Millennium Post

Make in India - the Design Dimension

In the early sixties resisting rapid deterioration in the quality of consumer goods was a major concern for the government of India. It was exploring ways to bring qualitative improvement in the products made by small industries. The government thus invited Charles and Ray Eames, the celebrated industrial designer couple to give advice on this matter. Eames couple for the first time underscored the role of design in reinvigorating India’s small industry sector. Later their recommendation resulted in the establishment of National Institute of Design (NID) in 1961. However, despite NID’s prolonged engagement with India’s manufacturing, craft, communication and social sectors, design missed its rightful place in the policy of industrial development for a long time. 

Possibly, it was due to the popular perception of design being just an aesthetic endeavor. However, industrial design, on the contrary, had never been an aesthetic indulgence rather a process which could augment manufacturing through product innovation, improving functionality and, of course, visual appeal too.

Better late than never. Five decades later, our policymakers have now recognised the strategic importance of design and the role it can play in making India’s manufacturing sector globally competitive. The Make in India programme meant to turn India into a global manufacturing hub also acknowledges the role of design in no uncertain terms. 

The government has plans to showcase the potential of design and innovation in some of India’s key sectors in the forthcoming Make in India Week at Mumbai. Now the ball is in the court of India’s manufacturing sector – big and small, public and private. How they use the design for their competitive advantage is to be seen.  It’s estimated that Indian manufacturing sector can touch US$ 1 trillion mark by 2025 and contribute to 25-30 percent to India’s GDP. It can help in the creation of 90 million jobs by the same year; something the nation desperately needs. The manufacturing sector over the years has definitely seen tremendous growth. However, the growth has largely been quantitative rather than qualitative. From automobile to electrical, electronics, fashion, textile, heavy machinery, machine tools; our list is big and growing. Nevertheless, those recognised for their design, innovation or global competitiveness are still very few.

Meagre awareness of design and over dependence on jugaad– the low-cost substitute for innovation, have also been responsible for making India’s manufacturing sector uncompetitive so far. It’s true that dependence on low-cost advantage may give a short-term dividend, but it can’t be a long-term strategy for excellence. 

The general lack of finesse, safety, convenience, visual appeal etc. is a reflection of this jugaad syndrome, which makes Indian products uncompetitive in the world market. No doubt several Indian companies have recognized the competitive advantage of design and innovation in manufacturing. Tata Motors, Titan, Mahindra, TVS, Godrej, Bajaj Auto and their like are now being globally noticed because of their design and product innovation. Still we have lessons to learn from China, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea, Philippines, Britain, Scandinavia, and other nations. While China remains globally competitive through its low-cost manufacturing, Japan and Korea have mastered the art of using technology and design for product innovation. China earns 40 percent of its GDP from the manufacturing sector, which gives it the enviable status of the “factory of the world” too. Korea, which owns some of the best-known brands in the world, went through a phase similar to our own when Korean products lacked creativity and innovation and thus the global market too. Today, design together with technology, innovation and skill is at the core of Korean manufacturing process.

Make in India focuses on 25 manufacturing sectors. They can be broadly divided into areas of high technology and sectors of design innovation. While nuclear power, defense, and aviation require a high degree of scientific knowledge and technological skills, other like automobile, railways, textiles and garments, leather, renewable energy, defence manufacturing can benefit a lot from design innovation at different levels. It’s important for their global competitiveness too. However, beyond this list of twenty-five priority sectors lays the vast untapped Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector which can turn around India’s manufacturing landscape.

MSME accounts for nearly 45 percent of India’s manufacturing output generates 40 percent of India’s export and employs nearly 73 million people. But it lags behind in terms of product innovation and thus competitiveness. Design deficit is one of the key factors that restrict its contribution in the GDP to only 17 percent as compared to 85 percent in Taiwan, 60 percent in China and 50 percent in Singapore. NID has been working with the MSMEs for quite some time. The vision is to move them up in the value chain and shift them from original equipment manufacturing to original design manufacturing and eventually original brand manufacturing; a path similar to that of South Korea which it laid for itself few decades ago.  India’s national design policy strives for global positioning and branding of Indian designs and making “Designed in India” a by-word for quality and utility in conjunction with “Made in India” and “Served from India”. This opens new opportunity for design and manufacturing to come together.

Technology, design, innovation, skill, infrastructure; the success of Make in India will depend on many such enabling factors. Policies dealing with these sectors should converge. For example, the National Design Policy and Skill India need to come together to create a workforce skilled in design and design-led innovation. Similarly, technology and design also need to augment each other. International experiences tell us how synergetic approaches have led to the creation of global brands – Samsung, LG, Sony, Apple et al. Can we also not create a similar synergy for design-enabled make in India?

(Author is a Senior Faculty at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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