Case for design inclusive public policies

India's design-led creative industry is shifting orbit. Though applauded for its enviable skills and yet constricted to mere stylisation for long, design is now gaining strategic position in business and industry. Driven by annual design summit, announcement of National Design Policy, formation of India Design Council and the untiring initiatives of design institutions and professional over the years; each move is bringing design closer to the national agenda of socio-economic development. Consequently, the strategic role of design is being considered useful for the manufacturing and service industry alike; capable of making them innovative, competitive and bringing creative solutions at doorstep.

Globally design innovations have created market leaders like Apple, Samsung, Nintendo, Alessi, Whole Foods Market and many more. On the home turf Titan, Mahindra, Bajaj are among the brands which have strategically invested in design innovation for competitive advantage. The closer integration with business and industry of late is also widening the horizon of India’s creative industry, expanding it both in terms of engagement and intervention. But at the level of public policy are we doing enough to make design inclusive policies for our huge social and service sectors as well?

Having survived in policy void for long, design is now under a policy regime following the National Design Policy 2007. Now the real challenge is to connect the design policy with other public policies in the vast areas of national concern viz. education, environment, public health, transportation, urban development and so on and thereby leverage design innovation strategically for socioeconomic transformation.

The creative industry world over has given better account of its performance following the policy initiative by respective governments. Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan are notable cases in point. Till the sixties Korea ranked amongst the poorest in the world while its products survived less on innovation and more on coping international designs. Korea joined WTO in 1995 and soon its policy-makers realised the role of design for global competitiveness leading to its design policy in 1999. Today, it boasts to have some of the most competitive global brands like Samsung, LG, Hyundai among others; all led by design innovation. Samsung arguably is the most innovative brand in digital innovation. Taiwan implemented design policy in 1988 to foster independent design and development capabilities in Taiwanese industry and shift its production model from OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to ODM (original design manufacturer).

Public policy initiatives in relevant areas have helped Korea constantly improve its rank on the global competitiveness index too. Consequently, World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Singapore second, Japan tenth, Korea nineteenth while India at a distant fifty-ninth position in the global competitiveness index during 2012-2013. Besides, on the innovation factor WEF ranked Japan second, Singapore eleventh, Korea seventeenth and India at the forty-third position in the same year. Design must be factored into other public policies rather than being left out as a standalone endeavour.

So far India has had a mixed experience with its public policy formulation and implementation, often critiqued for its anticipation of needs, impacts and analysing feedback. Nevertheless, it’s one of the few countries to have formulated and adopted a public policy on design to underscore its significance for the manufacturing, engineering, management and marketing sectors. However, looking at the diversity of issues facing the nation, there’s a larger agenda beyond industrialisation and service commodisation. There is a sea of humanity which is impoverished, malnourished, illiterate, old and with special needs. The design policy in its present form does not articulate how design innovation can take care of the social sector and yet make it viable. Nevertheless, because of its uniqueability to make business and social sense together, design can bridge the hiatus.

The creative industry today is being run by a large chunk of designers hired by various industries, design studios and independent designers. The average annual turnover of the design studios varies from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 25 crore. However, India’s social sector still remains largely out of the purview of design intervention due to policy disconnect. Some of the major contemporary concerns related to environment, global warming and sustainable development are attracting design intervention at several places. At a strategic level design innovations are being experimented with to find ways to reduce carbon footprints and ensure sustainable development. Can the concerned policies in India ignore this for long?

India’s population experienced a decadal growth of 17.64 per cent. In view of the growth the National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy articulates the need for sustainable development and affordable housing and includes in its action plan issues of infrastructure, technology support, slum development etc. The National Urban Transport Policy on the other hand indicates that while the population in India’s six metros increased about 1.9 times during 1981-2001, the number of vehicles went up by 7.75 times in the same period.

The policy thus seeks to encourage use of public transport, ensure intelligent traffic management and provide more space on road for people than vehicles. The National Environment Policy 2006 articulates the right to development and equity along with environmental standard setting and a precautionary approach. These challenges are in fact opportunities in waiting for design intervention. Will public policies in India utilise design’s strategic advantage for greater dividend?

The author is a senior faculty member of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
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