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What will qualify I-mark in the Indian society and culture given the different way in which Balaram and Papanek urge us to consider the design process? Support your derivations from the readings by examples of sensible design reflecting cultural and ecological changes in Indian society and how it may counter to the stand of institution like the IDC.

IDC’S STAND ON I-MARK What is I-mark? India Design Mark (I- mark) is a design standard. It is not a contest. It is a certification of design excellence. To industry, India Design Mark is a business tool, as it recognizes a well-designed product, which is trustworthy, valuable and preferred for its customers and is manufactured in a responsible manner. India Design Mark provides international leverage by exemplifying the export worthiness of the product. To the consumer, India Design Mark is a yardstick to ensure good value for money. For designers, India Design Mark is a reward of good work. Patronage of good design raises the standard of living. For society, India Design Mark is an enrichment tool as it promotes responsible ways of producing the goods, and aids industrial development in the country. (Council)


THE IDEA OF GOOD DESIGN IDC plans to confer the marking on certain products, services, objects and works that conform to certain processes and standards to 'define good in the concept of good design'. ( But whose ‘good’ is it talking about? To understand that, first and foremost, one should try to understand what kind of motivation drives such awards or tags. The I-mark is inspired by Japan’s G-Mark, which was born in the post-WW II era. Although it was not the first of its kind, G-mark has had a successful run for over 50 years now. After WW II, economies and industries across the world were recovering from a period of immense stress. Governments and cultural institutions were doing everything they could to create public awareness and participation in things like design because it was broadly considered to be a catalyst for growth. Apart from this, there were a number of other motivations and approaches which led to the beginning of numerous awards for ‘good design’. Most of these awards which began with national agendas have now expanded to recognize designers from all over the world. The G-Mark (Japan, 1957) had a strong nation-building agenda from the beginning, hoping that design would be able to pull Japan out of its post-WW II depression. Created by the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization (JIDPO), the focus was on raising “product quality” and advancing “lifestyle and industry.” It began with a clearly defined agenda and has now reached iconic status. Compasso d’Oro (1954) is Italy’s highest design prize, The Compasso d’Oro (Golden Compass) logo is of a compass measuring out the golden ratio, and was given to recognize the highest quality in Italian design. Unlike the American “Good Design,” the Compasso d’Oro was always about connoisseurship. In 2004, the Italian Cultural Heritage Ministry


declared Compasso d’Oro awardees to be of exceptional artistic and historical interest” and considers it part of Italy’s national heritage. Good Design (USA, 1950) was the first of the ‘good design’ programs and it was initiated by Edgar Kaufmann Jr., curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, who had a keen understanding of design as the intersection of art and commerce. A series of exhibitions showcased the work of familiar names like Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames, but also included dull and unoriginal objects. The focus was firmly on American design. In a 1950 pamphlet Kaufmann famously declared “Good design in any period is simply the best its designers produce.” This rather vague criterion left the Good Design program open to accusations of both elitism and crass commercialism. ( Thus, we come back to the question again – whose ‘good’ is being talked about? Also, what should be the long term social/cultural agenda which conferring the I-mark will achieve? Going by the one of the definitions of ‘good design’ as is mentioned on the India Design Mark website, “The













Good design is an increasingly important means for businesses to hold their own in international competition. Design has the power to make products and services more attractive to customers and users, so they are able to sell at a higher price by being differentiated from the competition by virtue of new properties, values and characteristics.” (Council) One gets an indication that the focus is more on selling than on the consumer. According to Victor Papanek, “In an age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself). This demands high social and moral responsibility from the designer. It also demands greater understanding of the people by those who practice design and more insight into the design process by the public.” (Papanek, 1971) 4  

So when a design is presented an I-mark, is it qualifying the product to be ‘good’ irrespective of the context or social environment in which it exists? In a country like India, where majority of the population come from the rural sector, the design needs of “development” and “affluence” are different. The needs of the people vary from region to region and class to class. Nowhere is the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” more true than in India, Many objects of daily use are designed and used indigenously for multiple functions. A cot is used not only for sleeping, but also for sitting, drying vessels, drying papad, and as a screen when women need privacy for bathing and so on. (Balaram, 1998) Does that not make it a good design? Or could the focus be on ‘useful’ while talking about ‘good’? Considering what Papanek said about good design, the focus could ideally be on function which encompasses all attributes of design – namely association, need, aesthetics, use, method and Telesis. If one applies the elements of Papanek’s function complex in the Indian context, perhaps, a better idea of what good design for the Indian masses is could be gained.

Association: India is a land of paradoxes. (Balaram, 1998). It is a cultural, social, geographical and religious congregation where each community has its own psychology based on which they lead their day to day lives. Even while leading modern West-influenced lifestyles, people look for associations with their culture and belief system. It is like the saying goes, “you can take the lion out of the jungle but not the jungle out of the lion.” Everybody wants to progress towards Westernization but nobody is willing to let go of the typical Indian idiosyncrasies. Such mental complexities in the Indians’ mind can be utilised to create designs which are uniquely Indian. One can see the quirky use of this aspect in the watches designed by HYPHEN. The product note states: “In India, ‘fashionably late’ is safely replaced with ‘predictably late’. Cow blockades, politician escorts, and cratered roads, compound the problem and offer a valid excuse. So when you reach half-an-hour after the appointed time, you don’t


explain yourself. You wait for the other person to arrive. We used this life insight, and added some dark humour to it. We simply added a suffix to time periods. And moved the numerals from their classic perpendicular positions, tilting them to an approximate point on the dial. Hence six was not six. Eight was not eight. It was ‘six-ish’ and ‘eight-ish’.” Thus was born the ‘ish Watch’.” (

Need: Very few designers spend enough time conducting in-depth research to find out the real needs and aspirations of the user. Fewer still allow the user to make his own choice by involving him in the creation. Most designers mostly listen to what they think the user-is saying. Thus they impose their ideas upon the product and the user. It is a popular belief that products satisfy the needs that exist. But often it is the other way round. Products create needs that don’t exist. (Balaram, 1998). The marketing strategy for such products usually aims at the user’s aspirations leading them to buy things they don’t need, which they naively believe are good value for the money they spend. Such products are usually marketed as objects of ascertaining a social standing. Products create needs that don’t exist. There was no need for television till it was invented. Now, television has become a basic need. So are many other products and communications. Each need thus created by a product gives birth to another 6  

need and this in turn to yet another thus forming an endless chain of needs and products. A television further led to a remote control, a TV stand, a video cassette player; a dish antenna, a TV cover, a video cabinet, a cable connection for private channels and so on. Interior designers are creating special TV corners in the drawing rooms. The ever increasing consumerism and the associated global ecological problems are born out of such a chain of needs. (Balaram, 1998) Aesthetics: There is a strong sense of connectedness to whom and where we belong which is the crux of the new Indian aesthetic. If art holds a mirror to changing cultures, our aesthetics dig deep into those changes to shape the tools that create design around us. A good design should take inspiration from our roots and make it relevant to the flux induced culture that we live in. So today, when one seeks to explore the new Indian aesthetic, they cannot pinpoint it to a particular genre of design. One cannot confine Indian aesthetics to genres like pre-Mughal, Mughal, British Colonia or Portuguese. The design aesthetic should come as a response to the climate, site, needs, and personality of the user. So while the new Indian aesthetic should assert the need for individuality, there should also be a certain sense of being sensitive to the needs of our culture and most definitely the topography. Materials are given second lives in India every day. Newspapers into peanut cones, old saris into quilts, jeans into storage bags, vegetable peels into compost. Sahil Bagga (College of Art, 2002, Politecnico di Milano) and Sarthak Sengupta (NIFT 2001, Politecnico di Milano) researched 7  

on farmers spinning left-over fabric strips (Katran in Hindi) from cloth mills into ropes for making Khatias (string beds). They developed the idea as part of their ‘Zero Kilometre Design Concept™’ to later create a collection of products named Katran. Sarthak Sahil Design Co was founded in 2009. A multi-disciplinary practice, it works on furniture, products, graphics, brand consultancy, trend development and research, interiors and spatial design. Their portfolio has a mix of identities – the interiors seem to dwell on symbolism, the lamps are slightly kitsch and objects like the metal platter and jewellery have a different aesthetic altogether. But on the whole, the effort seems to do something that is grounded, crafted, local and Indian.













( Use: As Balaram states, India lives in its villages. Majority of the population come from rural background and it is in this context that most designs should be considered. People living in metros mostly find specific objects for specific use. But in rural areas, for example, a single object can be used in multiple ways and be shaped according to that. Sometimes, even the form remains the same but the users improvise with the use. Thus, designs created for Indians should be made such that it is flexible in its use. A designer’s approach to his creations must be that of a dynamic innovator rather than that of an artist. He should design for maximum advantage. (Balaram, 1998)

Method: The interaction of tools, processes, and materials. An honest use of materials, never making the material seem that which it is not,is good method. Materials and tools must be used optimally, never using one material where another can do the job less expensively and/or more efficiently. (Papanek, 1971)


For example, for his final project at the Royal College of Art, an Indian student, Anirudha Surabhi had designed Kranium – a cardboard bicycle helmet! Kranium is lighter and more durable than the polystyrene helmets currently available. It absorbs impact better than current polystyrene helmets and can also take multiple hard blows before it crumbles, which means it lasts longer. Kranium exceeds current standards for bicycle helmets. So while it may be a little behind on the aesthetics in its current iteration, Kranium opens up a whole world of possibilities for safety helmets. For one, the helmet will be encased in a plastic shell. The idea is that one can go to a store, and pick the cardboard sections that fit the profile of their head perfectly, and then have a plastic shell of their choice mounted on top. Secondly, the cardboard is impregnated with a waterproof acrylic compound. It is also recyclable. Although it will be sometime before this design actually starts selling in India, one could take a cue from it to understand how cheap, day to day material can be used innovatively. Telesis: It is, perhaps, the most important aspect to be kept in mind while designing for the Indian masses. The telesic content of a design must reflect the times and conditions that have given rise to it, and must fit in with the general human socio-economic order in which it is to operate. (Papanek, 1971) India is a country where there is constant change in the social scenario. Tolerance being its hallmark, Indian society is open to new ideas and influences. With the advent of improved communications systems, Western trends affect the


customs and lifestyles of urban residents in India. Considering the vast discrepancies in India’s social economic structure, designer skills are necessary to meet the rising demands of sectors ranging from small artisan crafts to large-scale industries and city planning. It is in this context that design in India needs to explore the evolution of India’s dynamic craft production system and graphic idioms. The human need which is the origin of design is not only physical but also psychological, socio-cultural, ecological and spiritual as well. (Balaram, 1998) Basic living, in urban and rural areas, has expanded from food, clothing, shelter to include tv, mobile phone, laptop, washing machine, fridge, water heater, ac, car and more. All of which are dependent on fuel/electricity to make them work. The key to living in the future might just depend on how we are able to gain independence from the circle of resources – by building our own homes, growing our own food, even creating our own energy. For instance, Shri Mansuk Lal Raghavji Bhai Prajapati from village Wankaner in Gujarat invented a clay fridge that keeps food fresh and cool, without electricity. There are two parts to the fridge – a small tank on top to hold water and bottom half that acts as the fridge. The water tank seems to be what keeps it cool along with the special clay that the fridge is made of. This refrigerator keeps vegetables fresh for 4-5 days. It can also keep milk and buttermilk fresh for 24 hours. It is extremely affordable and since it doesn’t use electricity and rural areas can benefit immensely from it. Mansukh Bhai says: “My aim is to come out with products which are affordable for a poor person and do not harm anyone’s health.” (



We come to see through the examples how people have drawn on various aspects of the Indian society to create designs which are innovative, down to earth and has some factor with which a user can associate. The stated examples are a reflection of the needs and thoughts of a society which is constantly transforming yet is tied down to its values and belief systems. To put it simply, the designs have been made keeping the Indian context in mind – more specifically a certain segment of the Indian users. The question arises will I-mark take into account designs like ‘mitti cool? After all, it is a good design (with respect to Papanek’s function complex). The assessment for conferring the I-mark stresses upon user potential, aesthetics and innovativeness. These criteria, to an extent, cover the aspects of the function complex as was discussed above. However, a point to be noted is whether evaluation of these criteria will be as effective from a top-down approach by a handful of industry veterans as it will be when evaluated bottom-up from design's impact on the cultural space, social function and community it lives in. This may be considered an impossibly complex task because as soon as one steps outside the industry and attempts to measure how "successful" a design is in the field, multiple other factors come into play. These factors span an intricate web of cultural and social dynamics, political relationships and socioeconomic liabilities. One needs to reevaluate the whole system of evaluation, so that a design culture is created, where success is viewed as a holistic function of how a design solution works across culture. Maybe then, one could mark a design as ‘good’.



Citations: (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2012, from‐world‐of‐design‐marks/  (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2012, from‐mark‐india‐sets‐new‐quality‐benchmark‐for‐design‐ news‐national‐ldeqajjhedf.html  (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2012, from  (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2012, from‐ feature‐katran/#more‐4083  (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2012, from‐my‐ eye‐indian‐stretchable‐time/#more‐3914  Balaram, S. (1998). Thinking Design.  Council, I. D. (n.d.). Retrieved 03 23, 2012, from‐design‐mark/india‐ design‐mark‐benefits  Council, I. D. (n.d.). Retrieved 03 23, 2012, from‐design‐mark/india‐ design‐mark‐objectives  Council, I. D. (n.d.). Retrieved 3 23, 2012, from‐design‐mark/india‐design‐ mark  Council, I. D. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2012, from  Papanek, V. (1971). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. In V. Papanek. 




Critical Appreciation of I-Mark  

A critical appreciation of IDC's decision to come up with I-mark, a grade for 'good' designs.

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