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The Week in Desi Design I

Solar Lamps for rural India are very much the flavour of the season. Last month, Kiran, a solar lamp designed by D.Light Design, won the prestigious Ashden award. And this month, one of the case studies that was much applauded at the International Development Design Summit 2010, was the Sollys Solar lamp prototyped and distributed by the NGO Avani. I don’t see why Sollys deserves the distinction, actually, unless there is some superbly innovative distribution model in place. Because design-wise, it seems no better than the idiotic solar lanterns the government was distributing at subsidised rates a couple of years ago. They break down frequently, are hard to maintain, and cast a large shadow spot below them, which makes them useless for hanging from the ceiling. Solar lamps for rural India still seem a good idea (I confess guilty to having designed one myself), but rural Indians deserve innovative design too.

Over at livemint.com, columnist Shobha Narayan visits Ahmedabad, and is moved to ask the question “Why isn’t Ahmedabad the seat of design?” As someone with a long-standing love affair with the city, and its incredibly rich culture, that question has also occured to me several times. But the answer might be simpler and more mercenary than Narayan thinks — design is where the clients are.

Ahmedabad has had a long history of design patronage, right up to the Sarabhais with Le Corbusier; but very few successful design practices operate in the city. Perhaps there are just not enough local clients. The one design sector that thrives (comparatively speaking) in the city is crafts. Manufacturing or mass media, not so much. The question reminded me of Prof. M. P. Ranjan’s beautifully reasoned, and ultimately successful bid at the Design Museum, London, for Bengaluru as the design city of the future. Perhaps its time to see if Ahmedabad can fulfill similar criteria?

Meanwhile, we have the good news that apparel designed by NID alumnus Rahul Mishra might soon be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Mishra’s work extensively uses traditonal Indian textiles, and it appears he has been hard at work to be seen as something of an expert in Indian handicrafts. Congratulations, and all the best!

And now, as a treat for the coming week, go over to the Business Standard to read an excellently researched article on the design of Indian banknotes. Gargi Gupta and Manojit Saha have put together a fascinating design history, offering rare insights into the various features of the notes, and how they came to be what they are. One, it is a timely reminder that while the wheels of bureaucracy might grind exceedingly slow, sometimes it does manage to produce things of beauty. Two, it is a heartening sign to see a serious design historical study published in the mainstream media.

Here’s to more desi design news!



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