You'd expect a design studio to be headed by a designer. That's not the way it works at Titan, and with good reason.
Revathi Kant is a professional steeped in the marketing milieu. A 20-year veteran with Titan, she is currently the general manager for design, innovation and development at Tanishq and was, previous to that, head of the design team dedicated to the company's watches and eyewear businesses.
“My kind of person coming into design was the result of a conscious decision by the company; we wanted to look at design from a business point of view,” says Ms Kant. “We realised there was a lot we could do through a marriage between process and creativity. Design has always been viewed as a creative exertion; we saw it as strategic.”
Ms Kant eased into her design head role in 2005. “It was a time when design was becoming significant in India and there was this opportunity to approach the discipline from a different kind of angle,” she says. “The company took a risk with me and I took a risk with this responsibility. I think it has paid off; we believe it makes a lot of sense for a function such as design to be headed by somebody who brings to the table an awareness of consumers and marketing and a complete business perspective.”
That's not as easy as Ms Kant makes it seem. Adapting design for an industrial process, where the emphasis is on repeatability and serial production, is arguably more complicated than crafting a single showpiece or even a work of art. It may be less uplifting and more prosaic, but that does not dull its influence. For evidence, consider the Apple of Steve Jobs, the elegance of its products and how they have reshaped the look of modern technology.
There are some 40 designers in Titan, split almost equally between watches and jewellery. Women designers predominate on the jewellery side and men in watches and eyewear. The company hires from centres of excellence such as the National Institute of Design, the National Institute of Fashion Technology and the Indian Institute of Technology. “We also take on experienced people but experience has taught us that hiring fresh talent and grooming them is the best option,” adds Ms Kant.
Finding good young talent has not too been difficult a task for Titan. It has an added advantage. “There are few companies in India that designers want to work for,” says Ms Kant. “Fortunately, we seem to be one of them.” The greater degree of design difficulty for Titan is with its jewellery business, Tanishq. “The key challenge is to create the kind of product that makes sense to the consumer,” says Ms Kant. “And we face a lot of constraints — on weight and making changes, in complexity and with manufacturing capability.” Beyond that lies the challenge of understanding and catering to regional design preferences. Then there are the long lead times — it takes about eight months for a jewellery collection to be designed — which increases the pressure to get the design equation right. “The uncertainties are many, not least because we are dependent on vendors to a great extent,” says Ms Kant.
Extensive consumer research is a vital tool in the Titan matrix of design and gaining in importance are factors such as a global design outlook and the need to marry fashion sensibility with jewellery design. "That's why we have a German expat in our design team and trend researchers for fashion, for jewellery and for consumers,” says Ms Kant.
Titan has what Ms Kant calls the 3Is process: immersion, inspiration and implementation, but there is only so much any process can deliver. “There are always surprises and it can give you sleepless nights at times. Designers are sensitive and a bit insecure, too. It's different from managing a marketing team, for instance, but it is fun and I really enjoy it.”
It does not help that design in India, in all of its manifold manifestations, is just about evolving. “We have only begun to grasp the criticality of design,” says Ms Kant. “The consciousness about design is rising, at the governmental and policy level as well, but implementation still leaves a lot to be desired, as can be seen from our architecture and in our public displays of design. We have some way to go.”
“Design is an inescapable dimension of human endeavour,” said the architecture critic Reyner Banham. “Like the weather it is always there, but we speak about it only when it is exceptionally bad or exceptionally good.” Good design, in the context, makes the world we live in a little less grim, a little less brutish, a little less hideous. Titan and its designers are doing their bit for that cause.