Introducing Industrial design

Narendra Ghate is the chief designer at Tata Elxsi. He is a product design graduate from IDC, IIT, Bombay. An expert in product planning, automotive styling, graphics, branding and more, he was also a part of the core team that was instrumental in making the Industrial Design Division the largest design house in India

25 Apr 2018 | By PrintWeek India

Industrial design is something which is mass manufactured for a broad audience with a range of interests. That’s how it is different from architecture and art, which are about one process and product at one time.
The industrial design process is quite exhaustive. It needs to be in-depth, as the end product will be used by different people with different tastes. So the design must appeal to a broad range of people.
For example, one of my earliest projects was for Pond’s talcum powder for Hindustan Unilever (HUL) in 1998. At that time the brief was simple. There were three issues. One, the tin containers of the powder were being sold by counterfeiters, which were hurting the product as well as the brand image. Two, the company wanted to shift from metal cans to plastic bottles. Three, consider the manufacturing of the plastic bottles.
So we conducted user research and studied different sizes of the product. There is an entire range of understanding of what people expect and how they use it. During the time, Unilever had seven different product lines and the equipment were dated. Plus, the volume was huge. So, the new bottles needed to work at 500 bottles per minute. Therefore, it was essential to deliver a design that could withstand the speed and also fit the existing lines without any additional resources.
In short, we had to design something modern, which is compatible to the manufacturing lines at high speed. After a lot of sketches, renders, customer clinics, we introduced a new type of dispensing technique for the first time, a small shutter which reveals the product and a different level of engagement.
What users want?
One crucial insight we learnt during the design was that the product packed should be ready to be used. It should not be complicated to open/ close the container, as was the case with the earlier metal containers. You literally needed a hammer and nail to punch a hole on the container. 
Apple followed this approach when it became the first brand to design phones with in-built battery. It believed that when a customer purchases the phone, it should be ready to use.
The Kochi Metro project
The Kochi Metro project that Tata Elxsi took stretched the definition of industrial design. Only one design was produced, and it was to be used by millions of people. 
We had the complete support of the Kerala government. They were convinced that they needed to have a central design agency who can design the entire metro experience for commuters. Our brief was to design a complete consumer experience for people using the Kochi Metro. This meant that anything that the passenger sees or touches had to be designed.
If you look at the structure of any metro system, they are compartmentalised and are watertight. So, as a single agency, we could peep into each department and understand how things are done.
We started off with researching about Kochi, its characteristic and vibe. Then we got into the nitty-gritty of the metro system. The third approach was to benchmark the world’s metro systems. 
The aim was to create a brand that will connect with the city and its citizens. Right from the start, the government wanted to build an integrated transport system. So it was not only about metro, but also about buses, and other transport systems surrounding it. So, creating a branding for a multi-modal transport system was a critical part of the project.
In Delhi, every metro station is alike. In Kochi, every station was made different. We focussed on the signage system. It was crucial. Our approach was that it should appeal to every commuter using the metro, irrespective of class and culture, unlike malls. We made sure that advertisements do not interfere with signage. 
When you have a single agency to design all the aspects of a project, then it is possible to carry out the same interface and design across all aspects of customer touch-points.

These interviews appeared on Audiogyan, an Indian podcast hosted by Kedar Nimkar. So far, the podcast has 64 posts and more than 65,000 listens. You can listen to the full version of the podcast at