It’s not easy to draw Michael Foley into a freewheeling conversation. The reticent designer would rather let his work speak for him. Foley, 40, has been in the news for designing the baton for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) to be held in New Delhi in October.
The Bangalore-based designer, who started out as a trainee designing watches at Titan Industries, says he bid for the CWG baton as it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The official requirement for the baton included the Queen’s message (which Foley got engraved on a gold leaf), a representation of the host country, a camera and a microphone. But Foley Designs added several interesting features, such as a text message facility, a GPS module and embedded LEDs that allow patterns in millions of colours to move across its surface.
“The interpretation was completely open and that’s where we innovated the most,” says Foley, who studied design at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. Partly handcrafted and partly machine made, the baton comprises 28 samples of soil collected from Leh to the Andamans by the Indian Army. “The process of creating the baton was a journey in itself and there will be a coffee-table book on the same after the games,” he says.
Foley’s designs are already ubiquitous—from Titan’s EDGE and Fastrack watches (from his days as head of design at Titan) to the fractal street lights in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park. This winner of several awards now wants to move beyond design consultancy to focus on product innovation. “We are looking at ‘creating’ design and innovation opportunities versus only performing in the ‘consulting’ space of design. This entails understanding the latent needs of consumers and taking the risk of developing ideas through till we see a proof of concept,” he says.
Inspired: Foley (Priyanka Parashar/Mint) (left); and the baton he designed for the CWG(Bikas Das/AP).
His current obsession is public design, and the company is developing solutions for shelter systems and public utilities for railway stations. It is yet to approach the right agencies to support its efforts though.
In India, the focus of design is on aesthetics and colour palette rather than functionality and utility, says Foley. “Look at Europe. It has meticulously designed elements, from railings to tree guards, with an accent on the utility of that design, especially in public spaces,” he adds.
To make budgetary ends meet, however, the design house depends on commercial projects. For a start, the 30-member studio has found an equity partner in Technopak Advisors, a retail consultancy firm in Delhi.
In the recent past, it has done a lot of work for ITC’s personal care products (soaps and shampoos, among other things) under the Fiama Di Wills brand name. Currently, it is working with the Brigade Group on the “look and feel” of its new mall in Bangalore. A project with the Unique Identification Authority of India, headed by Nandan Nilekani, may be on the cards too, but Foley declines to share details.
Attentive and passionate about the work at hand, Foley was also extremely focused on fitness till a back problem put his gruelling exercise routine out of gear. A regular on the tennis court and someone who used to go rowing in Bangalore’s Ulsoor Lake, the designer has now been spending time before a canvas. Over 15 watercolours on Bangalore, especially the city’s old buildings, are ready. “I need at least 40 works for an exhibition,” he says.
Like most designers, his dream is to inculcate a sense of design among Indians—an uphill task. “Indians are not keen on design,” he says. “Till they become design-conscious, we need CEOs and heads of companies who believe in design.”