Arvind Lodaya

Editor’s note: In 1958, after several months’ research, the Eames’ published their famous India Report for Jawaharlal Nehru, a project that led directly to the development of the NID. Today, the need for good ideas is not less than it was fifty years ago, but perhaps good ideas these days ought to come in smaller, more sustainable, and universally applicable packages. DS

Student work by Narayan Gopalan: “viral publicity campaign for kabir” – kabir was a 15th century saint-poet-mystic-subversive whose songs are sung all over the subcontinent even today, with no written record whatsoever.

Read this if you feel that the real value of “design” has not quite been realized; my personal view is that it’s been limited to or stunted by corporate agendas. Regardless of whether you agree with me or who you blame for this, I hope you will agree that *realizing the full potential of design* must become our collective agenda. I’ve started working on a strategy of transforming design education, and here are summarized action-points that I propose:

1. Change the positioning of design: from being the discipline of conspicuous consumption to a discipline of creative ideas and methods. In so doing, let us raise the bar for quality design, from cute innovations to audacious creative leaps that have the power to transform people’s lives (see #3.)
2. Change the basic design process: from the linear-singular problem/solution approach to a multiple-choice strategic/systems/ecological/spiritual approach. Shift its focus from problem-seeking to strategic & systemic intervention.
3. Find new design exemplars, role models and clients: as long as we keep looking to Eames, Sottsass, Colombo, Starck, Carson et al (no disrespect to them, but I will assert that “designers” are not the best role models for future design), we’ll never be able to step outside our own incestuous domain and find the larger scope that we’re seeking. Instead, let’s adopt paradigm-changing creative thinkers and doers (from any/all disciplines, not just “design”) – such as Enrique Penalosa (no-car cities), Margrit Kennedy (no-interest money), Laurie Baker (local building), Lyonpo Jigme Thinley (GNH), Masanobu Fukuoka (do-nothing farming), etc. as modern design’s new role models (send me your own nominees!) Similarly, let’s stop looking at clients who are committed to the status quo, and instead find new/potential clients with transformatory agendas.
4. Develop new pedagogies: that are based on disruptive ideas; that challenge and nurture an individual’s values- and capabilities-sets; that acknowledge and support internal transformation just as much as external as being the business of design.
5. Refocus design research: design needs to move away from its historical anthropocentric bias and adopt a planetary/ecological focus instead, and this will provide a massive opportunity for new research. Personally, I believe we must look to the poor of the world as creative masters at extracting value from nothing, managing natural resources sustainably, and achieving personal “happiness”.
6. Network: when working against the grain and in isolated pockets, it helps to be part of a larger collective. We need to construct an inclusive organisation that provides pride, purpose and moral & material support in order to take the risks that we have to.

I’d be happy to engage in constructive discussion and share/develop upon these ideas at a personal level (email me at

Arvind Lodaya is an India-based designer & educator with an interest in de-colonizing design. You can find out more about him at