Indian design should have its own identity: Michael Johnson at KDY 2016

JAIPUR: After building a functional formula or template, creative minds often challenge themselves by breaking out of the same mould. Michael Johnson, who set up the London-based design consultancy Johnson Banks, is a follower of this school of thought, because ‘why not?’

After giving a good 10 years to designing for big name brands, Johnson had taken on the lack of proper branding in non-for-profit sector, and asked himself if design solutions can actually make a tangible difference in the field.

Addressing a room full of graphic designers, artistes and branding professions at day one of Kyoorius Design Yatra 2016, Johnson asked if designs can really make a difference or it is a self satisfying and misplaced expectation.

Johnson then went on to answer the question with a glimpse of his team’s works since they started off.

The problem, Johnson said, lay in how graphic designers and advertising agencies handle non-for-profit work. “They treat it the same way old Catholic churches would treat indulgences: a little act of good will for their smooth sailing to heaven, or to pacify their conscience. They don’t do it to actually make it work.”

After familiarising the audience with the idea of design solutions for non-for-profit organisations that actually helped them raise significant funds, Johnson titillated them with the idea of open source rebranding – to the point of sharing their design’s first draft in a public domain to be criticised by the world at large.

For those who don’t know Johnson and his team at Johnson Banks has been invading many trade publishers’ headlines for its partnership with Mozilla to rebrand the company’s identity on a public domain.

Later, speaking to, Johnson shared he had great expectation from the Indian design community to carve a unique identity; and a part of it brings him back to Kyoorius Design Yatra.

Having participated in Kyoorius Designyatra first in its 9th edition, Johnson feels it has grown a great deal over the years “A proper design conference was very much a new concept in India back then. It was more of ‘famous designers presenting their works and the Indian counter parts lauding. It was obviously very appreciated but there was very little interaction, and engagement from the audience. And here we are, almost 10 years later and the property has grown so much. It has a clear theme that resonates very well with me. Instead of ‘here’s what I do’ presentation, speakers can talk about why they do what they do,” Johnson shared, adding that from his last year’s experience as a judge of Kyoorius Design Awards 2015, he could gauge that the design industry is being seriously taken in the country.

But it’s not quite there yet, Johnson admitted.

“It’s hard to track Indian designs in other markets. You hear big names from India in thr advertising circle but it gets a little tricky from design perspective,” he said.

“I have often questioned why Indian design should be reflective of western works. Why can’t they do their own unique branding when India has such a vibrant culture to draw inspiration from? There is no need to copy the trends that the UK and the USA have been doing for the past 50 years,” he simply stated. Giving Indian designers the benefit of doubt he added that it could be the result of western works dominating the design industry for years and becoming a benchmark for the young Indian professionals joining in now.

“I strongly believe that Indian design should have its own identity, much like the Japanese who have made a staunch distinction in their work that is world apart. I have started to see someone of that since the last time I was here, thus looking forward to the winning entries of this year’s Kyoorius Design Awards,” Johnson added in parted.

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