Monday, October 27, 2008

Parsi, Jain and Marwadi Food: An Anthro-look in DCC2008

Parsi, Jain and Marwadi Food: A closer look in Design Concepts and Concerns course in 2008. The batches involved included Graphic Design, Film and Video Communication, Furniture Design and Ceramic Design, all from the Post Graduate programmes at NID.

M P Ranjan

Image 1: Parsi food as a table setting of various categories of food from the Parsi fold and a backdrop of storyboards that was sued to tell a story of the Parsi way of life as the team understood it after their anthro-design investigations.

The Parsi food team had a matrix type storyboard on the wall and they used it from left to right and top to bottom to tell the story of the Parsi way of life and the role of food was woven well into their story. While the image and installation was not that visually rich they told a good tale and many insights about Parsi food came through in the presentation. An amazing number of facts had also been gathered by the team having contacted many Parsis in Ahmedabad and discovered the sources of supply of ingredients and Parsi delights.

Image 2: Jain food was represented as a road to salvation and a roundabout for the mortals. The route to Sainthood is flagged with street signs and terminates in a lamp.

The Jain food group spent more time explaining the philosophy of the Jains and their taboos for particular food types and as a consequence missed out on the appreciation of the value of Jain food and their potentials that is the purpose of the design investigation, to find sources of value and an understanding of the context at many levels. Their model was once again more symbolic than expressive and each section needed an explanation from the team for the finer aspects to be appreciated. The overall understanding that the team brought to the class was eventually quite deep.

Image 3: Marwadi food was shown as a very rich shop for provisions and the cultural attributes were captured in the icons, turbans and images of real food as well as the trappings of a real store in action, the balance, the price list and examples of food types all classified and visually articulated.

The Marwadi group had a collage of images of Marwadi food and an installation of the fields from a desert location besides the store metaphor that was the main attraction. The group also gave us a historical overview of the migratory passages of the community and the assimilation of various local cultures by way of food habits that the community had imbibed through this migratory passage over the years. In all a very rich presentation.

M P Ranjan

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Food across Communities: Macro Micro investigations in DCC

DCC2008 Paldi Group 2: PG Disciplines at NID: Graphic Design, Film & Video Communication, Furniture Design and Ceramic Design: Assignment one: Mapping the known universe of Food: Producers, Converters & Consumers.

M P Ranjan

Image 1: The Producer Group with their model of the production pyramid and the variety of food types at the circular base.

The last batch of students who are taking the Design Concepts and Concerns course here at Paldi campus of NID were asked to look at the theme of Food at the Macro level of exploration in three groups, each looking at three stages through which food travels from the land to our plates, from the point of Production, Conversion and then Consumption. This kind of Meta investigation is encouraged in all design journeys since it is a good point of departure for any design task to take stock of what we know of a particular subject or a theme that is being addressed and to try and map this territory as clearly as possible before embarking on a further journey of research and experimentation to discover what we do not already know. As a group process, this kind of articulation of what we already know about the broader contours of a discipline or a particular subject is very useful to discover the depth of understanding that is present with the group members as well as get a glimpse of regions of uncertainty and in particular the areas of ignorance, which could inform the later stages of research in those specific and identified areas.

Image 2: The Producer Group making their presentation to the class.

This batch was divided into three broad groups that included, Producers, Converters and Consumers, since the focus was on Food and we were keen that the groups would explore regions that were beyond the ordinary, to include areas of agriculture, nature and food production through the Producer focus group while the broader contours of processing, trade, branding and distribution could be covered in some detail by the second group which we called the Conversion focus group. The last group looked at the whole area of Food consumption lying at the far end of the supply chain by looking at the Consumer as a category along the long path from growing to eating. Each group went through the processes of brainstorming and categorization to discover and articulate what was known to the group and from these explorations they built models that could be used for a show & tell presentation about the insights gleaned from the whole process.

Image 3: The Converter Group gathered around their Sun metaphor with the long supply chain as a literal exhibit on the floor.

This batch of students came from the disciplines of Graphic Design, Film & Video Communication, Furniture Design and Ceramic Design, all post graduate students, from a variety of disciplines which brought a good mix of variety of skills and abilities to the group processes in this course. The three groups had an equal number of students from all the participating disciplines since the process of selection ensured an even mix in the composition of each team. Three coordinators volunteered at first and they then selected one team member from a particular discipline by turn till all the members from that discipline were assigned to one of the three groups. They then moved to the next discipline and selected additional team members by taking turns and all the disciplines were covered in the end. Each group had an even mix of students from all the participating disciplines and in the end we took lots to assign the three meta themes to each of the groups thus formed to ensure that the whole process was democratic and not pre-determined by any one including the teachers.

Image 4: The Consumer Group with their “Last Supper” metaphor to capture the huge variety of conditions of food consumption across India.

The three groups wee given a day and a half to explore what they already know about the chosen and assigned theme through a process of brainstorming and categorization and the group then built a structure that was based on the discovered words using a metaphor that best captured the meaning of the joint investigation that the team had discovered during their explorations of the theme. The producer group came up with a Pyramid of concerns with the hierarchy of governance flowing down to the roots in the variety of agricultural products on one side and dairy and poultry products and fisheries on the other two sides of the triangular pyramid. The circular base was strewn with images of all kinds of food alongside words that the team had gleaned during their intense explorations of the day before. The second group on the other hand made a sun like image that radiated from a soft centre in rings of growing magnitude before breaking out into rays that extended around the circle, each touching upon a key issue that the group had identified as being important for their analysis of the Converters in the chain of the supply of food in India and across the world. The chain was represented by a set of large paper links that formed a “Chain” along the ground from the sun to a remote location across the room. The third group used the metaphor of a complex dining table, almost a last supper, in their representation of various categories of eventual consumers, from the poor and the hungry to the rich and the affluent, each located at opposite ends of the table. The installation was set on the ground and words were literally sprinkled on the floor in meaningful groups and paper plates with images of food and chairs that expressed the status of the consumer by their form were the highlights of this particular display. The representation achieved by this group was quite stunning in effect as well as in structure.

M P Ranjan

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Jignesh Khakhar: On DCC in Bangalore

Image: Jignesh Khakhar at the DCC class presentations on various days in Bangalore.

The Design Concepts and Concerns (DCC) course was conducted for a two week period from September 25 to October 01, 2008 at NID's Bangalore campus. DCC is perhaps one of the longest running courses taught at NID. It is taught by Professor M.P. Ranjan, who conducted the course for 41 students from three disciplines at NID-Bangalore - Information and Interface Design (IID), Design for Retail Experience (DRE) and Design for Digital Experience (DDE).

The theme for this year's course was 'food'. Three groups investigated the theme in the context of three southern states - Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The course introduces students to design, design thinking, design process, design opportunities, to mention a few. Most importantly, in my opinion, it forces students to ask the question: what is design, and what is their role as a designer? These are complex questions and require a lifetime of deliberation. Students are pushed into the 'deep-end of the pool' and forced to swim or stay afloat. Thus begins their journey, or 'design journey', as Professor Ranjan calls it.

There are two significant challenging aspects to this course: One is to represent their ideas. Various metaphors are employed to represent data, and it is often a challenge to map the data to a particular metaphor. This time, a number of metaphors - kite, word, tree, metro map, etc - were employed. Some were more successful, others were not. It is quite a long and challenging journey before a representation becomes a visualization, an act of insight. The other challenge is to work in a large group. This involves 'managing' relationships, time and space. The nature of the course has changed over the years to enable and encourage students to work in collaboration with each other, something they will inevitably have to do in practice.

The final exercise termed 'me board' was an act of introspection. This was perhaps the most challenging exercise, as it required students to 'peer' into themselves. To my mind, this requires a high degree of honesty, akin to 'searching for the truth', and then representing it in some 'form' - an indelible proposition indeed. However, some of the presentations in the form of collages were remarkably interesting and provoked me to question the nature of such representations and their relationship to painting. Perhaps I may find some answers in the future.

Finally, the Design Concepts and Concerns course remains a very intriguing, interesting and enjoyable journey, both as an observer and a participant. Its significance and impact is one students are bound to realise much later in their design education and professional practice.

Posted by: Jignesh Khakhar, NID Bangalore Centre

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Modeling and Mapping: Finding Design Opportunities

Design Concepts & Concerns: Modeling and Mapping - Tools for Design Exploration and mapping Design Opportunities
Prof M P Ranjan

Image: The Karnataka group used a choreographed skit to tell their story of design opportunity explorations and shared their thumbnail explorations as well as the chosen scenario, both displayed as placards on their body. The front had the thumbs arranged, as a letter form while on their back was the scenario, which would be explained by their team adjacent member. This group missed categorizing the explored design opportunities using higher categories in their focus on the ideas created by the individual.

Design Opportunities can be felt but not seen since they are a product of the imagination that is triggered by a particular perception or insight and these are nurtured by the designers conviction till it can be manifested in the world through the process of visualization, construction and operation. I am therefore not surprised any more when policy makers and the public alike fail to see value in a particular design offering till it is almost fully realized and placed on the market as a compelling offering and at an attractive price with an appropriate set of features. Design offerings take on a particular form and these can be easily differentiated through both deep and - or superficial transformations and compositions which is a strategy that companies use to make a range of offerings to meet a variety of price points and an equally wide range of feature sets to make for an active market where none exists.

Image: The Tamilnadu group used a metaphor of a number of kites in the sky to map out broad areas of design opportunities in the fields of agriculture, industry, and fisheries and at the infrastructure and systems level of action. The thumbnail maps of the individual design opportunities were categorized and arranged along the string that held the kite in the sky and the developed scenarios came out of their group debates and identification of priorities. However most groups did not know much about agriculture and this was visible in the fewer design opportunities being identified for these sectors of collective ignorance, suggesting scope for additional research before these explorations are done once again.

The format for exploration was created earlier this year when the DCC course was offered to the Foundation class in the previous semester and over the past few months we have given this format to each batch of DCC students at Gandhinagar, Paldi and at Bangalore and the results have been very encouraging indeed. Group and individual explorations can be bridged by making the design exploration journey a shared experience by giving the peer group a place in the process of design opportunity mapping and this reinforces the process of exploration through the strengthening of the expression through a process of peer discourse and sharing that would otherwise have not been encouraged in a design class that may be project driven and one that involves individual exploration. Since the group has a shared agenda to realize the best design opportunities with the focus of a chosen theme along with a given bias, in this case the theme is Food and the bias for each group is the chosen State – Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh – the process of articulation and choice making is both individual as well as group driven.

Image: The Andhra Pradesh group used the metaphor of the branching tree with its elaborate sets of deep and capillary roots, each part with a particular name, characteristic and attribute that mapped the real world attributes that the students found in their journey into the field during the previous assignment, The group was particularly successful in their exploration and as a group that were able to show a wide range of application areas and fairly developed scenarios for the particular design opportunities that came out of the group selection processes that they had adopted for their task.

Numerous thumbnail images are created on the format provided and each image is supported by a brief write up that describes the salient features of the design proposal or as we call it the design opportunity. These are discussed and debated within the group as they emerge from the hands and minds of the individual creator of the images and these then may go through a further transformation with the incorporation of the feedback that is so critical for the design journey to get a bearing that is akin to the potential responses in the market place. However the conviction levels of the designer would determine whether or not the suggested changes are carried out in full or in part, if at all. The insights that led the designer to make this particular offering may not be seen or be visible to his colleagues which sets up a platform for discourse and debate and these processes at an important part of the conviction building process in design when it comes to making a decision, in favour or against a particular offering or a part thereof, of that particular offering.

Image: Scenario visualization being shared by some of the students from each group as part of their final presentation of the DCC course at NID Bangalore campus.

Students then select one out of many potential directions that are revealed in their design opportunity mapping and this choice is done in consultation with the team members. Each student then sets out to develop his or her chosen design opportunity and in the process sets out to build a visualization in the form of a scenario that would help articulate the particular offering, its impediments and potentials, the business models that would need to be considered to make it a success in the face of known and anticipated competition as well as a host of other factors that would deal with material, function, aesthetics, economics and other meta level criteria such as current and future legislation and the ethics of the offering in the context of society, culture and the ecology in which it is to be manifested eventually. This complex offering applies to all kinds of design situations and the design student is taken through these in the classroom long before they came face to face with these complexities in the field in which they are required to act.

Prof M P Ranjan

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Understanding Food: Anthro-Design Research in DCC

Understanding Food: Anthro-Design Research in the DCC class at Bangalore
Prof M P Ranjan

Image 1: Presentation by the Tamilnadu group in session at the NID Bangalore Centre. The group chose to build a flow chart of their understanding and the presentation uses a “story-board” that was represented like a film strip from the Tamil cinema story as shown in the illustration below. The storyboard was personified by the image of “Annaswamy” their man from Tamilnadu, from childhood to old age, and the food for all seasons brought into sharp focus by the overlapping threads of their story.

The first assignment at NID Bangalore dealt with mapping ones own knowledge about food and each group had a particular bias from which their knowledge was to be mapped and shared with the rest of the class. As describer earlier this thematic bias plays a strong role on how the subject is addressed and it even shapes the perception of the situation and this was quite evident in the various interpretations that were exhibited by the groups, each working with Climate, Region and Culture, as their given bias for investigation and articulation. While I did not specifically tell the students that they were not expected to do elaborate research on their subject of food with the bias assigned to each group, they did not have the time to do such research and all the teams had to fall back on their well of knowledge that resided in their collective memories and from which they drew quite liberally through a process of brainstorming, categorization and articulation to show their models and constructs on the given subject FOOD – with the bias of Climate, Region and Culture.

Image 2: The ‘story board” shown by the Tamilnadu group who used the persona of a young Tamil software engineer to represent their understanding of the chosen theme of “Food from Tamilnadu” shown here as a life time story, a journey from the cradle to a ripe old age, very interesting indeed.

The Second assignment saw the groups fanning out to various places in Bangalore to carry out direct contact research in the mode of “anthro-design” with each group being assigned to a particular region State of South India. The assigned States were that of Tamilnadu, Andhra and Karnataka, each assigned through a draw of lots, which was done on behalf of the group by their student coordinator. The group members then went into a huddle and made a plan for gathering information and this information strategy played out over the next three days with the groups meeting and exploring Food and eating places in Bangalore, each looking at their respective State issues and trying to make sense of the vast field that could be covered by the omnibus assignment with very low definition and broad interpretation. As designers they were to investigate the subject directly from the field in live contact with ‘experts” and ‘stakeholders’ from whom they could get valuable insights about their assigned subject – FOOD from one of the three chosen States of South India.

Image 3: The Karnataka group looked at the business of Food and explored the various dimensions of Karnataka cuisine as well as the typical resources of the State as they had discovered through their engagement with their contacts and eating-places across Bangalore city.

The Udipi café, MTR – “Mavali Tiffin room” and Café Coffee Day success story played strongly on the minds of this group and shaped the story that they had to share with the class through their wall size model and their mega success stories of food and the potential for a revolution from the State of Karnataka to the world at large. Their presentation was located in the basement workshop space of the NID Bangalore Centre and they impressed with their scale and sense of structure that was achieved in their model.

Image 4: The Andhra group was shocked by the stories of poverty and distress that came from many of their contacts across the migrant labour now in Bangalore. Their installation, which is the appropriate term that can best describe the assembly of objects, sarees and posters that the group assembled to tell their story, was colourful and then filled with coloured light and everything turned red….

Making contact with live sources of informants in the field is so important for design students since it is important for them to learn that what they need is not knowledge of the kind found in books as much as getting a feel of the situation and in picking up specific insights that would give them a sense of direction and a glimpse of the way the trends shaped up in their area of investigation. It is here that anthro design as a subject area gets appreciated and some degree of competence is built up in handling such research where book based knowledge would certainly not fill the need. This kind of experience would be useful for design students and through these experiences they would also learn about research strategies to be used in the field and the whole range of processes of making contact, making observations, meetings and interviews as well as processing the rich data from the field in order to glean insights about latent needs and future possibilities are all critical for design education.

Prof M P Ranjan

Thursday, October 2, 2008

DCC2008 Bangalore: Invitation to FOOD themes

Prof. M P Ranjan
DCC2008 Bangalore: Invitation to FOOD themes

Image: Invitation sent out by NID Bangalore students for their first presentation scheduled on 22 September 2008.

Their two week course started late on the 18th of September since I had to attend the Governing Council meeting at NID having been summoned by the Chairman for a meeting with the GC on 16th September when they met in Ahmedabad to discuss the action plans that would be an outcome of Dr D O Koshy's premature relief from the position of Director NID. I reached NID Bangalore on 17th Afternoon and the DCC class started on 18th morning with the first assignment being assigned to the students on the 20th September. The first presentation was scheduled on 22 September with three teams looking at the theme of Food with a bias towards – Region, Climate and Culture.

Image: Views from the Swiss design exploration workshop conducted by the Swiss design team of industrial designer Frederic Dedelley and design journalist Ariana Pradal at NID Bangalore

This delay was also due to the unexpected event of a one day workshop conducted by the Swiss design team involving all the students of the NID Bangalore campus. This was a hands-on workshop and it brought value to the students who were all busy in making working models of a "Letter Opener" concept directly by shaping materials, like "kalakars" and not in the more usual tradition of first making elaborate drawings before some crafts modelmaker creates a finished prototype. The direct shaping of materials is close to the hands and in my slogan for design, Hand-on Minds-on", this is a very critical part of being a designer, through working with ones hands, while exercising the mind. In conversation with Jignesh Khakhar who was working with me this time as an associate teacher on the DCC2008 course at NID Bangalore I outlined my insights about the kinds of people that were being attracted to design education and how the NID admissions systems seems to be skewed towards the selection of "chitrakars" at the exclusion of "kalakars", which is in my opinion a real loss for all of us. The spectrum of abilities and multiple capabilities that are desirable for design education could be classified as follows as an as yet incomplete list:
1. Kalakars: craftsmen who can work materials with ones hands
2. Chitrakars: artists and illustrators who can create images through drawing and painting techniques
3. Shilpakars: sculptors who can shape materials into image models in clay or other materials but with no joinery (usually)
4. Vastukar: planner and architect who proposes built spaces
5. Natyakar: dancer who uses the body and choreography to express form and message
6. Sutradar: storyteller and theatre performer who tells a compelling story
....... to name only the dominent categories from our experience at NID.

....... and now we have some more categories such as the "Digital Illustrator", "Software Programmer" and the just plain "Manager" wishing to become "Design Managers" with a booming market emerging for this last category and I still need to find an equivalent hindi name for these categories of design aspirants. All of them can be designers and design thinkers if the design education establishment acknowledges their skill sets and abilities and steers their foundation training to bring about a transformation in their abilities and attitudes towards change making in the real world which is one of the major roles of design action that wishes to shape the future in small and big ways. Therefore the levels of design action can go from dealing with the Tactical Level using skills and sensibilities of the designer, through the Elaborative Level by using market and trade values in many particular sectoral categories, through the Creative Level through the creation of breakthrough innovations and patent driven investments and lastly through the Strategic Level through the creation of new visions and the translation of systems level change that can help change a whole sector and shape the future in the process. My paper on Levels of Design Intervention explains this model and was written in 1998 for a conference in Barzil. The paper can be downloaded from this link below: Download:"Level of Design Intervention: as a pdf file 200 kb size.

Prof. M P Ranjan

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

DCC2008 at Bangalore: Three disciplines participate

Prof M P Ranjan

Image: The three groups that explored and mapped out the contours of Climate, Region and Culture.

Design Concepts and Concerns at Bangalore concluded yesterday morning with several students sharing their "Me Boards" or self maps with the class in the NID Bangalore Conference Room where all the lectures and group discussions are held. Earlier their assessment grades were finalised by Jignesh Khakhar and myself and these were submitted to the academic wing at Bangalore as well as to all students and coordinators as a three page pdf file. The report on the first assignment has already been posted in the Design for India blog as part of my report on the Bangalore visit and I will be posting the other assignments from Ahmedabad since the internet access speed in NID Bangalore was very poor during the first week at Bangalore and I did not have access to the internet in the evenings since the NID Bangalore Guest House is not connected to the web.

Image: Students of the NID Bangalore making group presentations of the first assignment. (click image to enlarge)

The theme was once again food and this time the macro survey included Climate, Region and Culture as the meta themes for brainstorming and Sensemaking" using the tools of modelling and discourse so that the team could plumb their own minds and life experiences to map out their current understanding of the assigned theme and the bias given to each group.

The post on the Bangalore visit can be seen at this link "Design for India" -Bangalore visit.

Prof M P Ranjan
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