A strange creature, constructed entirely of plastic pipes and lemonade bottles, glides across a beach on Subodh More’s computer screen.
“It’s a kinetic sculpture built by Theo Jansen,” says More, mesmerised by the beautiful, bizarre contraption playing on a YouTube video.
A what? Built by whom? “Theo Jansen,” he repeats, staring in wonder that someone would not know the world-renowned Dutch artist.
When he isn’t working as the design and business head at Desmania, a design consultancy firm in Malad, More spends his time trying to replicate one of Jansen’s wondrous creations. “This thing literally walks by itself,” he says, of Jansen’s Strandbeests — skeletal animals powered by wind to walk on sand.
It’s this sort of feverish passion for design that led More to quit mechanical engineering in favour of a Master’s degree in Industrial Design at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay’s Industrial Design Cell four years ago.
Now 29, he heads a team that creates products for some of India’s leading brands. In his four years at Desmania, More has designed everything from shampoo bottles and scientific instruments to motorbikes and water purifiers.
“It’s nice to see your product on the shelf,” he says. But it’s the journey from problem to product that truly excites young designers such as More.
As multinational brands and Indian companies furiously compete for shelf space and market share in India’s trillion-dollar-plus economy, the design industry is thriving.
“There is finally the realisation that design can play a vital role in the business sector,” says Anuj Prasad (46), CEO of the Delhi-based Desmania. “A whole lot of Indian market leaders have started in-house design cells or engaged the services of agencies like ours.”
As the demand for designers rises, so do their pay scales. More earns Rs 8 lakh a year, a reasonable income if you don’t compare it to the Rs 12 lakh that MNCs pay their in-house designers at his level.
But money seems to be secondary for design fanatics like More.
“As designers, we relish the initial stage when we come up with radical ideas for products that our clients want to create or reinvent,” he says. “The challenge lies in realising these radical ideas within their practical constraints.”
In the designer’s wonderland then, even the humble sharpener can become a raison d'être, as it once did for More. “It was highly technical stuff; you won’t understand,” he says. What’s not to understand about a blade that sharpens pencils? “We had to design new ways in which the sharpener’s hinges opened and slid. It involved highly complex mechanisms,” he says, smiling conspiratorially.
While most Indian companies still prefer to play it safe when it comes to design innovation, there are niche projects — such as developing an unconventional source of energy, something More and his team are currently working on — that keep the designers excited.
Based on the client’s brief, they brainstorm and ‘doodle’ 30 to 40 sketches of each product. Once manufacturing and cost constraints have been factored in, one of the designs is approved and a 3D model presented to the client. “It’s usually a milder, subtler version of our original concepts,” says More.
As an outlet to some of that suppressed creativity, he works on his own designs in his spare time.
His pet project at the moment is a new-age street-cleaning machine.
So when he’s not designing beach beasts or futuristic stationery, what does the recently married More do?
“I design,” he says.