Bridging art and industry
Completing over half a century, design education in India has come a long way. What began with an apprenticeship model in the early sixties is emerging as one of the most sought after streams of professional education. National Institute of Design (NID), set up in 1961 became the pioneer in the field of design education as well as the model for other D-schools that followed. Influence of Bauhaus and Ulm, the renowned design schools of Germany reflected in NID's pedagogy and design philosophy. Bauhaus model of merging art and craft to bridge the gap between art and industry was the romance that attracted many talented creative minds towards design education.
The manifestation of creativity in materials remained at the core of design education. Gropius, the founder of Bauhaus once said: "the idea of today's world is already recognisable, its shape still unclear and hazy". So designers and design education remained engaged giving modernity a physical form. But fifty years hence, India's design education must revisit its mandate and redefine its role for the future. Eminent futurist Herman Kahn wrote: "Everybody can learn from the past. Today, it is important to learn from the future." This message must go across the design fraternity and policymakers. Leveraging design education to meet future challenges requires a fresh approach. In the sixties, when Charles and Ray Eames, laid the foundation of design education in India the mandate was limited to improving the rapid deterioration of design in the small industries and consumer goods. Today the expectation from design education is to create strategic thinkers and performers who can skillfully apply design thinking in diverse areas; from product to policy, social innovation to service.
Professional education including design is a different ballgame; a unique mix of the ability to comprehend, envision, and eventually to deliver. From improving product aesthetics to making appropriate application of artificial intelligence, the scope of design education is ever increasing. Leading design schools have revised their pedagogy accordingly and have made them contemporary as well as futuristic. Design thinking is being used in exploring new applications beyond the traditional aesthetic creativity. Technology, social innovation, sustainable development, public policy, etc. are the emerging touch points of design.
The shift from practice-based to research-based design education is noticeable. Hong Kong Polytechnic University, for example, considers design as a technical education and not as an art institution. Singapore University of Technology and Design pegs itself as a research-intensive university. It focuses on technology and all elements of technology-led design intermingled with strong perspectives of humanities, arts, and social sciences. It makes designers strategic thinkers and performers. China is using design education as a strategic tool for economic and social development. Besides other purposes, it also uses design as the driving force for the economic development and upgrading urban management of the Chinese cities. Inter-disciplinary and multi-dimensional design innovation is being used to solve complex emerging problems from urbanisation to environment, industry to governance in China.
Design education in India now also needs to look for new frontiers, models and benchmark. The emphasis so far has been on teaching various skills of creativity while inputs of technology, innovation, social research have remained less pronounced in the pedagogic framework. Intuitive influence of art on design solutions now needs to be augmented with research-led empirical inputs. Design solutions whether conceptual or material cannot meet the contemporary or future challenges unless they're based on research findings. Some of the emerging areas of design intervention in India may include healthcare, smart cities, urbanisation, etc. India's rising urbanisation is expected to convert 38 per cent of its population urban by 2025. So from sanitation to solid waste management, energy, housing, transportation, smart technologies; every single aspect require out of the box creative solutions from design. Flagship policies like Make in India, Digital India, Swachh Bharat, are the new opportunities in waiting for design intervention. Public policy should be the new engagement of design.
However, the constricted interpretation of 'creativity' restrains the scope of design application considerably. Creativity in design pedagogy leans towards aesthetic creativity, thus, has led to a general misconception about design being an extension of fine arts. But, the emerging disciplines of design require strategic creativity more than anything else. The future designers are going to be strategists adept in the creative use of technology, innovation, aesthetics, social innovation as required. Strategy in design context means careful planning which puts head before hand. In-depth multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary inputs of science, technology, humanities, social sciences, and research need to be appropriately mingled with skills of arts and aesthetics to create a new paradigm of design education.
The upcoming institutions of design education whether public or private are better placed. They can easily move beyond the existing models of design education, explore new areas of design intervention and develop new pedagogy to break the existing monolith. Academic leadership culled out from unconventional fields can envision new roles for design and develop new approaches. From the confines of specialised institutions, design education can also move on to the larger university system where it can experiment with diversified disciplines and conduct interdisciplinary research to enrich design pedagogy. Overpopulation, pollution, depleting resources are the impending challenges which will impact both the quality of life and lifestyle. It's time design education reinvents itself to respond to the challenges of the future.
(Author is a Senior Faculty of National Institute of Design. Views expressed are personal)
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