What are my Capabilities I wonder

Welcome to Soumitri’s class. This class, for those of you who have not been in one of my classes, is about you. It is about your project and your opportunity to deliver a truly amazing or endearing project – being an intellectual tour de force or a culturally sensitive outcome. Such a goal can be daunting and quite paralyzing. I come into the picture here as my main task is to help you deliver on your goal. You may have seen some of that today, where the discussion was all about ‘getting our goals in order’ before we started off on our journey.  I would like you to see today’s class as a preparation for the journey.

I have asked you to go off and write up your capabilities statement as a way to align your project goals with your life goals. It is my belief that you can deliver best when you are completely honest and totally committed to the project as the preferred course of action. Often we do projects where we feel its ‘the right things to do’ and often we do the ‘right thing’ at the cost of the ‘thing we would rather be doing’. Take the case of humour and affection; how many of you think these values have a place in your design?

If you think they have no place then you probably also think that design projects ought to be serious. Now consider the proposition that the companies that make consumer products are a form of evil – that these companies make products just to make money and at the core would be quite happy to make anything that sells. The reason it is difficult to find these kinds of companies is because they spend a lot of money to develop a public image that shows them as ethical and good. For concrete examples to argue this point for yourself go and look at the texts on the history of advertising or films such as Erin Brockovich. If you then end up becoming convinced that all corporates are evil what would your design response to them be? Would you still design products to entice people to buy the or would you design their products with a subtle message? We enter in this way into ‘design as life’ where you do not take anything as a given, much less subjugate your values to that of a corporate. In the realm of design as life you allow into your work humour and many other emotions and curiosities that enrich our lives.

If there exists a category such as ‘design as life’ would would the other categories be?

Because of its roots in art design has some really fascinating values, which unfortunately we forget when see it as something else – as often design begins to look like engineering (where we focus strongly upon making it work technically), or management (where we focus upon strategy and making laws), or environmental science (where we focus upon quantitative asessments of eco-impacts). Now all these are good projects – and it is good for you to do them – only they are better done when you are enrolled in another discipline, especially when you may be looking to do a masters, which provides you with the theory and tools, and then in time gets you a job doing such things for a living. Designers are creative people and it is good to remember who we are by asking our near and dear in our families. If you ask your mother who a designer is you will get an answer that is common wisdom and you probably ought to make it right in your fourth year by checking to see why you are not becoming atleast that. Look at the work of Max Lamb (http://www.maxlamb.org/) and let me know what you think about it.


Imagine a situation where like a plumber you are available for hire in other words you wish to respond to an add inviting industrial designers to respond. The question for you is – are you employable? At the very least you may need to check if your sketching abilities are okay, if your CAD skills are okay and if you have work to show to prove that you can function as an Industrial Designer. Years ago I was on the 7th floor in the Kokubunji studios of Hitachi in Tokyo confronting a similar moment. I was 30 years old, I had an offer to stay and continue working in Hitachi, and was feeling good that I had found what in those days in Japan was a job for life. Seen another way this was a validation that my skills and problem solving abilities were okay, or probably a bit in demand as I do stand out a bit, especially among japanese people. I left and went back to India months later, that had to do with matters of the heart, and for years have idly wondered what life would have been like if I had stayed designing products and trains (that too). It was to turn out that I was not one for corporate environments as my passion is teaching and changing lives, usually of unsuspecting students, in small ways.

I know to most people it looks like I work in the area of sustainability and so ought to be doing all this eco-design stuff and other stuff all these other people are doing. The miss the point for I am flying the flag of a future world or making a critique of designing objects for rich people, which you dont need to do for you haven’t been touched by poverty in the same way as I have been, or just being provocative. I did run a waste business for almost five years, see video at soumitri.blip.tv, but I did not do any technical stuff or even any environmental science stuff in that project. The project was a design project which became two social entrepreneurship ventures but I was primarily motivated by my desire to prototype my solution. In fact in the UNEP meetings in Paris the others who were all often working on policy I was the chap who ‘prototypes’ his ideas and this resulted in my relationship with Carlo Vezzoli of Polytecnico in Milan.

Infact one of my abilities I am quite comfortable with is my ability to work with people. I actually seek out projects where there are people and I argue for designers to be more in tune with peoples thoughts – which I do by listening to their faint voices.

As you can see I began to do the assignment I had set for you. But have to go now.
(now thats about 1100 words)

If I have ti improve this text I will go back to it and break it up into different arguments and put subtitles. The I will mark the points I am making and then figure out a way to prove my claims.

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