• Workspy: Meet the superwomen in design inventing a new visual language

    by Mitali Parekh

    There’s the visible, celebrated design we see in clothes or art, and then there is the quiet, functional kind we use every day. A wall in the meeting room that absorbs an echo, the elegant typography on a book cover, the way a glass pours perfectly without dripping—design is a visual language that serves social order and utility. “Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that it becomes invisible,” said Donald A Norman, author of the most widely quoted book on the subject, The Design of Everyday Things. We meet the Indian women at the forefront of this invisible science, the ones calibrating the settings on the less glamorous details of our lives to take them from functional to exceptional.

    Spandana Gopal, product designer

    The founder of London design studio Tiipoi, which debuted at Harrods in 2014 and has collaborated with Vivienne Westwood, says she’s interested in “this India of anonymity and invisibility”. Gopal explains, “I feel that the ego of the designer is present everywhere in the West, in their tradition of mid-century and modern design. India reveals a context where design has existed without this—objects have an aura of an evolution that is democratic, organic and invisible.” This has informed Tiipoi’s philosophy. The objects they make are super-efficient versions of the familiar, like copper pourers with a lip to prevent dripping or a wax-coated lid that fits better and moves without abrasion. Gopal curated the This is India pavilion for the London Design Fair, which opened last month. “I wanted to show that although India exports standardised designs to the West, its domestic consumption is actually about one-off, bespoke pieces that form a relationship between the craftsman and the customer.”

    Photograph: Wilson Astley

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  • Aakriti Kumar, furniture designer

    Kumar has an arrangement with the housing complexes around her residence in Gurgaon. When a tree is cut or falls, they are to call her. “I go over to see if I can use the tree and figure how it can be cut or transported,” says the Parsons School for Design graduate. She’ll then study the wood, figure out whether it’s suitable for outdoor or indoor use, create a prototype, and place it outdoors for a month to see how it weathers. That is the origin of a Differniture piece of furniture or cabinetry, with its exposed wood surfaces that celebrate the natural grain. Kumar’s quest for complete sustainability leads to some interesting innovations. “We recently stacked leftover plywood, carved and moulded it, and illuminated it with an exposed Edison bulb to create a light fixture.” She has been invited to showcase her work at Ambiente, one of the world’s largest consumer goods trade shows, at Frankfurt in February 2017.

    Polyester playsuit, Zara. Patent leather heels, Clarks

    Photographs: Nishanth R. Styling: Devika Wahal. Make-up and hair: Shallu Chandla. Assisted by Mahi Grover

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  • Aanchal Goel, product designer

    Goel and her partner Sugandh Kumar are bringing a pared-down new aesthetic to Indian craftsmanship through their brand Objectry. “We’ve just worked on a line using handmade Longpi pottery, which looks Western but is from Nagaland,” says Goel. With brands like Ikea and Muji eyeing the Indian market, it’s important for designers here to speak in that popular minimalist language, but just more loudly. Objectry uses traditional wood-turning techniques and their current clay line uses black or serpentine clay which has a natural dark metallic glaze. Goel, who studied product design from Symbiosis, Pune and graphic design from Parsons, New York, delights in reducing a design to its absolute essence. “We try to make lids that can be opened without a knob, for instance,” she says. “So it’s not flashy or ornamental. It’s satisfying to make small, versatile objects that reveal so much detail upon closer inspection.”

    Cotton top, Payal Khandwala at Ogaan. Silk pants, Akaaro. Patent leather shoes, Steve Madden

    Photographs: Nishanth R. Styling: Devika Wahal. Make-up and hair: Shallu Chandla. Assisted by Mahi Grover

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  • Kruti Saraiya, typographer

    The London School of Printing graduate is interested in making letters and words visually intriguing. “A logo or the way a word is written could be an entry-point to a language you don’t know but want to explore because you like the way it looks,” she says. Saraiya is fascinated by the written word, especially in the regional languages that pepper the vocabulary of the urban Indian. “I want to retain some of this language by using it to retell stories that we have heard from our grandparents.” Saraiya holds typography workshops at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai and she’s the on-ground coordinator for the Dharavi Design Museum, for which she’s working with Kumbharwada craftsmen, broom-makers, carpenters and bag-makers. “We had them imagine themselves as inventors and creators and not labourers."

    Cotton dress, Monica Zaveri. Patent leather sandals, Nine West. Jute necklace, Baby Baniya

    Photograph: Anish Sarai. Styling: Veronna Parikh. Assisted by Nikita K (styling). Make-up and hair: Saher Ahmed

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  • Farzin Adenwalla, furniture designer

    “I don’t think everything needs to be over the top,” says Adenwalla who grew up in New Zealand but now lives in Mumbai—“it’s a giant playground for creativity and energy”. Her furniture brand Bombay Atelier imagines a new purpose for familiar elements, so cane winnow trays (used for separating husk from grain) are turned into tops for barstools. A sense of lightness is established through the use of woven cane and metal skeletons. Adenwalla develops unique pieces on a small scale and that can be challenging. She just collaborated with fashion designer Aaliye Chikte to create a light installation that mimics the movements of a Sufi dancer. “It was extremely complex; we had to be very methodical in generating the metal frame. And the detail of the fabric was at the level of haute couture.”

    Knit top, Vero Moda. Silk skirt, Lemon Chilo. Leather tie-ups, Charles & Keith. Metal earrings, Accessorize

    Photograph: Anish Sarai. Styling: Veronna Parikh. Assisted by Nikita K (styling). Make-up and hair: Saher Ahmed

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  • Avni Sejpal, lighting designer

    Sejpal’s firm Studio Avni recently created a light fixture inspired by the havan-kund, that holy receptacle of fire so central to Hindu custom. Her inter-disciplinary studio makes statement furniture, acoustic wall claddings and murals and just about anything that might, or might not, catch your eye in a room. The havan-kund light, commissioned by Kalpa Taru builders for a show flat, was meant to stand out. While bespoke lighting is a specialty, Sejpal, who has studied environmental design and public art, particularly loves working with textile to create murals that can hush the echoes in a room. “Our murals can be 3D and collapsible, which makes them tactile and interactive while still being functional.”

     Silk dress, Amy Bilimoria. Leather sandals, Solid Due. Stone and metal earrings, thrifted. Metal bangles, Pipa + Bella

    Photograph: Anish Sarai. Styling: Veronna Parikh. Assisted by Nikita K (styling). Make-up and hair: Saher Ahmed. 

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