There are many design institutes in India—multiple campuses of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), of the National Institute of Design (NID), the Industrial Design Centre at IIT Bombay, and architecture and fine arts colleges. But education experts argue that most of these function independently of each other and there isn’t enough idea exchange.
Sonipat-based World University of Design (WUD) aims to be different. It comprises of schools of architecture, design, fashion, communication, visual arts and management, with design cutting across streams. “The NIFT specialises in garments and clothing, the NID and the Industrial Design Centre are big on industrial design, but the WUD teaches every aspect related to design,” Sanjay Gupta, founder & vice-chancellor, WUD, told FE.
An alumnus of IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad, Gupta established the textile design stream at the NIFT as its founding chairperson, and helped set up various NIFT campuses in his capacity as dean (Academic). He was then 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.
In 2016-17, he founded the WUD, promoted by the Shri Om Parkash Bansal Educational & Social Welfare Trust of Mandi Gobindgarh, Punjab.
On June 2, the WUD held its first physical convocation (delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic), where 140 graduates passed out, with average salaries ranging from Rs 5.1 lakh per annum for bachelor’s graduates and Rs 6.5 lakh for master’s. “The highest pay package was Rs 12.5 lakh,” Gupta said.
One of the reasons why design education isn’t as popular as streams such as engineering is because 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 evolving. Products need to be curated for the local market, and companies are realising that. Design has a big role to play here,” Gupta said. “Design plays the biggest role in product differentiation, be it a biscuit or a car. It can make or break products.”
The demand for design professionals is rising. According to the India Skills Report 2019 (by PeopleStrong, Wheebox and CII in partnership with AICTE, UNDP and the 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.
Design is now being widely applied in the services sector, too. “Think of Swiggy, Uber, Flipkart or Zomato. Design is everywhere, in their communication with the customer, on their portals, on their apps, the way they deliver,” Gupta said. “Design serves all kinds of companies, from an MNC such as Amazon to the most basic manufacturing units.”
Specialist versus interdisciplinary
Today, an Ashoka University appears to be interdisciplinary and a WUD comes across as a specialist. Gupta said 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,” he said.
Design education in schools
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 said that walls in certain European schools have pictures of artists and monuments, but this isn’t the case in India. “I am not saying that make 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 said. “The appreciation for art must be taught early on.”
Design as a career
Design as a career is now being looked at seriously by both students and their parents (who invest in their education). That is possibly the reason as many as 200 universities have opened a design school in the last 3-4 years, and all IITs have been instructed to start a design course. “But what differentiates the WUD is that it is still the only place in India that offers bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in design,” Gupta said.
During initial 2-3 years, he added that attracting students was a challenge. “We don’t have a big brand attached to us, we are a greenfield university, and are located in Sonipat (not in a metro city). Another challenge was convincing parents that their kids will probably get better salaries than even engineers. But things have changed,” Gupta said.
While the WUD is just 5-6 years old, Gupta added 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.”