Indian Design Victories
The sheer numbers of the recently announced Core77 Design Awards are mind boggling. Over 10 days, 74 jury members from 13 cities around the world reported in by web broadcast, announcing the winners, runners-up and notable designs in 15 categories—an honour roll of over 120 design projects. Going by this first edition, the Core77 Design Awards, organized by the design super-site core77.com, are all set to become the most comprehensive honours for design in the world. So we should be very gratified that Indian design (or at least, Indian design education) has made a fair showing at the awards this year!
Congratulations are first due to Vikram Panchal, senior faculty at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad India, for being declared the winner in the Products/Equipment category. In a category dominated by industrially-produced objects, Panchal’s bamboo Load Carrier for laborers certainly stands out. Juror Rama Chorpash calls it “beautiful enough to display on a wall,” and Maria Popova praised it as a “true feat of simplicity-driven design.” Indeed, the Load Carrier displays many of the stengths that have characterized Panchal’s over 25 years of experience as a designer, the guide for the “Simple Product Design” project for fledgeling product designers at NID, and a collaborator with the Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN). The use of material is great—I can see how smartly bamboo will flex under loads that might defeat steel tubing; and the simplicity of the product really is heartening. But I’m also glad it won in this category because it displays what is to me a hallmark of great Indian design—the ability to use simple human empathy and engage with a problem that millions of people turn a blind eye to everyday.
Among the student honours in the same category was a project that must be familiar to old readers of Little Design Book. The Onedown Mousetrap, designed by Akash Dewan of DSK ISD International School of Design, Pune, was declared a runner-up, for providing a humane and playful way of dealing with rodent pests. And Dewan had the foresight to enter his design in two categories–Onedown surprised me by also receiving a notable mention in the Design for Social Impact category.
That particular category, quite appropriately, was judged from Ahmedabad by an absolutely stellar team of Indian jurors: Ashoke Chatterjee, former director of NID; Vikram Parmar, associate professor and director of VentureStudio – Center for Innovative Business Design, Ahmedabad University; Suchitra Sheth, designer, historian, and associate professor at the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at CEPT University; Anil Gupta, professor at IIM Ahmedabad, and vice chair of the National Innovation Foundation; and H. Kumar Vyas, pioneering design educator and chairman of the education council at MIT Institute of Design. They took an already difficult category, and pushed its boundaries by giving top honors to a completely unexpected project. In a field filled with holier-than-thou urban designers trying to patronize the world’s poor people, the jury team instead picked Matthew Ryan’s 4th Amendment Wear, which protests the use of x-ray scanners at security checkpoints to invade people’s privacy. As someone who has stood in one of those scanners myself, it is undoubtedly my favorite winner across all categories.
Only one other Indian design made it into the list of awardees. Made in the Dark is a range of jewellery made by blind craftswomen. The project is a collaboration between three students from the Royal College of Art, Jon Fraser, Ruby Steel, and Hal Watts, and two students from NID, Ahmedabad, Khushbu Dublish and Deepen Toppo. These five designers hit upon the bright idea of scented-bead jewellery that the craftswomen can put together using only their senses of smell and touch. The team worked with Andh Kanya Prakash and the Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad, and the latest news is that they have found a retailer interesting in selling the jewellery. Made in the Dark was declared a notable design in the Design for Social Impact category.
An Indian jury team and four out of 120 honorees is certainly not a bad presence in an international design competition. But it is very telling that all the winning projects either came out of educational institutions, or were designed by students. It makes one wonder if professional designers in India don’t have the time or the inclination to enter awards programs. Design competitions have come under a lot of fire recently, but designers in India should not underestimate their value in bringing exposure and recognition, and eventually, international collaborations and projects. Top design firms all over the world make a big effort to document and submit their work to international fora–they understand that the exposure might ultimately translate into business. We won’t make our mark internationally just by designing an I-mark. Indian designers are good at what they do, it is time they started sharing that work with the world.