Signs of Our Time


Signs of Our Time

Chatterjee, Ashoke

Anil Sinha is an educator who has brought into his classrooms an enviable record of service to clients of the National Institute of Design (Ahmedabad), representing in his work and teaching the attitude toward ‘professional education’ which has been the hallmark of NID. This book collects cases that demonstrate the process which professional designers use to help understand and resolve the needs of their clients. Prof Sinha offers us an insight into the creation of visual identities upon which so much now depends in a crowded market where competition is the name of the game, and in a chaotic visual landscape where a myriad images shout for attention.

The need for expression through symbols has been with humankind since time immemorial. Few civilizations are as rich in this language as India. Our lives are marked by symbols, from birth to death. Every stream of India’s rich diversity has contributed to this confluence, suggesting a powerful resource — is well as an important responsibility — for designers in our time. The Freedom struggle drew on the inherent power of symbols in the Indian psyche, whether it was the charkha or a grain of salt picked up at the beach in Dandi. This lesson has not been lost on subsequent social and political movements, whether in the search for symbols that can win elections, or protect the environment, or be used to destroy unity and peace.

It is this complex cultural, social and political backdrop against which the search for identity is conducted by those seeking a place in an expanding Indian market — possibly the largest of its kind in the world. Successful branding is accepted as an essential requirement for survival and growth. The importance of recognition becomes even more vital in a country of over one billion citizens of whom millions still cannot read or write. To communicate successfully across the barrier of literacy gives even greater importance to the symbol. As I write these words, the media brings news of a new symbol for the Indian rupee. The discussions around it underline the importance of symbols even when there may be no apparent need other than “a bid to stand up and be counted in the world”. This is what each of Anil Sinha’s examples is trying to do. By revealing the designer’s process of seeking solutions to problems and needs, we are given insights into the functional and aesthetic demands of market communication in an age dominated by media, by the computer as well as by tradition. Each of these organizations may be seeking images that can one day be so recognizable that even their name can become unnecessary — not unlike the status achieved by the Nike swoosh, the LIC ‘hands around a lamp’ and Air-India’s Maharaja. Yet despite experience, not all understand the importance of symbols or respect the investment in them. The fate of the Maharaja, and of the series of symbols and identities successive ministers and bureaucrats have inflicted upon India’s national carriers, is a classic example of lessons that will remain unlearned so long as issues of corporate identity are directed by amateurs. This collection is a call for design to be given the understanding and respect that is its due, along with other key resources for good management.

It is the quality of professionalism that gives particular importance to Prof Anil Sinha’s book. It comes as a welcome addition to the resources available for students and practitioners, as well as to NID’s contribution to this dimension of Indian design.

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