De Parker

Reflecting on the Future of Design Education in 21st Century India:
Towards a paradigm shift in Design Foundation

Indrani De Parker

PhD Scholar at IDC—Industrial Design Centre,
IITB—Indian Institute of Technology Bombay,
Mumbai, India


This article describes research-in-progress which attempts to justify a paradigm shift in Indian design education. The research also investigates features that need to be rooted and nurtured in the foundation year of design education to be appropriate for the realities of life in 21st century India.

This foundation year has had various titles including “Design Fundamentals” or “Basic Design”. The foundation year originated at the Bauhaus and evolved after 1945 at Ulm and Basel. In its nascent period design was focused on individual products including industrial goods, textiles, ceramics, architecture and graphic design. Today, however, to be relevant to contemporary society, designers need to work on complex issues that are interdisciplinary and much broader in scope. 21st century design education needs to be able to apply design and develop strategies to solve real issues and not just look at “good form”. There is also a visible shift from client-driven projects towards a more reflective “issue-based” design education that strives for more socially inclusive, locally/glocally/globally relevant solutions: a move from “human-centric design” to “life-centric design”.

The research to date includes an overview of the history of design education in India from its European origins and a literature review of both formal (books, papers, and reports) and informal sources (blogs and emails) to justify and reinforce the argument for change. Identification of central issues to contemporary design education is based in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. The interviews and discussions were with design educators and professional designers who interact with design students as mentors or share a common concern for design education. Reflections on design and insights into future directions were gathered from conference and seminar recordings.

The problems of the Indian people, both nationally and locally, within the mesh of cultural diversity with economic disparities—including health, transportation, housing, agricultural support, safe water provision, to mention some of the many sectors—are areas which offer potential for the designer to make a contribution in finding solutions to the wide range of problems facing India. It is important for designers to understand the complexity of issues at stake as well as being aware of “intangibles” like values, social responsibilities, empathy, humility, and local/global relevance. When design education includes political, social, economic and ecological discourses in a collaborative, inter/multidisciplinary way perhaps then design can participate actively in nation building.

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