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The Yin and Yang for Indian Design

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

Note - Yin and Yang have only been used as a metaphor to explain, not promoting any culture.

“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation.”

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientist of the last century and perhaps is also one of the greatest minds of all the time, quoted the above sentence. It is logical and also sounds very intuitive at the same time, assuring us that problems can be solved and that all that is needed is a change of thought. As we move from one generation to the next, though now the generation gap is very small, the thoughts by which they are being built is directly influenced by their past relations with their families, friends, schooling, environments etc.

While redesigning the design education for India our mission could be how and what do we teach or educate for the future context and core competencies of the students and the country?

Design as such when compared to other professions has limited books or no particular book (text book) to read and understand from, through which the student or the individual learns the values or the core essence of design. For the student the world becomes his text book and this notion must be inculcated into the individual at the earliest, how the individual can learn from practically everything he senses. Design being a very sense oriented profession requires the quality of feeling what the individual has learnt, or has felt. The student must be shown the path to move from being sympathetic to EMPATHETIC. The teaching faculties should no longer be treated as teachers but as friends so that the student becomes free in order to approach and question his thoughts, to improve his curiosity, which is very important. Eventually he should learn not to just work for the people, but work with the people. Design is considered to be problem solving activity and it helps / aids in the “betterment or development of the quality of life of people”. Taking the today’s situation of our country, we are in nowhere of saying that design is doing its job and as designers they are doing their job. In fact it so happens, that most of the passing out design students are more involved in making fame / money , not that it is wrong , but it, in its very sense a total different direction of the objective of design in its true nature.

India is the largest democratic country in the world and the second most populated country, with a population of approx over 1,241,491,960 in the year 2012. Our country is rapidly growing in terms of quantity, but in terms of quality there is hardly any growth. It is once again reiterated that growth should not be judged based just on the GDP and economic growth alone but also by the happiness of life of the people in that country. According to statistics the percentage of population living in urban and rural areas is 32% and 68% respectively in 2011 and in 2001 it was 28% and 72%, there has been a 4% shift in the population moving from rural to urban in the span of 10 years. When calculated, approximately the number was close to 13,605 people per day. Designers are not supposed to be in their own world or space. In a country like ours its all the more reason we update with nation’s problems interests in order to create a viable solution and a better system, service or product. In short design is needed for qualitative living in entire stretch of the country not sparing even deserts, forests, mountains etc.

India lives in its villages; it is an agriculture oriented nation.

Migration of the people from the villages to semi rural and urban areas in the country is for the survival. There might be several reasons for this shift, many move due to greed *, others for money and food, and even if they move into the urban areas they dwell in the slums and areas where cleanliness and hygiene is least maintained. The quality of life is really poor. People are no longer living lives rather are just surviving day by day *.

This is where the factors of empathy comes into play, when a designer gets to know all this, he will be motivated or made to be motivated towards that direction. Looking at the subjective need of a single farmer in problem in a village and solving his problem itself is the biggest contribution a designer can do for his country, not just looking for the objective needs, such as a transportation device in the urban jungle (where there are already a million) or a cell phone, even if such products, systems or services are being designed for the “urban” they should also be able to work for the rural. Even while being subjected to objective or subjective work, few basic rules, such as the cradle to cradle* should be taught so that it becomes intuitive for the individual to take it into consideration during the design process.

Things should be designed in diversity. For this to take place, a student should be equipped well enough with amount of knowledge and exposure he/she requires. It would be useful for him to travel across the different regions of the country from surface to the depths from the urban jungles to the rural plains; it is this diversity in nature of India that a design student is to be exposed in order to get him to design for his country. The exercises and assignments or work that are given should be given in such a way that the individual understands both the aspects of design, the objective and subjective needs of the country and its people.

Objectified and subjectified, the two ends of the same pole are called design. Contrasting in nature, one believes in mass manufacture and the other in craftsmanship. Consider a situation, we have all been taught the English language alphabets in a certain sequence, and today we can spell and write it without any second thought, but when asked to spell or write in a completely arbitrary random order, we take time to put it forth (unless he/she is a genius in the English subject). This phenomenon happens due to the conditioning of the brain and the mind. In the same way the individual must be shown both the paths of design, the objective path with the subjective truth and the subjective path with the objective truth. The objective truth being, every subjective design act will have a holistic impact, thereby creating a better system. According to me, I would describe the entire above paragraph with a simple symbol of the yin and yang, the symbol for contrast and balance. Same way how both these schools of thought , that is, subjective and objective thinking are inter-related and inter- dependent on each other and that brings about growth and balance along with sustenance.

“The vital fact that design is a tool for the betterment of life has been ignored completely” *

This should not be the case anymore, we have advanced so much in terms of life style, science and technology, but not realizing that in much deeper parts of the nation there is a very deep hunger for water, food and lands the basic necessities for a simple living. Students must be shown that side of the living of a community, family or a person in order for them to empathize with it, and bring an effective change in their living and only then a designer is complete in all respects.

The depth to which a country’s real problems are , is unknown to the designer, he sees usually only the tip of the iceberg , though underneath there is a lot that goes unseen. It’s not just with our country alone but this is also with the design problem of entire world, as told and illustrated by Victor Papanek* in his book “design for the real world “.designers cannot no longer live in their own space and thoughts its time they get exposed to more and more of the nation and world to understand and feel it’s real problems.

Exposure to students should be provided through different mediums, newspapers, onsite or movies. I stress this Para, as once said, the way to a person’s mind is through his heart, which is responsible for his feelings, which is nothing but the supreme empathy. Empathy needs to be inducted into the curriculum and NOT just understanding (sympathy) of a subject or topic.

To conclude, design is such a subject that it should not be given any special privileges, such as high fees, etc, so that even a simple middle class or a lower middle class family should be able to join the course and experience the teaching of design and do what is must according to them. An exposure to the real India and its problems ranging from politics, agriculture, poverty, unemployment, child labor etc should be taught in design classes. For India to achieve a global level in design it must start locally and build its way to the top, for the country with such large vast and huge number to live in happiness and not just survive.

As the legendary designer / architect Buckminster fuller has said “one has to make up one’s mind, either to make money or to make sense”. That decision can take place only after the student has been exposed to the entire scenario and ultimately the decision lies with STUDENT ALONE.

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