Second draft of my talk

The Chartered Society of Designers, UK had recently issued a
statement following Sir Nicholas Stern’s Review Report on the Economics
of Climate Change highlighting the opportunities for the design
industry in light of this global crisis. They said, in summary,

As a profession we influence products of all sorts and
buildings and the energy they use. In design development and service
design we are also able to reduce the energy used in delivering them.
But in order to do so the designer must posses the knowledge needed to
deal with such matters. This will involve collaboration, new working
methods, knowledge transfer and a new attitude to design research.

If Stern is taken seriously then designers will see new
opportunities for their services, they will need to adopt a business
language in order for design to become embedded in the range of
businesses strategies and to take a seat in the boardroom, and they
will enter new overseas markets which need to invest in products that
allow them to trade in carbon emissions. For those economies that are
loathe to invest the figure suggested by Stern for fear of inhibiting
their rapid economic growth, design and innovation will be paramount in
ensuring they are not disadvantaged.

The world is now looking to design to provide answers to complex
problems and sustainability issues – as resources become increasingly
scarce – and I think that Indian designers can lead the way in the
search for answers. I believe that as designers, we are comfortable
with ambiguity and have learnt to make order out of chaos. And as
Indians, we are comfortable straddling the disparity of urban and rural
markets, understanding that products and services need to withstand a
wide variance in infrastructure and environment, the diversity of our
multicultural, multilingual nation and finally, the daily understanding
that there are millions among us who are overlooked, underserved, and
often have very little or nothing at all.

This is a corporate social opportunity for Indian industry and the
design community. We have here the foundation of a cooperative movement
that could conceivably create health, wealth and the freedom to choose.
Not just for a fortunate few, but for the vast majority across our
nation.  What is the current landscape in this area globally?

A few data points come to mind, the increasing shift towards social
design issues, the need for responsible design and development of
products, and of course, the increasing awareness of our shrinking
resources etc. All of these point to the search for solutions for
everyday problems [what designers do best] but within the tightest
constraints possible. Minimal footprint, the optimum solution – a
balance between materials used, energy consumed yet elegantly solving
the problem at hand. Operations Research provides the trick – I’m not
saying the Carpenter’s Problem should be applied directly, but if you
look at the concept of solving for the optimal solution within the
constraints and inequalities given, then one can derive a similar
concept when considering the next source of innovative thinking and new
product solutions. Furthermore, the concept of rapid prototyping within
the design constraints can be mapped on to the shaded area under the
graph [representational of concept only]. Where do we find these ideas
and answers?

There are already numerous social entrepreneurial initiatives that
are based on innovative business models that create wealth and
opportunity even for the poorest – from SEWA to ICICI, eChoupal to the
Jaipur foot – all of these and more provide micro finance, healthcare,
cooperatives and information tailored to their needs. Design studios
already work with disparate segments assisting in augmenting the
quality of their user’s lives – Icarus designed a solar powered lamp,
etc etc [will fill in] but this opportunity is for more than just the
design industry. Sir Nicholas Stern stated in his presentation that
this could not be left solely to government and that individuals would
not take it seriously if business did not play its part.

What I propose is that take Prof Anil Gupta’s work at the National
Innovation Foundation, where teams of field workers keep their eye open
for inventions in their travels through rural India and expand this
into a global network.  Numerous ingenious solutions have emerged, and
as they have been developed under the most adverse conditions, are as
ecologically sound as possible in terms of materials, recycling, energy
etc consumed. Why can’t multidisciplinary teams of designers,
engineers, marketers and others from industry look to developing these
concepts emerging from the bottom up? Take these rough ideas and
prototypes and reform and reengineer them for markets across India and
the world? With a combination of good design, native ingenuity and an
innovative business models that incorporate micro finance
opportunities, cooperatives for small business owners –  example
etc Add to this our technological and informational capabilities on the
world wide web and create a flow of information and value to AND fro
between the haves and the have nots. Create our own markets, for our
products, within the constraints – something we’re already good at – of
the increasingly resource constrained Earth.

This “mash up” as they say, where information meets technology meets
rural innovation can arguably provide a solution to not only India’s
most pressing needs but also to more pressing problems facing all of us
in the world today. A two way exchange of information that empowers,
permits cocreation and connectivity, communication and commerce, will
ensure that the next inventor in remote Bihar who develops an
amphibious bicycle would not need to travel cross country to be
noticed, funded, or noticed globally. India herself would have put him
on the world map.

v 2.0 bhan llc 2006

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