Talent crunch spoils product design party

Talent crunch spoils product design party

New Delhi: In the two and half years he has been working as a designer, 27-year-old Abhinav Tiwari has moved three jobs and is now into his fourth at Innovative Design Engineering Animation Ltd, where he designs everything from lifestyle products to medical devices. Tiwari has previously worked at International Car and Motors Ltd (ICML), part of the Sonalika Group that is in the automobile business, Conex Avia Auto Pvt Ltd, a Pune-company that was designing a low-cost car, and TVS Motor Co.

Tiwari, a post-graduate in product design from Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design, is much in demand. Indian and multinational firms want to design everything from cars to phones in India and there aren’t enough designers going around.

Companies such as Whirlpool Corp., LG Electronics Inc, Nokia Oyj, General Electric Co., and Bosch Home Appliances Corp. have either set up, or are in the process of setting up, design centres in the country. Nokia has already opened its satellite design studio in Bangalore, the first of a chain of such centres it plans acrossthe world.

“The expertise of Indian designers in 3D modelling and computer-aided design in sectors such as aerospace, automotive and industrial design has already caught the attention of the world," says Pradyumna Vyas, principal designer and head, transportation and automobile design, at the National Institute of Design (NID). Only, there aren’t enough designers to cater to everyone.

“If I need 20 people, I would probably end up finding 12 hires," says Arun Jaura, senior vice-president, R&D and global product development, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, the country’s largest tractor maker that also makes cars and utility vehicles.

Mahindra has just announced that it is looking to acquire a design firm in Italy.

According to rough estimates by design firms in India, only around 150 product designers graduate every year from institutes such as the National Institute of Design, and specialist design schools or programmes run by, among others, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, IIT Bombay, IIT Kanpur, and School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi. The demand is 10 times that, according to an executive at a design firm.

“The requirement for product designers would be easily around 1,500 every year,"says Amit Sharma, director, Axion India, a designconsultancy firm specializing in architecture, retail and product design, and visiting professor, SPA.

The result is spiralling salaries, even for fresh graduates. “Product designers are overpaid and that’s not a healthy trend" because small and medium enterprises can no longer afford to hire the designers they badly need, says Darlie O. Koshy, director, NID.

A fresh graduate can expect to earn Rs4 lakh a year, while a designer with more than five years’ experience can take home Rs15 lakh to Rs18 lakh. And designers tend to get bigger hikes too. “The average hike for an engineer would be around 20%, while for a product designer, it would be over 35%," says Mahindra’s Jaura.

At SPA, the high demand means that most students get job offers halfway through their two-year course. (The programmes offered by the IITs are post-graduate ones that last two years except IIT Guwahati, which has a four-year undergraduate programme. NID offers both a four-year undergraduate course and a two-year postgraduate programme.)

“Even below-average students boast of receiving two to three job offer letters," says Sharma. Last year, eight companies, including Godrej Industries Ltd, GoMobile Pte. Ltd and OK Play India Ltd, visited the SPA campus to hire students. Each company wished to hire four to six designers from SPA’s graduating batch of 15 product designers.

Experts attribute this situation to the limited number of training institutes in the country. “China has set up some 300 to 400 design schools in recent times," says Vyas.

In February this year, the government approved the National Design Policy, which aims to further the cause of design education, encourage use of designs by small-scale and cottage industries and crafts, and branding and positioning of Indian design within the country and elsewhere.

Industry lobby Confederation of Indian Industry, meanwhile, has formed a National Committee on Design, which will also focus on design education. Also in the pipeline is the creation of the Indian Design Council that will serve as a regulatory authority.

“A governing body is very much required to bring credibility and set guidelines for the industry," says Vyas. He suggests the creation of an “I-mark" award, the Indian equivalent of the G-mark, a design award instituted by Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization.

Meanwhile, companies continue to invest in creating design centres. Mahindra plans a $120 million design facility in Chennai in addition to the one it already has.