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Tracing the Evolution of the Designer

Design in our country has evolved and grown over the years. 

And so has the designer.

Long long time ago, the post-independence era gave birth to new cubs in the country’s modest industrial environment. Since then, the designer evolved as a professional and social animal, both organically and by design.

Generation 1 :

The Problem Solvers

Designers were introduced to the industry as the people who solved unique problems, problems that couldn’t be addressed by the engineers, intellectuals and the artists. Armed with the unique combination of skills like empathy, creativity and technical knowledge, the designers not only came up with interesting solutions, they also realised them. Not only were they experts in their subject, they were hands-on makers too. The work spoke, the people seldom though. They were perfectionists, passionate about their craft and ridiculously committed, much like the geeks and academics. It was only natural that they went on to become great teachers – feared, respected and worshiped by following generations.

Socially, they weren’t quite the popular ones. Some were outright disasters. Often melancholic or broody, topped up with idiosyncrasies, the individuals were conspicuously detached. But being the helpful, harmless kind, they were given their silent corners in the social circles.

Over time, the creative minds earned and grew the awe around them.

The markets loved them, the people too envied the black sheep. Blame it on Woodstock (perhaps), a new generation of designers came into being.

Generation 2 :

The Creative Salesman

Over time the creative species grew in confidence and professional standing. This era reaped the harvest of their antecedents and came out into the limelight with a flourish. The creative juices were flowing faster than ever before, this time accompanied with the gift of the gab. The designers had learned to talk, communicate and more importantly, sell. Brainstorming, ideation, night-outs ended in presentations and celebrations. They made things pretty and the client coffers heavy. The designers had picked up the tricks of the trade and become great salesmen and marketeers. They slogged in the studios and shone in the boardrooms.

It wasn’t just the black ties that were impressed. The fun, confident and packed with overdose of energy, the black sheep suddenly became the trendy ones. Work and life converged; meetings hit the bar-table and beer visited workplaces. The world even coined a new word to describe them - ‘cool’ was born. The designers triggered everyone’s social and professional admiration and aspiration.

As the community grew, design met with a quintessential growth challenge.

If doctors needed sick people to heal, the problem solvers needed problems to solve. This peculiar dilemma gave birth to the next generation of designers.

Generation 3 :

The Problem Finders

Armed with business acumen earned from the previous generation, the designers muscled up with the skills and practices from their client community. Activities like research, analysis and findings entered the design studio and from that emerged the critic. Everything was flawed around them, there were problems everywhere and nit-pickings marked start of the journey with every client. New construction was done over destruction. For the first time the designer began to play a negative role.

As the competition and battle intensifies, the designer picks up one big ammunition from the business armoury – Strategy. The simple but heavily loaded vocabulary entered daily conversations, formal communication and business cards, separating the men/women from the boys/girls. Colourful attires were retired and boardrooms became serious places. The industry began seeing and treating design professionals with respect, given to people who effect change and create impact.

But when people, contexts, functions and outcomes get viewed with opinions and one-upmanship, relationships loses comfort and authenticity. Bar counters and café tables transformed into battlegrounds, or atleast offer to become one. Much like the life on social media, the friend lists are crowded, but individuals are lonelier. Silos and cliques became norm.

Oblivious to the serious world out and up there, the young generation began to see design differently. For them design was a world of possibilities and opportunities. They believe Herbert Simon when he says: ‘Design is about taking anything from its existing state to a desired one’. They brought in a new lease of life to design practice and new image for designers.

Generation 4 :

The Dream Chasers

The latest of the breed are the optimists. Blissfully unaware of the challenges, struggles, rules, traditions and industry norms, the young designers are the dreamers. They have vague ideas for a better world and are planning the journey to utopia, preparing to pick up people and skills along the way. They began to plan and design the future world and future life. Armed with unrestricted imagination and infinite information, they are confident of reaching any destination if they start the journey. They learn, unlearn, team up, lose way, navigate and course correcting along the way and savouring the journey. If someone has made something desirable, they push boundaries to make it even more desirable.

For the first time, the creative folks learnt a new art, began this rare practice – the act of appreciation. Inspired by the online life, ‘Likes’ entered the workplace. Competition and the individual were killed, collaboration and communities were born.

In their digital life, multiple worlds converged into a single handheld device. In the real life though, clear boundaries were drawn between workplace and lifeplace. Diverse interests and professions entered friends circle.

In 6 decades time, it is heartening and feels proud to see the design fraternity grow into a lion in the industry, and become a formidable contributor to the vibrant, energetic economy, juggling plurals in a very unique way.

Knowledge & dreams, expertise & exploration, serious & fun, experience & enthusiasm, confidence & curiosity, toolkits & gut feelings, experts & followers, success & failure, work & life, the real & the digital, the individuals & the communities.

The design industry and the community in our country surely have bright, sunny days ahead.

Let the drums and conversations roll.

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