Design education must start early: Nandita Abraham, President, Pearl Academy | Interview

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Published: December 2, 2019 12:59 AM

It helps businesses understand and deliver on consumer aspirations, while making a social, cultural, national impact.

Design is applied in the areas of sustainability, smart cities, clean India, and effectively delivering public services.

The ‘Future of Design Education in India’ report by the British Council (2016) noted that India will need 60,000 designers by 2020 working in a market of RS 188.32 billion. Catering to that demand are multiple campuses of the National Institute of Design (NID) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), the Industrial Design Centre in IIT Bombay, architecture and fine arts colleges, and private institutes such as the Pearl Academy. “Design as a career is being looked at seriously by both students and their parents,” says Nandita Abraham, president, Pearl Academy, which has campuses in Delhi, Noida, Mumbai, Jaipur, Bengaluru and Kolkata. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, she adds design is of immense importance in the areas of sustainability, smart cities, and effectively delivering public services. Excerpts:

How has design education and, importantly, design thinking evolved in India?

To stay relevant, people must continuously reskill in soft and technical skills. It can be achieved through a combination of forward-looking curriculum and agile thinking. In the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, what can differentiate you is an experiential way of learning and design thinking, with a focus on creativity, innovation, problem-solving skills, and empathy-based solutions.

What is the difference between a Pearl Academy, a NID and a NIFT?

Be it Pearl Academy, NIFT or NID, each of these has created a strong history, great faculty and students. We, at Pearl Academy, employ a disruptive approach that teaches students not only in classrooms, but also through maximum exposure to industry.

Are there enough design jobs in India?

Design is applied in the areas of sustainability, smart cities, clean India, and effectively delivering public services. With factors like favourable demography, rising educational aspirations, openness to pursue alternate careers, job opportunities and increased affordability of higher education, the potential of design education in India is at its peak. The government has identified intervention points to support design education by implementing measures in terms of faculty development, aptitude assessment.

In India, design education is treated in silos. There is NID, NIFT, and fine arts colleges. But all these, it is argued, function independently of each other and there isn’t much flow of ideas. What about Pearl Academy?

It is our responsibility as senior leaders to ‘upload’ and share as much as we ‘download’. We’ve had many collaborative initiatives. Our annual event ‘What’s Next’ features industry, educators, policymakers and students, who discuss “what’s next in relevant areas”. Two years ago, we created the ‘Design Educators Group’ featuring academics from across colleges to brainstorm on common projects, best practices and ideas. We have also been representing India and Indian colleges at the executive committee of the International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes.

Is design education applied only to the manufacturing sector?

Far from it. Sectors like advertising, transportation, business, finance, retail, entertainment, fashion, telecommunication, healthcare, luxury goods are leading in employing designers. Consulting companies and FMCG firms have realised the importance of design and design thinking.

Should design thinking be made a part of school curriculum? Should it have found a mention in draft National Education Policy?

Design collaborates with engineering, business and pure sciences to boost the economy. It helps businesses understand and deliver on consumer aspirations, while making a social, cultural, national impact. So, changes in education are critical, with curriculum focused on learning outside the classroom, which is the core of design.
There should be a focused effort to propel design thinking, especially in the NEP. With emphasis being given to logical thinking, problem-solving skills and being creative, educators, government and bodies like FICCI and CII must come together to ensure design thinking becomes a default for education system of India.
China is a major supplier to American fashion houses, but due to the trade war, Americans might reduce reliance on

Chinese apparel suppliers. What kind of opportunities does it throw up for India?

These are global market dynamics and a loss for one is often a win for the other. Market dynamics like these will create opportunities and one should be prepared to make the most of these. However, true success will only come through consistent design innovation, and market understanding. As a country, we must focus on improving our product from within.

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