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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Design for Social Change

IAnD Exclusive

Design Impact Special

By Prof. Anil Gupta

Prof. Anil Gupta's views on 'design for social change'.
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In an exclusive for India Art n Design ezine, Prof. Anil Gupta, as the Guest Editor of our Design Impact Special Edition starting today, addresses this pertinent issue that lies at the core of all design showbiz. If we need to use Design for Social Change, will designers engage with grassroots innovators?

Prof. Anil Gupta, known for his vast quantum of work with grassroots innovators via the National Innovation Foundation and the Honey Bee Network, has seen, sifted, helped implement several creative ideas that make for societal change. His contribution to “design for society” is well represented through his Shodhyatra – an exercise where he travels on foot into the interiors of India, scouting for design talent at the grassroots level.

Initiating the “Design Impact Week” at India Art n Design, Prof Anil Gupta nudges the designers, the so-called thinkers and the creatives in society to wake up to the social relevance of design and literally ‘do-something-about-it’. And he gives us the platform – the Honey Bee Network. Over to Prof.:

Prof. Anil Gupta's views on 'design for social change'.
Bullet Santi - motorbike transformed to function as tractor

Having mobilized 180k ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices (of course not all unique) from over 550 districts of the country, we should have had by now tens of thousand ideas successfully diffusing among people needing these solutions (see www.nifindia.org).  The number of actual products that have gone to market may be in thousands only (excluding exchanges in small neighborhoods).  If we add another about 200k projects done by technology/engineering students (see www.techepdia.in, an initiative of www.sristi.org), then the queue of ideas waiting to be taken forward becomes even longer.

Prof. Anil Gupta's views on 'design for social change'.
Oxygen sensor car indicator

Assume that only five to ten per cent of these are worth looking at by designers (at least the awarded ones, (see techepdia.in/award), even then a long road exists n which designers and grassroots innovators need to walk together hand in hand. Community of lawyers working in the field of intellectual property protection, have worked with us on pro bono basis such that we could file more than 660 patents, majority in the last four years. Can’t designer community too join hands with Honey Bee Network?

Designers should engage with society to influence social imagination, its execution through frugal and aesthetically functional and elegant rendering and to widen the community of users, who can then fertilize the designers' repertoire.

Prof. Anil Gupta's views on 'design for social change'.
Helmet  as ignition

As a teacher, I can say that one can never teach authentically without learning. Designers should not see this engagement as a do-gooding exercise. Instead, they should see it as a mutual learning exercise. Elegance, excellence, equity and effectiveness can indeed be blended with empathy, enterprise and education. 

Prof. Anil Gupta's views on 'design for social change'.
Bus lock system 

Designers, I have argued without any doubt, are the weakest link in our innovation eco-system. They can make the last mile journey of a product or service so much more effective. But if they get involved from the beginning, they can make the whole supply chain more effective and frugal.  But they will have to learn to engage on new terms such as design angels, design venture capitalists, design partners and design donors. They can charge their full fee if the product is commercialized; they can charge at concessional terms and they can also work as students of community innovation academy. In the latter case, what they give is the fees for learning at the feet of frugal, deviant and empathetic innovators at grassroots.

Social change and impact will accelerate manifold if designers meaningfully join hands with grassroots innovators.

Prof. Anil Gupta's views on 'design for social change'.
Some kitchens in India

Look at the three examples harnessing waste heat of cooking stove and thus conserving energy from Arku valley, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Four shelves to cure wood rods used for trolleys, drying firewood in chirapoonji, preserving cheese or others food items and fumigating seed bag on the top in Meghalaya. Should not the design of our kitchen in cities change for ever?

Prof. Anil Gupta's views on 'design for social change'.
Innovation at grassroots

Sheikh Jahangir from Jalgaon made Three Idiots famous through his innovation of scooter mounted flour grinding machine, washing machine and many other ideas. But the products did not go to market yet. Will you still place poor people at the bottom of pyramid, albeit economic pyramid, or will you see their potential at the top of ethical and innovation pyramid also? 

Children are no less creative. Sometimes they can surpass our impatience with inefficiency faster and overcome inertia even faster. Look at the problem of using wrong posture sitting in front of TV or computer; who does not have lower back pain or some such problem once in awhile because of this? Did we do any thing at all except making doctors richer!


Prof. Anil Gupta's views on 'design for social change'.
Posture correction chair

Kulsoom and Tarun have come out with excellent ideas, which were a great hit at an innovation Exhibition held at Rashtrapati Bhavan ( March 7-13, 2014) organized by National Innovation Foundation along with other sister institutions of Honey Bee Network. Either a sensor screens your posture and switches off TV or unless you sit properly, it will not switch it back on (patent applied).   Or press buttons on the back will ensure that you correct postures (P A). All of us were aware of the problem but we did not do anything. But our children did not want to keep patient with inertia and in that lay the hope for future. Will the designer community still remain disconnected with Honey Bee Network? 

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