Rajeev Sethi, founder, The Asian Heritage was the keynote speaker for the second panel discussion on day two of the ninth CII-NID Design Summit. He flagged off the discussion with examples such as Ayurveda (of brilliance in science) and rice (its sheer variety and in the various forms it is available now), of how rich India is, as a house of traditions and history.
Talking about design in the Indian context, he stated, "Indigenous systems is what machines cannot easily replace - be it tyres or work of carpentry."
He said that traditionally, there were no words for design, adding that it has a tentative presence in various cultures. He cited the example of utensils in China - how they went back to Sufism and poetry, to reveal intangible secrets to the world.
He quoted statistics to state that only 5 per cent of the 19-24 age group in India possess skill, as compared to 96 per cent in South Korea.
Stating that skills were about versatility and being intuitional, he expressed the view that women were better at skills, since they have a stronger left brain.
He also gave a few pointers in design: Keep trying and never give up; a designer must become a salesman; one should learn to worship quality; be original and critical of your efforts; and imitation always leads to mediocrity.
Lastly, he strongly felt that there is dire need for design education.
Lulu Raghavan, country director, Landor Associates, India, spoke about how Indian design could be a potent source of relevant differentiation for brand India.
"As Indians, we could be positive about our heritage; but if we step back, the image of brand India for a large part of decision makers has still to do with poor quality, overcrowded cities and population problems. What is positive is that it has to do with something exotic," she pointed out.
She explained that it was a three pointer process - first, agree upon what you want to stand for; second, invest in user research and understanding who you design for, not only Indian but also global markets; and third, build the portfolio to showcase it to the world.
She strongly felt that it was time for India to evolve its positioning. "The Incredible India campaign is a brilliant campaign. What if we were to evolve the campaign for indigenous Indians? That skill, special approach, feeling, emotion to design thinking target who we design for - that will set us apart."
She suggested that it was time to tell the world about the innovations happening in India. Citing examples of General Electric (GE) and Lenovo tapping into indigenous Indians, Raghavan concluded that a differentiated design philosophy could give a real boost to India's image.
For Jacob Matthew, founder director, Idiom Design and Consulting, design is defined according to the countries. For the USA, it is design with plenty; for Germany, design for function; for Switzerland, design with precision; for Italy, design with style; for Scandinavia, design with natural simplicity; and for India, design indigenously, which means design with the soul.
"When you get the economic engine going, soul includes the social context," he reiterated.
He stated that India should be a soft superpower. While there was talk about India, China, Russia and Brazil ruling the next half of the century, "The future lies in designing with the soul - we would have to demonstrate as a soft power."
Deepika Jindal, who set up Art D'Nox, which gave a new definition to stainless steel and its usage, talked about the fact that setting up the company five years ago along with her husband had only one purpose - she wanted to experiment with the material and create a generation which would consume stainless steel. Stainless steel products were basic, and that is where the generation of the company began. She pointed out the necessity to collaborate with the creative and crafts of India.
Michael Foley of Foley Designs, who is well-known for his designs for watch brand, Titan, and particularly the world's first slimmest watch by Titan, has been associated with the designing of the Queen's baton for the Commonwealth Games 2010.
Considering that the baton had to take a symbolic route, celebrating the diversity of India; soil from the various states, representing different parts of India, was used to prepare the baton. "We had to be flamboyant, but being rooted in the past," he said.
The baton, which is also a model in terms of technology, lights up in the country colours - it reconfigures itself to take on the colours of the country. However, it does not shout out technology. The soiled layer on the fabric took care of the blend of Indianness with technology.
Foley was of the opinion that India hadn't yet reached a threshold of indigenously designed objects, which could define India with a design language.
Amit Gulati, director and chief designer, Incubis Consultants India is behind the team that put together the architecture, idea and design of the affordable and comfortable Ginger Hotels in the country.
According to him, a lot of factors inspire design specifically in the Indian context. He said that Indians loved chaos. "We are growing all the time, not always in an orderly way; tempted by the future and things around us; we have big dreams, think big, and are tempted by what the world is doing to us. The world's best is showcased here. We ignore the obvious because we're busy sorting out contradictions. It is an exotic spiritual country where everybody is at peace."