The Era of Design And The Future Direction of Design Education In India.


Dr. Kingshuk Mukherjee
Principal and Associate Professor
Woxsen School of Arts and Design

An Introduction:

Education sector has been ever evolving. The Colonial invasion in India resulted in setting up of formalized and systematic education systems all across the country, especially in the urbanized parts of India. There has been ever growing awareness regarding the new and emerging career avenues and the employability associated with the formalized education.

1950s saw the emergence of technological inclination in the education system. It gradually disseminated across all tiers of the society and led to widespread trend toward technology driven and focussed education patterns. This era of technology was there to stay. It is still a persistent part of the Indian as well as global education pattern. With this technology driver education system and the associated employability, at a certain point of time a strong need was felt to emphasize on the managerial view-points of the organization. Thus the era of management education pattern was born. It is to be noted that technology was not taken over by management systems, they both belonged to a part of coherent and synchronized organizational set-up. Organizations were hugely impacted in terms of improved efficiency and more productivity due to the new wave of formally trained managers in the helm of affairs. Formalized management education continued to grow at a rapid pace for many decades to come.

A parallel development was taking place in India in terms of the formalization of art education. With the establishment of Art Schools by the British rulers in India, art training had already started to become popular for those who were culturally inclined towards art practices. Moreover, with the formalization of art education, artists started to become aware about the commercial aspects of the art practices. Design education in India had been a natural off-shoot of Commercial Art Practices which had begun during the establishment of Art Schools by Britishers in India. The term designer is a relatively new jargon introduced in the later part of the 20th century in India.

Gradually, design started to became a popular term in the overall language and philosophy of many organizations. Design was initially perceived to be associated only with the aesthetic elements of products. Subsequently, design started to become a more comprehensive language which encompassed much more beyond the visual elements or the aesthetic elements. Design became an integral component of a majority of the organizations. Therefore, Technology, Management and Design became three pillars upon which the foundation of a company is laid. It became a strategic tool for differentiating them from their competitors.

The present scenario and the future directions of Design Education

Design is omnipresent in the today’s scenario. It has become an indispensable part of our lives. Design touches everything surrounding us. It is apparent in every sense that design has its impact on today’s lifestyle in a plethora of forms. The day-to-day objects, starting from the first thing we do when we wake up, ending in the last thing we do before going to sleep. It is present in all of our interactions with the external world. Design affects us in every possible way. It affects our sense of well-being.

On the other hand, design has become an indispensable part of all organizational functioning as well. Design has become an integral part of any organization’s strategic language. Design is no longer just a tangible thing, it is a philosophy and a thought process. The above mentioned developments lead to the obvious emphasis on Design education from all sectors of the society.

Over the past two decades, we have seen enormous thrust on Design education from the government. It is equally prioritized by the education ministry as well as the industry. It is a win-win proposition for both to propagate and promote the cause.The role of design for industrial competitiveness at both national as well as international platform has been universally recognized for over a decade. The strategy towards design education is focused on encouraging the integration of design education system with the industries of all scales and across geographical boundaries. Facilitating these activities will call upon the active involvement of industry and designers in the development of the design profession, branding and positioning of Indian design within India and overseas. It is an established framework of the ‘Indian design education policy’ to facilitate the creation of original Indian designs in products and services drawing upon India’s rich craft traditions and cultural heritage. The idea is for the budding designers to be engaged in the process contemporising traditional craft products for commercialization in a broad spectrum of niche markets.

Pedagogical Approach towards Design Education

Design education is not merely an extended form of art education. Art education is skill intensive. Art education emphasizes majorly on the creating and refining the essential skill-sets required to produce an artefact. Design education has leaped many stages beyond art education. It emphasizes on the developing and refining the conceptual abilities side by side honing the skill-sets of the prospective designers.

‘Learning By Doing’

Design education is based on a broad philosophy which is in line with the conventional art practices. This philosophy is known as ‘Learning-by-Doing’. Learning by doing refers to a theory of education expounded by American philosopher John Dewey. It’s a hands-on approach to learning, meaning students must interact with their environment in order to adapt and learn.

There is a famous quote used in design parlance. It states that, “The only way to do it, is to do it”. This is in support of when learning is at its highest for us humans:

  • When we try something new
  • When we fail
  • When we take ownership of the process

Teaching pedagogy at Woxsen School of Arts and Design is in line with the National Design Policy approved by the Govt. of India. It is all encompassing, coexists in an active triadic relationship with classroom teaching-learning, design research and design practice. Creative practice at the Institution entails a strong connection between the hand, the mind and the eyes. This critical approach to creativity demands clear conceptual thinking, along with the skills and craftsmanship to translate ideas into beautifully executed work.The Bachelor of Design programme at Woxsen School is meant to develop Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Aptitude among students to become creative problem solvers. The curriculum is also aimed to bring in newness in their design ideas and executions. The overall structure of the design programme is a combination of skill development and enhancement, design projects and field experiences duly supported by appropriate proportion of Theoretical lectures. It endeavours to develop and promote a symbiotic relationship between academia and the industry.

The Design Process and the way towards Design Thinking

The conceptual aspect of design education focusses on following the ‘Design Process’ in all design tasks. The conceptual clarity and the prowess is what takes the designers to the new heights. At the heart of this is the ‘Design Process’.

Design Process can be explained with the help of 5 basic stages:

  • Empathise
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test


Empathy is the starting point of a human-centered design process. Empathizing means the effortstowards understanding peoplewithin the context of the design scenario. It is the effort to understand the way the consumers do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about world, and what is meaningful to them.

As a designer, the problems we are trying to solve are rarely our own, they are those of a particular group of people. In order to design for them, we must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. Observing what people do and how they interact with their environment gives us clues about what and how their thought process works. In the process, it also helps us learn about what they need.

Observation is one mode of empathizing with the consumers. We can capture physical manifestations of their experiences. This will give us further insights into the scenario. These insights gives direction to create innovative solutions. The best solutions come out of the best insights into human behaviour. Another way to empathize is by engaging with people. It directly reveals a tremendous amount of insights which are precious and desirable to the designers.


The ‘Define’ stage of the design process is about bringing clarity and focus to the design situation. The designer has to define the design challenges and opportunities, based on what they have learned about the user and about the context. The goal is to construct a meaningful and actionable problem statement or situation for taking it further.

This stage is critical to the design process because it results in formation of point-of-view (POV): the explicit expression of the problem which the designer is thus striving to address. Based on the formulated point of view, the following would be guided:

  • The ideas to generate
  • The challenge to address

Transition from Define to Ideate

In the ‘Define’stagewe determine the specific meaningful challenges to take
on, and in the Ideate mode we focus on generating solutions to address those challenges. A well-scoped and articulated point-of-view will naturally and seamlessly lead into ideation.


‘Ideate’ is the stage of the design process in which the designer concentrates on generating seemingly feasible ideas to form solutions to the design problem. Ideation means visualizing in terms of prospective theories, mind-mapping, sketching, constructing logic, etc to give shape to the design solution. Ideation is the chance to combine the understanding developedabout the problem space and consumer space to generate concepts or solutions. Ideation is all about exploring and pushing for a widest possible range of ideas from which a designer can select, not simply finding a single, best solution. The determination of the best solution will be discovered later, through user testing and feedback.

Transition from Ideation to prototyping

The next transition is to bring multiple feasible ideas forward into prototyping. The design team can seek opinion of others on the different ideas that were generated during brainstorming. The team must carry the two or three ideas that receive the most votes forward into prototyping.


The Prototype mode is the iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that gets us closer to your final solution. In these early stages, one should create low-cost prototypes that are quick to make but can elicit useful feedback from the closest set of people such as colleagues. Gradually yhe prototyping should get a refined with each iteration. Prototyping is important to communicate and to test the possibilities.

Transition from Prototype to Test

Prototype and Test are the stages that work hand in hand rather than in isolation. This cycle of prototyping and testing continues in loop until a reasonable solution is reached. Though prototyping and testing are sometimes entirely intertwined, it is often the case that planning and executing a successful testing scenario is a considerable additional step after creating a prototype.


The Test mode is when the designer would solicit feedbackabout the prototypes created. Testing is done from prospective users. Testing is another opportunity to understand the user, but unlike the initial empathy mode, we have now likely done more framing of the problem and created prototypes to test. Ideally we can test within a real context of the user’s life. For a physical object, we should ask peopleto take it with them and use it within their normal routines. For an experience, we should try to createa scenario in a location that would capture the real situation. Testing is essential to refine prototypes and solutions. Testing informs the next iterations of prototypes.Sometimes this means going back to the drawing board.

The role of Iteration in the Design Process

Iteration is a fundamental of good design. Iteration is a logically created by-product of the design process. It is achieved both by cycling through the process multiple times, and also by iterating within a step—for example by creating multiple prototypes or trying variations of a brainstorming topics with multiple groups. There are an unlimited number of design frameworks with which to work. The process presented here is one suggestion of a framework; ultimately a designerends up making his/her own version of the design process and adapt it to their work-practice in professional spaces.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking – The way forward

Design thinking is an interpretation of the Design process put into managerial and organizational practice and has become a global philosophy among not only the design fraternity but also across all verticals and horizontals of any organization. Design Thinking is no longer an exclusive property of designers—it belongs to all.

Design Thinking is an iterative and non-linear process. This simply means that the design team continuously use their results to review, question and improve their initial assumptions, understandings and results. Results from the final stage of the initial work process inform about the understanding of the problem, helps to determine the parameters of the problem, enables to redefine the problem, and, perhaps most importantly, provides with new insights so to see any alternative solutions that might not have been available with the previous level of understanding.At the same time, Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods.

Design Thinking is for Everybody

It these lines, design is no longer a brain-child of a conventional designer. The designers’ work processes can help everyone to systematically extract, teach, learn and apply these human-centered techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way – in product designs, in strategic situations of businesses, in dealing with our lives as a whole.

Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Tesla, Google, Samsung and GE, have rapidly adopted the Design Thinking approach, and Design Thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Design Schools, Business Schools,and many other domains of academia.

Tim Brown also emphasizes that Design Thinking techniques and strategies of design belong at every level of a business. Design thinking is not only for designers but also for creative employees, freelancers, and leaders who seek to infuse design thinking into every level of an organization, product or service in order to drive new alternatives for business and society.

Design Thinking is essentially a problem-solving approach, crystalized in the field of design, which combines a user-centered perspective with rational and analytical research with the goal of creating innovative solutions.

‘Outside the Box’ Thinking – Another interpretation of Design Thinking

Design Thinking is often referred to as ‘outside the box’ thinking, as designers are attempting to develop new ways of thinking that do not abide by the dominant or more common problem-solving methods.At the heart of Design Thinking is the intention to improve products by analysing and understanding how users interact with products and investigating the conditions in which they operate. At the heart of Design Thinking lies also the interest and ability to ask significant questions and challenging assumptions. One element of outside the box thinking is to falsify previous assumptions – i.e., to make it possible to prove whether they are valid or not. Once they are questioned and investigated in context of the conditions generating the problem, the solution-generation process will help us produce ideas that reflect the genuine constraints and facets of that particular problem.

Science and Rationality in Design Thinking

Some of the scientific activities will include analysing how users interact with products and investigating the conditions in which they operate: researching user needs, pooling experience from previous projects, considering present and future conditions specific to the product, testing the parameters of the problem, and testing the practical application of alternative problem solutions. Unlike a solely scientific approach, where the majority of known qualities, characteristics, etc. of the problem are tested so as to arrive at a problem solution, Design Thinking investigations include ambiguous elements of the problem to reveal previously unknown parameters and uncover alternative strategies.After arriving at a number of potential problem solutions, the selection process is underpinned by rationality. Designers are encouraged to analyse and falsify these problem solutions so that they can arrive at the best available option for each problem or obstacle identified during each phase of the design process.With this in mind, it may be more correct to say that Design Thinking is not about thinking outside of the box, but on its edges.

Notable Mentions:

  1. Lateral thinking by Edward de Bono

Lateral thinking is a manner of solving problems using an indirect and creative approach via reasoning that is not immediately obvious. It involves ideas that may not be obtainable using only traditional step-by-step logic.

The term was promulgated in 1967 by Edward de Bono. He cites the Judgment of Solomon as an example, where King Solomon resolves a dispute over the parentage of a child by calling for the child to be cut in half, and making his judgment according to the reactions that this order receives.Edward de Bono also links lateral thinking with humour, arguing there is a switch-over from a familiar pattern to a new, unexpected one. It is this moment of surprise, generating laughter and new insight, which facilitates the ability to see a different thought pattern which initially was not obvious.According to de Bono, lateral thinking deliberately distances itself from the standard perception of creativity as ‘vertical’ logic, the classic method for problem solving.

Lateral thinking has to be distinguished from critical thinking.Critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the true value of statements and seeking errors whereas lateral thinking focuses more on the ‘movement value’ of statements and ideas. A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to new ideas. Edward de Bono defines four types of thinking tools:

  • Idea-generating tools intended to break current thinking patterns—routine patterns, the status quo
  • Focus tools intended to broaden where to search for new ideas
  • Harvest tools intended to ensure more value is received from idea generating output
  • Treatment tools that promote consideration of real-world constraints, resources, and support

Problem Solving in context to Lateral Thinking

When something creates a problem, the performance or the status quo of the situation drops. Problem-solving deals with finding out what caused the problem and then figuring out ways to fix the problem. The objective is to get the situation to where it should be. For example, a production line has an established rate of 1000 items per hour. Suddenly, the rate drops to 800 items per hour. Ideas as to why this happened and solutions to repair the production line must be thought of, such as giving the worker a pay raise. A study on engineering students’ abilities to answer very open-ended questions suggests that students showing more lateral thinking were able to solve the problems much quicker and more accurately.

Creative Problem Solving

Using creativity, one must solve a problem in an indirect and unconventional manner. For example, if a production line produced 1000 books per hour, creative problem solving could find ways to produce more books per hour or reduce the cost to run the production line.

Lateral Problem Solving

Lateral thinking will often produce solutions whereby the problem appears as “obvious” in observation. That lateral thinking will often lead to problems that you never knew you had, or it will solve simple problems that have a huge potential. For example, if a production line produced 1000 books per hour, lateral thinking may suggest that a drop in output to 800 would lead to higher quality, and more motivated workers. Students have shown lateral thinking in their application of a variety of individual, unique concepts in order to solve complex problems.

2. Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

Six Thinking Hats is a system designed by Edward de Bono which describes a tool for group discussion and individual thinking involving six coloured hats. “Six Thinking Hats” and the associated idea parallel thinking provide a mean for groups to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way, and in doing so to think together more effectively.

The premise of the method is that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be deliberately challenged, and hence planned for use in a structured way allowing one to develop tactics for thinking about particular issues. De Bono identifies six distinct directions in which the brain can be challenged. In each of these directions the brain will identify and bring into conscious thought certain aspects of issues being considered. None of these directions is a completely natural way of thinking, but rather how some of us already represent the results of our thinking.

6 colored hats
Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono
  • The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It’s the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats guidelines are observed.
  • The White Hat calls for information known or needed. “The facts, just the facts.”
  • The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.
  • The Green Hat focuses on creativity; the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.
  • The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit.
  • The Black Hat is judgment – Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the Hats but a problem if overused.

Since the hats do not represent natural modes of thinking, each hat must be used for a limited time only.Also, some will feel that using the hats is unnatural, uncomfortable or even counterproductive and against their better judgement.

The philosophy can se stated in a simplified manner as:

Coloured hats are used as metaphors for each direction. Switching to a direction is symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured hat, either literally or metaphorically. This metaphor of using an imaginary hat or cap as a symbol for a different thinking direction was first mentioned by De Bono as early as 1971 in his book “Lateral Thinking for Management” when describing a brainstorming framework.These metaphors allow for a more complete and elaborate segregation of the thinking directions. The six thinking hats indicate problems and solutions about an idea the thinker may come up with. Used with well-defined and explicit Return On Investment success in corporations worldwide, Six Thinking Hats is a simple, effective parallel thinking process that helps people be more productive, focused, and mindfully involved.

Summing it up, ‘Design Thinking’, which is primarily derived from the concept of the ‘Design Process’, is the way forward and one of the most effective way to nurture the young designers’ minds and to channelize them in the right direction so as to contribute towards ‘Nation Building’. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that all the Design Institutes shall incorporate Design Thinking as a tool for problem solving as an integral part of the curricula at taught courses. Woxsen School of Arts and Design has imbibed and inculcated Design Thinking at every possible level into their Academic Curriculum.

We are looking forward to a new Design revolution and to bring along a sea-change in all the industries directly or indirectly connected to Design philosophy as a part of their organizational culture.


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