Two Streams

There seem to be two streams emerging:

  1. Vehicle Design: There may be a critical mass of 6 students who are showing an interest in Vehicle Design. In this lot only two are speaking of car design in the context of the industry. The other four are either hiding their intentions (cultural cring about car-design?) or seem to think the right way to design vehicles is to treat them as products. Now there is a long history of design students/ programs doing vehicle design as product design – and so is something that can be done by bracketing problems to be addressed. But if Vehicle design is treated as a specialist area then the outcomes can be more focussed – plus we can get a special person/ a specialist to interact with the students. This last will raise the bar of expectations and will be better as a proficient vehicle design project. So will all the students like to focus upon car design? Suppose the answer is a yes then the stream can be titled – car of the future (1) and engaging with the propositions/competitions (2). And the project can be a form one, and the intellectual project is one of a journey into aesthetics and history of styling. The inquiry becomes one of ‘form’ (form development – ways and approaches) and ‘ways of styling’ (on method and techniques/tools) – thus making the project inquiry led and propositional. With this last the project is a year 4 level project. I have  to add a caveat that it is possible to go down the path of ‘no private ownership’ as a Campaign. But as treating the project as focussing upon ‘form’ – I allow for a professional grounding – which satisfies
  2. Product Design:  I class the other set of projects as Product Design – These are projects that have a product outcome. For example – the study of ‘micro activities’ – towards the goal of water conservation promises an exploration into peoples practices. The study of ‘peoples practices‘ – how people wash, say – constitutes an inquiry. The study offers a tool set for the research – and offers a theoretical body of work to back up the study. This class of project sits well both as a formal and aesthetic exploration as well as the potential for a “design for manufacture” project. Examples of projects in this category could be: (a) the design of artefacts for responsible use of water, (b) the visualization of a system/ kit for retrofitting towards a closed system (of energy, water and waste), (c) the design of a drinking water fountain series to encourage a minimization of the sale of bottled water, (d) the design of an object, series, for the home that is ‘socialized’ and culturally sensitive, (e) similarly the design of a non-object for the context of the home of the ‘elite’ in the way of jewellery/ collectible.

At thi point I am setting aside my current passions for Social Innovation and Service Design to revert to my past preoccupations – 1994 to 2003 – with (a) Vehicle Design, and (b) Product Design. The significant aspect in that framework was my complete absorption with form and aesthetics. In time this focus shifted and deepened to become theoretically grounded (about peoples practices – food, gifts, myths – and aesthetics) and politically aware. I was teaching stuents who were going into the auto Industries – Daewoo, Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, Ford, Toyota – in large numbers. They were also being recruited by firms like Timex (watches), Titan (watches and jewellery), Whirlpool, Electrolux. The Industry focus required the students to be ‘form’ experts first – the manufacturing thinking was done by engineers, the market thinking was done by marketing, and the ‘innovation’ was in the project of ‘redesign’. The other category of students developed projects – clocks, lamps, chairs – that worked well for their future potetial as designer-makers.

In my move to Australia – one thing changed: there was no campus recruitment of students by big Industry. Students left uni without jobs.So the job in a big firm did not come into uni to define the kinds of projects that students would do. Or so one thought – till I realised that in the absence of real industry something else took its place- the phantom of ‘what industry wants’ and the notion of industry itself was used for anything from a consultancy to one off installation. I tackle this – obliquely of course – in a paper – ‘taking on Australian ID etc’.

In addition a few other things were different – car design was frowned upon (as lo brow), and form was not a preocupation. What I saw was a huge focus upon skilling up for doing models and CAD – both of which in India in those days were downstream functions and hired out skills. The students came with their own peculiar notions of design – its all about problem solving, its all about manufacturing, its all about chairs – which stayed unchallenged in them till they graduated. ‘What is design at its core’ – was not a visible part of the conversation.

So we got a few categories of practice – which let us say are not central, though valid ways of looking at design but often neglecting form, history or culture.

  1. Design-Engineering: Focus upon the making of things.
  2. Design-Management: Focus upon strategy and branding.
  3. Design-Art: Focus upon making outcomes that fitted the ‘art’ label.
  4. Design-Research: Explorations of unique phenomena.

At this point I did up a typology of practice – what designers do when they leave and take up work – to check how well these trainings work with that picture.

I then realised that – the final year has one meaning for me: that of addressing the needs of students. The project of supervision then becomes one of getting the students to reflect and take stock of their capabilities and aspirations. And the  project they construct has to be one that takes heed of their passions and their abilities. Two things!

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