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New Course: Design professionals should think beyond products and systems

Posted on Monday, December 24, 2018

Designers are equipped with the skill-set to create better processes, products and communities with a high emotional sustainability quotient, writes Jitin Chaddha

As per the recently released comprehensive report on the Ease of Living 2018 (by Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry of Government of India), 111 cities across India were assessed on 79 indicators grouped under 4 broad parameters - institutional, social, economic and political. Whatever the relevance of rankings maybe, the report succeeds in highlighting the fact that we need to address environmental challenges to step up in social progress indicators. This essentially means that we need to structure a robust and sustainable community that can combat pressing needs of the populace.

‘Sustainability’, the latest buzzword that has been dissected at various conventions and congregations, is not an alien concept to the Indian ethos and culture. India, a country known for its diversity and contradictions, has been nurturing a sustainable ecosystem long before the Brundtland Commission came into force. In fact, sustainable and environment friendly practices such as hoarding and thriftiness have long been an integral component of the lifestyle and culture of Indians. Have we ever paused and pondered over the core idea of sustainability? What makes us preserve certain products over generations, while discarding some. ‘Emotional Sustainability’ is a concept that stems from the value of a product and what it means to the consumer or end-user. Sustainability stretches beyond the realm of ‘going green’ and a holistic approach to the subject would indeed include emotional sustainability as an integral aspect.

Designers by trade are trained to identify problems, critically analyse and view situations from multiple perspectives, and above all use logic, intuition and empathy to devise impactful solutions. Products with a heightened probability of emotional sustainability share the uniqueness of utility and time spent on the design. They strategically strike the perfect balance between aesthetics and functionality. This is where ‘designers’ come into the picture.

In fact, it is important for design professionals to go beyond products and systems, sustainable as they may be, and act on social challenges like increased stress levels, anxiety, depression and the like. This can be done by designing innovative mechanisms that will help inculcate a more inclusive society. Designers are rightly equipped with the skill-set to create better systems, processes, products and communities with a high quotient of emotional sustainability.

Design has a crucial role to play in furthering the cause of sustainability. The need of the hour is to groom the next generation of designers who can seamlessly adapt themselves to the demands of the society and leverage expertise of cross-functional teams to arrive at environment-friendly solutions while being sensitive to the social challenges people battle in the real world.

The time is right for us to internalise emotional sustainability in a world that is struggling to drastically reduce carbon emissions while developing sophisticated technologies of the future. However, while doing so, we must respect indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices that eventually contribute to sustainable and equitable development.

Furthermore, it is extremely important that stakeholders of design education in India take a leaf out of our dynamic Indian culture and ensure sustainability. We must build an ecosystem where more and more consumers establish an emotional attachment to the product, thereby reducing the prospects of it being disposed off.

The curriculum and pedagogy of IIAD is strongly rooted in sensitising students to the concept of sustainability through myriad live projects, discussions and feedback forums pertaining to their chosen design discipline. Our mandate at IIAD is to introduce them to the approach and processes that can be put in place to ensure sustainable development using design as an integral tool.

For instance, students from the Interior Architecture and Design department worked on a project titled ‘Sourcing’, spanning over 3 weeks. The project entailed students exploring numerous salvage markets in the capital and identifying objects that could be transformed into a functional element of an interior space, rather than just being a decor item. This plays on the idea of emotional sustainability that goes hand in hand with environmental sustainability of recycling and reusing products.

Quoting yet another example from the campus, students from the Fashion Design programme recently concluded a rather interesting project that required each of them to upcycle their old garments. The apparel industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil. The project was aimed at sensitising students to the current fashion cycle with a holistic understanding of ecological issues and social impacts created by the industry driven by fast pace and wasteful production and consumption model.

Sustainable development is a collective responsibility, and therefore, skilled minds from all fields and holding varied expertise, must brainstorm together towards building emotionally sustainable communities. Design schools must essay their role as ‘providers’ and build a stimulating ecosystem that triggers conversations around sustainable design solutions in the holistic sense.

(The author is founder of the Indian Institute of Art and Design)




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