Mumbai: Creative industries do not usually feature in discourses on national economic policy, where pride of place is given to the clunky old economy or newer contenders such as telecom and information technology. The phrase “creative industries” encompasses design firms, advertising agencies, media and entertainment businesses, and the arts— a diverse grouping, hinged on its ability to generate unique intellectual property.
But it is a term of great importance to Theo J.J. Groothuizen, a diplomat with an unusual pedigree. For 20 years, Groothuizen practised industrial design in the Netherlands and Switzerland. Today he serves as counsellor of science and technology at the Dutch embassy in New Delhi, where his responsibilities include promoting Dutch creative industries in India.
Groothuizen’s appointment as a diplomat, and his presence in India, is a reflection of the Dutch government’s business-like approach to a sector viewed as critical to its national economic growth. Since February 2009, six memoranda of understanding have been signed between Dutch and Indian design entities, for collaboration and exchange of knowledge. In June, the Dutch government will sponsor a five-day mission of Indian designers and architects to visit design studios and educational institutes in the Netherlands, hoping to foster closer ties between creative communities.
Public interest: The Medular Pavilion at the Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture 2009-10 was a public pavilion to read and network during the event. It also hosted screenings of short documentaries on Dutch design. The aim of the biennale was to mobilize public and professional interest in issues related to urban design and architecture.
Also Read | The complete Design series
Groothuizen is not the only figure in the diplomatic world to advocate creative industries. At the British deputy high commission in Mumbai, T.R. Giridhar, a senior trade and investment adviser, leads the UK’s effort to promote its creative industries in India, and attract Indian investment.
Giridhar says the role entails “giving the right information about the Indian market to a small webcasting company based in West Sussex in the UK, who would otherwise not have considered exploring opportunities in India” as well as “helping British graphic designers to export corporate communications to very large Indian companies such as Emami and Essar”.
Measuring creative value
Both the British and Dutch governments have devised comprehensive strategies to promote their respective creative economies over the last decade. They began by estimating the sector’s size and economic value. Some 261,000 people worked in the creative economy in the Netherlands in 2008, more than 3% of the workforce, according to the Creative Value: Culture and Economic Policy Paper jointly prepared by the Dutch ministry of economic affairs and the ministry of education, culture and science in 2009. The document says that “the added value of the creative industries is estimated to be 16.9 billion euros (around Rs97,300 crore)”, amounting to “more than 3% of GDP (gross domestic product)”.
British numbers suggest an even more vibrant sector. According to statistics released in February 2010 by the department of culture, media and sports (DCMS), the creative industries contributed “6.2% of Gross Value Added in 2007” (the most recent year of data collection), amounting to £59.9 billion (Rs4 trillion), of which exports comprised £16.6 billion. They employed “just under 2 million” people in 2008.
The DCMS website highlights that “we established the Creative Economy Programme in 2005 to develop and implement a government strategy for the creative industries”.
“The creative economy is one of our key priority sectors for promoting UK capabilities overseas, because it’s a serious part of our economy and our economic proposition,” reiterates Vicki Treadell, former British deputy high commissioner in Mumbai and currently high commissioner to New Zealand. This sector is growing faster than the overall economy, she adds, underlining the reason for increased government attention in the past decade.
A brighter spotlight on creative industries is not a phenomenon restricted to governments in developed economies. China is devoting enormous resources to developing its capabilities in this space, “as it wants to shift its image from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’,” says Philip Dodd, a London-based independent consultant, who advises Chinese city governments on developing their creative industries. The Chinese approach is driven by “supply-side” thinking, often directed at constructing physical infrastructure, he explains, citing the example of the “DRC Industrial Design district in Beijing, a creative quarter which has over 200 design businesses”. Public interest is also catalysed by large-scale events such as the Shanghai International Creative Industries Week and the Shenzhen and Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, which greatly enhance the sector’s visibility.
Indian design policy
In some spheres of the creative economy, the Indian government is keeping pace with its global counterparts. The newly emerging design sector, in particular, has witnessed growing official interest. In February 2007, the Union cabinet approved the country’s first National Design Policy, formulated by the department of industrial policy and promotion in the ministry of commerce and industry.
The policy hits all the right notes, highlighting the need for four new National Institutes of Design to teach design, the creation of an “India Design Mark” to signify design excellence, and the establishment of a Chartered Society for Designers to elevate the profession.
Policy implementation, as ever, has been more muted. The India Design Council was set up to bring the policy recommendations to life, and it held its first meeting in June 2009. The council, headed by Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman of Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, is composed of a healthy mix of design practitioners, teachers, bureaucrats and representatives from industry associations.
“Individual task forces have been formulated to study design education accreditation, the standards for the design mark and tax benefits for industry’s design investment,” says Pradyumna Vyas, director of the National Institute of Design (NID) and member-secretary of the council.
While the council works towards achieving stated policy goals, the Central government has proposed a complementary public-private scheme to spur product design and innovation. In February, the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) launched a “design clinic” scheme to bring design expertise to MSMEs over the next two and a half years, as part of the government’s National Manufacturing Competitiveness Programme.
Through a series of workshops, seminars and projects, the government hopes to impart product design awareness to 200 specific industrial clusters across the country, from agricultural implement makers in Coimbatore to bicycle component manufacturers in Ludhiana.
A sum of Rs73.58 crore has been allocated for the scheme, of which Rs49.08 crore will be funded by the government, with MSME participation making up the rest. The scheme was formulated by the Confederation of Indian Industry and will be administered by NID through dedicated regional centres.
The design clinic scheme’s dual structure and tiny budget highlight an interesting aspect of the role of the government in the creative economy. Unlike many other sectors, limited financial resources are not a binding constraint to developing this sector. The creative economy largely consists of small enterprises that value information and government hand-holding as much as direct financial assistance.
“It is not common for MSMEs to avail of design services, so we are providing a common intermediary platform,” says Madhav Lal, additional secretary and development commissioner at the MSME ministry.
This approach echoes that of the Dutch and British governments. “Historically, people in the creative industry haven’t accessed government support,” says Treadell. “What we’ve done is to say that a lot of our business support services are equally for you. You might be exporting a piece of intellectual property, someone might be interested in that and we can help you identify those who might be interested.”
“Many creative businesses are SMEs, and it is difficult for them to expand on their own,” adds Groothuizen. “A collective approach, supported by the government, is more effective. Employing resources with specialist knowledge, such as NID, to manage the design clinic scheme also stands to increase its effectiveness.”
One of the most visible roles government can play in stimulating India’s creative economy is as a client. Government services impact every aspect of how our society lives, travels and communicates. Heightened design awareness can translate into a better quality of life for all citizens, as well as a more developed design industry.
Groothuizen offers a historical perspective. “In the 1930s, the Dutch government started investing in design because they felt that if they were providing services to the general public, then they were obliged to provide the best possible services because they were using public money.”
By engaging design professionals for a range of government services, from stamps and tax forms to city planning and public spaces, design consciousness permeated daily life. The government’s approach served as “a very important catalyst to industry by setting a good example”, Groothuizen says.
Prithviraj Chavan, minister for science and technology, and a former design engineer, concurs with this view. “We need to internalize aesthetics, good design sense and usability into our culture, like in Japan,” he says
The recent nation-wide, public competition to design the logo of the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) is a step in the right direction. The contest indicates the body’s recognition of the importance of having a logo that resonates with the Indian public, and expresses UIDAI’s inclination to engage with citizens. Imbibing similar design awareness across India’s myriad ministries, at Central and state levels, is a more challenging task, as there is no single sponsor.
A starting point might be to acknowledge the creative economy as a legitimate sector. A unified, cohesive look at this vibrant mosaic of fields—from design to film to crafts—would highlight the sector’s economic value, and its potential to generate jobs and to export India’s cultural prowess. In the process, it might also result in better standards of everyday life, fulfilling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call, on 3 January, for a “decade of innovation”.
This is the third of a five-part series on the growing role of product design in Indian industry.
Next: The Silicon Valley of design?