From IndiGo's air-sickness bags to 'kalamkari' murals at Starbucks, design becomes innovative

Design has long been associated with swathes of colour, exotic fonts and new logos. But marketers in India are finally waking up to its true, transformational business potential.

Design has long been associated with swathes of colour, exotic fonts and new logos. But marketers in India are finally waking up to its true, transformational business potential.
When IndiGo, the airline brand, launched in India a few years ago, it was flying into a cluttered multi-brand sky. To its credit, it had among other things, a distinctive design sensibility at all the touchpoints to create a cool and fresh brand.

From the airsickness bags wishing 'get well soon' to food packaging clad in fun-food commentary: airwiches with easy to digest stories, street food in mock newspaper bags and an aviation-first — reusable cookie tins; the personal touch to every product couldn't escape your eyes.

The elements were in attendance across the airport including ramps, cargo trucks, passenger buses, almost everywhere, reinforcing the brand's unique persona.

(In Photo: IndiGo's customised airtravel kit: from cookies to airsickness bags)

The Seattle based café chain Starbucks bets big on create hyper-localisation when it goes to different markets and yet the brand opts to keep a fair bit of the design standardised.

The familiar elements include the green aprons, the call-out for the drink and the walk-through, the queue and of course, a spot to plug in a laptop or tablet, anywhere in the world, in the brand's pursuit to create the third place beyond work and home. But then there's a local twist: each outlet is designed to create a familiar, extended living room.

Shares Manmeet Vohra, director – marketing and category, Tata Starbucks Limited, "Every Starbucks store has a unique footprint celebrating local communities, culture, texture, color and craft." And so traditional Kalamkari paintings adorn the walls of the Chennai store.

(In Photo: [Top] Starbucks’ journey from Bean to Coffee depicted on the wall, [Below] Interiors of the flagship outlet in Mumbai)

The flagship in Pune is filled with copper celebrating the relevance of the metal in the city. Reiterating our passion for coffee, each of the stores has beautiful depictions of the bean-to-cup coffee story engraved in different art forms and themes, adds Vohra.


(In photo: Manmeet Vohra, Tata Starbucks)

David Seller, speaker at the recently concluded Kyoorius Designyatra and author of the bestseller 'Do Good Design" had an interesting list of brands that have made design part of their core philosophy: "Google, Christianity, Red Cross, Korea Inc." He views India's design quality as second to none. And that local design aligned to deeper cultural roots ought to get its due instead of replicating European and American models.

The husband-wife duo Vivek Prabhakar and Shubhra Chadda often picked up souvenirs on travels abroad. They were struck by the dearth of affordable quality options in India, designed keeping a local connect in mind. Sensing a business opportunity, they launched Chumbak (Hindi for magnet), the India-inspired product design company in 2010.

(In photo: Retailer Chumbak's colourful Bengaluru outlet)

The brand has become a great success, with no mass advertising at all, and a presence across the country. It aims to clock Rs 400 crores in the next three years and has already fuelled its global ambitions with a presence in over 75 stores in Japan.

"Everyday India was our inspiration," shares Prabhakar on the genesis of the brand.

(In photo: Vivek Prabhakar & Shubhra Chadda, Chumbak)

In an entirely different category — beverages — Paper boat has a similar story. Hector Beverages created a distinct USP using design, both via traditional flavours like Aam Panna, Sattu, Kokum, Jaljeera etc. culled from century old recipes — as well as in the packaging.

Paper boat's packaging comprises of flat colours, simple shapes and a vocal pack language, designed by Pune-based Elephant. Views Neeraj Kakkar, CEO, Hector Beverages, "This has been a journey towards minimalist structure, only adding ingredients, graphics, elements or anything else to the extent it is required."

(In photo: Paper boat makes slurping fun)

The brand is on an expansion spree and has attracted funding from the likes of Sequoia Capital, FootPrint Ventures and Catamaran Investment. The common element: a realisation of the importance of design as a strategic tool that manifests at all touch points as against using it as a last minute decorative element. And this extends to brands with a pedigree and legacy like Asian Paints and Godrej.

Affected by the lack of colourconfidence among Indian consumers, Asian Paints needed to get customers to experience colour in order to appreciate the potential that the brand delivered, shares Lucy Unger, managing director (South Asia) of the design firm Fitch. Hence the flagship store experience in Mumbai and Delhi, which have emerged as great destinations to touch and feel the brand.

The soaps to storewell behemoth Godrej launched several design-led products as well as used design to rejuvenate some of its slow growing categories. Hair colour brand Expert and the bath care brand Cinthol were around for a while, design was deployed deeply to reconnect and up the sexiness quotient with an ever evolving consumer.

(In photo: It's Alive! Cinthol's transition from dull to 'Awesome')

"People should feel proud of buying it off the counter or from a shopkeeper even if it were a Rs 5 packaging," shares Darshan Gandhi, vice president, GCPL design & innovation. Adds Sunil Kataria COO - sales, marketing & SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products, there has been a huge traction for the soap brand, with growth in the premium segment.

Godrej counts itself as one of the first Indian companies, to have realised the potential of design about five years ago. In the financial services space, Axis Bank is working on creating a new branch design to make the environment less officelike, shares Sagnik Ghosh, head -marketing, Axis Bank.

Design is becoming a boardroom issue in the far-sighted companies. Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder, director, Elephant makes a pertinent point. "Among all the companies that I have interacted with, those with "design aware" CEOs have stayed at the top of their game."

In most cases where CEOs were too busy to meet the designers, either the brands lost their game or CEOs lost their chairs, she adds. Design can be the big USP for corporates and nations alike. Designsuaveness is a function of the prevailing ecosystem and the design sensibility of a nation.

Countries like Thailand and Korea have got a design aesthetic that is far superior to India and permeates across the environment — from retail to public spaces and the rest.

Thailand, for instance, having realised the potential and the importance of design for a predominantly tourismled economy that it is, actually went ahead and formulated the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC) in 2004, first ever in Asia, to foster the country's creativity and inspire innovative ideas among design professionals and entrepreneurs. And believe it or not, the endeavour is a part of the Thai government's attempt to build the country as a knowledge-based society.

India with its immensely rich heritage could do well to take lessons to advance design aesthetics. Adds Rajesh Kejriwal, founder CEO of Kyoorius: "The biggest user of design in the next 5 years could well be the Indian government, as it will look to design to help better define itself and become more accessible to the public." Interesting thought, that.
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