India Immersion Program 2015: I had no idea just how immersed I would get

by Ellie Eberts


Over the holiday break I had an incredible—dare I say life-changing—experience in Mumbai, India as a participant in ID’s India Immersion Program (IIP). What is IIP, you ask? IIP is a professional practice and cultural immersion program run each winter in partnership with Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd where ID students are teamed up with Godrej executives to teach them design methods and processes while simultaneously being culturally immersed in the Indian context.

The theme of this year’s IIP—the future of retail and retail experiences—is particularly relevant for Godrej and the Indian context at large as services such as Flipkart (the Indian Amazon.com) flip traditional Indian retail paradigms on their head. Also, the sheer presence of Godrej products in the Indian market is pretty incredible—they manufacture everything from personal care products to mattresses and refrigerators to components for space rockets—to put things in perspective, over 500 million Indians use at least one Godrej product everyday, which is pretty incredible with a population of about 1.3 billion people. Are you inspired by the overwhelming sense of opportunity here? I certainly was after this introduction to the program.

Now that I’ve got the IIP context all set for you, in order to really understand the full power and weight of this experience, I ought to set you in the frame of mind of a person dropped into the Indian context for the first time. I’d gone into this experience with very few preconceptions or expectations—I knew India would be far different from anything I could ever imagine, I knew that I was going to experience such rich colors and textures that I would be left swooning on the floor (if you know me and my love of color and rich visuals, you’ll totally get this), and I knew the project would be a challenging three-and- a-half week sprint from research through to concepting.

That was about all I went into the experience with. I was mentally a clean slate. Upon getting off the plane in Mumbai things looked a little like this:

The streets were full of all kinds of vehicles—autorickshaws, cars, trucks, busses, bicycles, motorbikes—and they all had somewhere to be now which meant a lot of honking and very well-orchestrated chaos. That said, after a full day of exploring Colaba in south Mumbai and delicious street food in my belly, I easily fell asleep in that honk cacophony on the way back to the Godrej colony that night.

Now that you’re a little more acquainted with what a westerner’s first induction into the Indian context is like, let me get to the meat of the IIP experience. On a team with me were Yang (MDes ’17) and Sylvia (MDes ’17) along with two Godrej counterparts— Rajat, head of retail strategy and customer experience for Godrej Interio’s B2C furniture division, and Neha who has been with the Godrej Innovation Centre since its inception about 5 years ago. We were tasked specifically with understanding what future lifestyle & luxury retail experiences might look like for Godrej—we set out to reframe what luxury and aspirations might look like beyond the things we spend money on to denote life stage or status.

Conducting research in the Indian context was challenging in some situations—like when our apparent lack of knowledge of Hindi came into play or the street noise was so loud that transcribing the interview after the fact was like deciphering hieroglyphics. And sometimes situations like this called for a little cutting chai on the side of the road and stepping back to build rapport as a team.

The real challenges came when analyzing the output of our research and pushing towards insights. Imagine for a second that you’re in Rajat’s shoes: you’ve always worked in the marketing & business worlds—where research is often used as validation of the known—and for the first time you’re going through the loopy, amorphous design process where a clear output isn’t always visible. Yang, Sylvia and I would get questions like

“Are we doing the right thing?” or “Is this going to get us to the right answer?” or “When do we get away from all this abstraction?”

And each time we had to step back, empathize with where our Godrej counterpart was coming from, and break down where we were and where we were headed—often it was about providing perspective and showing examples from our own work to ground our discussion the design process. In response to questions like “Is this going to get us to the right answer?” we explained that it’s not about the right answer, but rather about exploring opportunities and unarticulated needs.

But sometimes, and I’m not gonna lie, I would start to ask myself “ARE we doing the right thing? Is Rajat going to think we’re crazy at the end? Is the Godrej GMC (heads of 14 different business units) going to laugh us out of the room at our final presentation?” and the only way to quiet these questions was to silently repeat to myself “this all feels right, just trust the process... trust the process...” But you can’t always blindly trust the process, there’s another ingredient there that cannot be undermined when things simply don’t feel right—it’s intuition and instinct. It’s not one hundred percent methods and frameworks, but also the instinct and intuition that guide the use of them appropriately.

Imparting this lesson of instinct and intuition often meant I was pushed to verbalize my thought process and talk through it to provide clarity on the question of “why are we going through this particular exercise?” IIP was a truly incredible exercise in being able to articulate what we actually do and what design is really about. We couldn’t just rely on “because I’m a designer and I said so” but really dig deep to the value of design to answer the “why?” questions.

So you’re probably wondering how it all ended up. And while I can’t give specific details about the concept we created for Godrej, I can say that on the last day after the presentation Rajat said, nearly verbatim,

“it’s incredible that this is what came out of three and a half weeks of this crazy process. I now understand its value.”

Getting buy-in to the design process was probably the most rewarding part of the time I spent working during IIP.

In addition to immersing our Godrej counterparts in the design process, we also got an opportunity to be immersed in the incredibly rich Indian context—and to tell the truth, I could not get enough of it.

 

India is pretty incredible. If you’re ever presented with the opportunity, IIP or otherwise, GO. You’ll thank me.


Sharing Cultures at ID

by Lisa Radecki


At a school of diverse user-centered designers we are all curious in the social and cultural backgrounds of our fellow classmates. During the Sunday before Chinese New Year students gathered to celebrate the holiday and get a glimpse into a cultural celebration hosted by the Chinese student body at ID. Students had a great time taking part in a hot pot feast and connecting with their classmates in between the usual Sunday routine of homework and meetings. 



The question.

by New Idiom


It's that time of the year again. Time to get together with loved ones and inevitably have to answer questions such as, "So what type of design do you do at school? Is it like interior design?", before someone's eyes glaze over. No, really what we do at ID is so fun!

If you need to work on your response take a line from our professors at ID, who responded a similar question in a series started by alumna, Irene Loomis (M.Des 2015).

Anijo Mathew
Kim Erwin
Laura Forlano
Marty Thaler
Stan Ruecker
Vijay Kumar

Have you come up with an answer that works well with your grandparents? We'd love to hear it!


International Food Fest 2015

by Wenxi Wang


The International Food Festival is one of the most beloved events at ID. Each autumn, ID students, both international and from the States, bring in a wide variety of food and beverages together, potluck-style. They do this collectively, to share a piece of their respective, diverse cultures to a rhythm of music and flavor.

IDers get to know each other on a deeper level by sharing stories from around the world. This festival of food and culture is also a great break from the rigorous and demanding ID life!


Describing What We Learn at ID: Vijay Kumar

by Irene Loomis


This is the final installment in a series of responses from many ID professors.

As a student at ID, I am always meeting new people who are curious about what I am studying. The answer is very different if I am talking to my Grandma, a new acquaintance, or a designer.

To find out how ID Professors describe what they teach to non-designers, I have started asking for responses to a sitation that we all find ourselves in.

Here's the scenario:

You are at a party at your neighbor's house. You start talking to a stranger who asks "what do you do?" You say that you are a Professor at the Institute of Design. The stranger asks "what is taught at the Institute of Design?"

Professor Vijay Kumar wrote:

"We teach students to raise new questions, reframe problems and explore alternative possibilities through iterative, hands-on prototyping. We teach students a lot about the relationships between people, technology and space, which are important for understanding almost any issue facing business and society more broadly including social innovation and sustainability. We teach students to work collaboratively (both with each other and with faculty as well as multiple stakeholders from outside the university) and give thoughtful critique and feedback to their peers."


Why I post less to Facebook (and perhaps you do, too)

by Jeff Turkelson


I post less and less to Facebook than in years past. There are a variety of reasons why. Having joined in 2005, the novelty has long since worn off. The quantity and prevalence of social networks has made it tiring and burdensome to keep up, especially as my life gets busier. And then there is the pressure I feel to post content worth sharing. Just recently, a friend of mine had looked back at what she posted eight years ago and felt embarrassed. That certainly resonated with me. I post less and less to Facebook because of escalating self-imposed criteria for what’s worth sharing, the result of a greater sensitivity to how my digital presence reflects on me now and will in the future.

All of these theories hold true in some regard, but I’ve found there is another reason why I post less to Facebook. While I impose criteria for what I consider “worth sharing”, I feel another limiting pressure emerges from the nature of the Facebook platform and others’ expectations of the kind of content they expect to see. The Facebook platform encourages content that’s quickly created and quickly consumed, which is precisely the sort of content that I feel is not worth sharing.

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Describing What We Learn at ID: Laura Forlano

by Irene Loomis


This is the fifth installment in a series of responses from many ID professors.

As a student at ID, I am always meeting new people who are curious about what I am studying. The answer is very different if I am talking to my Grandma, a new acquaintance, or a designer.

To find out how ID Professors describe what they teach to non-designers, I have started asking for responses to a sitation that we all find ourselves in.

Here's the scenario:

You are at a party at your neighbor's house. You start talking to a stranger who asks "what do you do?" You say that you are a Professor at the Institute of Design. The stranger asks "what is taught at the Institute of Design?"

Professor Laura Forlano wrote:

I'd say, "We teach students to raise new questions, reframe problems and explore alternative possibilities through iterative, hands-on prototyping. We teach students a lot about the relationships between people, technology and space, which are important for understanding almost any issue facing business and society more broadly including social innovation and sustainability. We teach students to work collaboratively (both with each other and with faculty as well as multiple stakeholders from outside the university) and give thoughtful critique and feedback to their peers."