He sculpted his own groove literally. And, he thanks his liberal upbringing for giving him the free hand to chart this satisfying and highly successful journey. Pradyumna Vyas, Director, National Institute of Design had a rather vagabond childhood, thanks to his forest officer fathers transferable job. Each new posting, brought young Vyas a new set of friends, a new school, new surroundings, in short, it meant undergoing a transformation of sorts. Being a forest officers son also meant living all that much closer to nature and its first inhabitants in the interiors of protected forest areas.
The ambience had many lessons for the young ladhe studied in municipal or missionary schools and counted children of tribal origin as his mates. This varied environment every two to three years made Vyas an adept swimmer in the sea of newness. In his words: I learnt to adjust with people from diverse circumstances. And thus were planted the seeds of a peoples person in Vyas.
His fascination for forms wasnt found odd by his parents and there was no opposition. In a day and age when any such passion for the fine arts would have met with scorn and an instant put down, Vyas only met encouragement from his folks. My parents were happy to let me find myself and pursue my happiness without impressing their beliefs on me, he reminisces.
Vyas, now a teenager, began indulging his fascination for solid forms with wood and metal. I had no professional training or tools in sculpture, but expressing my creativity through the medium became a passion. I worked with whatever means available, inspired by Raghunath Phadke of Dhar in Madhya Pradesh.
Of course, Vyass parents had normal middle class aspirations for their son, that he would become an engineer or a doctor, the two standard reputed professions in those days. And Vyas did not disappoint them. Fortunately, technology appealed to his hands-on persona. Says Vyas, Practical is easier for me than theory. Physics and maths were my forte, chemistry and biology less so. I am perceptive by nature. So, Vyas chose to pursue engineering. However, his love for sculpture grew during the years he spent at Gwalior Engineering College.
Destiny guided his next move. In 1981, Vyass parents, now posted in Jabalpur, played host to two professors from IIT Bombay. Intrigued by the some sculptures displayed in their home, the guests enquired about the creator. When told it was Vyas, who by then had graduated, they suggested that he apply for a postgraduate degree in industrial design from IIT Bombay. They felt that the course was right up my street, considering my background in engineering and artistic aptitude. My parents liked the idea as well. They believed that any course put out by the IIT brand would be worthwhile!
The entrance test was a breeze. Vyas was one of the top scoring students in the industrial design centre programme. Soon enough, it was time for Vyas to launch his career.
The first two years of his career were spent in Mumbai as a product design consultant before he headed overseas to Kilkenny Design Centre in Kilkenny, the
Republic of Ireland, for a three year stint. Back in India in 1989, he joined the NID.
Says Vyas, At that time, industrial design projects were hard to come by.
I had a lucky break when Eveready approached me to design a flashlight.
The torch went on to become a bestseller, selling 4.5 million pieces across the country and firmly established Vyas as a design wizard.
Vyass winning design streak continued. His next venture was for Bharat Electronics Limited, a walky-talky that won him accolades. He engaged in designs that promoted traditional craft forms and furthered a unique blend of craft and high technology. And he divided his time in workshops to acquire and impart new skills.
From Maestro to Master
Geniuses are generally perceived to be reclusive. But Vyas had verve and an affinity for people. For him teaching was a natural progression and professorship an easy transformation from the role of a designer. He explains, The varied exposure in childhood has given me a comfort level with peoplestudents, NGO workers, heads of corporations, or anyone else. Since I understand where they come from, I can adapt accordingly.
Adds Vyas, I believe teachers must create a learning environment in which individual students can blossom. We must realise that each student is gifted. Their talents must be allowed to emerge and each students inherent intelligence nurtured. Teaching is not about conditioning minds or pushing ideas. A teachers greatest tool is experience, which should be used to guide students. Students today are clued in to the world around and teachers are just the medium for students to process this information and come up with relevant outcomes.
Finding his Soulmate
In 1997, Vyas met Shimul Mehta, an accessory designer and alumnus of the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Hands on designers both, they tied the knot soon after.
Today, she heads the Outreach Department in NID and is a senior faculty member of the Accessory Department at the Gandhinagar campus. Ananya, their 11-year-old daughter, studies in class VI. It would seem that she has inherited her parents creative geniusillustrations done by her prove her artistic leanings.
Making a Mark
Over the next two decades, Vyas headed all the different portfolios in NIDs Industrial Design discipline. And, he made it amply clear that he would walk that extra mile to pursue contextual and sustainable design projects for social development. He set great store on innovative pursuits, firmly believing that it plays a major role in a nations development. One of his inventions is a minimobile, a three button simpler version of the feature-rich mobile, aimed at empowering parents to contact their wards in school while ensuring that the device is not misused on the campus.
Schools are increasingly banning students from carrying mobiles because of its nuisance value. I designed a low-cost cellular phone capable of speed dialing only three pre-recorded numbers. It makes use of a special filter that recognises the pre-fed numbers. A second version of the mini-mobile permits nine pre-determined numbers to be dialled, or to dial-in.
Sadly, the product found no commercial takers in spite of being widely hailed in the media. Still, it attracted telecom major Nokia to set-up research centres at the Ahmedabad and Bengaluru campuses of NID. These centres are hubs of activity, where students work on new contextual applications for the flourishing Indian telecom market. Other innovative products from Vyass stable include LED traffic lights and a lifesaving drugs storage device, a one litre capacity photovoltaic cell (solar) driven cooling device.
Taking India Abroad
Vyas believes in the importance of design promotion and makes it a point to organise design events in the country as also on representing the institute and India in exhibitions held nationally or internationally. The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), a non-profit organisation formed in 1957, to protect and promote the interests of the profession of industrial design, brings designers from over 50 nations on one platform. Vyas was elected an ICSID executive board member for a term running from 2009 to 2011. Elucidating the need to go global, he says, Instead of borrowing technologies that have worked in the West, we need to look inwards. Traditional Indian value systems endorse sustainable design. The cottage industry espoused by Gandhi was completely sustainable. Driven by human energy, it has zero carbon footprint. The world is thinking on these lines today, when Gandhi demonstrated decades ago the path of sustainable design, inclusive growth, and the pitfalls of consumerism. To take up these rich traditions and strengths globally, we must first hone them at home. And, in this endeavour, education can be the trigger to shift the thinking that would improve the quality of life for those at the bottom of the pyramid.
Vyas does not ascribe to mentorship and he uses his appreciation of Gandhian thought to explain his contention. I have always believed that self-belief is the strongest support to navigate life. Somehow, the idea of mentorship comes across to me as using a successful person as a crutch. I place more emphasis on understanding of the self, analysing ones strengths and weaknesses, and moving on. Of course, we can gain from reading about the thoughts and life of exemplary personalities.
Big Designs for Design
Vyass stature as an Indian industrial designer par excellence has grown manifold in the two decades he has been with NID. In 2009, he was appointed to the institutes top job. Now director of the countrys foremost institute for design and a respected designer in his own right, he is called upon to add value to endeavours aiming at promoting design for industrial development. In pursuance of the National Design Policy established by the Cabinet in 2007, an India Design Council was constituted in 2009. The Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India, nominated Anand Mahindra as the President and Vyas as the Member Secretary. The Council is working to launch an India Design Mark to further good design practices in the country and guide consumers. We are working with Japan on this project, since it has a strong design selection system and its own standard, the G-Mark, shares Vyas.
Being of the firm belief that design will play an increasing role in product differentiation as well as in determining social and economic progress, Vyas sees the need to correct the mismatch between the number of designers that are presently being churned out in India and the number that could help take the profession to new heights. While the country is producing 400,000 engineers and 100,000 managers per annum, only 4,000 designers are being turned out; whereas there is a need for 10,000. We aim to fill this lacuna by launching four new NID campuses during the 12th Five Year Planin Jorhat, Assam, Hyderabad, and two other venues that are yet to be finalised, in the states of Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
NID is also exploring ways to effectively integrate modules on design in technology and management courses in association with CII and FICCI. Presently, management, technology, social science and design education exist in silos. Ideally, students should gain a holistic perspective on these subjects.
NID is also exploring platforms to share understanding gained during its 50 years of existence with neighbouring countries, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, and other SAARC nations. With this aim in mind, Vyas invited Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, to participate in the Golden Jubilee celebrations and 32nd Convocation Day, in December 2011. Now, he looks forward to leading product development collaborations between the institute and African nations. Zimbabwe promises to be the first beneficiary of this exchange.
Recent recognitions for Vyass contribution to design education and promotion include the conferment of an honorary masters degree by the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, United Kingdom and the award for outstanding contribution to Design Education at the second Asias Best B School Award held in Singapore.
Indeed, for a career that took off by chance, not by design, this design maverick has done exceedingly well.