I’ve always been deeply enthralled by the scholarly pre-occupations and incredible diversity of my Indian heritage which all-encompasses the study of Poetry, Literature, Art, Dance, Architecture, Mathematics, Philosophy, Astrology, and Mythology, at once.
So it’s naturally very uplifting when, occasionally, a design solution for the 21st century is guided by an element of India or even the universally recognized Indian Numerals created by our passionate astronomers and mathematicians thousands of years ago.
A few that come to mind –
An identity designed for a philanthropic effort was inspired by the mythological symbolism of the ocean from an episode of the Puranas, in a rather unpredictable and unexpected way.
Successful Design Communication almost always enables people to feel and think about the subject matter. Such a kind of communication is only possible to create when designers and design-enablers get compassionate in their making and thinking through an invoking of compassion for the user/ customer/ product /service… a higher vision.
Compassion is such a crucial ingredient in design (as much in life) and one that’s often too ignored by limitations of the mind, resource and influence.
While I’m hardly religious, it goes without saying that work takes me to some deeply spiritual places.
Any form of design works if it has soul.
When we design for business the question we’re always looking to answer, deep within, is whether we’ve been able to touch the spiritual core of the organisation or service. Does the design solution communicate their soul purpose (or soul idea). Does it clearly, truthfully and beautifully, personify their soul?
For a creator, such a process can be intellectually and emotionally stirring, overwhelming and elevating at the same time. It’s the path we usually take at Zero-G.
My 4 year old must be having quite a practical sense of humor. To her, the gym is the ‘exercise shop’. Naturally so, as she’s pretty much figured the human need to shop for everyday things be it groceries, books, toys, clothes, shoes, et al, so why not some exercise!
She almost can be likened to the mixer-grinder in our life, breaking every bit of her understanding down to its simplest, digestible form; something that we tirelessly do at our practice – creating communication that is simple, clear, nuanced, and beautiful.
Very early in my career, I got the opportunity to relocate to the US. On arrival, one of the first things I had to buy was a car. A friend suggested something interesting – to purchase a pre-owned premium brand. He had done the same and guaranteed an experience I would cherish forever.
Almost convinced, I started researching premium car brands. A sparsely used premium brand car would still cost me 50% more than a brand new mid-tier car. Also, if I were to sell it, it would fetch me a lesser resale value as compared to a brand new car. And then, there was always the risk of how the previous owner had maintained the vehicle and whether it would be a lemon (a term used for cars that have been through a major accident but have been carefully refurbished).
I test rode a few Mercedes models and thought I was too young and would look completely silly in them. Right decision, even in hindsight. I test rode the BMW 3 series but didn’t quite enjoy the driving experience. There was no wavelength match between me and the car: kind of difficult to explain, car lovers understand this. And then I test rode a Lexus ES 300. And I fell in love with it.
When you are young, it’s all about living great experiences. Time and energy seem endless, so who cares if a major chunk of your take home will go towards your luxury car EMI. You want to grab what you like. I ended up buying a pre-owned Lexus at a cost much higher than buying a new Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic or Ford model. In hindsight, I am glad I did it as it gave me an opportunity to experience one of the finest car brands on the planet.
In 1983, Toyota chairman Eiji Toyoda issued a challenge to his engineers to build the world’s best car. The challenge prompted Toyota to embark on a top-secret project, code-named F1 (“Flagship One”). The F1 project, whose finished product was ultimately the Lexus LS 400, aimed to develop a flagship sedan that would expand Toyota’s product line, giving it a foothold in the premium segment and offering both long-time and new customers an upmarket product. The Lexus marque is marketed in over 70 countries and territories worldwide, and has ranked among the ten largest Japanese global brands in market value. Lexus made its television debut with champagne glasses stacked on the hood of a revving LS 400.
They say a man is known by the company he keeps. The same applies to brands. Owning a great brand is less about the ego boost and screaming out to the world “I own this brand”. It’s more internal, about the pure love relationship between you and the brand.
All great brands have key attributes. And when you interact with iconic brands over a long period of time, some of that does rub off on you. These are attributes that we are all trying to acquire and improve upon. Some of these are: inspirational, emotional, unique, attention to detail, passion, consistency, innovation, leadership and many more. But the core attribute of an iconic product or service brand is its relentless pursuit of excellence. You see this through and through in the brand. It may be a Lexus, an Apple product or Roger Federer. They all shun mediocrity. They pursue excellence no matter what the odds. This is the greatest takeaway my Lexus gave me very early in my career.
I was driving a colleague to Atlanta Hartsfield airport. As we drove into the airport, I asked him whether his flight leaves from the north or south terminal. He replied ‘blue’.
I had lived in Atlanta for almost 3 years and driven to the airport a zillion times but on that day I noticed for the first time that the airport signage had a colour coding system and locals were actually using it as a first layer of navigation (processing) than the written word – blue for the north terminal and red for the south.
Later I noticed that the colour system extended into the detailed signage systems of both terminals. What an American saw as blue and red, I saw as ‘North Terminal’ and ‘South Terminal’.
Big deal, one would say. What matters is that both understood the signage correctly. That’s true. But this simple example of ‘not seeing’ indicates a fundamental difference in how I processed the sign differently from someone in the US.
In India (maybe because of our math and science driven education system), we process text and numbers faster than visual data. In the process, primal visual elements i.e. colours, icons, images (which actually are simpler for the brain to process as compared to numbers and text) get left behind. This drives the ability of visual comprehension to the back seat of our brain.
What we see (or don’t see) has a very deep impact on how we design and build things.
We consider a software product ready to ship if its (functional) code is running fine. We don’t value user interface (experience) design as much as we value code.
We create a logo for our company and we consider branding done. There is no thought on how the identity and colour system will flow through brand touch points. Is the visual branding correctly communicating the purpose, proposition and personality of our organization? Are we religiously following brand guidelines?
Are we really seeing?
We all notice that signage systems, public spaces, restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, parking lots, cabs, buses, trains and even websites and app designs made in the Americas and Europe are visually mature than what we see in India.
It’s often made me wonder why we can’t have such a beautiful blend of meaning and aesthetic in everything that we design in India. The conclusion I always reach is that these countries are more prosperous and less populated than us. They have the liberty of money and space. So they create beautiful stuff. But this is only partly true.
The bigger truth is that these countries hold design and visual communication at a much higher pedestal than we do in India.
India is getting richer too. But are our designs really functional and beautiful? Is there design thinking behind everything we do? Yes, we do have some airports, hotels, malls and office buildings which are world class but that’s minuscule compared to the size and scale of our country. We are one of the world’s oldest known civilisations. Our history is loaded with stories of planned cities, ravishing forts, astonishing palaces and beautiful monuments. So at some point in time, we did value and create beautiful designs.
What then went amiss? Why are we not creating the best designs in the world today: from our public spaces to our software applications?
Have we stopped seeing?
We all need to learn to see.
Individuals in leadership positions (CEOs, government officials, ministers, top corporate executives) are the ones who envision and approve projects. It’s paramount that they value design thinking and have basic knowledge of visual communication. This will help them separate good design from bad design and enable good design see light of day.
An introduction to visual communication should be part of our school and university curriculum.
We need many more design institutions. In the USA there are design institutes in every city, just like we have engineering colleges in India.
Start-up entrepreneurs should take the effort to learn the basics of visual communication and user interface design. A product with good code is just half baked. User Interface Design and User Experience Design is the other and critical part that can make a product world-class.
The art of seeing is a rare skill; takes time and effort to acquire. For starters, it needs an open mind that truly believes in the tremendous potential of design.
I, for one, am fortunate. I get to work with designers day in and day out. But still my seeing abilities are far from great. I am trying really hard and seeing a little more with every passing day.
I often wondered why there are no top brands lists based on their city of origin. When I say city based, I mean the business was founded or has its headquarters in a city. They provide services within the city and some of them (the larger ones) cater to the country and world. These brands form an integral part of every city; our city and lives would be less complete without them.
There are many initiatives that recognize best city based brands in a business category. For example, The Times Food awards recognize the best hotels/ restaurants within a city. Similar city based awards are held for businesses in real estate, advertising etc. But there are no such lists that compile businesses across categories together. The only such list I could come across was Bangalore’s top brands, an initiative by Paul Writer – http://paulwriter.com/paul-writer-recognizes-best-bangalore-brands-bangalore-brand-summit-2014/. This is an excellent initiative and close to what I am suggesting.
Having lived in Hyderabad for the past 7 years, I have personally experienced the services of many brands and also read about many. I am listing here my Top 25 Hyderabadi brands.
I only had to briefly think of who, according to me, are Hyderabad’s top brands and the list formed itself. This is what makes top brands so powerful. Their aura transcends the services/ products they offer (which are consistently superior) and captures the mind share of consumers.
My Top 25 Hyderabadi brands (in alphabetical order)
Like me, each of you will have your own top brands list and our lists are sure to have a few names in common. Those brands are truly, the most iconic brands of Hyderabad. We should be proud they were created in our city and continue to serve us with relentless passion.