Is Google world class design?

Yes. Today when we were working on the websites that will document our open source social design project at Ranthambhore, in Rajasthan – we’re stuck in New Delhi waiting for the riots to subside because all roads to Sawai Madhopur are on curfew – we were discussing various elements in the design. White spaces, one or two touches of colour and then just the images with their relevant tags. You can search by tags – we hope to have solar power and potable water and renewable energy sources etc all being prototyped in various parts of Ranthambhore.

So it seemed looking at the description I’ve written above it very closely matches Google’s homepage. Am I copying Google? well there’s no search in the middle that’s for sure, and it will have images and case studies and all, but then if its the best design and it evokes a feel of Google, does this then mean that Google is an international design standard?

Oh, ick!

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Thoughts on aging

I just spent the day working with Dicky and a former colleague of mine, Poonam Gupta, who is also Dicky’s sister in law. Yeah you kinda either know someone, worked with them or are related to them, sometimes its all three in the same family.

And one of the things I noticed, since we are all of an age in our late thirties and early forties that we’re all growing gray in our black hair and not afraid to show it. None of us are dying our hair to hide the fact. Its almost as though we’re fed up of being children and are now growing into our own ‘elderhood’ with the attendent perks that being older in India gives you.

What perks, pray tell, is she blathering about, you say, since we have no social benefits or welfare of any kind for the aged here in India. But coming back into the mileu of the joint family home in South Delhi, with all the upstairs and downstairs and two or three kitchens, and the various hierarchies that exist, its only then that you notice the subtleties of family and social life in India that you cannot ever see from without.

We get respect as our hair greys visibly.

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Envisioning futuregaon 2010


Last night we began the envisioning process for bringing our prototype of a futuregaon, by 2010, to life. From basic infrastructure like how can we make our intent to electrify the entire village by using indigenously designed solar power units that can be locally repaired by barefoot solar engineers, becoming a revenue generating microentreprise in the village?

We also discussed looking into potable water, education and information dissemination, alternate sources of future income and skills training for the local residents. Naturally we’ll do full immersion and understand the needs from the design researchers point of view.

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An Edinburgh shopwindow


the world – or at least addressing the concerns regarding the key
issues – has gone mainstream in the United Kingdom. This is a window
display at Marks and Spencers on Princes Street in Edinburgh – yes,
back in Yorkshire after my birthday weekend trip to Scotland. Plan A by Marks and Spencers is more than just a promotional campaign, they’ve incorporated their 5 commitments – to address climate change, waste, health, fair trade and sustainability – into their corporate brand philosophy. Here’s a snippet,

A quick run-down of M&S’s green & eco ideas looks like this:

  • Stop sending waste to landfill sites by 2012
  • Improve energy efficiency by 25%
  • Power all stores using renewable energy
  • Trial the use of energy from food waste (anaerobic digestion)
  • Double the amount of locally-sourced food over the next 12 months
  • Reduce the amount of food imported by air
  • Use biofuels for its delivery trucks
  • Reduce packaging by 25%
  • Sell polyester clothing made from recycled bottles
  • Increase the amount of fairtrade cotton goods

When first launched, the campaign announcing their intentions was received with skeptism, particularly from long time sustainability supporters like my hostess Emma,
since M & S is a mainstream high street retailer in the UK, one
without any prior association with many of these issues unlike say The
Body Shop.

And its not just M&S, high street shopping in Britain seems to
point to  high levels of  global awareness amongst  the local populace.
Take  Fair Trade products for example – fair trade products are those
that do not squeeze the maximum profits through the entire supply chain
for commodities like coffee or sugar but instead serve to ensure that
the individual farmers in far flung Brazil or Columbia get a fair price
for their crops, one that will allow them to live beyond just basic

I’ll be writing more on each of these issues but did want to quickly
note that having just flown into the UK from San Francisco – possibly
the most aware part of the United States when it comes to the issues
covered in M&S’s Plan A above – that the UK is certainly seems to
be the global thought leader in all of these areas. Organic, green, eco
friendly et al are still niche or speciality products in much of the
rest of the world. Where else can you buy a pack of sweet corn in the
supermarket and the packaging tells you that it was grown in Senegal?

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Few of my uncles and aunts are living with their grown sons as they’ve all moved away for fancy jobs. No one can begrudge them the paychecks and perks that they’ve slogged their entire lives for. But what about the parents? They need a "son" or "nephew" to send for random household chores that they’re getting too old to do. Someone needs to start such a service, I wouldn’t be surprised if by being reliable and conscientious about their delivery and manners and quality of service, if they couldn’t build up a regular set of households to service with their team of young boys. Ideally with bikes or mopeds. Armed with a mobile phone. Here’s the ad line, too ;p

Son abroad? No one to stand in line at the hospital for you? Need someone to go and pay all the bills once a month? Nephews too busy to pick up their mobile? Call Bhaiyya now ;p

ha ha nice one. I’m having fun today.

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Ruminating on the compost heap


If we must clean up the sites of urban India, such as this beauty on the heavily trafficked Delhi Mehrauli road that leads to Gurgaon, then I suggest we worry more about how garbage disposal is handled in the cities that streetside stalls serving foods.

The key issue here is waste creation and disposal, not the cooking, serving or eating of food. Lets look at this from the value creation point of view. Street hawkers are small scale entreprenuers who make their living by providing cheap, hot, affordable food to bottom of the urban pyramid [the Boups?] such as daily wages laborers, auto drivers, delivery men, peons and others. Who hasn’t enjoyed a double egg omlette at half past two in the morning on the side of the road washed down with hot tea for all of Rs 3 or 5? Their removal by the authorities, bent on cleaning the roadsides, will do greater harm than good. Too many bellies are being fed by this one stream of folk.

Now lets look at the problem of waste disposal from a different perspective. The very familiar image above is the standard state of the art garbage disposal units in New Delhi. I also recall cows often enjoying a nap in the middle of Double Road in Bangalore sometimes, so I can guess this is a widespread ‘solution’. I am just rambling out aloud here, mind you, but I was thinking of the Daily Dump, Poonam Bir Kasturi’s open source design for a home composting unit which is designed to minimize the smell and maximize the aesthetics of rotting garbage.

Just dreaming out loud here, but what if all these urban garbage dumps were turned into compost heaps? All it needs is that for people to seperate their organic waste like foodstuffs and their inorganic waste like plastic, paper etc. Many people do this already, since the raddiwalla will buy much of what I’ve had to throw in the garbage in San Francisco. Like newspapers for example. But food waste shouldn’t contain plastic bags. That is the biggest problem with waste, look at the photograph above, and it kills the cows also. I mean, they belong to somebody no? Someone who probably doesn’t have cow insurance to cover the cost of a new one if his cow dies of unnatural causes? We have car insurance to help the car owner if there’s an accident, right I’m rambling too much now 😛


I can see how much nicer garbage dumps like this would look around delhi, and we can keep one near all the hawker areas instead of getting rid of the hawkers. What would Singapore be without street food?


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Collection: Perspective on Mobile phones and developing societies

Time, the Guardian and the Tale of two Indias – poverty and economic changesMotofone

Three Indias – the aspiring class, an emerging market
Price point as design criteria for emerging markets
Mobile phones: a post industrial platform
Motorola’s brand experience in Singapore
Designing products for the BoP – more than just profits, ref Motorola

Universal user interface
The changing role of the mobile
Broadband nations: a mobile disconnect?
Intangible benefits of mobile phone ownership at the BoP?

Nokia, Nokia, Nokia and Jan Chipchase

Mobile banking in the USA wrt NYT article

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Design challenge: futuregaon 2010

The future of India is literally in her villages, 550 million Indians under the age of 25. Over 65%  of whom live the rural hinterlands of
the country and they cannot all migrate to the cities drawn by the
glittering flickering images on their second hand black and white TV’s
that run in their village shacks by car batteries and jugaad.

And yet, is it fair that they should be left out of the great social
and economic revolution that is taking place in India’s urban sprawls?

Given the infrastructural constraints and the lack of time
available, with the opposing maximizing pressures of [raise literacy,
income,  opportunity, skills] with [wants, needs, consumerism, economic
prosperity] because given the environment and the finite geographical
resources available, the population constraint is simply immeasurable.

So how do we bring down the transaction cost of every possible
service to be delivered to the common man in India, the humble kisan,
the aam junta?

By using existing techological infrastructure to minimize costs and
maximize reach, both in terms of return on investment and social value

How best do we bring the best the 21st century has to offer to the
villages of India, with the benefits of learning, knowledge and culture
in a manner that best fits their needs and yet serves to minimize the
effect on the surrounding ecology?

By framing the problem to be solved with the maximum constraints, allowing us to design for the future with a minimum impact on the environment.

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Curd rice on a hot summer’s day

As a life long lover of a full sapad, complete with n-number of papadams for me to carefully crumble into my sambar and ghee, you can only imagine my salivary glands getting into action when reading this little snippet from The Hindu.

At an introductory price of Rs 10 for 275 gms, the curd rice is
garnished with mustard, cashew nuts, raisin, green chillies, ginger,
curry leaves and carrot.

The product will be available throughout the State in a few
days, according to company officials. Details of the investment have
not been disclosed but the thinking behind the launch of the product is

Hatsun has an early morning product  –   milk, and afternoon product  –   ice cream.

The refrigeration facilities with Hatsun’s franchisees merely
hold inventories from early morning to practically until lunch time. These facilities could be better employed by a product that also sells during that period. What’s better than curd rice?

Look Amma, now you can buy readymade curd rice in a pouch for Rs 10/-. Someone needs to import it to New Delhi’s South Indian shops, the one in Munirka is too far away, how about Yamuna Apartments? OK tell you what, just send me a hamper, no?

Anyway, its interesting to note this little regional innovation, that, as the article says, is a product whose launch has had some thinking behind it. Not only was this an unmet need, but nobody even knew it existed. Why am I thrilled, well, can you imagine being able to pop it in your bag for lunch in the morning without any hassles at all? Some of the convenience foods are over priced in the premium paid for the preparation and timesaving, but some are not only a good value for me, as this [yuck] Krd Ryce [who named this? ] – especially since the Medrasis are such a tightfisted lot – but also worth the extra money, as a pouch of Mughlai Paneer for instance. Its Rs 80 true but you can buy it for a dinner party and add some mushrooms and any extra veggies you want, its got enough gravy and you can stretch it out far more economically than ordering take out from the neighbourhood dhabha. Probably safer in summer too. I’ll try to have the photo’s up tomorrow.

Now, interestingly enough Nestle and Amul are taking a different path – that of flavoured yoghurts. I shall be curious to see how that takes off, the language of the article and the brand messaging is oh so very creamy layer. It might be good for making lassis, that’s about all I think of, the reason why is because of a datapoint that struck me this afternoon.  I remember standing in the grocery shop when some woman asked the shopkeeper for flavoured milk.

Now I’m going to digress a bit to describe how to order in a small grocery shop, the standard one down at the corner that you go to everyday, simply because I noticed the difference between it and my Kiki Supermarket on the corner of Powell and Jackson. Now the shopkeeper asked her what flavour milk did she want, and she goes what do you have? She had an impatient sneering expression on her face as though she wasn’t expecting too much under the subject of "flavoured milk" from this kind of shop that too in not so fancy a market as GK1 or South Ex or something like Priya Cinema Complex with its Modern Bazaar that served the diplomatic enclave.  I mean we’re bordering Kalkaji and [shock horror] Govindpuri after all ;p

He says "Butterscotch, Pistachio and Banana Peach" or some such posh flavours, and you could see her suddenly look up with interest, and asked to be shown the brand. Now two things come to mind at this point, one, the customer doesn’t really browse. You can’t, I found myself trying to do so today, and I just got underfoot everyone’s way, there’s no impulse buying in India, no sirree, or at least not until absolutely the point of purchase, which to be honest, I just realized, is the shopkeeper himself.  I like  unbranded indian potato chips and asked for them. He didn’t have any and told me to try some weird new fangled stuff like a cross between a pringles and a baked lays. When I went today there were a few fresh packets of indian style potato crisps in an unmarked clear plastic bag – cottage industry, probably being made by hand inside some narrow gulli somewhere.

So back to the flavoured yoghurt being launched as probiotic or whatever that means, the ads will act as an impetus to someone, say me, being intrigued enough to ask for it when down at the market next, but if my shopkeeper hasn’t received it yet then I don’t know if I would walk to a rival grocers to buy it immediately. You really can’t do that, or if you do, you must do it only for one single product or something beneath your own grocer’s notice. Seriously, they take customer retention and loyalty extremely seriously since after a point the market stabilizes in any one particular neighbourhood and if you can’t maintain and keep your existing customers, like a doctor, there won’t be any new ones moving to the neighbourhood soon. Don’t forget, in 43 C heat I don’t really want to go very far or walk around a lot to do my shopping.

l, on the other hand, still fresh off the boat from San Francisco, peered into the cold storage and looked at all the local cheese, butter and butter substitute varieties available. Who needed imported stuff? Everything is available right here. Now that’s scary. Because I’ll still have bring my own Miracle Whip and Mayo ;p

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If choice and convenience are indicators

then the quality of life in New Delhi, or at least South Delhi, seems to have improved. The vegetable vendor down the road, with his cart parked behind the small paanwaala, is offering mushrooms, sprouts and baby corn along with the usual potatoes, onions and green chilli. The quality of his tomatos was also far better than what I got in GK2 market. What’s interesting is that Alaknanda market has always seemed dusty and dull compared to the glitz and glamour of GK1 Main Market with its McDonalds, Esprit and Cartier.

But today’s foray seemed to tell me that while not in the best of shape, it actually was a microcosm of what a neighbourhood market should be. Fresh fruits and vegetables, books, magazines and newspapers, groceries, bakeries, pastry shops, the butcher, a few banks including a Citi ATM, tailors, plastics, stationary, a photography studio, the Xerox machine walla – was there anything you could not get done or buy at this market? Jewellery perhaps and fancy clothes, but that’s what malls are for, this market was for getting work done, not for lingering and strolling, gazing at the displays in the windows as one does elsewhere.

I also picked up fresh soft flat bread, branded of course, a vacuum pouch of Mughlai paneer for Rs 80 [that’s my $2 for today] and tiny bottles of green coconut water for Rs 15 each. At first the thought of having to throw away so many plastic bottles instead of the shell of a coconut seemed to be wasteful but then I remembered that in India, ragpickers would make sure nothing that could be sold for reuse would be left to rot in the dump. Oh well, I threw in a bit more in the garbage, just concerned that the plastic liner might hurt a cow. That’s odd. San Francisco has banned plastic bags in the city. And plastic bags are over running Delhi, even tiny shops who would have used bags made from old newspapers were giving away plastic bags. Maybe Delhi should ban plastic bags instead of golguppawalas?

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