About the Author
H Kumar Vyas was born in 1929 in Uganda and had his early training as an industrial designer at the Central School of Art and Design, London, where he subsequently worked as a professional designer for more than five years. Vyas has three decades of fruitful association with the National Institute of Design (NID). He joined NID in 1962 and started the Faculty of Industrial Design with an aim to initiate training programmes for the first cadre of industrial designers in India. In 1970, Vyas helped innovate and introduce NID's first undergraduate programme, the 5 and half year Professional Education Programme. His work at the Institute has also included a wide range of professional design services for NID's clients in the craft, small and large scale industrial sectors as well as exhibition and environmental design projects. Vyas was also the chair holder of the Design Research Chair initiated by NID from 1989-1992. Since 1977, Vyas has been actively engaged in acquainting the youth with the concepts of design and design thinking.
The first edition of the book Design and Environment was published in 1982 as a training kit for budding young designers. It comprised an introductory manual and a series of short films which were telecast on the National Education Programme in the eighties. The resounding success of the first edition and the huge demand for the same has led to the publication of Design and Environment: A Primer, the revised second edition of the first book.
This book is a thoroughly revised version of my earlier book, Design and Environment: an Introductory Manual, published in 1982. The old manual was originally designed as one of the three components of a design awareness kit; the other two components were a short introductory film, and a set of filmstrips. The film and films trips have since been converted into a self standing audiovisual programme consisting of eight film modules to be offered without the help of the manual.
Because of this particular development, and also because of various feedback from the participants of several design awareness workshops held between 1981 and 1992 wherein the manual was actively used, I decided to revise its content. Now it is being published as a design primer. Yet, anyone who is acquainted with the manual can see that notwithstanding the changes, the overall objective of the book remains the same. Namely, to sensitise the user of the primer to the inevitable interdependence between the design process and the ordering of the human environment. Equally important, it is also to make the user aware of the fact that design in the final analysis is an agent of change to enhance and improve our material, psychological, and social - cultural environments while maintaining harmony with the ecology of our planet.
While the basic structure of the primer remains almost the same as the manual, there have been noticeable changes in the content. Six completely new chapters have replaced the first two. The chapter on design process is completely revised and an extra chapter is added to inform and guide those users of the primer who may later aspire to become designers.
Now, about the content of the book. The total content of the primer is cast in a mode that can best be described as 'conversational'. Each concept, as it unfolds as an integral part of the content, is explained in simple language that is directly addressed to the user of the primer. The user, more often than not, is invited to 'travel' (figuratively, of course) through various aspects of the human environment. At one place she/he is encouraged to literally take a walk in an environment of her/ his choice. This happens in the beginning of the book and hence sets the tone of the rest of the content.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part is called 'Knowing your Environment'. As mentioned earlier, it begins by telling the user that very soon she/he would be taking a walk in her/his immediate environment. At the same time, it provides very detailed information firstly, on how to select a part of the neighbourhood that is suitable for the purpose; secondly, on the special kinds of preparation needed for such a walk, and thirdly, on the right method of recording experiences and events in their entirety along with one's critical evaluation of it. It later discusses at length how the learning derived from such 'real life' experience can be put to use in understanding the larger issues related to our physical, and socio cultural environments.
At this point another hypothetical 'travel' is indicated. This time it is travel in time, to a point in the distant past where humanity was still in its infancy. This is in order to meet three 'very first acts of design'; the basic tool, the basic language, and the basic shelter. These three were also responsible for sowing the seeds of what we know today as human made environment.
The discussion now shifts to those 'built' forms and spaces that evolved over ages as results of two historical factors; increasingly complex human needs, desires and aspirations, and even more important, the innate human faculty of innovation that must be employed to fulfill them. These forms and spaces, besides being the 'generators' of human made environment, are to be seen as a direct outcome of an unconscious but well defined process. A process that evolved over a long period of time and hence, deserves to be called an evolved design process. And that is exactly why it should remain a constant source of wonderment, enquiry and inspiration for everybody who aspires to be a designer.
The first part ends with a discussion on the nature and structure of the evolved design process while comparing it with the process consciously employed by a modern designer. The latter, as a rule, needs a deliberate effort to learn at a seat of design learning; hence it is logical to call it a learnt design process.
The second part of the book is called the Design Process in Action. It too begins with an invitation to explore selected human made environments and their defining elements. This is done particularly to verify the process of design discussed at the end of the first part. These defining elements could either be object systems, communication systems or micro-environments.
Later, there is an exhaustive discussion, with examples, on how designers solve actual problems and the necessity to cultivate a special kind of thinking habit in order to work as a designer in modern times. This part of the primer ends with a broad description of various related areas of learning a young aspirant must be exposed to in order to be a designer.
Lastly, while still dwelling on the core content of the book, I would like to touch upon a matter of concern to us all.
The first decade of the Twenty First Century seems to have augered well for design, both as a profession and as a discipline of learning. What the book has endeavoured to do is to point at two sensitive areas of concern of our time and place. In fact, both of these do appear as undercurrents traversing across the content of the book. All the same they need to be reiterated so that they are perceived in the right context.
The first area of concern is easy to appreciate. Today, among all human disciplines of learning, design holds a unique and unambiguous promise of laying the foundation of attitudes essential for improving and sustaining the human environment at individual and collective levels. This is true of both, the learners and practitioners. At the same time, it is equally obvious that the said promise may easily fail to deliver if not interpreted in the local (read Indian) context. And that brings me to the second area of concern.
Here, the realisation is that the imperatives of the local context need to be identified as distinct from those of the global. And that would mean that one is made to look beyond India's urban centres. Not just the metropolitan cities and the lifestyles of the privileged, but further beyond the Great Indian Middle Class of the post - liberalisation era. Till one touches the lives as have been lived for centuries in small towns and villages.
The content of the book in a small and indirect way, reflects this concern. One is bound to notice the peculiar tone of the narrative and the bias with which the everyday human environments have been selected. Note also the experiences and events that serve to exemplify these environments. It is not difficult to see that they all rather deliberately, centre around the lifestyle of non - urban India. The majority of the illustrations too are purposely drawn to represent this particular bias. What is perhaps missing is the spontaneous, easy-to-understand translation either in Hindi or in any of the modern Indian languages. Hopefully, the right person will come along soon. The kind of expert, who can render an authentic yet non-literal and eminently comprehensible interpretation of the contents.
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