Letter to DIPP – Uday Dandavate

Dear Mr. V. Bhaskar, 

I am writing this email to you because I was not able to join the representatives of the Vision First initiative during a meeting with you on March 18th.  This group, of which I am one of the core team members, was galvanized through interactions on the online social network forum DesignIndia and wants to help the government form a new vision for expanding the design education infrastructure for India.

Since you asked each of the representatives who met you in your office to introduce themselves, I would like to do the same.

I head up a design research company, SonicRim, based out of San Francisco, California and Columbus, Ohio in the United States. I was trained at NID between 1975 and 1981 and have also acquired graduate degree in deign research from the Ohio State University.  I have dedicated the past thirty years of my career to the promotion, practice and teaching in the field of design. My team at SonicRim specializes in helping leading organizations both in private and public sector develop strategies for  Innovation through Co-creation. I am closely associated as a  visiting lecturer with many design schools and management schools and was a founding faculty of the 180 Academy in Denmark, which was founded to train European executives in Innovation methods.
I was born in a family that fought for the independence of India. My parents Prof. Madhu Dandavate and Mrs. Pramila Dandavate dedicated their lives  to shaping the vision of modern india through direct participation in the political, parliamentary and social reforms in India. With this background I harbor a sense of commitment to continuing our family tradition of helping shape a vision for a progressive and just India through my area of expertise- design thinking and co-creation. I regularly contribute political columns to various progressive magazines, newspapers and online media on issues that I believe can help find innovative solutions to lingering problems of India. My political and ideological  convictions transcend my political affiliations. I have joined my peers from the field of design who are eager to mobilize ideas and opinions to help the government expand the design infrastructure of India.
My purpose for affiliating with various initiatives in India such as the Vision First initiative, is to serve as a  “Constructive Watchdog” to make Indian democracy a success.
I share strong concerns the design community in india has about the current process being followed by the DIPP in appointing a consultant for setting up four new campuses of  NID.  The current process has by-passed a critical phase of institution building- that of building a vision. Therefore I believe this process must be paused. It will lead to arbitrary use of public funds without following due diligence. The haste with which the RFP process is being pushed has created an  impression in public that the government is  more keen on spending large amount of money than following due diligence in building institutions of national importance and contemporary relevance.

We have approached Sam Pitroda to intervene because we believe he understands how to build infrastructure of contemporary India. He knows state of art in design practice and has already recognized the concern of the design community in India. I have had several years of contact with Mr. Sam Pitroda who I respect for his contribution to driving grass root level change through innovation and technology. He has been associated with many institutes of design as an advisor and has become an evangelist for the idea of bringing design thinking to influence public policy and nation building. We have therefore mobilized our social network to align with his vision of innovation clusters and to tap into his wisdom to reframe a contemporary vision for expansion of the design education infrastructure for India.

Expansion of NID’s must begin with learning from the past and becoming aware of total transformation of the design profession, the design practice and the design pedagogy taking place around the world. Over the years I have learned that design thinking, which is different from scientific thinking or mathematical thinking, needs to become a foundation for every educated person’s learning process. This is being recognized worldwide. Design education, therefore is being redefined as a competency that transcends traditional notion of conceptualizing “objects of delight”. Design Thinking is being applied to creating value through intangible and soft solutions as much as tangible objects. Design education worldwide is taking on different forms depending on the sector of economy, or the geographical regions it needs to serve. The new space for design can only be defined through a critical examination of the new definition of design. By excluding leading thinkers of design profession from the process of visioning the expansion of NID’s the Government is sure to fall into the trap of investing in outdated concept of design education. I wonder what would have been the fate of India’s democracy if we had floated a tender inviting consultants for building various ministries instead of forming a constituent assembly to draft the constitution through collaboration of the eminent thinkers of India.

I have joined over 1500 members of the Indian design community who are trying to communicate our concerns to the government through the Vision First initiative. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru helped create the NID fifty years ago through a similar visioning exercise.

It may have been appropriate to house the NID in the Industry Ministry fifty years ago, in keeping with the philosophical framework provided by Bauhaus. At the time, the objective of design education at Bauhaus was to counter the dehumanizing effects of technology on objects of everyday use in the era after Industrial revolution. Today, the challenge for design is much bigger. The constraints designers grapple with are more complex and require new types of  competencies, which were not envision fifty years ago. NID has evolved from its original mandate which needs to be revisited afresh.  At the same time the very idea of a National Institute of Design (NID) suggests a monolithic structure reminiscent of the licensee raj. The new vision for design needs to evolve from a participatory process, from the accumulated wisdom of designers, design educators, design patrons and experts who understand the role of innovation in shaping contemporary societies. That is exactly what Jawaharlal Nehru did when he invited Charles and Ray Eames to articulate a vision for NID. The Vision First team is very concerned that a perfect opportunity for giving a new thrust for the future of India through design will be lost if we first focus on using available funds for identifying a consultant for implementation of the infrastructure. I fear the haste with which the consultant is being appointed will lead to mindless use of public funds to perpetuate a monolithic organization than a network of self inspired clusters of innovation. This is why we are insisting on attention of the Prime Minister again.

The President of United States, Barack Obama, in his State of the Nation speech recently made it a public priority in establishing and inspiring Innovation in every sector of American life, being essential to turn the economy around. Denmark is setting up Innovation Centers around the world to establish partnerships in Innovation. The Design Community in India strongly believes that we must re-examine the vision for design education at the highest level of the government and across different ministries and sectors of the economy. Our campaign for raising public awareness toward that goal will continue and we will continue to offer our help to DIPP and to Mr. Pitroda in co-creating a clear vision for transforming india through cultivation of state of art competencies in design and innovation.

I hope you will see the value in supporting Vision First team’s proposal for starting a co-creation activity (not a seminar) for forming a vision for a contemporary design education infrastructure and take timely steps to avoid squandering of public resources. The design community in India wants to participate and help build a new infrastructure for design education in India.


Uday Dandavate

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: