Having spent three days listening to Indian and international design professionals speak on the theme of convergence and Indian design, I was struck by two dominant thoughts. One; that almost all the international speakers spoke repeatedly about the need for India to evolve an Indian design identity, distinct from the influence of western graphic design. They were of the view that Indian designers tended to ape western design sensibilities and that they needed to evolve their own cultural design influence.
Is that unfair? Yes and no. It's not entirely unfair because most Indian designers I spoke to admitted that their design was primarily influenced by western sensibilities. They attributed this to the fact that the curriculum at design schools was largely influenced by the west.
Yet, the use of the term 'ape' lends itself to being interpreted as something that's not original, something that doesn't quite cut it and going by some of the work that I saw at the conference, I would say that is an inappropriate choice of word.
Spend time talking to some of the international delegates and you come away feeling that most haven't really spent much time meeting designers outside of the conference to justify such sweeping generalizations. I found that a number of well known Indian design shops were absent. In fact, one of the speakers I spoke to asked me if I could introduce him to some people from the industry as he was curious about the Indian market and said he did not know much about it. As a senior creative director pointed out, what agencies are doing today is a result of what the market demands. No one is buying a wholly 'Indian looking' product today unless the category demands it.
India is an aspirational society; it's what is driving the consumerist boom at the moment. So if you are selling to upscale young Indians in metros and mini metros, unless the category demands it, it's highly unlikely that you will be looking at a product or identity design that's distinctly 'Indian'. There's nothing wrong or right with that, it's just the demographics.
Paul Hughes, the moderator for the three day long festival felt that the issue arises when not one of the Indian designers that he has spoken to is able to define the concept of what Indian design really is. Is that so unbelievable? As Sudhir Sharma of Elephant Design pointed out, the diverse number of states and regional differences that India has makes it difficult to find a cohesive design definition for the entire country.
The second thing that struck me was the absence of any differences of opinion among the Indian agencies. I wish there were more Indian shops putting their points of view across on the challenges before the industry today and the road ahead. Elephant Design and Cognito were two of the few that were presenting at the forum; it would have been heartening to see more Indian agencies participate, discuss and debate. These are great times for design and branding agencies in India and after all these years of hard work and virtually no recognition, it would be ironic if the industry were to have no voice at a time when there is a strong need to build one.
The test of any conference is the quality of its speakers and by that measure, Kyoorius Design Yatra 2008 was a success, without doubt. With speakers like Paula Scher, Wally Olins, Tyler Brule, Eric Kessler and Paul Belfard, this year saw a great turnout. Perhaps it was because of the disappointing turnout of speakers last year that saw low attendance from India's Adland and from Indian design and branding shops as well. Considering this year's theme was 'Convergence,' it was a conference that more should have attended -- and more would have benefited from.