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Verve People
April 28, 2017

Talking Design With Ishan Khosla

Compiled by Amishi Parekh

He talks about a design sensibility influenced by both urban and rural India and how it finds a way into his work

Ishan Khosla has over 15 years of work experience in book design, interactive graphic design, and branding. Apart from commercial work like the award-winning book Eye Spy Indian Art, he also launched The Typecraft Project, which aims to help the dying crafts and tribal arts of India, by creating fonts inspired by them. As one of the contributors for Verve‘s upcoming design issue, he discusses his views on the current state of design in the country, inspirations and more…

What led you to become a designer?
“I was studying to be a computer scientist when I had issues with my eyesight. They were long and arduous few months where I went from almost losing my eyesight completely, to regaining it only to find that I no longer saw the world the same way. The visual world and the gift of sight suddenly became important to me and I moved away from my logical left brain mind to a more dreamy but magical right brain world of visual arts.”

What does design mean to you?
“To me, the most interesting aspects of design is the fact that as a designer, one can see the world — even the most mundane and seemingly uninteresting aspects of it — in new ways, and make connections where none may seem to exist.”

What are the themes and underlying concerns that drive your practice?
“An interest in India — both urban and rural, contemporary and past — drives a lot of my work. Creating appreciation for “design before design” — in the fact that design wasn’t taught to us by the west. In the 1960s when NID was set up… but design always existed and was practiced by more humble and anonymous residents of villages in India. It was always about being utilitarian, having a low footprint, and being a part of the Earth, not separate from it. Today, design is causing much obsolescence and redundancy as well as wastage on the planet in its more brash and consumerist avatar. Is there a way we can go back to the way design behaved in the past, and yet still be innovative and fulfill the needs of today?”

How has the field and its perception changed from when you started out?
“Most people a decade ago would think that design is tantamount to fashion. Designers were not treated with a lot of respect and the value they added was not appreciated. While this is changing today, it is still seen by many companies as window-dressing and not a strategic tool to include at the early stages of product development. Things are, however, moving in the right direction.”

What are the changes you would like to see in Indian design?
“We are still suffering from the aftermath of colonisation and this is most apparent in our profession, where a lot of designers are still looking to the west for inspiration and direction. While this has reduced tremendously in the past few years, it seems to be very prevalent in design education, which is still largely based on the Bauhaus and Modernism. Whereas the countries where these principles originated have themselves moved on from these movements.”

What is most exciting about Indian design today?
“The fact that so much is yet unexplored in terms of understanding and engaging with our own culture today. Additionally, there are many interesting projects that designers can work on in our country, such as museum branding, the ever growing festivals that keep launching across the country and new initiatives related to the art and culture from India and abroad.”

What inspires you? 
“I would say that rural parts of Kutch and Rajasthan are inspiring to me. The layers of tradition, and how communities that were largely nomadic engaged with each other. How raw materials and waste were used and exchanged between communities so that each of them have an opportunity to benefit and contribute from this exchange.”

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