Series on design teachers in India:
Professor Sudhakar Nadkarni has the distinction of having intiated three major Institutions in the country. He was instrumental in starting the Industrial Design Centre at IIT Bombay in 1969, the department of Design at IIT Guwahati in 1997 and the design Management programme at the Werlingkar Institute of Management at Mumbai.
As ethusiatic as ever, inspiring many, he has always stood for the cause of design in India. Apart from contributing to academics, he has contributed significantly in the fields of Environmental Design, Exhibition Design and Product Design.
He is now the Dean of Business Design at the Werlingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai.
Question: Is there something in your childhood that influenced you to be a Designer?
Answer: We stayed in a chawl, community living. There were multiple families staying on my floor and our neighbor was a signboard painter. He painted hoardings at cinema halls. I used to help them. I studied in a municipal school and was quite interested in drawing and painting. Everyone used to ask me to draw something for them. I wasn’t so good in my studies and used to do side jobs related to drawing while studying.
Then I got admission in JJ School of Arts for commercial arts stream. For my diploma project I got state medal. My major was in layout and poster design. In our batch government of Maharashtra changed the rule and only 5 people passed as cut off limit was changed to 60%. At our time strength was 30. I remember a professor called Mr. Mahajan who used to police us and keep a tab on who is coming in the college. That time the Director used to stay in the Rudyard Kipling’s bungalow. I took up a job in Asiart Advertising post JJ School of Arts. It was just above the Capital theatre.
Question: What made you choose Design as your career?
Answer: My friend Yashwant Chaudhary came back from Switzerland while I was working. He has done great work in symbol and logo design. For example the logo of the ICICI bank. He was my mentor. By this time I had done many exhibitions and he felt that I had a good 3-dimensional understanding. He suggested that I should go to ULM school which is very famous and will be apt for me. It was a tough decision as I already had a job. But, then I thought that I will go there for a year and come back. That time foreign exchange was very difficult. AS I had done some murals for commonwealth games, RBI gave me a lot of foreign exchange but I didn’t have equivalent Rupees to spend. That was good enough for buying tickets. I was suggested to take up product design. My family also didn’t know what product design is. There I got state scholarship and could finish my studies.
Question: What part of your learning as a student do you remember the most?
Answer: While I was studying in Germany, my project guide was invited to set up NID in India. As soon as I finished my studies at ULM, I was asked to go to NID to teach. Teaching is not my forte. I am more comfortable on the drawing table. At this time NID was just coming up. Kumar Vyas and I started a product design program at NID. While I was studying at ULM, Kumar Vyas came there for 6 months from Royal College of Arts. My ideology at ULM was just fitting in back here as India was just developing and within the economy what can we improve. That’s why we thought to start with the ULM philosophy rather than the American way of styling.
We had to do two degree projects at ULM – theoretical and practical. My theoretical project was – ‘How design can help in national planning and developmental programs’. I had a thought that we require a different approach then what was being followed at NID. This led to the setting up of IDC at the IIT Bombay campus.
Question: Who are your major influences in your professional life?
Answer: HfG (Hochschule für Gestaltung) has been my biggest influence. In JJ School of Arts you learn the skills, but the philosophies and intellectual schools of thoughts were learnt only at ULM. I am heavily influenced by German design – purity, precision, details.
In terms of designers, I was influenced heavily by Professor Tomas Maldonado, the then dean of ULM school. He is the one who brought ULM to where it was. It was he who believed that design is an intellectual and social phenomenon. That design has got a methodology, the Bauhaus philosophy and others. I was also influenced by Guzzello. Also, the environment at ULM was very inspiring. One could see good products coming around.
Question: Which project has given you immense pleasure?
Answer: I did a big exhibition called Vista, one of the biggest exhibitions of Indian architecture. It had the history of Indian architecture from Dravidian to Moghuls to British to the current. We had scientists, historians, architects in our expert panel while developing the theme. We worked for two years for this exhibition. Evolving the theme took a long time. It was first shown in Nehru Centre. The challenge was that how the exhibition could be flexible as it had to travel to Russia, China, Germany and other places. The challenge was that the exhibition should carry the gigantism, Indian feel and each section should tell its time and theme. It was in 1980s.
Question: Has there been any project which has disappointed you?
Answer: I remember the post box that Prof. Athvankar designed. He had designed a very nice post box. But when it was implemented by the government, they made a mess of it without consulting us. To the extent that we were ashamed to say that it is our product.
One of the biggest disappointments that remains on a personal front is that I wanted to start this under graduate program for design as in post-graduation you can’t mold the student so well as one can in under graduation. I hope they are now going to start it at IDC. As once the under graduate program starts the post graduate program can become more research oriented. At my time I didn’t have much scope as engineers were unemployed and our program helped then made them employable.
Question: Which designers do you appreciate the most ?
Answer: Prof. Dashrath Patel, Kumar Vyas and Yahswant Chaudhary.
Question: What are your opinions about design in Indian context?
Answer: While teaching at NID, I had a discussion with Mr. Sarabhai and I felt that the right place for Industrial Design would be Bombay due to close proximity with the industries. At the same time IIT was coming up with a proposal where the Secretariat was offering funds to set up this kind of an institute. Though it was a great risk to set up at IIT as they have exams and it was institutionalized. But I had to work out a program where we get our freedom also and IIT rules are also followed. When others had to do diploma project, we used to take advantage of the period and our program used to run for 4 months more (MTech was for18 months only at that time). IDC soon became very popular within IIT and then they setup up many committees and they gave us an equivalent status of MTech program. We were the only program which ran for 2 years and slowly in some time post the Reddy commission report, all MTech programs also became for 2 years.
Then the Visual Communication (VC) program was setup. My idea was to combine Product Design (PD), VC and Environmental Design. But Environmental design program never materialized. Whereas, when we proposed the VC program to the IIT senate, it passed in the first go. We got all the advantages from the IIT, they used to think we are artists and we enjoyed the advantages under its pretense. Many other departments used to be jealous of IDC. They were surprised at o how can IDC be incorporated in a technical institute. My wife has been my biggest support. When IDC had started we had just married. She used to sleep at IDC as there was 24*7 work going on.
Interviewed by Samiksha Kothari and Prerak Mehta, Mumbai, December 2010
Born in 1938.
Prof Sudhakar Nadkarni studied Graphic Design at the Sir J J School of Applied Arts (1954-1959) and Industrial Design at the School of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung), Ulm, Germany (1962-1966).
from 1958 to 1962, he worked as an Art Director in Asiart Advertising, Mumbai.
He was a faculty at the the National Institute Design, Ahmedabad from 1966-1969.
In 1969, he was instrumental in starting the design programme at the Industrial Design Center, IIT Bombay. He was at this academic institution for almost 3 decades, including 18 years as the Head of the Center.
In 1997, he initiated and started the Department of Design at IIT Guwahati.
He has been member of several esteemed committees such as the Member of Industrial Design Committee, Government of India; Member of International Council of Societies of Industrial Design Working Group; Member of Working Group for Developing Countries / Design Information Group.
Prof Nadkarni has also been the Chairman of ICSID Education Committee, Asia Sub Group as well being the Project leader for UNDP Programme and convener, National Seminar of Design Education under the Co-sponsorship of the UNESCO and UNDP.
He is currently the Dean of Business Design at the Werlingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, Mumbai.