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?

Integrated Design

I have been looking at the Bachelors in Integrated Design offered by the Koln International School of Design. This means I have considered it from many angles and there are many things I like about it.

1. I know many designers who trained as one kind of designer and then went on to practice as another kind of designer. So in a sense traditional specializations are transmutable or convertible or – check this out – all the same.

2. The specialization in design is not at the level of design method, it is not at the level of aesthetics and it is not at the level of marke and branding. It is only in the knowledge and ability to work with technology. So textile designers learn a completely different technology to that learnt by other designers.

3. There is another level of specialization – that at the levl of skill, in that motor skill – so ceramic design in throwing pots, textile design in weaving and knitting. But the other disciplines are a bit removed from their material manipulation.

Now where Integrated design begins to make sense to me is in the absence of a charge or agency in the designer – in this I refer to the herding by schools of designers to channel them into sectorially defined professions. You are a product designer – and you will work in the manufacturing sector making appliances. There was probably and time and place for this – but that time is past. Some will disagree here  for that is the ‘real world’. But let us leave that aside – for there will continue to be enough design programs on this planet who will continue this kind of chanelling.

I am looking at a program where the ‘agency’ of the designer is to take on ‘intractable’ problems. A designer who does not feel compelled to go off and work in an office in a city or for a big multinational. One who is told in design school – that their role is to change the world and solve its problems.

The State of Design Education in Nova Scotia

The State of Design Education in Nova Scotia | Brightwhite Design

I am extremely interested in all aspects of the design profession, from how it’s taught to how it is practiced, especially as it relates to online or ‘new’ media.

It seems that our local educational institutions are largely out-of-touch with the skills, design processes and requirements of the the interactive industry as a whole. Through the teaching that I have done at NSCAD, I’ve tried to bring a standards-based approach to the classes I’m putting together, but this isn’t the norm across all of the Universities and Colleges found locally. Recently, May Chung (a tenured professor at NSCAD) and I have been discussing how to better equip our grads for the current economic and work environment. We’d like to create a a curriculum that benefits everyone from students, to faculty and the businesses who employ designers.

I put out a call on Twitter the other day to see what people would be looking for in a design program. I heard from industry folks, recent grads and others. Last night, at a GDC event, I spoke with a number of young designers, all of whom felt like they were not being properly prepared for the working world. Now, don’t get me wrong, NSCAD has never been about giving designers the ‘hard’ skills, it’s a school that is about teaching the design process. However, interactive design isn’t even being taught in that capacity. And let’s face it, if we don’t give designers some skills in HTML and CSS they’re not going to know how to integrate with the businesses that are leading the way in the new media space.

Politics and Design

In 1998 I wrote a paper and presented it at a conference – the paper was called “Commodity fetishism and the need for theory building in Design”. It was one of those rare events where I showed my work – and talked about how we must all do less of ‘yet another chair’ – and we must all collectively boycott institutions like the salon satellite which promote design as an agency that creates objects for rich people. I have grumbled and been snide about the ‘art’ side to design. I have referred to this as the eilitism of a dying discourse.

There is very little of a conscience – if we set aside sustainability and the assistive side to design – energising design discourse. The gurus have their eyes firmly fixed upon the past – and even there the categories are borrowed.

I read Ian McEwan in the paper on saturday and a wonder at his take on ‘Obama will save the world’. Will Obama save design too? To do this he would need to take the preocupation of design with the ipod and direct it at something more emotional and messy. He wouldn’t do this in person – but the agenda he sets – like health care could become the clarion call for a design rennaisance. For the community orientated and bottom up to flex its brain muscles.

Political artists should get their hands dirty | Art and design |

Some artists have been directly critical of Obama’s image, including 24-year old Chicago art student David Cordero, who sparked a controversy in the international press when he displayed a life-sized papier-mache representation of Obama as Jesus, entitled ‘Blessing’ and topped with a neon halo, at his senior show. Cordero explained to the Associated Press that the work was “a caution in assigning all these inflated expectations on one individual, and expecting them to change something that many hands have shaped”.

Many artists are politically engaged but they – unlike politicians – tend to be focused on issues rather than personality contests. Artists who create work that supports or opposes an ideology can contribute to the general discourse, and the collectors who buy such work can show their support for the ideas it expresses. But active participation in politics, whether financially or through personal activism, is also needed.

Political Design

I’ve written a brief note on the June 2008 publication of Designing Denuclearization: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Transaction Publishers). Designing Denuclearization puts my case that nuclear weapons abolition should be the subject of focused research and policy discussion, a practical aim of governments to be pursued with urgence in the immediate future. The note includes links to other books I’ve written on war and nuclear policy, and to course materials on nuclear nonproliferation and abolition.

Does Obama Really “Get” Innovation? Not Really

I have in recent days been looking at curricula in design schools all over. You would have seen posts here about how service design is the management-wallahs (and there are many among us in design who find management a big turn on) gaining prominence, how interaction design is the computer-science-wallahs gaining prominence (and their position is not about quality of life so much as problem-solving, the internet is taken for granted. as is the pervasive nature of the digital. But is that all?). Both these disciplines are a-political and anti-social so now they both have jargon to make up for the deficiency: Corporate Social Responsibility and User Centered Design. Both of these perspectives answer the question (which has come done unaltered from the 1st industrial age) of “how do we humanise our work?” So this is top-down perspectives trying to sound bottom up. This was my criticism of the BOP agenda – where CK speaks of ‘money to be made’ in the markets where the poor shop!!

Dont you find that a bit problematic. Post crash we have seen acknowledgement of the venality of the ‘top’ – and the bailout by the friends of the ‘top’. I dont see Obama making that much of a change. He has the promise – but isn’t ll that much of a bottom up person. He was after all only a community organiser – not like some of us ‘an activist’. And therein lies the biggest challenge to world civilization – to do ‘feel good’ stuff (Obama) or to get down and ‘privilege’ the bottom over the ‘top’. This is impossible for this way of thinking is considered ‘left’ and red.

Does Obama Really “Get” Innovation? Not Really. – BusinessWeek

I’ve been reading the Obama Administration Plan for Innovation, Science & Technology on the site. And the site name gives it all away—the discussion about innovation is on the tech site. There is, in fact, very little in the way of innovation in this plan, as you will see for itself when you read it. It’s all about technology—math and science and engineering. Which is terrific, but not necessarily innovative.

Now on all the major issues, Obama gets it right—openness of the net (yes), connecting government with its citizens through social media, more funding for science, a permanent R&D tax credit, etc. You can check off the issues.

But, and this is a big but, there is little about user-centric methods to create new options for tough problems in education, transporation or health. The Plan says that “Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO).” Well, he actually needs to appoint a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) because change is as much about sociology as technology, as much about creativity as science.

Map of interaction design education in Europe

I looked at this and I thought it would be a good idea to do this for a paper on australian design education, then also for a design school vision for India.

designswarm thoughts » Blog Archive » Map of interaction design education in Europe

So I thought I’d map out the interesting academic environments where one might find a course that relates in some way shape or form to interaction design in the broadest sense possible (notice there aren’t any web courses here). I’m interested in how these schools form the professionals of tomorrow and how the field will find it’s way on the overall market. I’ll evenutally try to do the same with the interaction design businesses.

Note that this map is publicly editable so if I’m missing something, do add to it!

Map is here.

Design Education in Australia

The Future of Design Education

It was glaringly obvious from this seminar that Australia is right up there with the best design education in the world. What is considered innovative in some of the best institutions in some parts of the world has been implemented and happily running in Australia for some time now. Perhaps the time has come for Australian design education to blow our own trumpets more loudly.

Design Philosophy Papers

design philosophy papers > 2003

Design Philosophy Papers (DPP) comes from a longstanding desire to gain greater recognition for the study of design by the intellectual community at large, as well as our frustration with the market-driven conservatism of design publishing. It aims to break away from the idea of design as a specialist interest, as well as rejecting the simplistic and debased way design arrives before the public via both old and new media — frequently merely as style or technics. It also comes with a passion to communicate, share and argue for a much, much greater general recognition of importance of design and ‘the designed’ as managed and unwitting agents of force and power.

Design for the World

Design for the World – About this site

Design for the World has developed this website to present the organisation and its activities to you. The aim of the site is also to create a communication channel for designers wanting to contribute to social and humanitarian causes, and between those designers and the organisations that could use their help.

Some parts of the website, such as the online gallery where people can show their projects related to design for people in need, and the project board, where people can collaborate on projects through an interactive webspace, are under development and will be online in the coming months.

Massive Change

MASSIVE CHANGE » What is Massive Change?

What is Massive Change?

Design has emerged as one of the world’s most powerful forces. It has placed us at the beginning of a new, unprecedented period of human possibility, where all economies and ecologies are becoming global, relational, and interconnected.

In order to understand and harness these emerging forces, there is an urgent need to articulate precisely what we are doing to ourselves and to our world. This is the ambition of Massive Change.

Massive Change is a celebration of our global capacities but also a cautious look at our limitations. It encompasses the utopian and dystopian possibilities of this emerging world, in which even nature is no longer outside the reach of our manipulation.

For many of us, design is invisible. We live in a world that is so thoroughly configured by human effort that design has become second nature, ever-present, inevitable, taken for granted.

And yet, the power of design to transform and affect every aspect of daily life is gaining widespread public awareness.

No longer associated simply with objects and appearances, design is increasingly understood in a much wider sense as the human capacity to plan and produce desired outcomes. Engineered as an international discursive project, Massive Change: The Future of Global Design, will map the new capacity, power and promise of design.

Massive Change explores paradigm-shifting events, ideas, and people, investigating the capacities and ethical dilemmas of design in manufacturing, transportation, urbanism, warfare, health, living, energy, markets, materials, the image and information. We need to evolve a global society that has the capacity to direct and control the emerging forces in order to achieve the most positive outcome. We must ask ourselves: Now that we can do anything what will we do?

Next Design Leadership Institute

NextD Purpose

NextDesign Leadership Institute and the next design leadership movement were launched in 2002 by GK VanPatter and Elizabeth Pastor as an experiment in innovation acceleration.

We wondered if it might be possible for a small team of practicing designers to help speed the rate of adaptation, by graduate design education, to the radical events unfolding at the leading edge of the marketplace, that are impacting creative leadership, design leadership, innovation leadership today. We optimistically guessed that it might be possible and if it wasn’t, finding out seemed like interesting research! To undertake that experiment, we created the NextD initiative and the NextDesign Leadership Institute.

New Delhi is a creative cluster: A proto-design city

What are the historical shifts, fusions and fractures that will change design in our times, and more pointedly, which are their urban epicentres?

There is a congruence of two trajectories that make New Delhi significant as the next locus/engine/pardigm of design.

Trajectory 1: What are the historical shifts, fusions and fractures that will change design in our times, and more pointedly, which are their urban epicentres?
Design battled the flight of industry to the far east in the 80s by focusing upon the home and the rich/elite. The 90s saw the emergence of sustainability and the proposition that things would give way to services or dematerialised consumption. Looking back on the past decade the dialogue has been about design finding an ethical meaning in a ‘social’ face to practice (‘the growing emphasis on social design’). The social is a strength of institutional and intellectual New Delhi (the front row in the Johannesburg Earth Summit of 2002 was occupied by Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar and Sunita Narayan).

Trajectory 2: Is the next design city in India, led with gusto towards globalisation by a growing trans-national and technocratic middle class?
The decade after 2000 has been an acknowledgement of the energy of India ( and China) and their emergence as the world’s third and first economies. In this India is the place for the ephemeral ( IT services being one example) propelled as it is by a large population of young highly educated professionals. Largely hidden is the fact that there is also a cluster of creative people waiting for the paradigm to shift – for the climate to shift from one of service to the world to a focus upon local consumption and export. In the next decade patrons, industry and clients will reposition themselves and actively seek out designers to add value and define their identity. We will begin to see the work of Indian designers!

Now let us imagine a location with a lot of NGOs in the city: ie a history of Social engagement, entrepreneurship and innovation. A proven track record of taking on the people sided perspective to life, society and large systems. A tradition of design and craft development and a Culture of Design appreciation, and events. A place where many designers live, teach and work  – a city with a Critical mass of designers and artists. A city that goes back to BC and has multiple traditions of aesthetics. A city with articulate population of practitioners. A city with many institutions devoted to the preservation and promotion of the arts.

In short there are some unique features in this city – New Delhi – that make it a hothouse of creativity awaiting the right moment.

New Design School at Ambedkar University Delhi

There is to be a new School of Design in New Delhi. This will be in the new university – AUD or Ambedkar University, Delhi. See link below to the site of the university.

What is exciting about this initiative is both the mandate and vision of the university (as can be interpreted from the name) and its location in New Delhi. I wrote some time back – about New Delhi being the next design city after London – spruiking Delhi as it were as the most likely candidate among to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) to have a vibrant design culture that looks into the future with fresh eyes. You can see that text here.

Welcome to Dr. BR Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD)

Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD) is mandated by its Act to focus on teaching and research in Social Sciences and the Humanities. AUD is poised to be a unitary university with both postgraduate and undergraduate programmes on campus. AUD can develop into a multi-campus system with campuses spread over the National Capital Territory.

Cemex – Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Aravind Eye Clinic – Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Archeworks – Design Approach

Archeworks pursues an alternative education philosophy that combines disciplines and looks at design in a holistic, ethical manner.

Social, ecological and technological developments have shifted the relevance of the traditional curricula with its emphasis on design and theory. Archeworks focuses more on “hands-on” practice than the conventional “ivory tower” separation of academy and practice.


Re-Vision is architecture for the future – opening up visions for the future. A site that uses a competition format to collect ideas and display them. A potential agency that can influence thinking in architecture schools.

Home Page | Urban Revision

Re:Vision is a revolutionary initiative to create the prototype for an innovative, sustainable urban community. At the heart of the process is a series of contests generating visionary ideas for what can and should be in the design about urban space.


The Corporation Game: Learning and Teaching Evaluation

Industrial Design, Semester 2, 2005

The Corporation Game (CG) was a studio conducted in Semester 2 for first year Industrial Design students. The studio was different to usual studios in the program in that its learning objectives were not solely focused on developing technical skills and determining a design solution to a problem or design brief. The course was modelled like a professional training schedule with a structured set of goals and used specific teaching techniques to encourage the development of higher level thinking and conceptual skills of the students studying the course.

At the end of the semester, twenty-two students claimed the CG had changed their lives. This report presents the findings of a study by the DSC Academic Services Group which investigated why students made this claim about their learning experiences in the course.

What we did

What we ascertained

What did the students say?

What did the teacher say?

What works, what could be improved?