There is a fixation that whatever the West does is the best. That’s reflective of our education system, including architecture and design education. A reorientation is required
In architecture, we appear to be replicating the designs of the West. Take a look at the business districts in Gurgaon or Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai. The massive glass buildings that let in a lot of sun, some experts argue, aren’t suited for Indian environment. “You only raise your climate control bills,” says an architect working with a real estate firm in Gurgaon. On the contrary, what some foreign architects have built in India is path-breaking—Joseph Allen Stein’s India Habitat Centre, Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, Edwin Lutyens’ Delhi. “Buildings made by these architects are adapted to local climate, and culture,” says Sanjay Gupta, the founder vice-chancellor of the World University of Design (WUD)—India’s first design university set up three years ago in Rajiv Gandhi Education City, Sonipat, Haryana. “There is a fixation that whatever the West does is the best. That’s probably reflective of our education system, including architecture and design education. A reorientation is required,” he says.
An alumnus of IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad, Gupta is credited with establishing the Textile Design stream at NIFT as its founding chairperson. He also spearheaded the setting up of various NIFT centres around the country in his capacity as dean (Academic) at NIFT. Subsequently, he was involved in establishing the International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes (IFFTI), an umbrella organisation of fashion schools worldwide, and founded the School of Design at GD Goenka University, Gurgaon.
Three years ago, he founded the WUD, promoted by the Shri Om Parkash Bansal Educational & Social Welfare Trust of Mandi Gobindgarh, Punjab.
Design as a bridge
The university comprises of schools of architecture, design, fashion, communication, visual arts and management, with design cutting across all streams. “In India, design education is treated in silos. You have a NID at one place and a NIFT at another. Then there is the Industrial Design Centre in IIT Bombay, and architecture and fine arts colleges across the country. But all these function independently of each other and there isn’t a flow of ideas from one institute to another,” Gupta says. “We aim to unify all educational streams with design.”
A reason design education and design thinking had failed to take off in India is that manufacturing, in our country, has focused more on reverse engineering than on innovation. “But in the last decade or so, things are changing. Indian market is unique. Products need to be curated for the local market, and that means design has a far bigger role to play today,” Gupta says. This has started reflecting in the rising demand for design professionals. According to the India Skills Report 2019 (by PeopleStrong, Wheebox and CII in partnership with AICTE, UNDP and Association of Universities), the key jobs in terms of hiring potential are artificial intelligence, design analytics, research and development. “About 23% of employers plan to hire for design jobs,” the report noted.
Gupta adds that design education is picking up is because design is widely applied in the services sector, too. “Let’s say there is a new material that can be applied to a product profitably. It’s only design thinking that can make a developer realise how to use that new material. If companies want to adapt to modern times, they need solutions out of the box and that’s what design thinkers can do.”
And the market is growing. The 2016 Future of Design Education in India report by the British Council noted that India will need more than 60,000 designers by 2020 working in a market of Rs 188.32 billion. “Compare that with just 12,000 design graduates we are creating today. It’s one-fifth of the potential need,” Gupta says.
Specialist versus interdisciplinary
Today, an Ashoka University appears to be interdisciplinary, and a WUD comes across as a specialist. Gupta says that design, inherently, is interdisciplinary. “It cannot be specialist because you have to take inspiration from visual arts, from technology, history, liberal arts, even sciences such as physics. So while design as an educational stream is interdisciplinary, the WUD is a specialist. So is Ashoka, which is a specialist university but their treatment of liberal arts is interdisciplinary. We are moving away from the omnibus universities of yesterday and some such from modern times (Amity, Sharda etc),” he says.
As far as vocational education is concerned, it is argued that, to boost employability, skill development must start in schools. Should design thinking also be made part of school curriculum? Taking the example of Europe, Gupta says that walls in certain European schools have pictures of artists and monuments, but this isn’t the case in India. “I don’t argue for making design a part of school curriculum, but it can be inculcated indirectly. It need not be taught like a textbook subject, but should be imbibed,” he says.
Design as a career
Design as a career option is being looked at seriously by both students and their parents (who invest in education). “Over the last three years, a large number of universities have started a department of design. All IITs have been instructed to start a design course (last year). I believe the WUD started it all,” Gupta says. What differentiates the WUD is that it is still the only university in India that offers Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD in design.
At the same time, he adds that the biggest challenge for the WUD, initially, was attracting students. “We don’t have a big brand attached to us, we are a greenfield university, a newcomer at that, and are located in Sonipat (not in a metro city). Another challenge was convincing parents that their kids will probably get better jobs and better salaries than even engineers. But things have changed in three years.” While the WUD is just three years old, Gupta adds that it has evolved into an institution where there is a NIFT, plus a NID, plus a SPA, plus a College of Art, and “then a little more.”