successfully, a strategy must be concocted that will encompass the relevant policies and the technology required that will enable us to eradicate food uncertainty, food shortage, and undernourishment in a manner that is in harmony with an ecologically sustainable management of natural resources.

There is a need to connect with the learning that we garner from such a macro-perspective and an understanding of the global phenomenon, in order to apply this newly gained knowledge into our own immediate surrounding. Discipline begins at home and in this regard there are numerous examples of food waste that we can see all around us- our very own canteens and cafeterias, home kitchens etc are huge opportunities for creating a sustainable system of waste food recycling which can cater towards fulfilling many constructive and urgent needs of communities around us. Within this large spectrum of the food chain from pre-process to post-consumption to disposal, waste generation and utilization exist innumerable opportunities that make not only ethical and social sense but also have the ability to generate several layers of economic independence.

Attached are a few links of relevance in this regard.

A New Stone Turned

Image: Anindya Roy commenting on students presentations in DCC2008 Paldi01

“An unusual choice of career at your age, isn’t it?” This is a question I’ve been thrown in one form or another many a time by friends and acquaintances ever since I made a conscious decision to stop running behind the bigwigs of the Automotive world and instead, look a different way. I joined NID as faculty of transportation design at the age of 27. It is close to a year now since I joined and through this time I have been involved in various courses across a few disciplines. All through this time, like the murmur of monks in a monastery, I used to hear about DCC from students. The remarks didn’t sound so much like that of a course that was taught but a great journey to an uncharted place – revelatory, eye (and mind) opening, unforgettable, intense, tiring, rewarding – and one that would leave you changed somewhere inside for sure.

Just like when I hear of someone who’s been to Ladakh, and I haven’t, my first thought is, “I must go there myself and see what the fuss is all about!” What could be in this place that everyone who’s been to can’t stop raving about? With this curiosity built up over a period of one year spent at NID, one ordinary morning I decided to pack my bags and book my ticket, by replying to M.P. Ranjan’s email call for volunteer faculty. Brave move, knowing that I really had no clue about the course or its subject for the year, I had never read this blog and that I would be facing 20-30 students at a time, some waiting to hear great words of wisdom from this young faculty. The fact is that I was in it for really the same reason as the students – to learn about something anew. Well, the students do have grades to fetch as well but that’s another matter.

Image: Anindya Roy with teaching colleagues: DCC2008 Paldi01

It’s been a week for me on this journey and I’d say what has taken me by surprise is how much there is to unlearn before new learning can begin. It is an unavoidable situation having grown to this age conditioned by much focused education and exposure, the result of years of learning within limited context. What does it take then to outrun the legacy? This is where the DCC course structure takes on the avatar of a roadmap and students become the guides on a journey that never ceases to explore. It is through their brainstorming and structuring of gathered data that a wholesome picture starts to emerge within which one can find specific sites of interest.

Though initially what comes out may be a barrage of information with too many layers for the untrained mind to make sense of, it is within this very tangled web that multitudes of design opportunities lurk. In sessions that follow, much grey matter gets activated, sleep is lost and egos are put aside, reluctantly at times. Scores of minds aligned by a common goal can be a fantastic force. While I am yet to see results of some of the intermediate stages of the process, the direction gets clearer with every passing day. Having a bird’s eye view of the ongoing process not only is educating me (even as all the effort at ground level is being put in by diligent students) but also allows me to have an overview to reflect upon.

Image: Anindya Roy in DCC2008 Paldi01

This is about getting to know your context of work first-hand, meeting the people who matter and the people in whose life a little design intervention could go a long way, about designing not to satisfy the ego but to attempt to satisfy real needs. The relevance of this approach to a context as complex, rich and demanding as India is undeniable. Hopefully, many of us will carry the learning beyond the academic realm and remember it in our careers whatever they may be. A young bloke came to teach a few things and got taught many times as much in return. Not such a bad choice of career after all!

This is but my initial reflection on a new method of Design Thinking that I have had a chance to experience firsthand and in great detail. In the days to come of my involvement with the course and beyond I will be posting my insights, remarks and findings for all to share and comment on.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A personal Journey

Image: Harini at Gandhinagar during DCC2008

This is a personal post based on my reflections over the past four years. I have had the good fortune and a rare opportunity of acquiring a glimpse both sides of the DCC coin- First as a student in 2004 and now, as assistant faculty in 2008. The journey has been tumultuous and exciting with each day bringing new learning and growth.

The methodology advocated by DCC has become a way of life and is being utilized by numerous people across various walks after having assimilated it into the order of every day things. Four years ago, groups converged in the studio spaces at NID to weave our ideas of the concepts and concerns of design around the theme of globalization and the new order of the world. At that time not many of us possessed the foresight that one small course at NID spread over the course of a few weeks would change and shape the way we would all reason from then on- both collectively and as thinking individuals. There is a clarity that emerges from all the confusion, which calls for a new kind of thinking, understanding, questioning and constantly revaluating opinions and beliefs.

Image: Harini discussing brainstorming and at the presentations with Gandhinagar students

A few days ago, soon after this new phase of my journey began; I rummaged around to rediscover the thoughts and feedback I had penned at the culmination of the course in 2004. This is what it had to say – “When I reflect back on the entire course and all the rapid exchanges and brainstorming sessions there were many thoughts that kept surfacing through my mind and striking home. Many of us grow up with an exaggerated sense of our own self-worth and intelligence. Our spectrum is narrow, our tolerance level non-existent and our motto in life ‘My way is the best way, if not the only way’. Eating humble pie (with unceasing regularity) is probably the best way of learning one of life’s bitter truths and what should have been the Eleventh Commandment-‘you are definitely not as smart as you think you are (or even as smart as others think you are!)’” In hindsight and with slightly more lucidity now than before, I believe that was the result of a first encounter from very close quarters of group dynamics in action.

I trust that each person we meet or come in contact with, whether at home, in the workplace or otherwise have a definite part to play in our overall education in the subject of life. We can never walk away empty-handed after any encounter with the feeling of not having learnt something new. To this end each person’s background and imbibed values areof relevance in enhancing the experience of others. One of the richest experiences that life has to offer is of meeting other people from different arenas of life and the reciprocal exchange that arise between them- it appears impossible that one should ever give without getting anything in return. There is something to be learnt, whether positive or not, from every interaction with another. It also helps us to realize that there are always people to help us out with our own deficiencies. Learning to work as a team, to work with a team- a very challenging, sometimes formidable task but always a gratifying one. A time to share your thoughts and experiences and a time to learn from others.

Image Harini at the group presentations in the NID Gandhinagar Atrium.

My impressions of my first day at DCC class is etched in my mind- a little nervous and apprehensive but very eager and enthusiastic –to learn, to make an impression and to meet and make friends and broaden my perspective of the world at large- a daunting task by any stretch of the imagination. Having heard a lot about the course from numerous friends and seniors I was geared up to face the storm. Upon reflection I now feel that the whole experience has been one of the most rewarding ones till date –the experience of rubbing shoulders with some very resourceful and enterprising people, the desperation in meeting last- minute deadlines, of debate and boisterous argument, the feeling of pride in a job well done, your own growing awareness of your increasing confidence in yourself, the feeling of being part of a team or making a presentation which you have slaved over for hours- these feelings to me are the essence of professional development.

Two invaluable lessons that I take back with me at the end of all this are-firstly, never to go into the battlefield without being fully prepared and doing your groundwork thoroughly and secondly, to be truthful while admitting your ignorance- it’s perfectly acceptable to utter the words ‘I don’t know, but I will find out’. The feeling of being cut down to size is very deflating, but it does serve its purpose-it teaches you a powerful lesson you are not apt to forget easily! The more dogmatic we are, we consciously close shut many doors of opportunities that we could experience, learn from, draw strength and courage to go on to be a better person. After than, can there actually be an individual who doesn’t require a second chance?

Urban Farming

This striking image of urban agriculture is from Havana, Cuba. I read in an article that the only MacDonalds in Cuba is at the Guantánamo Bay naval base, which belongs to the US. Cubans on the other hand, enjoy a superior diet, with access to fresh nutritious fruits and vegetables, cereals herbs, etc They have an agricultural system which is largely self sufficient and does not depend on industial farming, pesticides or fertilizer, and is almost entirely organic. They also have a special food culture where communities of people farm together and are close to the production of their food.

How this came about is briefly something like this - following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba suddenly faced a severe food and energy shortage, since the economic support which included food subsidies, farm equipment, petroleum, pesticides and so on which it had enjoyed came to an end, leading to a period of great hardship.

With limited resources, no subsidies, no Soviet oil for tractors, fertilizer and pesticide, the government decided to prioritize food production, through substantial research and a search for affordable alternative farming techniques. These included many back to basics practices – vermiculture, natural composting, inter cropping, natural pesticides and bio fertilizers. In addition land was redistributed into small and large worker managed collectives, and farmer's markets opened to sell excess food crops.

By 2004, fifteen years later, 35,000 acres of urban gardens produced 3.4 million tons of food. In Havana which is home to 20% of the country's population, 90% of the city's fresh organic produce comes from local urban farms and gardens. The country is beginning to take on legendary status as a model for sustainable agriculture and local food production.

In Mumbai Dr Ramesh T. Doshi, has done pioneering work in developing techniques for terrace farming. On his 1200 sq.ft. terrace in Bandra he grows – lady’s finger, eggplant, leafy vegetables, coconut, pomegranate, chickoo, guava, spices and more. Dr Doshi is an economist by training, and spent many years marketing fertilizer. It was only after retirement at the age of 61, he began experimenting with farming – first at his farm near Pune, and subsequently on his terrace in Mumbai. Dr Doshi's agriculture is done he says using solar energy, only organic compost and pesticides, and controlled amounts of soil, water and labour. He does his planting in closed large diameter polyethylene bags or metal drums, this minimizes the need for water as little water is lost in evaporation or leached underground. He uses sugarcane waste from the local juice vendors and all the organic waste from the neighbours to make compost, through a patented process of rapid aerobic decomposition by thermophilic bacteria. Dr Doshi believes that urban community agriculture is a solution to the problems of collecting, transporting, and disposing urban waste besides of course the access to fresh nutritious food.

Dr Doshi has been sharing his farming practices through demonstrations and trainings. One of his students was Preeti Patil. She is the catering officer at the Mumbai Port Trust Central Kitchen where she has developed a terrace farm using the techniques she learnt. The Kitchen provides food to canteens in the Port Campus daily feeding about 3000 employees. All the waste generated in the kitchen is used in the terrace garden, and all the produce which includes tomatoes, gourds, brinjal, radish, spinach, guava, chikoo, pomegranate, lemon and even cherries is used in the kitchen. She is now working on a project to teach these farming techniques to street children in Mumbai.

All over the world there have been long traditions of farming intensively within and at the edge of cities. Over the last century, with the industrial farming revolution needing large tracts of land, farms have moved further and further away from the city. With the spiraling costs of food and fuel for transportation, coupled with concerns about food security in a rapidly urbanizing world and a widespread appreciation of the superiority of organic over industrial produce, - urban farming is being re-looked at as a possible answer.

Several interesting initiatives along these lines are afoot -

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Incubating Design Opportunities: DCC2008 Gandhinagar

Image: Team Punjab with their presentation of design opportunity thumbnails and scenarios on the theme of Food.

The week long incubation period for the exploration of design opportunities that the four groups of students had discovered came to an end today with the final review and presentation of the groups work at the NID Gandhinagar campus. Each group had explored various design opportunities using the format for thumbnail sketches and a brief outline and these were discussed at length within each group to look for value and limitations in each of these explored options. This process of articulation and review continued through the week although the class had got over by last Friday when the groups had captured many such illustrations that gave us a glimpse of what was in the minds of the individuals who had drawn them after a process of collective exploration, brainstorming and engagement with experts in the field using anthro-research approaches to clarify directions and define specific insights that could produce value.

Image: Team Kerala with design oppportunity scenarios.

The enthusiasm and committment of the groups resulted in as many as 500 individual design opportunity maps and these were arranged into categories by the teams and some new explorations were initiated on the basis of the insights that were drawn from the initial explorations and the results thereof. THis group was particularly enthused by the design opportunities discovered and the final presentations were a trace of this enthusiasm, and the teams were all present for the final review. Each group has been requested to make a scanned image file of each thumbnail sheet and share these with all the other groups and during the interaction session this evening at Gandhinagar we photographed all the students with their Design Opportunity Scenario sheet with a final request that they send in an email with a brief but effective textual description of their design opportunity scenario to the teachers. These textual notes would also be made available to all students through the NID server at gandhinagar just as the pictures would be shared with all students as part of the contemporaneous documentation of this course.

Image: Team Gujarat with their radial model of design opportunity thumbnails in a categorised map.

Image: Team Northeast with their offering after the incubation period of one week.

Each of these explorations will be shared in some detail in the days ahead as the emailed texts come in to supplement the scenario visualisations made by the students of all four teams.
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