Ashwini Deshpande of Elephant tracks the trends in design; explains why India is ready

In December, Colours of Asia, a design project spearheaded by the Design Alliance Asia, won the Design for Asia - Culture Award. The award is organised annually by the Hong Kong Design Centre and aims to inspire and reflect the design needs of Asia and commend remarkable people and projects that have had a significant impact in Asia.

07 Jan 2015 | By Tanvi Parekh

Pune-based design specialist, Elephant Strategy + Design has worked on the India research leg of the project. The research compilation, Colors of Asia, is the result of a pan-Asian collaboration of the design development teams to build an Asian palette and highlight the design needs and trend in the region. The participating countries include China/Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Middle East/Lebanon, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. 

Ashwini Deshpande, who is at the helm of Elephant, explains the significance of a research in the design space, and the process that went into the production of the compilation.

What trends do the research reports and analysis point towards? 
This collaborative research project was commissioned to The Design Alliance Asia consortium by the Hong Kong Government. Complete research papers with inputs from 13 Asian countries will soon be up on their website. As it was a culture-based research, the journey was equally important as researchers in each country rediscovered some priceless traditions and their meanings. There are several insights based on the stories and meanings. Though diverse in many ways, we found many similarities across cultures simply by tracing colours. 

Why is an initiative like this important? What is the objective?
Though a research project on the colours of Asia may seem like an academic pursuit, the objective was to discover unique stories and traits of Asian culture and articulate them for the benefit of Asian designers to be able to come up with very rooted, meaningful expressions. As globalisation and technology democratisation has blurred the boundaries between cultures, it is our firm belief at The Design Alliance Asia that we need to preserve the unique differences and present them in a relevant contemporary context. So this sort of discovery is extremely important to trace lesser known stories.  

How has design evolved over the past five years; globally and particularly in India? 
Since everyone has access to the same set of tools and technology around the world, design had moved towards ‘universality’ and we started seeing objects and expressions devoid of any cultural flavour in the first decade of this century. 
However, this  culture-neutrality has started setting in a fatigue towards minimalist expressions with very low emotional engagement. Last four to five years have been interesting as designers are finding themselves more driven by the concept of people-centricity rather than technology as a starting point. This new-found interest in people has brought in a huge sensitivity towards culture, diversity and customisation. 
Designers are experimenting with icons and concepts from culture without being nostalgic or retro. So we are seeing many more designers doing things that people “love”. India being a country with limited resources, Indian designers have always worked on ‘frugal’ principles. The good news is that the world wants to adapt ‘frugal’ approach to designing objects and services and guess what! We are ready!
You have maintained that 'design' is a collaboration between the creator and the executor. To what extent is this collaboration practised? 
As the Elephant story goes, design is a team game. Not only between the creator and executor, but also (and very largely) with the user, and everyone in the eco-system who forms the bridge between the three. We strongly believe this, and the sooner we bring diverse perspectives on the table the faster we will see the big picture.  

What, according to you, is a good design? 
Design means different things to different people at different situations. If you are watching a movie for three hours, a comfortable chair would be good design and if you are doing an online purchase, information architecture resulting in least number of clicks for the desired purchase may be good design. 
I believe in appropriacy of the design solution. Not overdoing it to make it un-approachable and not cutting it so short that it does not even solve for what it is meant to do. If a design solution makes people happier then it is a good design. This is my current belief. 

What's next?
We are starting work on our next research project and hope to do something very innovative in terms of print. 


Who is the printer? And what is the print run of the book? 
The book was printed by Asia One at Hong Kong. Print run was 10,000 copies. 

Were there any prerequisites for getting a printer on board?
This project, including the book has been funded by the Hong Kong Government. So we looked for the best in terms of print quality as well as binding and Asia One fitted all the parameters.

Any difficulties in the making of the book? 
Absolutely none. We are very satisfied with the colour results. The reason we stayed away from hard-case binding was the final weight since the book was to be shipped to all thirteen participating countries in large numbers.