Abstract Design Education in India: “From the Traditional to the New Digital”

Lolita Dutta

Design has existed as an intrinsic part of Indian culture since time immemorial, following paths of rituals, learning has been rooted in our ancient scriptures and platforms like the gurukul Art craft and design have existed in harmony and have been handed down across centuries and generations in the true tradition of learning from father to son and from guru to shishya. This culture of learning was and still is meant to permeate into all forms of learning, including design.

Today we are poised in a new world, where the innovations and connotations address different faculties of perception and involves a host of technologies. All adding up to contribute to the aesthetic fabric of contemporary society.

In ancient India, the gurukul was the nucleus of knowledge which imparted knowledge from the arts to philosophy to medicine and artistic crafts. This form of education was within a learning centre, where the student was almost beholden to the guru, and under the surroundings of nature, and living a somewhat austere but healthy lifestyle imbibed the strongest principles of his knowledge .Evident extensively in the arts, this platform was slowly moving towards a somewhat formalised but still a holistic  natural experience.

In1901, the esteemed Nobel laureate of India, Rabindranath Tagore founded SHANTINIKETAN, an abode of peaceful learning. Enshrined in literary pursuits, Shantiniketan; later known as the Vishva Bharati University gave it India of its most famous artistic personalities.

Art and design, are known to co-exist, and as India struggled to gain freedom from the British rule, it is a known fact that our language skills no doubt inherited from the British, has made India one of the largest English speaking countries in the world. This has propelled us into many spheres of education, and most certainly design.

While Tagore propounded the concept of art, human values and cultural exchange, it gave rise to the value of a western and traditional system in the realm of what could be termed art, and later design.

In the aftermath of India’s freedom, there was a need to address industry and the relevance of design as being critical to a new nation’s growth. Thus In 1958, on the recommendation of the erstwhile design couple, Ray and Charles Eames, was founded the “Eames report “ which gave rise for the vision of India’s first design school. Said be a knowledge centre where learning was based on sociology, engineering, arts , history and anthropology, was born NID, the National Institute of design, on the banks of the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad, one of India’s great industrial cities and the land of Mahatma Gandhi’s  freedom movement.

Design education was at that time experimental and based on cultural exchange and faculty training. Strongly influenced by the BAUHUAS.  By the time 1970 came around, Design was an entity by its self , in the domain of Industry, textiles and communication.

Parallel however were some well-established art schools, in Mumbai, Vadodra, Bengal and Delhi.  There was a cohesiveness to design education and the arts. As NID grew more design centric, there was a dichotomy between art and design, but in terms of education, both borrowed from art , architecture, and western design.

In the early days of learning at NID, there was a lot a lot of emphasis on the “process” on the understanding of a matrix wherein the learning may have been somewhat idealistic, however values on skill, research and execution were of paramount importance, and this did produce good design.

With the popularity in design education came other design schools, borrowing from the NID format, but adding some of their own, through liberal arts and technology.

With the advent of the computer and its superlative contribution to a new thought process, there was a paradigm shift in the design process. The algorithms changed, and since then has been a relentless pursuit to constantly upgrade, each institution of design vying for better digital skill and use.

As we stand in the current context of a changing digital world, the impetus to become digital nomads has taken over the more traditional and experimental language of design. Digital stimulation has given rise to better data management, and access to a global worldwide platform and information, it has been useful in the learning process, but there seem to be flaws in the dissemination of information in the classroom.

Students have decreased attention span, boredom and often little or no enthusiasm to attend the virtual class, where they can hide behind a screen of anonymity. Self-discipline lacks and virtual data can often be misleading. A far cry from our days of sitting under the bounty of nature.

Yes, we are grappling with what might become the new norm, but in order to do that we as educators and the students will require a lot of re invention. In India, we still lack high efficiency network and speed. The socio economic status causes disparity in acquiring super-efficient systems, and often the basic quotient like electricity is absent. Yet we are making giant strides, exercising our knowledge and teaching design in some strange adverse conditions, students who wish to learn are the new age digital backpackers and can travel from time to time.

Design is about attaining that perfect circle. The circular ride is never smooth, perfection takes time, it is something our ancestors taught us, and it is after all the circle of life.

Gurukul : an  ancient centre of learning , often residential.

Guru: educator

Shishya: learner