Soumitri in 2016

Design is vehicle for change. A Design Project can be a campaign. In a furiously online world I see design projects as either a first step towards a business venture or a campaign that changes the way people think. Design innovations can change the way we deal with ageing and death. Design projects can change the way the world thinks about issues. Design projects can be about improving the lives of ordinary and marginalised people. Below are some of the areas I am currently interested in/ excited about:
  1. How to die well
  2. Ways of dealing with obesity
  3. Imagining a Future beyond Medicine
  4. Ways of Journalling Pregnancy
  5. Design for people with Locked-in syndrome
  6. Proposing a Bio-Dome (a personal diagnostic ecosystem)
  7. Design for living longer
I live and work in Melbourne. In Melbourne there is a lot of energy these days around imagining a healthy future. I engage with this energy.
  1. My design approach focuses upon proposing a future that contains preferred/ visionary products and services.
  2. I am excited by design projects that focus on the small and big challenges facing humanity.
  3. I see design projects as campaigns and so have developed, and therefore teach, the abilities required to prototype design projects within communities.
  4. My current interest is in innovations in healthcare services, where I focus upon de-medicalising and re-contextualizing normal practices to develop new traditions and artefacts in the areas of:
    1. Mental health
    2. Obesity
    3. Ageing
    4. Death
    5. Diabetes
    6. Maternal health
    7. Hearing loss
    8. (Defines the design theme or discourse)

Creative Currents for our Common Futures: A model for collective reflection in action for engaged design research practice Creative Currents for our Common Futures: A model for collective reflection in action for engaged design research practice

Over the past two decades Design has actively engaged with sustainability as both a topic for, and as an agenda for intervention in entrenched social and technical practices. The collective expertise of the authors is in the area of design for sustainability, which we articulate as the practice of Social and Sustainable Design. Our work deals with projects that focus upon design as a socially engaged and negotiated creative practice with a strong sustainable design or service design focus. Often located as visions for the future these projects are speculative and propositional, and are undertaken through a set of defined methods and strategies to think through the projects and develop the solutions. The design process in our projects typically includes stakeholder consultation, co-design and co-creation via a four stage progression of immersion, exploration, intervention and demonstration. Project outcomes in this mode of practice are variously designs of products, services or product service systems and in some instances the visualisation of social innovation enterprises extends all the way up to construction of service blueprints and business plans and engage with social issues (such as urban violence, disability, and shame), and sustainability (micro power generation, recycling and resource security). Additionally this work has extended the notion of the “social and sustainable” to include culture theory, art practice and contemporary aesthetics through the articulation of a position of both the post-professional and the industry of one. A project dealing with an urban community of free runners was undertaken within the community of Traceurs (as parkour practitioners are called). Another project was a collaborative art practice focused upon the body and sensory perception where the design process significantly used visualisation by making.(not sure we need this). In recent years we have seen the amplification of the social dimension in our projects and we have also realised the outcomes of the projects as social innovations. We campaign for a dematerialised world and have seen design projects become new, viable and self sustaining social entrepreneurship ventures. The paper is undertaken as a reflection to describe a codified practice of the design of social and sustainable intervention. The paper offers a theoretical positioning and alternative territory for design, which will be visually described through images from projects followed by a discussion of the methods that we deploy in our shared practice.

Networks of evolution and a typology of ideologies and practices in modern design

In the first decade after independence, India was managed by its new rulers with a measure of caution and conservatism, focussed as they were upon healing the wounds of partition and maintaining the continuity of ongoing development projects set up by the British colonial administration. At the end of this period, as captured eloquently in the text of the second five year plan, the new elite let fly their bold vision for the new India. Their focus? How do you rapidly increase the size of the Indian economy? A group of journalists invited a year later to view the plan and its impacts, remarked that the plan ignored the consumer, and invested heavily in expensive infrastructure for the production of steel. The consumer though did figure in the un-funded part of the plan which “laid special stress on increasing the supply of consumer goods by using existing skills and equipment and steadily introducing technical improvements in the village and small-scale industries sector”. This innocuous line, and the implication that someone else may fund ‘technical improvements’, was to be of immense significance to design. This ‘someone else’ was to be foreign aid agencies and international experts, who came to India to study different aspects of society and propose aid-funded interventions. The specific focus upon consumption as an engine for national prosperity would lead the Ford Foundation to fund a travelling design exhibition for India and a feasibility study on design education, which would form the seed for a ‘new’ design institution in India. This new institution would be reliant upon aid, state support and seek legitimacy by being aligned with the vision of the state, and for years to come almost directly echo the words from the second five year plan. This paper, as a reading of texts, goes back to the years surrounding the launch of the second five year plan to develop a narrative of the re-development of design in the modern era in India. Through this paper I aim to describe a network that determined a particular course for the evolution of design in the modern era in India.


The Real University

Today the existence of the ‘real university’ collided – bang – with the physical university. I feel a bit burnt and disappointed – as it should be – for this world is more of the pragmatic and contingent stuff: ‘this must be done, for it is the right way’. Somewhere along the way we lose the dream, the idealism, and then comes a day when the aesthetic dies too. At that point it is okay to be irritated – for that is a plaintive cry ‘better things are possible’. But then that would be bringing emotion into the workplace – ‘how wrong is that’!

Time for me to go back to Pirsig, Schmier and the fundamentals of a place of learning.

The interview: Robert Pirsig | Books | The Observer

At that time, he recalls, in his early thirties, he was so full of anxiety that he would often be physically sick before each class he taught. He used his students to help him discover some of the ideas that make up what he calls the ‘metaphysics of quality’ in his books, the ideas that led him to believe that he had bridged the chasm between Eastern and Western thought. No two classes were the same. He made his students crazy by refusing to grade them, then he had them grade each other. He suggests that by the end of each term they were so euphoric that if he had told them to jump out of the window they would have done. The president of the university gave a speech, and he contradicted him in the middle of it by shouting: ‘This school has no quality.’ He saw clearly how American society was disconnected from life and he believed he could help it connect. He was reading Kerouac, and trying to live in truth.

Design education and the recession

Another post that sees the recession as that ‘reset’ button. Where we can start from first principles and realign design education to be more relevant to the emerging world.

gongblog – journal – In defense of generalists

It is no secret that I think design education is a little too specialized to the point of only being able to churn out high-tech craftsmen. In this time of global recession, jobs being decimated, major economies hanging in the balance, a new left-of-center administration about to take the helm — just take a look at what the design blogosphere continues to blog about — nothing of real consequence (well, maybe some proactive insights as to how to make our existing super-surplus of consumer crap…a more sustainable super-surplus of consumer crap).

This reminds me, I need to return Hugh Dubberly’s ping from a month ago about his ideas about the problems and future of design education (of which many of his observations and ideas are incisive and brilliant). Personally, although I have not thought about it nearly as long as he has, I think that an education on “how to think” and “how to innovate your way out of hostile enemy territory” is a start. An education that leverages the wisdom of the ages rather than just the wisdom of a single discipline. A modern-day interdisciplinary Swiss Army Knife MacGyver School of Design, but heavy with the gravitas concerned with the world’s VERY SERIOUS problems, acknowledging that no single discipline alone can crack these puzzles. Admit it — designing a logo ain’t *that* hard. Neither is a thousand pages of information architecture specs. Pfft. And for the record…NO! The claptrap that is “Design Thinking” is NOT THE ANSWER, contrary to today’s popular opinion of this seriously annoying and intellectually vacuous…fad. What I have in mind is more “Design Special Weapons And Tactics”–solving problems through deep synthesis steeped in deep knowledge — as a grave duty, not an opportunistic semantic spin-job; where projects are “missions”, where being able to name category solutions trumps client name-dropping, where designers have a shot at a Nobel rather than another Art Directors Club feather.

I think we will have armies of unemployed design professionals very very soon. I wonder what they will spend their days doing. The hand that fed them before is metamorphosing into something else, and it would behoove the design cognoscenti to facilitate a massive retraining of the profession and a serious reflection on the purpose of design education. We need a new generation of thinkers who worship at altars other than at the feet of the god of aesthetics. Perhaps an acid test would be to ask a designer off the street, “Well, who *is* the hand that feeds and why?” — let me know what you hear back from them.

Design Education for the future

Now Imagine a Design School that offers courses at three levels: Bachelors, Graduate Certficate and Graduate Degree. The key focus of the courses is Design for Social Change. The primary context of practice is India – and the location of such a school if New Delhi. What this conjures up is design that focusses primarily upon social change as an outcome. Where the object and the profit is not what defines design.

Such a design school then offers design education along two lines: Service Design and Social Innovation.

At a level of School Leavers the school will have a course labelled Social Design. Now Social Design is an accepted and widely used term – such as in the Social Design Network. A 4 year course the social design programme will be an integrated course which builds design thinking and the ability to do projects as a designer. The projects and themes of exploration would be aligned to the social change agenda – and thus have a flavour of service design and social innovation.

The designer is in this way charged with agency – and the intellectual discourse would privilege Sustainability and collective well being issues. Though the individual would constitute a potential focus of design exploration – this would not be in the domain of self image, consumption and gift giving.

If there were a design school offering such courses – now wouldn’t that be wonderful?

A New School for India

Imagine a country where by many estimates 70% of the population is rural – with poor access to work, services and the benefits of technology. Where life in a sense is a curious mix of the ancient ways-practices and contemporary in the mobile phone and shampoo sachet. This context has energised many different responses –

  1. William Morris asking for it to be locked away as pristine and perfect.
  2. The Indian state initiating a central planning strategy to obliterate the past.
  3. The social activists setting up NGOs in rural contexts to bring modern management practices to the hinterland.

Design joined in to focus upon the rural as a manufacturing locale and designed objects and tools to make money and prosperity flow to the rural.

To be fair all of this had some effect. In pockets. And much much more needs to be done. I find the ‘design for the other 90%’ deeply irritating, in the same way I found Papanek problematic – technology and more products will not materially change the situation. Neither is income generation projects in rural areas the total answer. All this has been attempted – and its just not enough. Something else is needed.

So I ask the question – can a design school be set up which lets go of its professional anchorings (in the art and design framework ) to focus all its energies upon this population of people?