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



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