Keep Distance

Shantanu Suman

Graphic Designer
 

 

HOW IS DESIGN PERCEIVED IN INDIA?

I attained my undergraduate degree in design in the year 2004. And I believe that Indian design industry has changed tremendously over the last decade. Although the centers for design education in India are still limited to the bigger cities. Due to the lack of resources, opportunities and understanding of design, people in smaller cities don’t consider design as a desired field of study. 

In the last few years, thanks to easy access to Internet, people are becoming more aware of the existence and the significance of design. Independent designers are not only getting an international exposure, but also collaborating with other designers and the masses to create meaningful solutions. The state of design is improving in India, and its only going to get better.

HOW DID YOU START YOUR DESIGN CAREER AND WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED?

Even though I was a science student until the 12th standard, I was sure that I did not want to be an engineer. I was always interested in studying design. Having said that, I could have been an architect or an interior designer or even a textile designer, but Graphic Design happened to me just by chance. And I got so fascinated by it, that I ended up pursuing it.

I consider myself very fortunate that in spite of being born and raised in a very small city of India, my parents supported me and encouraged me to follow my passion for design, which, in that time and age, was not considered a very prospective career to have. The main challenge I faced when I started off was the fact that nobody in my immediate or distant family had much knowledge about approaching the field of design. I had to do a lot of research by myself to figure out where to start.

And I faced a similar challenge when after having worked for about 7 yrs in the Indian advertising industry I decided to go for a graduate degree in USA.

 

WHAT ARE THE CULTURAL REGIONAL AND HISTORICAL ASPECTS OF INDIA THAT WOULD INSPIRE A DESIGNER?

The cultural and regional diversity of India provides an enormous opportunity for design research to people who are interested in design education. Similar to many other developing countries, India has its own share of social, economic and financial problems. There is a lot of scope for design to be the medium to communicate/solve most of these issues.

Socially-responsible design is the future of design education. There are already some design schools that teach such courses, but I think that more institutes could move in that direction.  

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE TAXI FABRIC PROJECT?

Due to my recent involvement with the research and documentation of the Indian truck art, I feel really fascinated by the Taxi Fabric project. Brightly painted vehicles are a long-standing tradition in many countries around the world including India. Some drivers do it to attract new customers and businesses while others do it to express their personal thoughts and ideas.

By using these well-designed fabrics, the taxi’s status is elevated from being a piece of artwork and uses design and storytelling to fulfill a practical and social functionality, thus using automobile decoration as a powerful medium for socially-responsible design. 

Taxi Fabric is also a great way of bringing more attention and exposure to the younger design talents of India.

WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS WHEN YOU WERE APPROACHED FOR THE PROJECT?

I was approached for the project back in 2013. Unfortunately I had limited information about the concept and expected outcomes of the project. I think it was a wonderful decision for Sanket and his team to take a couple of years to connect some loose ends, raise funds and have a clear objective for the project.  

And I’m glad that I was invited to be a part of Taxi Fabric.

 

HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR DESIGN FOR TAXI FABRIC?

The overall design and the typographic content for my designs are inspired by the Indian Truck Art.

The drivers of both, the trucks and the kaali-peeli taxis, depend on their automobiles to earn a living for themselves and their families. Indian trucks are heavily decorated for two main reasons. One, their vehicles act as their pseudo home/family while they’re away from home transporting goods from one place to the other. Secondly, better-looking vehicles bring in better business. Automobile decoration also plays a significant role in carrying messages about the driver’s philosophy, good luck charms, messages about his home and family. And even messages for other drivers on the road to drive safe.

"This must be done! This message is for everyone who gets into this taxi and is driving a vehicle of any kind. Every Mumbaikar should know about this and many more taxis should spread this message. This is very important and it looks so fresh! People are usually tired and frustrated here, they will get in and feel really good after looking at this. And along with that - they will get a message to follow Traffic rules." - ASP Suryavanshi (Traffic Police Office in Worli, Bombay.)

"This must be done! This message is for everyone who gets into this taxi and is driving a vehicle of any kind. Every Mumbaikar should know about this and many more taxis should spread this message. This is very important and it looks so fresh! People are usually tired and frustrated here, they will get in and feel really good after looking at this. And along with that - they will get a message to follow Traffic rules."

- ASP Suryavanshi (Traffic Police Office in Worli, Bombay.)

Similarly, a beautiful taxi is good for business, and therefore the taxi drivers decorate their taxis with vinyls and stickers to attract more customers. At a taxi stand, if there are five taxis, it’s a human tendency for customers to choose the one that looks better, is well maintained. Even though the other taxis would also be capable of taking them to their destination, the customers feel that the well-maintained taxi would take them faster and they’d be more comfortable riding in it.

Parallelly, in the recent past, Mumbai taxi-drivers have faced a lot of public scrutiny for traffic-rule violations. As per the 2013 Global Status report on road safety, approximately 2,31,000 people die due to road accidents every year in India. And one the top five cities that faces the highest number of casualties is Mumbai.

Hence I decided to marry the two aspects that influence a taxi driver the most – their NEED to make their taxis look attractive and our RESPONSIBILITY as a society to remind them to drive safely and lawfully for the sake of their own selves, their families and others who share the road with them. It’s an effort to instill a better driving culture among the taxi drivers of the city.  

Inspired by the truck art of India, this design displays messages and couplets instructing the drivers to be safe on the road. The aesthetic beauty of this taxi itself will act as a constant reminder for its driver to be careful.  

WHAT INFLUENCE DOES MUMBAI/INDIA HAVE ON IT? 

Mumbai is the most populous city in India. In recent years people from all over the country have been flocking to India’s commercial capital hoping to take advantage of the rapid economic growth. The sudden increase in Mumbai’s population has led to increased traffic and traffic-rule violations. With vehicles constantly being added to the streets of Mumbai, the city needs a better traffic management system as well as involvement of its residents who want to alleviate this complex situation.

WHAT ROLE CAN DESIGN PLAY IN BUILDING BRIDGES BETWEEN THE NATIONS? 

Today’s designers are re-evaluating their role and working hard to contribute to the society. And this society is not just limited to the designer’s city, state or country. They are crossing the international borders to create designs that are socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable. It’s the need of the hour. In the recent years, many smaller studios and independent designers have been working with international organizations and non-profits to figure out solutions for community welfare.

 

 

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This Taxi Fabric project has been supported by TEDxGateway


 

TAXI FABRIC RECOMMENDS SHANTANU'S HORN PLEASE
I’m a Partner and Creative Director of Open Door Design Studio, a graphic design studio based in Asheville, North Carolina. After working for about 7 years in the Indian advertising industry, I decided to take a break and pursue my Masters in Graphic Design from University of Florida. During my graduate studies, I collaborated with friends in India to make a 31 min documentary film about the truck art of India — Horn Please