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Designing Careers

Case study House #8 was designed in the ‘40s, when we as Indians hadn’t witnessed our tryst with destiny. A glance at it and you’ll find it hard to believe it has been standing as a symbol of modern design for the past six decades. Upon a request by the Indian government, American designer couple Charles and Ray Eames presented the India Report in 1958 that resulted in the first design institute popularly known as the National Institute of Design located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

A neglected branch till recently, design has received the much needed fillip in India with several well known brands setting up local design studios and employing design engineers and/or product designers in India. According to Pay Scale, an international employee compensation watchdog, a User Interface Designer with anywhere between one to three years of work experience draws an average annual salary of Rs. 3,50,000 compared to Rs. 2,00,000 for a software programmer with the same experience – that’s a 57 per cent hike in salary. You’d probably not get that much even after your first salary hike. We’d like to add here — there’s no limit for talented designers in this country (some designers we spoke to earn much more than these figures).

Where we stand

We spoke to academicians and administrators who shared their insight on design. Primarily, India has a long road ahead. Prof. Balaram has been among the founding faculty at NID, Ahmedabad and is currently the Dean of D J Academy of Design (DJAD), Coimbatore. With decades of experience as a designer, he feels there’s more we need to do as a nation. When asked where India stood in terms of design globally and what scope lied ahead for someone interested in pursuing a career in design, he said, “There are, not more than, 20 design institutes across India. With the number of students per class averaging to 15, the number of designers graduating each year is not more than 500. Compare this to China that has over 500 design schools, whereas Korea that produces 36,000 designers every year. So we as a nation definitely have a lot to work in terms of infrastructure.” This also means we are terribly short of skilled designers and so employment opportunities are high after completing a course in design from a design school of repute.

What it takes

According to Prof. Sekhar Mukherjee from NID, Ahmedabad, “Design is nothing, but setting in order all the elements of life to make life more meaningful. Design is a tool to solve a problem, and effectively, a designer is someone who thinks and cares to improve our life with the intervention of design solutions, be it communication or product.”

Certainly, companies are on yare on the lookout for creative designers and design schools will let you in if you show traits of a designer. “Every human being is a designer by birth. But to specialize in this profession, you need to go through a bit of design process and experience the old design education environment. Anyone who loves to think, create, doodle and introspect ideally are better!”

That’s interesting, anyone who thinks, creates or doodles. So effectively, if you were a back-bencher in school and were always picked on for sketching in your notes, you might just have it in you to make it to make it to one of the best design institutes in the world. But this just shows being the studious one alone doesn’t get you there. You’d need the right kind of attitude with aptitude to stand out of the crowd. According to Prof. Balaram, more stress is put on aptitude and attitude rather than academics. “We look for students with a creative bent of mind. The aspirant should also have a strong sense of aesthetics (form and color) with a broad outlook. Divergence is most important for design and so is team work. We try to gauge all these qualities in the probable student by way of aptitude tests prior to admission. Before offering admission we also conduct a personal interview to confirm (as much as possible) he/she is genuinely talented.”

The road ahead

After graduating from design school, the obvious route is to design studios that most MNCs have set up. In fact, several Indian companies such as Onida, Videocon and TI Cycles are also setting up design studios in India and have realized the need for scientifically designed products. D J Academy of Design alumni have successfully been placed in popular companies such as Infosys, Wipro Lighting, Tata Solar, Mahindra Tech and Onida.

If you want to pursue courses abroad, institutes such as Rhode Island School of Design (Rhode Island, USA), California Institute of the Arts (California, USA), Royal College of Art (London, UK) are options you could consider. Prof. Mukherjee advises you try the best design school in the country, work for some time and then think of going abroad for a course in design. This way, he says, “you’ll be sure of your decision and have a better understanding of the subject rather than walking blindly on a lane”.

Design schools, in addition to imparting skills to students, perform the function of sorting probable designers. With enormous rush for admissions to design courses and the limited infrastructure in the nation, selection criteria need to be stringent and based on quality (read creativity and innovation) alone.

Deputy Registrar of MIT Vinayak Kulkarni adds, “The admission process begins in the month of November. The last date for submission of forms is January 31. This is followed by an All India test in the month of April. This is known as Design Aptitude Test. The next step is a studio test and personal interview in May, where further elimination is done. Finally classes begin in the month of July.”

Placement assistance

MIT Institute of Design started in 2006 and the first PG batch graduated in March 2009. According to Mukta Khanna, “Training and Placement officer at MIT, the focus is always on innovation and new design. Last year, from over 750 applications, admissions were offered to only 200. Seats are limited to 15 per discipline.”

Khanna adds, “I target manufacturing and design houses as well as MNCs, as they tend to focus more on design. Additionally, there are entrepreneurial students and internships that need to be arranged. Post graduate students have a six-week summer internship for which we assist our students. In fact, last year 100 per cent of our students were placed.”

Companies that have hired MIT students include Godrej and Boyce, Philips Design, John Deere, Ogilvy & Mather, Daimler, BIG Animation and Whirlpool. The Future Group interviewed nine students and hired six of them, informs Khanna.

Living it up

Overall, Indians have tremendous potential according to Prof. Balaram, “There is no third world. There should be nothing to stop us. Calling us a poor nation may be politically correct to some extent, but in no way is it acceptable to be called the “third world”. If the world is measured by the number of people in it, we should be the first world (referring to skilled population) while the so-called developed nations would be the third world. Indians are making a mark internationally.”

If you’ve been brooding over a career in Design, but have held yourself back why not give it a try. We’ve provided you with information to get you started. Let go of your doubts. If you don’t have it in you, these institutions would let you know for sure and you won’t sit down later in life with regret at not having tried your hand at design. Either way, you win.

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