View from India: When design is democratised

When we think of product design, what immediately comes to mind is aesthetic appeal, but today product design goes beyond that. Design sensibilities have evolved to bring in elements of responsibility, security and service options. These dimensions have redefined and repurposed product design.

To put things in perspective, the desktop economy progressed into laptops and tablets, later the mobile and then the metaverse, whose thrust is on virtual 3D platforms. Understandably, product design has evolved at every stage. Design was an elaborate process in the desktop economy. Designers spent two to three months on the design that went through the beta phase before being piloted and then rolled out commercially. This was also the case with appliances such as washing machines that were designed two decades ago.

The design perspective is different in the present scenario, and Alexa could be an example of that. Alexa works on voice command. The product is talking to the user. As a result, Alexa will have data about a particular user’s preferences. Being personalised in nature, improvisation is possible, depending on iteration between Alexa and the user. “Design has gone beyond aesthetic appeal; it is democratised and takes into account the user’s needs. Today a device or product could have the know-how about its customer likes and dislikes. It may not be always be proprietary in that sense,” said Bhushan Patil, founder and investor, Multiply Ventures, speaking at the CII Design Talk Series.

Not all proprietary data is protected. Hence, data security is required, and the designer could be made responsible for it. The data’s relevance may be integrated into the design conceptualisation. Like products and devices that have a customer connect, fintech transactions shed light on the customer. The emergent customer data could be both direct and indirect. This data can be leveraged by designers to create customised products. 

This leads us to data-driven design. The data can be honed to make products ‘interact and speak’ with customers. To illustrate, Tesla, connects with its customers. Consumer interaction could be an important design element as we live in a consumer economy. Examples like Tesla could set the tone for designers to hone their expertise to offer consumer engagement activities. This can create value around the brand.

However it’s essential to ensure that design iterative props aren’t plugged in unnecessarily. Rather, the design may have a purpose, it could be experience centric and not just visually pleasing to the eye. An example of a purpose-led design could be that of the QR code meant to scan transactions. It has become a means of survival for even the humble roadside kiosks that sell odd knickknacks or fast food. The seller may not be college literate or any such thing, but is equipped with a QR code to scan and process customer transactions. At the end of it, the gratification of a successful transaction pops up on the customer’s mobile phone.

“There’s a fundamental change from the physical world to the internet to the mobile to the virtual world. Users are migrating from platform to platform and this shifting focus may be viewed as an opportunity to explore design possibilities,” explained Patil. An example could be that of the roll camera, which has now migrated to the cloud. So much so, avenues give scope for designers to make that transition.

Other opportunities can arise with technology and socio-environmental consciousness that are merging into the design scheme. Clearly, it calls for expertise to execute the amalgamation of technology and socio-environmental consciousness. This amalgamation can happen by breaking down silo functions. So, like in the IT operations, here too design is embedded across the system and not merely confined to the product. This paradigm shift helps in improving efficiency levels and is cost-effective. Another aspect is the incorporation of aftercare services into the product. This may work out in B2C brands, as aftercare information may be included in the packaging.

Location also needs to be factored into the design scheme. The product should be locally appealing and be functional from the location point of view. The other demographics may include contextual parameters like the environment-sustainability, weather conditions and most important, affordability. Creating awareness about the brand is also required. “Designers, both experienced and fledglings, could have a presence in social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr blog to publicise their idea pitch, with a hope that it may attract investors,” added Patil.  

Coming to the design team, a stage may come when non-designers may become part of the team as design is democratised and software can be virtualised through tech tools and data insights. Connected ecosystems, problem solving and customer adoption may be part of the design interface. “Design may not just benefit the business but can also improve the economy,” observed Prof Khushboo Jogani, assistant professor, Pearl Academy – School of Design.

A good designer will find opportunities and come up with something disruptive. It remains to be seen if customers can order a pizza by tapping the 3D tools of the metaverse. “Data-driven design may open out a basket of opportunities. The new generation of designers can stimulate the Millennial,” felt Professor Pradyumna Vyas, senior advisor, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

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