“Graphic design as a profession is inherently linked to the marketing objectives and the business goals of an organization but it is very sad that no one is bothered about this,” says Vijaybahu Joshi, VP Country Design Head at Express KCS, in an interview with Sulekha.com magazine.

“As graphic designers, we are equally responsible for a brand failure since we are the communicators. With a stringent legal framework for graphic design practice implemented in the country any Marketing manager will be assured that one’s graphic design colleague or consultant is well trained in design and management and hence will only suggest design solutions, which will benefit the overall health of the brand and not just because one likes it personally”, Joshi said.

JM: What according to you is the key area of concern in the Graphic Design Industry, especially looking through the prism of commercial and licensing kaleidoscope?

Joshi: No one is held accountable in the graphic design industry if the communication design fails or suppose if an ad-campaign or a poster designed to promote ‘Polio eradication drive’ fails. We don’t have any licensing norms worldwide for practicing graphic design. Hence nothing is at stake. Have you ever heard of a case where a Graphic Designer or an Executive Creative Director of a famous ad-agency got arrested just because their ad-campaign failed miserably and the client had to bear heavy losses?

Without a proper licensing system in the industry, today anyone can become a graphic designer by learning Photoshop at home. But can I practice law or medicine legally by just reading a book or treating my daughter at home through an inherited grandma’s medication.

JM: Like most other industries including medicine, law, economics and engineering, does even Graphic Design has a governing science? If yes, then is this taught at the graphic education level? What are the harms of teaching Graphic Design without these scientific theories? 

Joshi: Yes, it is true that even the graphic design field has a scientific base to it or a governing theory much like medicine and engineering. The disappointing part is that just one or two design institutes in India teach graphic design as a science and not as an art. The biggest harm of teaching just software and art techniques in graphic design is that, a designer is not able to measure one’s own product. If something goes wrong, then we tend to answer that through emotional parameters. A graphic designer having a scientific base is process oriented and is better equipped to identify problems in one’s creation at a tangible level and not just merely at an emotional level, which is the case with Art.

JM: Can you throw some light on Graphic Design education in India and its current crop of challenges?

Joshi: The biggest challenge that we are facing in the Graphic Design education worldwide and not just in India is the lack of a education monitoring and governing body which keeps a complete hold on the graphic design education, its curriculum and also monitoring and accreditation of schools and colleges, who offer courses in graphic design. We do have such systems for Engineering, Medical, Management etc worldwide. The mom-and-pop graphic design institutes in India essentially teach software and technology know how only. Some institutes only teach art and bit of software. I have met sculptors, painters, ceramic artists, B.com graduates etc, who work with ad-agencies as graphic designers or creative directors and they have no formal education in Graphic Design theories, Marketing, Brand Management etc.

JM: Also speak about legal licensing systems of practice for Graphic Designers…

Joshi : Graphic design as a profession is inherently linked to the marketing objectives and business goals of an organisation. But it is very sad that no one is bothered about this. As graphic designers we are equally responsible for a brand failure since we are the communicators. With a stringent legal framework for graphic design practice implemented in the country any Marketing manager will be assured that one’s graphic design colleague or consultant is well trained in design and management and hence will only suggest design solutions, which will benefit the overall health of the brand and not just because one likes it personally.

Licensing system can also undertake the core discipline in which a Graphic Designer specialises in. This can be just like a Medical Council Certification, where we know the doctor whom we are speaking with is certified in Pediatrics or Gynecology. Hence, I can be a certified legal practitioner in the design of Corporate and Brand Identity systems and someone can be a certified in Packaging Design Systems. However, there can be a wide spectrum of work, which a designer can work in. We can even contest this theory with a General Medical Practitioner who can manage all sorts of common ailments. This aspect can be debated and discussed further.

JM: Could you be specific about the science of collaboration behind Graphic Designers and why Graphic Design can be developed as a global skill?

Joshi: These are two separate questions, I’ll answer latter one first. Global skills are those skills, which we learn in parts or different components over the years in a step-by-step manner. With the passage of time and due to constant repetition and practice these different components start collaborating with each other and they form a big skill, which gets stored permanently in our brain. Reading, Writing, Swimming, Walking, Running, Cycling, Driving etc. these are all different forms of Global Skills.

The interesting aspect of such skills is that anyone can learn them irrespective of gender, race or religion. The only thing one has to remember is that this can’t be learned overnight. You might contest the notion that one can learn ‘Cycling’ in a day’s time only, but in order to learn Cycling one must learn how to walk first and walking properly itself takes about two years of time. One of the most interesting aspect of global skill is that ‘once learnt’ that skill can’t be removed from the brain. So if you learned once how to recognise English Language letters and make words and sentences out of that, then mind can’t reverse this process.

In a similar way graphic design also has about four key components, which has about five sub-components (average) in each. If someone takes-up learning these sub-components in a step-by-step manner, then over the passage of time Graphic Design as a process will come naturally to that person. There is very less amount of research in this field, hence more trials are required to be done. We are doing one such research in my present organisation.

And answering your first question, in the present set of circumstances and with the absence of a common worldwide education system in Graphic Design, the designers are unable to collaborate with each other due to the absence of a common vocabulary and tested methods of Graphic Design Practice. But once a common vocabulary is made mandatory for graphic designers to learn then collaboration will come naturally to them, just like the way a Civil Engineer from Japan can collaborate with his Indian counterpart.

JM: Share us the insight on the use of Graphic Design across different industry.

Joshi: Anything that requires a communication in a ‘Visual Form’ will have to go through graphic design. The very act of typing and communicating is also graphic design since a ‘letter’ at a micro level is a graphic only. The applications of graphic design is very wide, right from the design of a cockpit panel of a fighter jet (which communicates something to a pilot) to a book design, campaign design (TV or print), postage stamp design, electricity bills, road signs to visual information systems in Airports etc., all of these are various forms of graphic design, which is meant to communicate something to the observer in the absence of the person, who wish to ‘say’ something.

You can sometimes equate graphic design as visual communication too, but the former is a subset of latter since visual communication encompasses a much wider area. For e.g., a closed gate at a railway crossing communicates something visually to you and then your mind with its past experience guides you that a train is about to come, hence this will be an act of visual communication mainly and not graphic design. But the act of painting the gate in yellow and black with a stop sign post on top will essentially be a part of graphic design, which in this case is drawing its reference from the worldwide adopted signage systems. Similarly putting up a ‘scarecrow’ in a farm field to keep the birds away will be an act of visual communication, however the ‘scarecrow’ as an object will come under the product design discipline. An extended form of visual communication also comes as TV communication, but it has one more component, which is of ‘audio’ hence it is know as Audio-Visual Communication.

JM: What according to you is the difference between Graphic Design and Design and Confusions surrounding these areas?

Joshi: Whenever a message will be stored/illustrated/created or recorded in a visual format for someone else to decode that, then this will be an act of graphic design, hence the notion of sender-message-receiver (via visual format) will always be connected to graphic design. The word ‘Design’ however means the act of solving or to create a solution for a defined problem, therefore we say a ‘designed product’ or a ‘service’. You might notice that, we never say that ‘I designed a painting or I designed a poetry. To someone who is educated in the scientific laws of graphic design, the word ‘Design’ only means the process and not the end product. The end result of this process can be a physical product, ad-campaign, poster, e-mail, furniture, clothing etc.

To a common man the word design means the external aesthetical appearance, that’s why we say ‘I like the design of this car or this furniture’. Since the majority of the world links ‘design’ to aesthetics, it gets difficult to define design as a process. Adding to this confusion is the fact that the word ‘Design’ is loosely linked to almost any field, which is labeled as creative for e.g. Fashion Design, Hair Style Design, Shoe Design, Graphic Design, Product Design, Animation Design, Interaction Design etc. Anyone who’ll be practicing these professions hence will be a designer. But, due to immense popularity of the fashion design field and celebrity fashion designers, the most common association of design is getting aligned to fashion design.

I’d also like to clarify just one more thing here, which is: Graphic Design is used as a sub-set within several other design professions, for e.g. if you design a graphic pattern using flowers and leaves to communicate spring and this graphic gets printed on a fabric, which further creates a furniture, curtain or a table mat, then end products are all different but they use graphic design within them.

JM: Why should firms need a strong design policy?

Joshi: Companies, organisations, institutions or even Nations exist for a reason or a belief system. At a micro-level any family will prefer that the value system be forwarded to the next generation in a systematic way such that each member of the family also displays that pretty much visibly in their day-to-day behaviour. That is why corporate entities have ‘VMV – Vision, Mission and Values’, which helps any employee to get his/her behaviour aligned to company goals. Now, someone may contest this factor that organisation therefore must have behavioural policy and not a design policy per say. At this point, I would like to share with you an example, which will illustrate to you as why a design policy is a must for every organisation.

For instance, a leading electronics corporation who makes audio players and speaker systems wants their customers and their employees to know that their organisation is extremely passionate about ‘sound’ and ‘music’. So they have a problem and someone need to design a solution for them, such that employees and customers can understand what this company is trying to say. This is not a situation where you’ll simply design an ad-campaign and throw that up in TV-Radio and Print for people to absorb it. You need a design policy here, which will highlight what the organisation believes in, the current problem at hand and how this has to be communicated to an employee and a customer as a behavioural experience. You need a minimum of five year time period, where once you clearly define the VMV, then you got to design a methodology of creating day-to-day systems with check points to measure the end value, which this new or modified system is expected to generate. Every bit of the new experience design will be hence linked to the ‘passion for music’. It will reflect in your building, your parking lot, and the people who you hire including the front-end sales staff, the knowledge expertise they display about music etc. Every element, which is tied-together by the virtue of this design policy will thus create that desired effect.

JM: What is the social equity in the society being a Graphic Designer?

Joshi: Graphic design as a profession comes after many other professions in the country from the social equity and respect perspective. In India since independence every household expected their kids to be doctors, engineers, pilots or scientists. At the higher league if you are an IAS or IFS then you are next to God and your family has a social status much higher than others. Even now the equation is not very different. If you are good in studies then you got to be either engineer, doctor or IAS, else take up commerce and become an MBA or if you couldn’t do either than take up Arts and keep on trying for IAS. If nothing works out well and you got to earn too, then as a last resort you’ll turn to graphic design after finishing a multi-media course in three months or in one-year time. Most of my graphic design colleagues in my past or present organisation have a similar story. Some of them, while still pursuing their BCom or BA correspondence course, also took up learning computers and software programming. They picked up Photoshop or Corel Draw as a hobby and realised that marks and grades are not a pre-requisite to be a graphic designer. Some others did a fine arts course and could not continue being as a painter due to lack of funds, hence they also learned computers and became graphic designers.

If you have understood the above scenario, then you’ll also realise that most graphic designers do not come from very well off and financially sound families, hence they don’t have enough financial muscle to start their own design studio. Barring a handful of few famous design studios in India the concept of ‘glorification’ of graphic design never really kicked off well. How many celebrity Graphic Designers have you heard of? I guess none. Most of the graphic design studios do not have any business plan, when they start a fresh and they don’t have a dedicated marketing and PR budgets either even during their maturity phase, hence the entire field never really got into the main steam media to create that grand impression or that premium level of social acceptance.

Even today a senior graphic designer will not say that he’s a graphic designer, but will prefer hiding behind the fancy designations of Art Director, Creative Director, Design Director or if you more senior then Executive Design Director etc. Due to the desktop publishing industry revolution called the DTP, a graphic designer is also termed as a DTP guy, which is not absorbed as a glorified term.

But if you look at the fashion design industry, then you’ll not find a fashion designer struggling on the social equity front. Fashion designers did most of the hard work in late 80’s and 90’s, where they projected several iconic fashion designers rising in the society as celebrities. They were also seen collaborating with Indian mainstream Hindi cinema, which further gave the industry added respect. Did this all happen without any effort or planning? I guess no! The respect, which a young fashion design graduate today enjoys, is due to the platform set by their seniors. The same is true for artists, painters etc, where there are several iconic names, which we hear and see in TV and Print. We don’t have that for graphic designers. I have interacted with close to about 2,000 graphic designers till date and none (except one) wanted to be a graphic designer when they were 7-8 years old. They were not even aware that such a profession existed. Times haven’t changed much either.

Even today, for instance, if your young sister is getting married and you have three prospective grooms to choose from, which are A) a young IAS officer working with Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Govt. of India, B) a young IIM graduate working with the Tata Group and C) A senior Graphic Designer working with a leading Hindi newspaper daily. What will be your preferred choice? I believe your most obvious answer will define what is the social equity of a graphic designer is.

JM: Can you enlighten us about the difference between communication design and Graphic Design?

Joshi: Graphic design is essentially ‘visual’ but communication design encompasses other means of communication, which are through sound, taste, touch and smell. Communication design is much wider and immensely scientific and as graphic designer you surely need to have scientific knowledge of such domains, but sadly nothing like this is being taught any where in the country.


Vijaybahu Joshi was interviewed by Jayashankar Menon. Reprinted with kind permission from Sulekha.com

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