Need to review our design policy

For the new government the mandate is development. So while setting the development agenda it would also be worthwhile to review India’s National Design Policy and design education afresh and align them with the key development policies. Four National Institutes of Design (NIDs) are slated to come up in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana during the 12th plan period. They must have fresh mandate to serve the emergent development needs of India. Report on the National Institute of Design (NID) Bill, 2013 submitted by The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce recently also underscored the need for NID (read design) to work in areas like ‘Social Design’ to benefit the disadvantaged and marginalised. 

The hiatus between development policies and design in India is apparent. Consequently, the absence of design intervention in the enormous social sector viz. rural housing, health, sanitation, public transport system et al. is conspicuous. It needs to be bridged to reach out the benefits to the 270 million below poverty line (BPL) population which is close to the entire population (268 million) of the four major European nations – Germany, France, UK and Italy. Tendulkar committee report of 2011-2012 estimated 25.7 per cent BPL population in rural areas, 13.7 per cent in urban areas and 21.9 per cent in the country as a whole. Therefore, the National Design Policy and the proposed NIDs should be mandated to engage with the large social sector viz. health, rural and urban infrastructure, sanitation, energy and environment and other essential public services. To mainstream the deprived and reach out development to them, design also needs mainstreaming and inclusion into the policies of socio-economic development.   

Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of the UN underscores the need to integrate social policies to broader national development strategies. MDG, which itself is derived from the Millennium Declaration, draws attention towards improvement in people’s quality of life by improving the status of health, food, education, environment, employment, housing among other. However, the era of neo-liberalism which emphasises economic growth and expansion of markets, sometimes overlooks these priorities. MDG on the contrary presents a people-centric view on development. Amartya Sen’s talks of ‘expansion of capability’ for development which refers to expanding human ‘functioning and capabilities to function.’ It’s quite relevant for design and development policies. Policy makers and designers in India may take a cue from this and redefine the role of design in the expansion of nation’s capability so that it may find sustainable solutions for health, food, housing, environment etc. Each of the four proposed National Institutes of Design can pick up some areas of socio-economic development as its priority and create a synergy between design and policies of development.
Since design intervention creates socio-economic impact many developed nations in the Sneighbourhood – Singapore, South Korea and China have consciously created state of the arts infrastructure to support design education. Singapore offers a compulsory course in design and technology at the secondary school levels and optional at upper secondary levels. South Korea has 67 per cent public schools which require early education in design. Singapore has five polytechnics and two specialised art schools which impart diploma level education in design besides the two major universities Nanyang Technological University and National University of Singapore offer bachelors and masters programme in design. As per the Asia Pacific Report of Canada there are 230 institutions teaching design in Korea to approximately 1,00,000 students. However, it’s China which has taken a quantum leap in building infrastructure for design education in recent years. The 400 design schools of China have a throughput of 10,000 trained designers per year. No wonder their robust design environment reflects in their high rank in the global competitiveness index where Japan ranks 9th, Korea 25th, China 29th while India stands at the distant 60th position. Their proactive design policies impacts their socio-economic development and reflects in their Human Development Index (HDI); a single statistical frame of reference for both social and economic development. On HDI Japan ranks 10th, Korea 12th, Singapore 18th, China 101 and India at a far 136th position. 

Interestingly, The India Development Policy Review 2006 flags two main challenges facing India which include improving the delivery of basic public services and maintaining rapid growth. Nevertheless, it doesn’t only aim at achieving higher growth, but also reaching out its benefits to all. The report identifies healthcare, education, power and water supply to all its citizens as core public services in India crucial for its fast growing economy. It’s shocking but true that in recent years Bangladesh has reduced its infant mortality rate much faster than India. Not only this, Bangladesh has even left India far behind in measles immunisation. Isn’t there a need to redesign the healthcare sector both in terms of systems, infrastructure and better healthcare communication? Surely, these are not unfamiliar sectors for design profession. China, India’s main competitor in global export is now eight times bigger and quality of its export basket is considerably higher. One of the reasons is the lack of transportation infrastructure. There’s huge gap between India and China in terms of the modes of transport required to handle modern manufacturing. One of our most ambitious programmes of mid-day meal to the school children often fails to produce desired result because it lacks the creativity and innovation in policy design and implementation both at the systems level and design of the infrastructure. 

Many developed nations including the UK now realise the role of design thinking and approach in improving the quality of social services. Their design for the Public Sector deals with service and policy challenges in government and public bodies. The UK Design Council aims to build design competences in the public sector to support policy development and produce more effective, human-centred services. In national interest we may expect the upcoming centres of design to work in tandem with the core developmental policies. 

The author is a senior faculty of NID
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