Design as a means for development for the future of India.

Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

Design to me is a way of thinking, understanding how things work and the craft of creating something meaningful. It is about seeing opportunities and simplifying the problems and making things better.

Steve Jobs once stated, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like, design is how it works.”

With all the technological advances and complex systems around us, where everything is digitizing, what role can design play in shaping our future, perhaps, in a mindful way? Which makes me wonder, is design only limited to creating products and services? We see millions of products being produced and consumed, boosting the business profits, hence contributing to the free-market. But if we take a closer look, the nation is battling climate change, pollution, disparity, hunger, education. This inevitably calls for a sustainable approach among design processes. We need something that supports, facilitates, and empowers different communities to engage in conversations and sharing ideas.

I see design as a means for development not only in terms of technology but in bringing about a positive shift in society.

India has a rich heritage and has always been identified by its rich diversity of language, culture, and tradition with each of its unique art and history. With every project being designed here, it brings together people from various backgrounds. Culture is something that we all have in common, but it is also something that makes us different from each other. For eg., there have been traditions of passing down antiques, heirloom, vessels, furniture, and many such things from one generation to the other. Traditions like these contribute to sustainable living. If I look back into time, people then had a far more holistic approach in their way of living. They were close to nature and followed a simpler lifestyle which was in its way, sustainable. With modernization, we have distanced ourselves from our roots. We need to address a holistic approach for the development to be truly sustainable, economically practical and environmentally viable.

I recently read about a concept called Social Design, which means designing for people, understanding their issues while placing social issues as the priority, and bringing about a social change. It is about focusing on the mindset of people. According to the design firm IDEO, here, designers do not try to change people’s behavior, rather they draw on the differences in cultural traditions and beliefs to sew problems within the terms of society. Thus, making the design process desirable, feasible, and viable. Here is something I learned about social design:

For the design to be able to reshape the future, it has to be purpose-driven. Understanding the “why’s” of the project helps to deliver and develop an efficient solution. Design can enable a positive change, provided the designers observe and analyze from various perspectives. An openness to try-and-test methods along with redefining ideas for those who are closest to the problems.

Some of the existing examples are:

Agnisumukh.com: Inspired by the traditional Indian method of cooking on charcoal, they manufacture commercial kitchen equipment driven by innovative, energy-efficient radiant heat gas burners. These ultra-efficient cooking stoves save 30% on gas, improve cooking, and help beat indoor air pollution in commercial kitchens.

ayzh.com: Every year a million mothers die due to unsanitary childbirth conditions. AYZH’s core product of JANMA (which means birth), a Rs 100 clean birth kit (containing simple tools recommended by the WHO), helps prevent infection at the time of birth and is helping to reduce both maternal and infant mortality. The company was founded by Zubaida Bai with the simple idea of developing affordable, appropriate health technologies produced by women for women in rural India. Zubaida’s motivation to start the company was personal. Besides reducing maternal and infant mortality, AYZH increases the income of women in rural India by enabling them to both produce and sell tools such as sterile birth kits. With a total of 32,000+ kits sold, more than 64,000 mothers and babies worldwide now have access to a clean and safe birth.

Additionally, design can also contribute to bringing circular economy practices in the development of the country. According to the Circular Design Guide (a collaboration between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDEO), traditional manufacturing is wasteful, because it focuses exclusively on the end-user. The circular economy mindset looks much wider, to consider everyone who extracts, builds, uses, and disposes of things.

“If you adopt a holistic view of production, take advantage of idle capacity, reuse materials and increase the lifespan of products, you will save both money and the planet. That is the promise of circular design.”- Tim Brown

For example, Phool.co, an Indian enterprise started by Ankit Agarwal, who one day sitting by the Ganges ghats with one of his friends wondered, why was this river turning carcinogenic. They saw the colorful flowers being dumped into the river from the temples nearby turning into mulch and upon some research realized that most of these flowers are loaded full of pesticides and insecticides. Once they reach the waters of the river, the chemicals wash off, mixing with the water, making toxic compounds, suppressing the oxygen level, and thereby gravely threatening the marine life. They realized their mission was to repurpose this waste coming from the place of worship, which eventually was to preserve the river Ganges and empower vernacular people by providing a means to earn their livelihood.

Their idea was to collect recycle these flowers and turn them into incense sticks, incense cones, and vermicompost. “This enterprise is a perfect example of the circular economy.” (Paul Polman, CEO Unilever, 2017)

Development is fruitful if it benefits those involved before, during, and after the process. As humans, we must be mindful of the impact that our habits can have on the planet. We must consider the efficient utilisation of resources and sustainable consumptions as crucial factors for the development. We must identify the problems right now and take necessary and collective measures to give the future generation a better world to live in.