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Talking Design @ Coalition 3

Somewhere towards the end of 2015, I came onboard with OML to guest-curate the Design stream for the third edition of the Coalition, an effort to look collectively at the creative industries and kickstart conversations around it. My interest was piqued with the mandate to not showcase the best that we have to offer as an industry, but rather to kickstart conversations on the bits of practice that may not be the glory of our wins, but more the challenges and questions that practising design raises on a day to day basis. Essentially the brass tacks, the small niggling doubts and the business of practising.

There is so much inherent pleasure in the occupation of design, that as practitioners we often brush over these tactical questions and challenges, choosing instead discourses that are of ‘higher’ intellectual exertion. However with each passing day, I am convinced that these tactical challenges and questions, profoundly impact the creative work that we do, or fail to do. For the 3 design panels that we put together for Day 1 of the Coalition, I chose therefore to look inwards at some that are significant for a young design entrepreneur today.

The panels consisted wholly of people at the helm of design businesses. Most were known or familiar peers from the design community, however the context in which they were on stage was new. Therefore for me (and hopefully for the audience of young designers/creatives) there was something new to take back at the end of the day. Here’s what I left with.

Panel 1 – Fast Forward.
Panelists: Rajat Tuli / Happily Unmarried and Ajay Shah / Rubberband.
Moderator: Harsh Purohit/Cognito.

The success of some independent design brands, access to buyers via online selling platforms and simply the urge to ‘make something unique’ has made the proposition of creating one’s own design products brands rather enticing. While it is seemingly ‘easy’ to start with an idea, my insider’s view also reveals a superhuman perseverance needed to sustain exciting beginnings. More often than not, beginnings of brands are made, only to disappear in following months or years, either into lack of profit or relevance. The panel addresses therefore, not the starting up, but the time that follows and questions of growth, satisfaction and profit. Both Rajat and Ajay debunked formulae for success. Instead the conversation reflected on far more human truths—of priorities, trial and error, and the collective learning across entrepreneurial journeys. Instead of pointers to success, the closing remarks hinted at a healthy openness to risk and failure.

Panel 2 – Weighing the Scales.
Panelists: Emilia Bergmans / The Brewhouse, Kriti Monga / Turmeric & Amit Gulati / Incubis.
Moderator: Harsh Purohit / Cognito.

This particular panel, came from a special personal fogginess on the idea of scale for design practices. In conversations with friends outside of the design world, I have encountered several models of scale none of which however apply with absolute relevance to the idiosyncrasies of design practices. Hence this panel—with panelists representing large, mid and small scale design studios—to help demystify what scale means (and does not mean) in the context of design/creative businesses. The conversation that ensued was interesting because it delved into scale not as an end goal, but as an organic, personally motivated occurrence. Scale for design practices is not necessarily meaningful as numbers, instead scale of project—its impact and scope—is really what one should be concerned with. A poignant and significant point-of-view came from Kriti representing a small boutique studio—of choosing smaller numbers to allow for meaningful mentorship, allowing for learning both ways—employer & employee.

Panel 3 – A New Dialogue: Design Practices & Clients.
Panelists: Samrat Som / Royal Enfield, Madhav Raman / Anagram Architects, Anthony Lopez / Lopez Design.
Moderator: Rajesh Dahiya / Codesign

If you were to ask a designer today, they are far likelier to say we work with XYZ client, versus we work for XYZ client. The panel theme was constructed around the changing nature of client-designer interaction—that is beginning to see a shift towards a richer, interactive, collaborative model. An apt reason to celebrate, and an apt time to look at how does one navigate this closer relationship more fruitfully. My personal favourite moment came from Madhav, who used the common gripe of ‘clients with bad taste’ to question firstly the absolute faith designers may have in ‘their own taste’, and following it up with ways to productively engage clients towards resolution (not acceptance or appeasement). Samrat, who heads the fast-growing apparel & accessories portfolio at Royal Enfield, continued this stream of thought, from the perspective of the client and talked of finding the right point of dissonance, to reboot a dead-locked conversation with a designer/agency.

Catalysts: Ayaz Basrai / The Busride & Amar Behl / Design Habit
Peppering the day, in between the panels were also two significant design practitioners—Ayaz & Amar—as a reminder of the joy and the potential of practising design in India today. Each through their illustrated talk, brought to the discussion a seamless merging of design disciplines to create experiences rooted in authenticity. This too was a critical addition to the day’s programme, to set a benchmark for design as not a sensorial prop, but a living and lived entity.

And such was my day at the third edition of the Coalition, thanks to all the people above who brought their honest, heart-felt selves on to the stage.

Big shoutout to: Vijay + Lynn + Laila at OML for making the space to orchestrate this conversation, Co-curator Amishi of Creative Mornings Mumbai for kickstarting the ideation, and Saurov of OML for being a trooper and organising the day (with 2 imaginary volunteers).