Hari Nair, Professor, Design Management, Savannah College of Art & Design, 2009 Spark winner; Spark Juror, 2014, 2016 & 2018
Who are you, professionally speaking?
I am a designer first, a technologist sometimes and an educator always. I also consider myself a designer with a global footprint albeit with Asian roots. I had a very creative childhood close to nature, growing up, in a small town in Kerala at the southern-most tip of the Indian peninsula. All the siblings in my family, five brothers and a sister, were passionate about design and were building everything from small gadgets to scale models of whole towns in our family workshop in the early days. My brothers were my mentors and all of us took up the practice of design in some form or other – architecture, town planning, or product design – and became accomplished in our own ways later in life. I was also one of the pioneers of design in India, having been educated Bauhaus style, at the Industrial Design Center founded by Professor Nadkarni, who came back to India from Ulm in early 70s. I also have substantial professional visibility in the US (and elsewhere), having taught at the University of Cincinnati and Rhode Island School of Design. Most recently, I was the Chief Design Officer at Whirlpool China, in Shanghai before returning to the US to teach Design Management at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design)
How did you choose your design discipline?
It was obvious from my early childhood setting and family surroundings that I would chose a creative profession. However I was not aware of the Industrial Design profession until I was half way through my Mechanical engineering program, and that too thanks to a British Council Library which operated in my town. Then one day, my Architect brother brought me a newspaper ad announcing the program at the Industrial Design Center at IIT, Mumbai — putting me a on motorbike journey to Mumbai shortly, and kick starting my design career.
What are some elements that make your designs distinctive?
My own quote, “I am practicing what I used to preach”, describes the essence of design projects I personally direct or am involved in. This ‘stickiness’ to almost an ‘academic rigor’ in what I do distinguishes my work from others. My design teams don’t put pencil to paper until they have understood the people they are designing for. I provide thought leadership and establish process stickiness through clearly articulated vision, encompassing the business environment, technological realities and consumer desires, supported by strategic thinking and water tight methodologies. All the more proof that design methodologies are not ‘just academic’.
Is your work international, or regionally focused?
My work is international, process is universal and design outcomes are focused on regional consumer needs.
What is your ideal project or commission?
The ideal project would be the design of a whole ecosystem at a reasonable scale, to be able to demonstrate the power of design thinking to create sustainable lifestyles.
Who are your top 3 favorite designers?
Philip Stark for whimsical design, Karim Rashid for being the prophet of style (I had the distinct pleasure of working with him briefly at RISD) and people like Luigi Colani who are known to live for their vision.
What are you currently reading?
A book called “Connect the Dots” by a less well known Indian Author – Rashmi Bansal. In the book she interviews several very successful Indian Entrepreneurs who have connected the dots.
What advise can you offer to a new graduate?
Be passionate about what you do, cultivate courage of conviction and continue your education in the real world.
How did you get your first paying design job?
I was a pioneer of Industrial Design practice in India and my first paying design project was for Kores Corporation (Subsidiary of Xerox in India at that time) to design a “desktop’ copying machine. It was made of Fiberglass and initiated the desktop publishing business revolution in India by making copy machines affordable and compact enough for many small businesses (Kinkos style). I remember sending the first instalment of my consulting fee to my father.
What do you do for inspiration?
I used to sail on the Charles River and bike around it when I lived in Cambridge, neither of which are very feasible in Delhi easily. I like ‘thinking alone’ time and read in airplanes, instead of watching movies. Most of my brainstorms are triggered by travel.