Universality is the most important thing in design, says Gunjan Gupta

Gunjan Gupta's 'Indian Tiny Mega Store', curated by Maria Cristina Didero, on display at the 2024 Milan Design Week.
Gunjan Gupta's 'Indian Tiny Mega Store', curated by Maria Cristina Didero, on display at the 2024 Milan Design Week.


The product designer, who recently showed her work at the Milan Design Week, believes restraint is key to product design

Gunjan Gupta hates it when India is represented abroad as “this ethnic, exotic country with over-the-top chamak-dhamak (essentially too much shine and colours)". That’s why the Delhi-based product designer and founder of brand Ikkis ensured her homeware collection presented at the Milan Design Week last month was “anti-ethnic".

The range of 21 glasses, cups and plates—all displayed in a room that resembled a kirana store (the curation was done by Maria Cristina Didero, curatorial director of Miami Design Week)—can be best described as elevated everyday items that highlight Indian craftsmanship in its simplest, most sophisticated form. Like the Chai Stem Glass that has a cutting chai glass attached to a brass stem, refashioning it into a champagne glass. Or the enamelled Bindu Thali that looks more like an art piece.

In an interview with Lounge, Gupta talks about the Milan showcase, the lack of experimentation in product design in India, and the need for restraint. Edited excerpts:

Gunjan Gupta
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Gunjan Gupta

What inspired the collection?

Ettore Sottsass, the grand master of Italian design. India inspired him in many ways, especially the colours. Plus, my desire to play with traditional Indian forms. Our form has never really been given a chance. Like the lota or matka, both so simple and timeless. Our designers try to tinker with them, making them square, rectangular... so they can put their mark on it. Even I tried doing that, but I couldn’t. So, in the end, I just sliced the matka to turn it into a dabba of katoris. It’s the same form, in another form.

Sometimes you just have to leave things the way they are and practise restraint. Why change something that’s already perfect? That discernment can only come when you really have an appreciation for your homegrown items and an understanding of the function of design. The most important thing in design is universality. It needs to fit into your daily life; it can’t be just this gorgeous thing. For instance, my dabba can become a deconstructed snack box in a Swedish house or a ramen bowl in China. When your form is local and its function universal, you make the object global. We’re so obsessed with looking at Western forms that we’ve not really explored our local ones.


It’s got a lot to do with the business of design, rather than the creativity of design, because it’s really how objects are retailed, and how markets are created or discovered.

It’s an entrepreneurial risk looking inward rather than outward. I also think it’s a question of value. Do you really value that form? Like the lota, which, as I said earlier, doesn’t need any alteration.

Your job as a designer can also be of a storyteller, a curator. You don’t have to design each time. We are fetishising our local forms to make them appeal to the global audience, but is the world even paying attention to those forms?

The West has always produced in India. For over a century, they have been adding Indian embellishments like the motifs in Mughal architecture to Western forms. People here are doing the same to attract the customer in the West. You make one petal in a different colour or form and create a new style; the marriage of a Western form and Indian decorative arts can be done with eyes closed. It’s become predictable.

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Have we moved from being a manufacturer country to a product design country?

In the fashion space, we’ve definitely managed. There’s also big representation of Indian art internationally. But we don’t have many people taking Indian product design abroad because it’s an entrepreneurial risk, and that’s not easy. It’s a long gestation period. You plant an idea, watch it evolve into something, hoping it may work. That time in between can be very unbusinesslike. So, you have to slog.

It’s also a big financial risk...

It’s a huge risk, especially when you are self-funded. I would just participate in design competitions. That’s what I did to ensure that the right people saw my work.

What is luxury in product design?

Something that has the value of time in it. Luxury is truly about time. And that’s why I feel craft is so important. Craft, in India, is a glorified word for hand manufacturing. Where is the respect? We’ve all grown up with a tailor, a jeweller, a carpenter, something that’s considered a luxury abroad. Each one of us, every family has one. But do we respect them as much? No.

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