When I now look back at my school education, I realise that my school years were lived in a small, closed world controlled by rules and regulations with little space for the imagination to take flight. Taught the importance of learning by rote; of marks and examinations, as students we were graded and ranked continuously, one against the other, forced into competition within a small group.The larger world outside was remote.
Fortunately, soon after, I found myself a student of the NID in Ahmedabad. Here I suddenly found a whole new world where I was expected to think for myself, and to negotiate the many new experiences and spaces that came my way. “Unlearning” I realised, became just as important as learning. The freedom of a non competitive system of evaluation- no marks! no exams! – (though sadly all that has changed now) enabled one to eventually find an inner discipline, and taught me how to motivate myself.
As a student of the Textile Design department, I found myself in a tiny batch of 7 students with incredible teachers who taught us not just how to set up a weaving loom and how to print with a silk screen, but would happily discuss jazz, Simone de Beauvoir and the technical magic of a double ikat Patola sari late into the evening. Our days were interspersed with mornings spent in the campus garden learning to analyse the form of a leaf in order to draw it accurately, and our evenings were spent in the cool darkened auditorium discovering the cinematic magic of Ray, Bergman and Kurosawa in between short naps. The Calico Museum of Textiles, the world’s richest repository of Indian textiles, was then a welcoming environment for students of textiles. We spent many hours there examining, sketching and studying up close India’s incredible historic textiles. This taught us not just about the breadth and diversity of technique in Indian textiles, but that the layered narratives of our heritage crafts could be a rich, endless source for design inspiration.
Design education teaches us to look at the problems that confront us and to resolve them appropriately and responsibly. We study the actions and consequences of human activity and we look for design solutions that help contribute to a better, and ultimately, more sustainable life. The scope of these problems is huge. It can range from the spinning of a new yarn for a textile, to problems of road safety, to finding solutions to help us use our limited energy resources in the most effective ways. Design training provides us with a broad based approach towards problem solving with integrated solutions within the larger ecosystem. Indeed, even the design of something as commonplace as a door knob has to take into consideration not just the physical force required to operate it, but the size of the user’s hand, as the visual aesthetic elements and then appropriately balance the requirements of form and function.
My learning as a student of the National Institute of Design has helped me plan my journey as a design professional. Today, after many years of professional practise, with each new design and each new collection, I acknowledge the strong educational foundation that has given me the building blocks to negotiate a path in a world that is changing constantly.