The delta of design

IDC IIT Bombay India

This post presents my reflections on the design education I received at IDC. The views presented here are mine. Caution: May contain rants. TL;DR, - There is no TL,DR in Design.

Why design?

After my graduation in Electrical Engineering and partly in Electronics (from CEDT), I had joined Tata Motors, RnD at Pune. My role was with the HMI group there. We worked on various things like control panels and their evaluation (subjective and objective), setting standards for various features, designing, implementing and strategies for various car features like Acoustics, PEPS, Infotainment, Apps, and Telemetry. If someone is familiar with the automotive industry, the organization structure at TML is similar to Ford or JLR. So, in technical terms, I was a part of PAT and ODT. In general, our group was the “internal customer” of the organization. Hence, we set targets for various things and design strategies to be implemented. These would go to the engineers/designers who would implement it based on our requirements. Then, we would test these systems objectively and subjectively and give a Go-NoGo signal to the management. The range of exposure was huge. We dealt with things like tiny icons on the front fascia to larger transmission systems in the car. I think the work there, triggered a lot of inner aspirations and complemented my understanding as an engineer. I developed an interest in minor details of things like the feedback of a button, the volume of the buzzer, the color of the screen under various lighting conditions, acoustics of the car and engine music. I thank my team and friends at TML - Vinit Sir, Priyanka, Mihir, Sachin, and Prem.

At TML, I worked on infotainment navigation systems for Bolt and Tiago/Tigor, then on acoustic measurement and audio-tuning and finally on the ConnectNeXt app ecosystem. We interacted with lots of people from various companies/institutes as we involved them in our work. The work was nice.

Apart from TML, I (as always, unfortunately) had a keen interest in “making”. The moment I reached Pune, In a few days, I was at Mozilla Makerparty. I still remember the pains of commuting and the fun. Thanks to that, I made good friends like Anuj, Rituparna, Nishant and Sunil Sir. We did a few collab projects together. I, Ritu and Anuj still work together.

Before exiting college and working with CEPD, most of my projects were essentially self-expression. They were my abrupt and rapid reactions to instantaneous thoughts and desires. I did not think them thoroughly. Post CEPD, thanks to some gathered skills in electronics and organizing, I was much more confident in executing things. The expression became fun and work at CEPD. But, what about the purpose? There was none outside, having fun and spreading the love. There was no user or customer. Hence, there was no solid problem. At Pune, I grazed grasses and worked a lot, building things like speaker systems, PCBs, HAM-RX and eventually worked with Anuj on the Knit. I was under the impression that I am becoming someone, who can do things but does not know what to do. This lead to a lot of stressed times. I wanted to join * as I found their work pretty exciting. Little did I knew, I applied and got rejected. I was very sad that day. I am just an aimless maker?. Not an X under 25 or Y under 30. Who’s who of hollowness? Nosy talker at conventions. I did incinerate some silicon, for sure. I got over with that in time.

At work too, I realized that there could be a knowledge gap in my understanding of the design elements. I can feel the things to some extent, but to decipher the cause and fix it was challenging. I wanted to learn more about this. I was just not doing justice to the task. Therefore, I decided to try and pursue the higher education thread, rather than switching jobs . I researched about some courses abroad and in India that would help me understand the field better. After a lot of thought, I decided to probably do a degree in design as the curriculum and approach resonated with me. I did validate my interest in design by taking the Delft Design course on edX. Even though it may not be an exhaustive representation of the design pedagogy, It may help me understand if it is for me or not. I really liked the course and hence, zeroed in on design as a future course. I applied to the two best colleges in India, NID and IIT-IDC, very selectively. I got through both and chose IDC. The reason, without being drawn into discussions on pedagogy, was exposure. I felt IDC would provide me with better view of both research and design.

I may have been biased because - It was IIT, so I could meet more geeks; I met a geek prof in the interview at IDC, who could see through my work; The IDC website had better information on things. Now, what did I expect?

I wished to :

What is design? circa 2016

When I came at IDC in 2016, I felt that design is essentially out of the box, problem-solving . I recall, most of the engineers replied something similar at the orientation. The dominant voices said things like aesthetics, visual, functional, User-centric and other similar ideas. Henceforth, I worked on my understanding of design. However,to what extent does the problem get solved ? The idea of affecting a problem and not essentially solving it?

Perceived changes in thinking and learnings?

In this section, I summarize the changes in me that I noticed after doing the masters. To understand them, I have been carefully analysing my previous work, conversations with friends and visiting undergrad college. A little nostalgia helps. It took me about a month to come to this list and I stopped expanding when points started repeating and forming themes.

I feel that one tends to think in terms of one’s tools. It may lead to what McLuhan says Rear View Mirror Thinking. When one imagines the newer media through the older one. Luhan would not have liked “Web pages in VR”. However, there is a satisfying rational of “building upon things you already know”. Nobody can be blamed for this tendency. Continuity is appreciated by everyone, even by the recruiter.

I used to receive a lot of positive reinforcement when friends could see things on the table. But were they the best solutions? Maybe. I could have explored more. A wider solution space may result in a better solution. At least, it seems to be a better strategy. I am a recovering victim. Many are still there. Architects try to think of every solution in terms of spaces. Graphic designers tend to design interfaces similar to print. I think one needs to explore more. I cannot imagine the cool solutions an illustrator would bring if she/he tries to explore it from say form or electronics. We should try to take a risk and live it to the fullest.

I hope, I have summarized the learning well. I will try to expand on them in the future.


The major influencers in this journey were (including but not limited to) :

What is design now? circa 2018

These days, the definition of design that I subscribe to is a convenient but tested combination of the definitions given in Nigel Cross’s Designerly ways of knowing and Kenya Harra’s Designing Design.

So, Cross talks about design as the third area apart from Arts and Science. He summarizes (page 20) design to comprise of abilities to:

While Hara talks about art and design as “Art is an expression of an individual’s will to society at large, one whose origin is very much of a personal nature. Design, on the other hand, is basically not self-expression. Instead, it originates in society. The essence of design lies in the process of discovering a problem shared by many people and trying to solve it.”

I would recommend these books to anyone interested in understanding design. They helped me a lot in the middle of the course when I felt concerned about my actions. They were recommended by Prof. Rao and Prof. Girish.

I await feedback and suggestions. Please direct them to my mail.