Mar 18, 2013

Front Row at IDF 2013

This year, I probably would have missed IDF totally. But I guess I'm having a reasonably good year and despite not winning the free tickets in their contest, I did get a heavily discounted pass, which turned out to be just fine, because it was the best design forum I've ever been to so far-- and you must remember, I am a highly cynical, critical person.

First off, it was well organised. No noticeable glitches, in terms of logistics, particularly. (If this is about timelines, no forum would be expected to not have a time lag). I missed a few talks, but just a couple at the onset of the second day. I was expecting to see a vastly elitist audience and more so, speakers, because, admittedly, I recognised very few names barring Loubotin and Sabyasachi. Quite a reasonable explanation for that though, given that there weren't many graphic designers. There were a lot of architects. But the  majority of talks were based on design for communities, public policy, sustainability and just generally: design thinking.

It was impeccably curated. Every speaker had a lot of meat to their arguments, their process, and work was justified and contextualised at every juncture. Work wasn't just 'showcased'. More importantly, the speakers knew how to speak! No bad mics, odd accents, no low volumes, these were people who were used to presenting their work, using narratives and the like to get their point across. Extremely professional, unlike last year's 'Typography Day' infamously referred to as 'typo' day.

The Chairman of Triennale Design Museum takes the stage at IDF 2013. Backdrop by Skarma. Taken with Instagram.
It was immensely inspiring. Even though forums like these have lots of 'phirang' speakers, the Indians really stood out. Sumant Jayakrishnan (wearing a brilliantly technicoloured skirt) presented his scenography and theatre work well, had he missed out his overly commercial work, it would have been even better. Rahul Mehrotra of Rahul Mehrotra Associates, Mumbai gave a frank and honest exploration of a failed 'shauchalay' community project and an equally interesting exploration of a successful elephant stable project, for which the touched audience rose to their feet-- he was the only speaker to get a standing ovation. Amitabh Kant, author of 'Branding India', hailed by one audience member as 'India's finest bureaucrat' showed us the finest design work with the Indian government in recent times and besides being a testimony to how design can work with public policy, his assertion that it was easier to work with governments than with private industries really was a different way of looking at things. What was most inspiring was that these speakers were working in India, in our pluralised context, and though they may or may not have succeeded, it was identifiable to me as a part of a shared struggle.

Some other really notable speakers, in my opinion, were the spunky Renny Ramakers of Studio Droog, who used so much humour in her design work, which I find lacking much in Indian design, that it was almost side-splitting. The incredible Nipa Doshi who seemed to transform every brief that Doshi Levien had been given, gave us the sighting of a fantastical moon-shaped ice cream cake produced by Haagen Dazs. The curious architect, Asif Khan, went beyond his architecture work, and also like Nipa, showcased his magical cloud project, combining soap lather and helium to create faux floating clouds. Thomas Heatherwick, 3-dimensional designer, brought a powerful multidisciplinary approach, presenting his smart redesign of the typical Red London Bus, his work on the Olympic cauldron/s, and besides, his architecture. Marije Vogelzang, eating designer, (who knew?) presented innovative and heartwarming redesigns of eating practices, with techniques to affect eaters' behaviours, from making her daughter eat veggies, to opening people's minds to a much hated gypsy community in Europe. 

I really appreciated the IDF Happy Hour, a series of brief talks from a pack of young designers (some of my alumni) which gave us an insight of design work in India that was changing India in a very real sense. 

My only compaint? Besides Studio Droog, the only communication designer at the podium was the one half of the presenters of the fantastic Pentagram (London), though their presentation was much less than fantastic. Domenic Lippa barely scratched the surface, presenting his work with very little background and process. I'm sure a non-communication designer would have not even noticed at all this lack, but I found it sorely missing. As a graphic designer I would have really liked to see graphic design work grounded in design thinking but either we are not producing it, or the team at IDF 2013 didn't think it necessary or relevant to showcase. Perhaps it is the former. I hope not.

All in all, it was refreshing to be in the company of so many designers who thought about the world the way I did (or was taught, have it your way) and so much more hopeful, rather than being exposed constantly to the chalta  hai attitude of clients and the like. I look forward to 2014 and do hope I can afford the pass! 

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