The subject of design histories is totally unacknowledged in India today. There have been very few instances where attempts have been made to try to understand broad discussions in design and politics of living, aesthetics and material realities in India over a century or two. Several books and other claims to design histories are feeble and pithy in their research, and lack conceptual suggestion of any merit. Design and its popular versions as in architecture or fashion or products of lifestyle exist largely as practice and consumption only. Of these, architecture is the only theorised field of practice and consumption. Even Interior Design, a prolific practice, has absolutely no theory of any worth produced or proposed from Indian or sub-continental positions and locations. Revivalist (you can also read ‘fetishistic’) tendencies or fashionable debates such as sustainability or lip-service to the environment often cloud the discussion on the practice of design or its theorising. The pages of this magazine, since the last seven years, have built the ground for discourse on design practices, its production, its potential theory, and an attempt at outlining a field of action, thought, and production vis-à-vis design.
Cultures of visuality, technology, finance, and modes of skill and labour, professional structuring to set up debates on ethics of practice and values in the field are all part of the field we need to define. Often the research and writing, the little that is there of very good worth and value, is not read by designers, who then, in their own wisdom, keep rediscovering the wheel with the least understanding of what shapes research in such subjects or what would be the protocols of discourse. The research and writing on design is often lost in browsing images in coffee-table-book kind of reading habits, or simply the laziness to think and work beyond visual comfort and consumption. Writings on design histories and theories have been circulating more in the fields of visual culture and cultural theory than design schools and studios of designers. It is time that designers invest in knowledge production that is beyond the practice of making; and designers will need skills of communication and comprehension beyond the drawing, beyond thinking only visually, and not make statements of generic nature on ideas of design and history as if they are pointed theses in the field.
The issues one is discussing here have deep implications in the design of post-graduate education in design-related fields. What is also important is the pressure to put a discourse such as Sustainability or Conservation to debate. As means of production, financial exchanges and interactions have drastically changed in the last few decades, the practice of design and making is one that is very strongly affected. This urgency has hardly been taken up within academia or practice, besides the mode of lament, loss and feeble calls for recovery. From within the field of design we have not been able to grasp the intensity of change, and the waning out of a core that survived us until the 1980s. This loss of control has converted the designer into a character who celebrates the fence, and keeps embellishing it, happy to think of the core in forms of idyllic pasts or lament its loss, but will not spring into action with an attempt to take control of things in a realistic manner. At the same time, there are surely some designers and practitioners in the new generation who are extremely alive to the realities of their time, intuitively respond to those, and negotiate them through their approach and process in design. They are yet not able to articulate this situation, and that is surely no problem, but their experiences, sharpness of perception and response, and sense of responsibility produce hope forthe field.
In this issue, across time and media, we address the sense of making and reflection, collage and stereographic focus, and the perception of everyday life these produce for us, putting a discourse to complexities and contradictions through media and practices, and the cultures of visual production, design and art.