Design education 2018-02-03

How can Indian Design Institutes evolve to carve a place in the Global Education Space?

Technology giants like Google, Wipro, Microsoft, Cognizant, etc. along with e-commerce players such as Amazon India, Flipkart, etc., are hiring design graduates by hundreds to boost the appeal of their products and services.

By Vice Chancellor
How can Indian Design Institutes evolve to carve a place in the Global Education Space?

Though Design has been a part of India’s civilizational heritage (as reflected through our arts and crafts), the strategic importance of design for national and industrial competitiveness has only recently started to gain recognition. Government of India announced a National Design Policy in 2007 to enhance the significance of design in manufacturing, engineering, management and marketing of goods and services. The vision is to have a ‘Design enabled Indian Industry’ which would impact both the national economy as well as the quality of life within the country.

In India, Design Education can be considered to be still in its infancy with only one national institute and one design center under another national institute which is 50 (or more) years old. The closest next is aged 30 years and bulk of the rest has grown in the past one decade only. Inclusion of design education in the university curriculum is still more recent and offering of research based Masters and Doctoral programs is almost non-existent.

While Design Education has grown in popularity in recent times, most courses being offered are traditionally based on fashion design or its many manifestations offered at the undergraduate level. Streams like Product design, Industrial design, Interior and Communication design have just begun to be acknowledged. The inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary of design across other creative and traditional streams is yet to be understood.

Education for other creative programmes in Art and Architecture has also typically been treated in their respective silos. In today's context for example, Architecture’s ability to shape tomorrow’s places is more significant than its role in producing buildings, but our architectural programmes have hardly begun to address this aspect. In the face of daunting evolution happening in almost every sphere of life, the need of the hour is to break away from contemporary practices and explore new form-finding approaches, computational analysis and integrated designing of complex geometries; to extend beyond the boundaries of institutional knowledge and to the very edges of its creative control through sustained creative research; and, mixing architecture with engineering, product design and interaction.

Even with the presence of at least 3 national level institutions, we as a nation have only managed to try and catch up with the world. We have not been able to leverage India’s own design sensibility and potential. Only in recent times have we begun to see some outputs which are Indian in flavor. The inherent complexities of India in terms of its cultural diversity, economic discrepancies, and other ‘intangibles’ makes it a very different population requiring an equally  different approach to design education.

The existing model being followed in Indian institutions is the age old Bauhaus model that concentrates on discrete products including industrial goods, textiles, ceramics, architecture and graphic design. In today’s context however, designers need to work on complex issues that are interdisciplinary and has much scope in its diversity. Therefore, there is a strong need to eradicate the redundancies in the traditional course curriculum.

Innovating Design Education: Need of the Hour!

Though design education and a career in design are gaining popularity across the country, we are still lagging behind some of our global counterparts. Lack of a flexible design curriculum is preventing design students to comprehend the emerging changes required of the design industry from a business standpoint.

It is high time Indian design education fraternity rework the existing design course curriculum as per the future industry trends. In recent past, some Indian design institutions have made efforts to enhance the learning environment by designing exclusive curricula that focuses on advanced interdisciplinary research, social innovation, industry awareness, and academic brilliance. Fusing design elements with technological aspects through an innovative, independent and trans-disciplinary approach is the need of the hour.

Here is a critical look at some measures that are being proposed to help Indian design institutions match-up to their global counterparts:

  • Admission process:There is a demand for a sharpened focus while admitting students to design curriculum with the emphasis on aptitude, quality and acumen. However the existing so-called ‘aptitude tests’ focus more on drawing skills rather than aptitude which discourages a large number of otherwise creative students from taking up design education.
  • Practical learning approach: The world is changing every day and so are design processes. A lean and efficient learning experience must be provided to help the future designers create a better tomorrow as opposed to the conventional process. The best way to go about with practice will be to adopt an immersive, project-based and technology-oriented curriculum close to the real world to learn and experiment. Collaboration is the key. Curriculum should be able to provide students with sufficient exposure to work across streams, doing live projects. Only such an approach will help them build their professional skills, including that in communication, brainstorming ideas and practical thinking.
  • Quest for right faculty:To impart quality in design education, we need educators who can bring together and put that value across to the design aspirants. Given the fact that design is a new field and that there is a simultaneous spurt in demand for designers in the industry and the academia, there is an extreme shortage of qualified faculty members for design education. Design institutions need to take up the onus of faculty development and faculty training to improve teaching quality and availability. At the same time, norms need to be eased to attract foreign faculty to come and teach in India.
  • Using Advanced Technologies: The contours of designing and manufacturing are rapidly changing and future trends indicate that things might look very different in coming times from how they look now. Many existing technologies will go obsolete. Indian design Institutions should not only integrate the latest technologies in their course deliveries, but should also ensure that students are well-versed in new as well as emerging technologies.
  • Focus on Specialization: As technologies change, existing specializations would fade away and newer ones would make its way in. Institutions need to have a continuous evaluation and updation process for their curriculum by mapping the latest industry demands with what is being taught. A new specialisation in an emerging area must take care of the ‘why’ (feasibility), for 'whom' (empathy), and ‘how’ it will work/help (functionality). A better strategy might be to equip the students with know-how of all related areas.
  • Enhance Teaching and Learning via Partnership Programs: In order to provide adequate exposure to students, Indian design institutions should collaborate with other global design institutions as well as non-academic organizations. The Government of India has already acknowledged the importance of international collaborations in building up niche programs and is encouraging more and more foreign universities to enter into a partnership with Indian design institutes for commencing new national design institutions.
  • Design Education Quality Code (?): The mushrooming growth of design institutions across the country has given rise to thoughts of developing a Quality Code or a guiding framework embodying a uniform rationale for the core curriculum. Any such thoughts must be vanquished. Nothing will kill innovation in design education as such ‘standardization’ efforts.

The Way Ahead: Indian Design Education Poised to Achieve Global Standards of Excellence

Despite its shortcomings, design education has a promising future in our country. Today, design is emerging as a sought-after career option and there are plenty of lucrative opportunities for talented designers in every sector of industry, be it manufacturing or service.

Presently, industrial companies in India are making the most of the services offered by product designers. Technology giants like Google, Wipro, Microsoft, Cognizant, etc. along with e-commerce players such as Amazon India, Flipkart, etc., are hiring design graduates by hundreds to boost the appeal of their products and services. Moreover, in order to create a better learning environment for design students, the Indian Government is also making conscious efforts to improve the quality of design education throughout the country.

Considering the current scenario, we can conclude that the sincere efforts from design institutions combined with the major initiatives taken by the Indian Government will soon bring about concrete and constructive reform in design education in India.


This article is authored by Dr Sanjay Gupta, Vice Chancellor, World University of Design

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