The stars at the Titan Design Studio, the crucible of the creative endeavours that distinguish products from the Titan stable, have grown accustomed to appreciation. The latest clutch of honours to come their way bears the stamp of the National Institute of Design-Business World awards for 2004, and in no less than six categories at that. Design excellence is, clearly, a tradition at Titan.
The ability to consistently bring the highest quality to all matters of form has made Titan a leader in industrial and visual design. "Being a market leader puts pressure on the company," says Michael Foley, head of the Titan Design Studio. "It becomes necessary to be different, but design plays a larger role than that of a differentiator."
The design team at Titan works with the company's marketing professionals to seed the ideas that are the launching pad for research and development. "Technology changes happen only once in a year or two," explains designer Debashish Mishra. "If everyone has the same technology and the best of infrastructure, then emotional appeal becomes the factor that will make your product stand apart."
Market research serves as a good indicator of marketable ideas. Based on the sales experience derived in the popular segment, it can offer valuable tips that designers can incorporate into their designs. But beyond that, says Pallavi Dudeja Foley, jewellery and accessory designer, "We have to work on our gut feelings. We may have very little to support our ideas, but our belief in the idea helps us pull through."
Traditionally, Indian companies have been disinclined to give design the importance it deserves, but that is changing as manufacturing industries develop a wider understanding of the critical role that designers play. There are other kinds of changes too. Ten years ago, there were separate teams to create designs for separate categories; today cross-pollination of ideas is the norm. Design has also begun to extend to other areas other than jewellery and interiors. For instance, Titan uses its designers to craft its visual merchandising ware as well.
The designers at Titan and Tanishq, the company's jewellery division, can count on a wealth of support from the top management. They are encouraged to attend workshops at design schools and gain exposure through international travel, and they can make the most of a host of infrastructure facilities.
Says Elizabeth Matthan, who heads the Tanishq Design Studio: "This is one of the best places to work because we all have the freedom to give off our best. Our designers travel across the country and abroad to visit expos and jewellery shows. This gives us exposure, it helps us understand the infinite possibilities in design, and it opens up our minds."
The fact that Titan has always believed in investing in design and giving its designers free rein is more than apparent. The most notable example of this freedom is the fact that Titan allows its designers to do freelance work for products outside the firm, helping keep their creativity alive. For instance, Sandeep Menon designed an outdoor clock called 'Talisman' for a memorial hall in Bangalore; this was nominated under the 'best public furniture' category at the National Institute of Design-Business World awards.
There is also the element of healthy competition, which enables individual designers to excel at what they do. In turn, this creative freedom puts pressure on the designers, forcing them to go beyond the tried and tested, to think beyond the conventional, to break new ground.
It is the collective result of all these factors that enables designers to excel at their work. Abhijit Bansod, product designer, also credits teamwork for helping individual designers grow. "No single person can reach that level," he says. "Teamwork has to support the idea in order to make a real difference to people who want to own that product." Additionally, there has to be a degree of flexibility in the way designers work or else their creativity will be stifled. The challenge is to handle that flexibility.
At Titan and Tanishq, design is linked to sales and marketing, but designers are free to make suggestions and raise questions. This creates an atmosphere in which creativity thrives and ensures that designers don't get bogged down by processes. Says Mr Foley, "If you get too process-oriented, you cannot think differently. If you get too creative, you veer off. They are two channels which have to work together constantly."
The design and marketing teams chalk out a calendar and then work backwards. Marketing presents a brief, offering details on the budget, the profile of the target consumer, etc. Following the presentation, designs are created and converted to engineering drawings and sent to the factory for developing. Failures are studied and lessons learned.
The artists at the Titan and Tanishq design studios work in an environment where creativity is the key that unlocks the imagination. Their work is proof that there is more to design than styling and surface aesthetics.