Blueprints of Their Minds

Sameer Kulavoor documents India on a bicycle,illustrating its commercial utility through his graphics. Srishti Bajaj scoops out human behaviour from Indian streets and converts it into kitschy products. Charuvi Agrawal gives myths a modern twist through her interactive installations while Quicksand Design Studio employs user-led design research for everyday solutions. We speak to four young designers who are taking design beyond its mundane existence and injecting fresh thought into what it can do.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | New Delhi | Published: March 31, 2013 12:58 am

Sameer Kulavoor documents India on a bicycle,illustrating its commercial utility through his graphics. Srishti Bajaj scoops out human behaviour from Indian streets and converts it into kitschy products. Charuvi Agrawal gives myths a modern twist through her interactive installations while Quicksand Design Studio employs user-led design research for everyday solutions. We speak to four young designers who are taking design beyond its mundane existence and injecting fresh thought into what it can do.

Srishti Bajaj,

DesignBait,Delhi

Beyond the muddy roads and farms of Chhatarpur in south Delhi,in a nondescript galli lies Srishti Bajaj’s inventory of sorts. Tart carts strewn around,some topped with glasses posing as tables,some with reclining coir seats. There is a deceptive beer glass on one,which appears a full pint,but is actually half. There’s a work table whose wooden surface mirrors your every move. Delhi-based product designer Bajaj’s fixation with human psychology has uncanny results.

“Human behaviour inspires me,” says Bajaj,32,a product of IIM (Bangalore),Royal College of Art (London) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (Delhi) before she started DesignBait,a research and product innovation consultancy,in 2009. Bajaj’s work involves everything from functional kitsch to fun objects.

At her studio,the phantom images in her mind come alive. The tart cart furniture followed the ban on these carts during the 2010 Commonwealth Games,and embodies the “street vernacular and culture in Delhi”. The beer glasses,on the other hand,happened simply because not everyone wants the full pint. “How do you imbue a product with a personality? I look at how a product adapts to you and your life instead of you adapting to the product,” says Bajaj,who was listed in ‘Top 18 young creative entrepreneurs in India’ by the British Council and IIM in 2007.

The designer’s first step came with the Three Vices collection in 2005,in which she created symbolic metallic devices to curb the three vices ¯ perpetual verbosity,excessive profanity and malicious gossiping. “People often say,‘zubaan ko lagaam do’.These are tongue reins. They’re not usable but they instigate conversation,” she says.

Many of her works are rife with Indian aesthetics. Her Tattva collection contemporises roti-making by including tongs,roaster,chakla,paraat and an atta box with the rotimaker. Bajaj’s work is niche,appealing to those who enjoy quirks — an ‘equaliser knife’ is for the perfectionist who wants the ideal bite size,or a ‘sneak spoon’ for the glutton who craves an extra bite. She is now working on ‘Empathy Collective’ along with Delhi-based architect Kanishka Prasad. A platform which looks at design in public spaces to develop the idea of empathy,it involves filmmakers and urban civic bodies among others,working on the premise that our self-preoccupation leaves a majority of the demographic “in a state of constant and collective dissent”. “As designers,we’re taught to put ourselves in the shoes of the user. We’re using this idea for design in a larger context,” she says.

Sameer Kulavoor,

Bombay Duck Designs,Mumbai

Illustrator,animator and graphic designer Sameer Kulavoor calls himself an artist-entrepreneur. Having started his studio Bombay Duck Designs in 2007,the 2005 fine arts major from the JJ School of Arts,Mumbai,has worked for the event NH7 Weekender,made artwork for Pepsi can dispensers,a comic book strip for Enfield,and an animation music video for rock band Pentagram.

Kulavoor’s illustrative skills have been lent to magazines,advertising and graphic motion films. Working under commissioned projects,his job is akin to a visual copywriter of an advertising agency. He creates moods and atmospheres through his designs to give brands unique visual identities. These range from a print ad for New York’s Museum of Sex to promotional flipbooks for a homegrown NGO. Steering clear of stereotypes,he uses subtle,comforting colours. For the NH7 Weekender 2012,the dominating colours of Kulavoor’s works were mellow pinks and oranges that were in sync with the festival’s motto of being the country’s ‘happiest music festival’. “We wanted people to know that black is not the only colour to associate with rock music,” says the 29-year old,who worked on Norah Jones’ recent A Summer’s Day concert in Mumbai.

A noticeable aspect of Kulavoor’s works is its India connect. His early influences included Indian font type designer and calligrapher RK Joshi. “My father used to work for Reader’s Digest. It used to feature works of classic illustrators of the ’70s and ’80s on their back page. Those had an impact on me,” he says. The Ghoda Cycle Project,a personal endeavour,too reflect that aesthetic. A bicycle enthusiast,Kulavoor has been making a visual documentation of the vibrant bicycle culture across the country. “Nowhere in the world would people think of using the central frame of a bicycle as a promotional space or cycles as travelling temples,” he says. It came out last year as a book of sketches and screen prints and was exhibited at the Bicycle Film Festival in Helsinki.

The lines between fine and commercial artists in India,however,are sharply drawn. “People are apprehensive about featuring commercial artists in gallery spaces. We are stuck in an uncomfortable position,somewhere in between,” he says. To address it,he has collaborated with Mumbai-based illustrator Lokesh Karekar to come up with 100 % Zine,a magazine for commercial artists to showcase their personal work. “We are trying to bridge the gap,” he says.

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