Designed and Made in India?


By Zia Patel

Look at the back of any iPhone and you will see the words “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” Today I noticed that the bicycle I ride in London is also designed in California and assembled in China, which got me thinking…

What if, as the outsourced IT services that have led a wave of job creation in India begin to return to the West, India could become a destination for low cost, yet high quality, design?

In the US an engineer costs around $85 an hour, while in India that cost is just $25. Predictions are that engineering will be the next sector to create jobs in India.

Although India currently has little reputation for innovation, Professor Nirmalya Kumar thinks the reality is different. His studies show that a great deal of back end (i.e. less visible) innovation happens in India with IP being transferred to companies in the West.

Does this mean that India should have its eye on an even bigger prize - becoming a destination for low-cost but well-designed products?

There are a few things that Indian businesses need to do in order to capitalise on this opportunity. They are:

1.         Re-purpose and own Jugaad

2.         Take design seriously

3.         Design an ecosystem

Re-purpose and own Jugaad

India is known in the world for Jugaad – the “innovative fix”. Yet Indian businesses are reluctant to use Jugaad as a strategic weapon against international competitors, seeing it as a hygiene factor in product design - a necessity for doing business frugally.

But there is an opportunity to add beauty and craft to Jugaad. “Designed and Made in India” would become synonymous with Jugaad - highly effective AND low cost design.

This would be a fundamental shift for Indian design, indicating that it is about form and function rather than just function.

Take design seriously

For design to create change, Indian companies must take design seriously. And that means hiring designers at the senior management level: A person who is involved in shaping the business.

Audi employs Wolfgang Egger as head of design. Perhaps Tata Motors could be the first to employ a designer at board level? 
Volvo has used design as a tool to combine luxury and comfort across its buses. Could Ashok Leyland use design similarly for its commercial vehicles?

Mulberry has re-invented its brand with the help of Emma Hill. Could HiDesign learn from this and become relevant to youthful India?

Design an ecosystem

Designing individual products is great but there are benefits in developing a coherent language across the products. This means pushing the thought of product design even further by creating an ecosystem.

Think Microsoft’s new brand for example. It’s a user interface, but more than that, it’s also a design philosophy. And more than that, it’s a whole approach to interaction (a different, much more liberated, more enjoyable way for people to experience Microsoft).

To create this ecosystem, a brand must be crystal clear in its purpose. Internally, its purpose drives product design, innovation, and R&D. Externally, its purpose drives the need to be both creative and useful. Companies will need to see and seize. Digital design will have a big role to play in this scenario.

Consider Nike, which Fast Company has recently ranked as the most innovative firm. The Nike FuelBand combines engineering and interactive design to create a new category that takes Nike beyond sports apparel. With its iPhone app and the Nike+ website, Nike provides a platform for people to share and get moving.

Road ahead

The final link in the chain is for India to begin to fill the pipeline of designers for the future. Last year Indian universities produced fewer than 5000 designers versus more than 550,000 engineers and 250,000 IT professionals. I am optimistic for India. We have shown the world that we can leapfrog in many industries. Let’s do the same for design. 


Zia Patel
 is principal and head of strategy in Wolff Olins India.  

A version of this article was featured in Kyoorius magazine issue #16. Zia Patel is also a guest blogger on Kyoorius.

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