The first note in my office book comes under the title ‘Prakash Gyaan’ and goes like this: “Buy a set of screw drivers to explore and analyze everyday products”. Turn a couple of pages and the title changes to ‘Manoj Gyaan’ with a note saying: “Story telling ability is the most important feature in a product”.  Such experiences and innumerable sentences make up the person I am; 2011 a year when I finally made it from a roll-call to a pay-roll.

A Thoughtful Desk

So what are the two best things I learnt in 2011? Let’s start with an everyday example at work. I had designed a very good looking product, rendered in three different angles and presented on five different slides. I thought the work was good enough until the pros came up with a twenty slide presentation showing quality stuff. As the brainstorming session heated up with strong arguments, we soon found ourselves slipping into an act of ‘Ashtray Speaking’. Ashtray Speaking is an act of sharing a number of thoughts and possibilities without jumping on to the conclusion. Unlike Lateral Thinking where the emphasis is to generate more ideas, in Ashtray Speaking you pick up incomplete sentences, enrich them with your own thoughts and pass it on to others and generate more keywords. It’s more like a debate where you try to build on other sentences without ruling out the possibilities. The exercise is a holistic approach to get the most out of a cross functional team.

As the brainstorming session came to an end, few keywords triggered the debate about the strength of our company. “As a design company, we stand out by… (I like the new client logo but the colors could have been a little more vibrant)…and work with the management to propagate design thinking.” I seem to have missed out the most important part about our company. With no more thinking, I pen down a note under the title ‘Manoj Gyaan’: “Propagate Design Thinking”. Design Thinking is the second best thing that happened in 2011.

Design Thinking (DiT) is a global buzzword coined by the well articulating designers. As the standard definition goes, Design Thinking (DiT) refers to a philosophy where design transforms the way products, services, processes and even strategies are developed. Unlike Strategic Thinking (SiT) that is mainly governed by analysis, DiT takes a creative approach to problem solving. A number of companies have demonstrated sizable growth by channeling DiT into their core decisions. Apple is a superstar example of transformation using DiT but then Apple is perhaps the best example of everything under the sun. Now if are thinking that DiT is the next big thing after Steve Jobs, hold on. What DiT utterly lacks is Steve Jobs.

Apple launched a number of mind-blowing products thanks to Steve and his team. At the front end, what looks like a good product is also a perfect blend of DiT and SiT. A number of times, Design insights and Strategic Solutions cross each other in decision-making. Strategies have been well institutionalized in the core management that has strong analytical skills while Design lacks a holistic approach and is not at the core of the business. So while every other cell phone manufacturer was busy designing the perfect keypad for the upcoming models, Steve had a different question: Why do we need a keypad? Its companies like Apple that blends the conventional management system with aspects of ‘Thought Leadership’ to design products that sell across the segments and redefine strategies.

Onio Design

With a number of design firms practicing Strategic Design Management, it would not be surprising to see design have a say in business. Early 2012, with the arrival of top international design houses like IDEO, Frog Design and Landor Associates, Indian companies will have a good time shopping. What works for Onio Design is our understanding of India, an international client experience and we stand out (you know I missed out those sentences) by propagating design thinking.

~ Krishna Nair



Alan Fletcher -Author of the book "The Art of Looking Sideways"

The Art of looking sideways

Everyday I face an onslaught of tawdry products, mindless logos,
gratuitous graphics, witless signs,institutional notices, impenetrable
forms,portentous job titles,dehumanizing rituals and impersonal
letters that have no expression, or life, or even competence. What
is it that generates this cornucopia of life threatening debris?
What suppresses the inclusion of delight, sensuality and even
suppresses the inclusion of delight, sensuality and even common

Why is environmental responsibility seen as cost and short term
expediency considered more practical than boldness and imagination?
Why is cool and reason more acceptable than passion?


For a long time I defined painting as an effortless activity of
applying color on a surface using a spray gun. As the definition
goes, all you have to do is prepare the color, pour it in the spray
gun and press the lever; there you got a beautifully finished surface
in your favorite color. In the stages of project planning we would
usually underestimate the time required for finishing and painting the
product which made the project run into extended timelines. Of the
many available solutions, I decided to pick the most interesting one.

Kiran, our Prototyping Manager, suggested taking up an activity of
try-out wherein I get a good grasp of the complete painting and
finishing process. I was waiting for such an opportunity to foray
my skills in the other verticals and what a way to learn from the
best people in the industry. No more deciding, Kiran gave me a brief
of the process and I set myself a deadline of one week to complete the
try-out.Now in one week what can you come up with, was a big question.

Around this time Jatin, our graphic designer, was working on a new
visual language for Onio. His work was impressive, graphic designing
as a community was brilliant and here I realized was a field that
speaks the language of the world. I soon found myself gathering bit
and pieces of information about graphic design. Jatin was also keen on
knowledge sharing and that is when he introduced me to a new font called
‘Harlow Solid Italic’. Being passionate about cars, I could immediately
connect the font to the famous Italian car maker – Maserati, though I
may be wrong. I decided to carve my name with this font and finally
paint and finish the product.

After an action packed first and second half of Monday, your brain
is drained of vital elements responsible for the creative process. I
was more than excited to start my new try-out and by the ‘third half’
I was ready with a plan and a scrapped sheet of MDF; a material
normally used for making Mockups. The plan seemed perfect: Ten
minutes for cutting, one day for finishing, one day for painting
and one day buffer for the Indian working conditions. Even after
considering the ‘chalt hai’ attitude, I should be done by Thursday.
No way should it extend to Friday. Saturday; who works on a Saturday?

I think the act of repeating the same lines in different ways will
speak measures of your fool-proof planning. My theories and
assumptions were soon to be challenged when I started working on
the materials. As the plan goes, cutting did take ten minutes;
after cutting, I applied a protective coat on the surface. This
coating should be feather smooth for that perfect finish and
that is where I took two days of carefully polishing the surface
with three different make of sand papers. My planning had gone
for six but it made me realize the classical tiff between the
boardroom and the shop floor. Planning is essential to make a
start but once you have faced the situation, planning needs
to evolve with the ground realities.

During the try-out, mostly after office hours, I was sitting at a
corner of the workshop moving my hands one centimeter per sixty
minutes. I was accompanied by Shyam who would have found oil if
he dig the ground instead of polishing at Onio. Working with the
workshop staff is a delight, especially when most of the sentences
sound like this:

“Now take sandpaper, dip it in water and repeat the process”

“Little bit of water, little bit more…that is too much of water”

“The edges are not rounded properly, try this file”

“It is good but the finish is not coming, make a new one”

‘Extra work’ sounds like spending extra energy and giving your one
hundred percent with full attention to details and ensuring customer
satisfaction. Let the management theories step aside and give way
to ‘effortless working’. Learning my lessons, I decided to work
independent of time and name my carvings as ‘Nuggets’, the ones
that enrich you with valuable information, precious and wise.
Finishing and polishing is the kind of work that demands high level
of patience. No doubt, at our workshop, these qualities are
demonstrated by people who are married.

One fine evening, let’s break the ice and make it Saturday evening,
the surfaces were almost feather smooth and I painted the nuggets
red. Red because it was available at hand and Red because color
theories come with certificates. Two days after the paint dries
up in natural conditions is the real test of your work. In my
case, some of the side walls developed micro cracks which indicate
the presence of water inside the base coat. Is the job well done?
Well, I think you won’t find me selling this at the next Apple
showroom but probably after learning my lessons, I can remind you
of a famous statement, a statement that goes like this:

“Do you think I run the country? Read a book on dignity of labor.”

– Krishna Nair


I ran and I ran with all the strength that I could muster, the floor
felt very smooth. Between my foot and its soul, I wondered how it would
be to just lay down and feel the rubbery texture on my fingers, but then
I can’t right now, I’m in the lead, darting like a bolt of lightning,
the wind rushed beneath my hair, making it seem to the endless sea of
eyes surrounding me, as though I would achieve light speed.
Along my side were three others galloping like wild horses set
loose by an unknown jock. I was quite far ahead, I could see the
finish line luring me to cross it, but for some reason it just
kept going further away. I could feel my legs starting to give in
to the kinetic momentum that I had gained at the start of the race,
and then my body began tilting forwards, everything started slowing down,
I couldn’t push my self anymore, three of my generic competitors,
apparently had that seamless stamina backing their gut and started
pacing towards me. Sweat started pouring down my forehead
into my eyes and then it stung my eyes pretty bad.

Two of them whizzed past me like guided missiles hungry for their target,
I thought to myself “If not the first place or second, at least the third”,
I was just a few feet away from the finish line and then all of a sudden,
the third one passed me. I was disappointed, I began to cry,
It was the only race I had run for, my opponents were being cheered
by their followers and to add to the sour taste of sweat in my mouth
they were being welcomed and comforted into the arms of my favorite teachers.
I was 10 years old, It was the first time I had failed in a big way.
When I went home that day and related the situation to my father he
had laughed at the whole thing and said “Let’s order some pizza’s to celebrate”,
I was baffled then because I had assumed that he would be dissapointed,
but he had managed to turn the whole situation around.

13 years later, after many failed attempts of a 200 meter dash,
my whole life had taken a drastic change since then.
I’m a designer now, no not a fashion designer, a communication designer.
In case you don’t understand what that means you can have a look at this link.
OK, back to this article. Its been a year since I graduated now,
and rather than the typical situation of looking for a job,
I had opted out, decided to try something on my own and then
faced loss again. But I’m used to this now. No more is everything the same,
like a ship being abandoned by it’s men when hit by a torpedo,
mine was the ship that could magically stay afloat and not sink.

At Onio design, It had been my fifth month so far,
still fresh into my job, a debate had broken over
the company’s regular morning meetings as to
what had to be done on Onio’s 14th anniversary.
the ‘Monday morning meetings’ are one of those
meeting’s that set off the entire week.
-a bit about the meeting
During the meetings, project heads give us progress updates
on their respective design projects. Everyone besides the
team members and their head’s share their thoughts or give
constructive criticism as they are the outsiders:the people
who haven’t been involved in the intricate design thinking process.
A few substantial thoughts backed by intelligent visuals would
end up becoming a direction to look upon the week.
-back to the article
A place and date was soon agreed upon, on a bright peaceful
morning the employees with their families were ready to board
the bus that was hired to take us there. an hour and a half away,
it was a resort located in a huge valley, spiked with myriad
green hills, buttered with the mild omnipresence of rain,
the weather was just right for a good trek on one of those hills.

Way up the hills

Among the families were two little boys I had noticed
earlier in the bus. They were bursting with such
excitement that I had immediately visualised
someone trying to tie a flying rocket to a cannon ball.
As the formalities were being completed a guide was
assigned to take us through the flora and fauna of the hills.
Given my past, I naturally took the lead ahead of the guide.
The two boys I had seen earlier, the elder one
took a liking towards me. He was 11, ambitious to
conquer the hills and had informed me that he
had been up this way before.

Let’s name him Rocket in this article.

Some of his energy rubbed upon me, I geared up starting
on the path curving through the hill, it was exhilarating!
we jogged up the way and noticed the greenery thinning,
and stones evolving slowly over the ripe green grass.
and saw a fork he piped up and said “You wait here,
I’ll go ask the guide which way we have to go” I waited
for a few mins and thought was I like him when I was 11?,
he returned smiling and took the lead. We came across many boulders,
with cob webs sprawled across the stone, it was glistening with
rain drops embedded into the silk soft web. We both moved on
towards the hill top and ran at top speed.

Me and Rocket at the top of the Hill

I felt nostalgic, my legs had felt strong as ever and my stamina never ending.
My rocket counterpart kept the lead, we reached the hill top and saw the
group slowly ascending. I decided to take a break and sat on a boulder
basking in the feeble sun, it had a small pool of water in one of its grooves.
The valley looked as beautiful as ever, I was tempted to scale all the hills
around it. My office colleagues soon caught up and everyone appeared
slightly exhausted. We all slowly descended back down to the resort

It didn’t take too long, for any one of us to reach the base of the hill,
My little rocket friend, was enthusiastic to play football located
somewhere within the resort, but I got distracted by an old man
sitting on a bullock cart. Some of the employees were already
preparing to get on and all of a sudden, rocket pulled me onto
the cart, the seating was fragile, the wheels of the cart seemed
as though they would give away any second, the passengers were ecstatic.
The driver made a quacking noise, and without a jerk, the bulls began
moving away from the resort towards the base of the hill,
I started feeling pity and guilt as they strained slightly,
Rocket felt the same way, he yelled at the driver to stop,
all of us were caught up in a mixture of sadness and
amazement for the bulls.

Preparing for the bullock cart ride

Since the ground was littered with rocks,
the carrier that we sat on, shook frivolously,
making all our bones ache, once the road started
inclining up the hill, a mutual decision to turn
around was immediately passed between all of us.
The cart stopped for a few seconds, the driver made
a few short spurting noises and as easily,
the bulls took an immediate circular turn.
For some reason, the bulls seemed to have gained
instant energy as though the code words that the
driver spoke filled them up with getorade(energy drink)
the bulls made a dash for it, all of us were holding
on to the cart for the fear of being thrown off.

After a wild satisfying ride, a few events had been
planned by our host for the rest of the day. Now this
resort was particularly hired by companies for picnics,
special events or in our case to celebrate anniversaries.
Rather than following suit and doing what our hosts
had pre-planned for us, out of the blue, a ball came
flying in from a volley ball game being played by a
neighboring company. There was spontaneous change in
the environment it didn’t feel as though we were surrounded
by hills, instead it felt like the surrounding hill tops
transformed into conical towers filled with cheering spectators,
with flashes of cameras blinding our sights…

Somehow these things seemed to blend in quite naturally at Onio
I thought.

Immediately a game of volleyball started, memories of the same
feelings felt in my past race that I had run earlier came
back to me. we played a few brilliant games, enjoyed the
competitive spirit, laughed at each other’s comical mishaps and
developed a closer bond amongst ourselves.
Rocket couldn’t join me because of the age gap,
but as a compensation I thought I would invite him
later for a hill trek(He had enjoyed the previous
one pretty much) We had to break for
lunch when the rain started pouring heavily.

After a heavy lunch where I couldn’t stand anymore
our entire new found team had decided to move to an
isolated room, for some reason the excitement of
Rocket never seemed to end, on entering the room,
there was a large conference table, with ample seating
around it and on the sides were gym equipment,
a water dispenser, a football table, a carom board
and a big chess board.

The room was half the size of an airport hangar.

The presentation at the hangar

After a few minutes of play we were called to sit
for a presentation. Here the Director spoke of Onio’s
14 year history. Images of the company’s metamorphosis
from scratch to the present and the diversity in the
projects undertaken, during the company’s growth were displayed.
I questioned myself how one could maintain the monotony of
starting something new and eventually making it this big.
The only answer that could come into my mind was “passion”.

After the presentation, everyone had decided to head for
tea, a colleague of mine had approached me and had asked
if I had wanted to go for quick hike. I agreed and told
him I had to ask someone first. I approached Rocket and
it seemed he was tired. we were running out of time and
so we decided to trek the first hill that we came across.
on walking a bit away from the resort to the hill side,
we came across a plain looking hill, but was attached
with an odd looking boulder on its side.

It was that one, I thought.

we both silently agreed in unison and started
towards the hill, the climb was quite steep, I had changed
into flip flops during the volley ball game and found it
difficult to climb further. I was trying to scale a hill
wearing flip-flops! (had to change in between for the volleyball game)
I was half-way there when, I couldn’t go ahead anymore.
The incline was close enough to my chest and the grass
had turned icy cold to grip, then there were the irritating
rocks that had temporarily converted themselves into glass,
what with the sudden down pour of rain.

My colleague was adamant on moving forward.
I knew I couldn’t head back down since we were lacking
a rope and the slippery stones would make me fall anyway.
I decided to remove my slippers and go bare feet,
making it easier for me get a grip. I was on all four’s ready
to pull my self up. Fatigued,by the previous trek and the volley ball game.
It felt as though I was back in my 200m dash and I had to reach my finish line: the peak.
I pulled my self up and made a bolt with all four’s to the finish line.
An internal feeling of elation had passed me, I had victoriously
reached the peak of the hill, my colleague had come to sit beside me.
The landscape in the distance was marred by rain, the clouds draining
water endlessly over the valley. We sat for sometime absorbing
the endless rain, and decided to return.

On the peak we noticed a rough road and decided to tread on it.
it moved in the direction of the resort. While walking back
down with my colleague, I discussed my elated feelings and
the adrenaline pumping into my body, whilst reaching the peak.

On returning home and reflecting back. I had made a very good friend.
I had observed that a simple product like that of a ball could
create so many happy memories, bring in competition,
its various forms like basket ball, foot ball, volley ball,
could accentuate an auspicious day also bring in spirit.
a physical activity helped me with my past regret-
hills not only beautify but can also bring in wonders.

A lot more for me to learn at Onio, a day that was made best for me.

Jatin Gopal



Since it’s very first project about 14 years ago, Onio is known for introducing
game-changing innovation into the products it touches. The game-changer elements
appear in both – macro & micro contexts and it’s a pleasure to see how users
and customers recognise the innovation bits, although it’s hidden under the ‘design’ tag.
This obsession with innovation has made Onio cruise the territories effortlessly
from consulting on products to brands to strategy & business innovation.
For us at Onio it has been evident that innovation is necessary,
but certainly not a sufficient condition for customer / user delight.
At times, the efforts needed to make a product better are much more
than product innovation. From the numerous (and often unsuccessful) assignments,
the factors surrounding a successful design story appears to be quite diverse and
distinctly specific to each case. However two ingredients have always
surfaced in all successful cases.

A clever idea and a touch of fun!

In hindsight, these two factors have always guided the design team in ways like-

  • Getting more empathetic to the users, since the cleverness and fun
    claims have to be validated from users’ perspective

  • Getting emotionally involved with the product and saving ourselves
    from making drab & dry runs of ideas

  • Keeping the mind open as there is no such thing as ‘final’ design,
    if one is pushing for clever & fun ideas

  • Inadvertently keeping the boring concepts at bay, and saving ourselves
    from pushing ‘workable’ design ideas into client presentations

Keeping positive pressure for constructive feedback on ‘just critics’
within us and within the clients’ teams Continue reading