A New Era for Vernacular Communication Design

An award winning cover (best designed book cover in Indian Language 2019)

Indian Language publishing has long been languishing behind the other cultures for quite a while. Even today, for instance, we do not have a consistent and dependable system to compose Indian languages and all kinds of subsystems and hacks are employed to get even rudimentary text composition.

Recently, a friend accepted the task of creating a rather simple mock-up for an online Learning Module for one of the ministries of the Government of India. He was asked to create a sample from a few slides that the ministry provided. It turned out that the text could not be copy-pasted because no matter what you do, it turned into a garbled junk. Eventually the problem was resolved by a clever vernacular designer by converting the slides into images and then applying OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on those images to recompose the text.

As anyone can see, this is an absurd workflow, and reveals the extent to which our language systems are deficient. We are far behind the western thought process even in terms of basic composition skill because Indians in general no longer appreciate the fineness and sophistication that design or art in general demands. Our designers are trained more like petty sales people who try to ‘sell’ themselves and bag coveted jobs for back-office call centre companies churning out useless junk for the American corporations. On the other extreme, those working in real world designing books are so inadequately trained, so poorly compensated or are so much under pressure from poverty that their minds seldom function and the design output turns out to be hopelessly pathetic.

I believe it is now high time these attitudes and our approach as a society changed. I believe that Indians, especially those high-paid individuals living in the western-style privileged-classes, have sufficiently deep pockets to purchase vernacular books and services at a slightly higher prices. The designers and publishing houses need to show to them, through great products and excellence in design, what’s possible even in the Indian languages. There is a whole market ready to be expanded. This will raise awareness and demand for quality design and thus will alleviate the poor designers and publishers off their long-suffered distress.

With this view in mind, since last few years, I have worked with a prominent Indian publisher creating books and digital systems in Hindi language. My faith in the society’s ability and appreciation for good design was vindicated when the publisher’s investment was compensated with rise in sales and profits despite general slump in the economy. Additionally, we were heaped with awards and appreciation for our heightened design and product quality.

I think this experiment proves that the new century could be rightly the ‘Asian’ century—with Indians playing a role and keeping pace with China’s strides. In conquering this kind of dominance, our designers and publishers must abandon their penny-wise-pound-foolish mentality, respect and pay properly, develop a taste by investing in proper education and develop appreciation for good design to revolutionize the long-staid design space. Most importantly, the software industry, dominated by Indian CEOs, must now respect their motherland’s languages, solve the long standing issues faced by the community and should invest in developing technologies and systems that truly work.

Here is an article I wrote recently for a prominent publishing design magazine explaining in detail and ste-by-step fashion how to approach compositing text in Indian languages:

A presentation for future of design in Indian languages

Raisina Ambitions

In 2016 I was invited to design a new international forum for geopolitical strategy. The brief was to design ground-up a platform with all creative parameters for a world-class forum where top leaders and thinkers from around the world could converge, discuss, theorize and consolidate strategies for a New World centred around Asia and South Asian polity. The forum was to be jointly organized by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a think tank specializing on geopolitical strategy.

I have been associated with ORF since its inception in 1990s and have designed it as a corporate entity. It is a matter of pride that the institution now ranks as one of the five most influential think tanks from around the world.

For Raisina, I was challenged to design it at par, or exceeding in dignity and elegant impact, other big forums such as World Economic Forum held in Davos. It was suggested, jokingly, that if the PM decided to inaugurate it, the team would consider it a success. The first event, designed at a blazing fast speed of just over a week due to last minute approvals, was an immediate success. The design was greatly appreciated. Sure enough, the second event, in 2017, was inaugurated by the PM of India with a 40 minute speech. From then on this has been one of the most prestigious events for India, with India’s Prime Minister, top policy makers and a large number of distinguished global dignitaries converging for three days in Delhi.

The design every year is an exciting challenge involving great amount of discussions, debates, ideations, and developing lead visuals and a style congruent with the theme that is unique every year. An array of stylistic messaging for social media, backdrops, publications, books, peripheral products, slideshows, dockets, momentos, AV screens and even graphic video clips are developed. A dedicated journal and an appropriate atmosphere at the venue are the unique trademark of this forum.

In January 2020 the fifth edition of the Raisina Dialogue took place and the discussions focused around a changing world order with new emerging realities. As if on a cue the COVID19 pandemic struck immediately afterwards and the economic and political landscape of the has changed forever.

Here’s a link to the Raisina Dialogue site that lists all events since 2016: https://www.orfonline.org/raisina-dialogue/