A delicate flower in full bloom

Demand for design is booming in India, but the tastes of the local market have to be acknowledged to ensure success

Her voice is soft, a clipped tone crackling down the Bangalore-London phone line connection.

‘At the moment there is no real design industry here. No sense of community or network, with no formal magazine or journal covering design,’ says Sujata Keshavan, co-founder of Ray & Keshavan Design Associates, one of India’s major brand consultancies, which has just been acquired by WPP (DW 26 October).

Like China and Dubai, India is currently basking in global hype. It has the world’s second-fastest growing economy, a sprawling service sector, a booming IT market with outsourcing exports predicted to reach £18bn by 2008, a behemoth population of 1.1 billion and a 250 million-strong middle class. Yet India has still to lay down the foundations to support the burgeoning creative industry flourishing against this vibrant backdrop.

Keshavan is optimistic about the immense possibilities stretching before the nation, as both regional and international businesses slowly wake up to its slumbering might. ‘As more companies come into the creative space it will liven up the scene and become increasingly interesting. We won’t feel so isolated,’ she says.

Already the seeds are being sewn. India held its first annual design festival, Design Yatra, this year in Goa, marked with an appearance by UK graphic design star Neville Brody. The international networks are also starting to show more of an interest in India.

‘Things have been changing on the business scene for a while and we needed a wider canvas to allow us to work in other geographical regions. Indian clients are looking outside India for the first time to export brands and likewise other international clients are expressing an interest in India,’ says Keshavan.

The relinquishing of a majority holding of Ray & Keshavan to WPP will see the studio aligned with stablemate Enterprise IG. It will eventually be renamed R&K Enterprise IG. With the deal, Enterprise hopes to be able to tap into the Indian economic renaissance, gaining an immediate bank of local knowledge. Keshavan meanwhile gains a truly international platform from which to grow the consultancy.

It is this type of mutually exclusive relationship that is fast characterising the nascent design industry taking form in India. WPP-owned Fitch also has plans to expand its hold in Asia with the opening of its first studio in Mumbai, according to chief executive Rodney Fitch.

Meanwhile, UK consultancies are jumping head first into Indian design projects. Designers are keen to get their hands on these epic briefs that are not typically offered up on the European boardroom table.

Astound, based in London, is busy rolling out a vast portfolio of stores for Reliance Retail, a new division of oil and textile company, Reliance Industries. This project is seeking to build India’s first ever chain of fresh grocery stores and hypermarkets to service the ever-growing Indian middle class. The ambition is huge; a retail infrastructure of more than 4000 stores across 800 cities by 2010.

Currently, three different store formats are on trial. This includes Reliance Fresh, which will be between 180m2 and 465m2 with a focus on fresh fruit and vegetables and Reliance Fresh +, which will stock a wider, non-food range and have stores between 465m2 and 2800m2. Reliance Mart, the ‘hypermarket’ of the family, will stand at between 7000m2 and 15 000m2, stocking a full range of non-food related products as well as clothing. The company also reportedly has its eye on DIY and health and beauty markets.

To help roll out the project Astound is considering opening a studio in Mumbai, says Astound chief executive Michael Longmore.

‘At the moment there is a huge explosion of demand and so much to go at in India. The clients there are very hungry to learn, but sometimes they can be quite naive. It is important to take your time. You just can’t cut and paste design practices from the UK, you should exercise a degree of caution,’ he says.

Portland Design is also embarking on its first project in India. It has been appointed by the Nuance Group to create the brand environment and retail masterplan for Bangalore’s forthcoming international airport, due to open in spring 2008. The design will use graphic cues that reference both the Bangalore region and the Indian subcontinent. Images of flowers, which are highly symbolic in India, will be overlain with Rangoli patterns, a popular Indian art form, to brand the interiors of the airport, for example.

‘This is a really interesting project in part because the team spans [a variety of] experiences and cultures. There is a great opportunity and a lot of growth in India, but it is important to remember that the consumer profile is different there,’ explains Lewis Allen, director of environments at Portland Design.

Keshavan echoes this sentiment, warning that a different sense of aesthetic must be accounted for. Packaging for fmcg products tends to be brighter and bolder, for example, she explains. ‘You must understand the psychology of the people, this is a very complex country,’ she adds.

If designers can boldly meet the daunting challenge of the Indian market head on, the rewards will be certain.


INDIA

• Population: 1.1 billion
• Gross domestic product: £365bn
• Foreign direct investment: £2.7bn
• Unemployed: 36 million
• Prime minister: Manmohan Singh. He was previously finance minister

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