Designed for the Future: Busting Myths About Careers in Design

For many parents, while a creative kid might be encouraged to pursue a life in designing, the “topper” child must surely follow a more “proper” career path.

Dr. Pramath Raj Sinha

By Dr. Pramath Raj Sinha

Recently, I was visiting a friend when his 16-year-old son announced he had made noodles. He asked if I would like some. Being very fond of the boy, I of course said yes.

He said he would need 10 minutes to “plate” his dish. When the food arrived, I saw the noodles were crafted into a bird’s nest, with mushrooms masquerading as little eggs in the centre, and microgreens representing a tree. I was impressed and astounded.

When I was a 16-year-old growing up in Patna, eating noodles was about all going out with the family to the lone Chinese restaurant in the city centre—and eating bowlfuls. No one cared how they served us our food, as long as it was delicious and hygienic. But that was then.

I have been thinking about how visual communication and presentation have suddenly burst into our collective consciousness. More so because I have been involved with setting up a design school in Delhi.

Design as a career is still considered “offbeat”. For many parents, while a creative kid might be encouraged to pursue a life in designing, the “topper” child must surely follow a more “proper” career path. That is a myth. Especially now, when visual communication is not just about the smart packaging that comes at the end, but is often the beating heart of any offering.

Let’s look at some oft-repeated misconceptions about design as a career.

Myth 1: Design is only for the artistic types

Truth: In today’s crowded marketplace, design is essential for everybody. Even until a few years ago, the features of a product were the most important differentiating factor. But the democratisation of technology has levelled that playing field.

Take mobile phones, for instance. At any given price point, most mobile phones will offer similar, if not the exact same, specifications and features. To stand out in the marketplace, manufacturers have started to focus on the look and the feel of their products. This does not simply refer to how your mobile phone looks, but also the experience it offers. UI (or user interface) and UX (or user experience) have become key differentiating factors today, and there is a premium on product design. The hardware engineer and the software developer have to work in tandem with the product designer to create a mobile phone that stands out.

As consumer behaviours mature, consumption becomes more experiential. Thus, it is not enough anymore to offer the best Chinese food in town, a restaurateur has to put a great deal of thought into the entire dining experience that is being promised to the customer. This involves the restaurant ambience, the lighting, the furniture, the staff uniforms, the cutlery, the menu, and yes, the presentation of the food. In short, design sensibilities are central to the “sell”.

Myth 2: Design is an add-on

Truth: Design has infused every aspect of our lives, even the most mundane activities. The consumer today expects and demands not just functionality from every product and service they consume, but functional designs that are worth their time and money. The boom in e-commerce means that design thinking has to be incorporated into every stage of a business, from ideation to production, marketing to delivery. Design thinking has also become critical to building sustainability and environmental consciousness in any business.

The gaming industry is another arena where design has taken centre stage. With smart devices becoming ubiquitous and internet access more affordable, online gaming has exploded in India. Some reports estimate there will be 2.35 crore paid gamers in our country by 2025. Again, technology has made game development a relatively easy, yet lucrative career, leading to a profusion of games. Sadly, many of the games are a poor experience—and are not very engaging or enjoyable. The solution? Better UI and UX—and training in game design!

Interestingly enough, gaming is no longer restricted to computer, mobile and console games. Even fields like education and finance are using gamified tools to make their UX attractive and seamless. Wondering how your education app is gamifying your experience? Look for the “points” you get for completing various activities like quizzes and assignments—and the leader board which tabulates scores for the entire class. Creating these kinds of compelling and engaging experiences for users requires skilled digital product designers—in addition to software and content experts.

With the predicted increase in the use of VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and VFX (visual effects) in various apps, the role of visual designers is likely to increase significantly.

Myth 3: You don’t need qualifications to become a design professional, just creativity

Truth: Gone are the days when anyone with good aesthetic sense or a one-month certificate could aspire to become a designer. Design is not just about making something beautiful.
In today’s crowded market, where companies are looking for ways to break through the clutter, design has to be solution-oriented, functional and cutting-edge—in addition to being beautiful.

Consequently, there is a great demand for design professionals who are well-versed in industry needs and customer expectations, and have holistic education and training in all aspects of design. With so much hinging on the visual language of a business and the experiential expectations of customers, there’s a huge demand for trained design professionals—not just design enthusiasts who can draw well.

Myth 4: There are no good institutions in India offering qualifications in design

Truth: Several reputable institutions have come up in India, in the past few years, that are offering three-year and four-year programs in everything from visual communication and game design, to product design and digital communication—both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. These institutions have stellar faculty, many with extensive experience in the industry. The institutions have also fostered deep industry ties to give students an experiential education that combines academic rigour with internships. Many have collaborated with top design schools abroad, and have put in place a modern curriculum that inculcates an agile design mindset and encourages innovation.

In the coming decade, my view is that design as a profession and design as education will become more important and better organised—and work opportunities will be plentiful for students who are well trained in contemporary techniques. While Artificial Intelligence (AI) may automate many functions in the future, I anticipate that design sensibility will always remain a uniquely human preserve.

(The author is the Founder of Ashoka University, founding Dean of ISB, and the co-founder of JS Institute of Design. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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