AT INDIA’S FIRST-EVER INDIA DESIGN FORUM (IDF), held in early March at Delhi’s Le Méridien hotel, a full auditorium listened in rapt silence to an eloquent, cutting critique of urban Indian design. That is, until they erupted in laughter when the ubiquitous penguin dustbin came on screen, followed by images of homes seemingly inspired from neighbourhoods in Spain and Morocco and Aspen, and by a signboard that read ‘10 Downing Street’.
“Really, when was the last time you saw a penguin in India?” asked the speaker Sujata Keshavan, a pioneering graphic designer in the Asian industry and co-founder of the design agency Ray+Keshavan. “And these houses could be anywhere!”
This anxiety about the identity of Indian design was what animated the discussions at the IDF, which brought together professionals from across design disciplines—architecture, product, industrial, fashion and graphics—in India. The participants—design practitioners and design experts alike—tried to push into the spotlight concerns that should guide our contemporary design debate: Can there be a common visual design code in India? How can India harness its rich legacy of crafts to design an identity that is quintessentially Indian? What role will India play in the future of design?