Codesign : By Rajesh Dahiya and Mohor Ray, Founders of Codesign
What made you start Codesign?
What made us start Codesign, what has sustained it so far and what we continue to look forward to is the same – a desire to keep growing through the work we do, without being compartmentalised by scale, media and trends. The idea was to create a rich environment that encourages asking questions and rethinking briefs, with the rigor of hands-on ‘making’. An important thread that has always stayed strong, is the love of content—making sure that design is building on appropriate and rich content, and not acting as a prop for it.
Tell us about your designers. Did they go into fine art or design schools? How do you pick them up?
All the designers in our team currently are graduates from design schools. However this is not, nor has been, a pre-decided condition of working with people. We look at people’s work, and even more importantly how they approach it; build on it—and how they can inspire us back to push our own boundaries.
At the heart of our work is people, and that’s where we look for inspiration—in the way they live, the dreams they dream, the things they trust, the things that make them happy. Through conversation and observation, there is much that we learn which inspires our work. The composition of the studio is diverse by choice, brings several influences and interests, from music and food to crafts and calligraphy, into play with each other. This often brings surprising, new flavours into the way we develop ideas.
In short, there’s no checklist. It’s work, it’s partially gut instinct and it’s a shared dialogue between both a potential hire and us on expectations, responsibilities and the future.
How would you define the design style at Codesign?
We would hope there’s none at all!
And that answers part of the question below.
What does Codesign do which sets it apart?
With a carefully curated team of designers, from diverse backgrounds and with varied interests, we work in an environment that is always evolving and hands-on. For us, no two projects are alike. Therefore, our approach is built anew around each project—by learning from its unique context, and delivering through meaningful engagement with content and meticulous craftsmanship. This approach has enabled us to work with clients across scale and sector, and challenge both our own and others’ notions of design and its relationship with the end-user.
Over the years, we have chosen to steer the practice in a manner that scales expertise and experience, not numbers, while retaining attention to craftsmanship and curiosity to learn more, do more.
Lastly, we are drawn to and choose to invest our energies into self-initiated projects like Dekho (www.codesign.in/dekho), UnBox Festival (2011-13) and now Rising (www.projectrising.in). Self-initiated projects, which come straight from the heart. They are almost always, like most great ideas, from things we love, things that irk us, things we want but cannot find and so on. Therefore all our self-initiated projects have come from within—from people, ideas or experiences within the studio team—shared partially or wholly. They contribute greatly to professional practice—through keener insights into both the process and practice of design in the context of culture and society.
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Mohor: I can’t really think of any. Though when we first got cable (TV) and I saw MTV, my jaw dropped and I thought this is as cool as it will ever get. Clearly I was wrong. I’ve seen a lot many cooler things/people since then.
Rajesh: None in design. I didn’t even know there was a such a profession. I was mostly inspired by sportsmen and athletes, which is not odd as I studied in a sports school.
Who was the most influential personality on your career in design?
Mohor: To a large degree, and at the risk of sounding biased—Rajesh. He’d taught me briefly in design school, and has continued to be a mentor since. As the founder of the practice, he lay down a lot of the basic moral and creative framework that we work within, and I think what keeps Codesign growing. MP Ranjan, who never attempted to compartmentalize design efforts as a teacher in foundation years, and has been a large influence urging not just me, but generations of design students to look at design through multiple lenses. And Orijit Sen & Amardeep Behl – for running their design practices with a big heart, passion and responsibility, in the face of come-what-may.
Rajesh: Itu Chaudhuri. I worked in his studio as an intern and later as a professional designer for a few years. I understood my whole design education, in retrospect, by spending time with him. I do not know of anyone else who can share his or her knowledge so selflessly. He taught me how to think, to question principles, embrace logic, and above everything else… inspired me to be a good human being.
Are you working with any brands?
We recently concluded the first phase of brand identity redesign for Royal Enfield. This was especially challenging considering it is more than a century old brand with a cult following. Our work with the redesign is in tandem with the overall brand vision towards consolidation, growth and diversification.
We’ve been working over the years with Asian Paints, developing content & design of a colour magazine for architects and interior design, called Colour Quotient. The content here is the real brand hero, and it has been an interesting journey shaping it bit by bit through the last 3 years.
One of our newest engagements this year has been with the champions at Breakthrough, an organisation that works in the are of gender violence. We have redesigned the bi-lingual identity of their popular ‘Bell Bajao’ campaign that encourages people to take action against gender injustices. The second has been to brand a new programme to sensitize children in semi-urban parts of Haryana on issues of gender equality and rights, through workshops and activities.
In production currently, is a book on the works of contemporary Indian artist Bharti Kher that we designed.
All this and continuing efforts on our new platform on visual communication for change called Rising (www.projectrising.in). Rising began as a reaction to the world around us and issues that affect us, through the lens of Codesign’s core competency as visual communication designers. While a large percentage of projects were being commissioned by for-profit clients, the occasional project in the development sector, gave us room to think about leveraging the same skills of communicating and change-making to address social issues.
How did the opportunity to design the D&AD Annual come about?
We met Laura (President, D&AD) at a gathering in Delhi to announce the D&AD awards. We got talking about design, toddlers and other things that excited us, and eventually said our goodbyes hoping to do ‘something’ together when the opportunity came. It was a few weeks later that we heard back from Laura and her idea to bring together 5 creative practices from across the world to design the 2014 Annual.
Tell us about your design for the Annual. How did you approach it?
There is a beautiful dichotomy in the canvas that we design in and for. There’s the ‘hidden’ framework of order that the designer works on. And there’s the ‘visible’, vibrantly chaotic frame within which design artifacts are eventually displayed and consumed. For the opening pages of the ‘Design’ section in this Annual, we wanted to bring together the two into one composition: distinct visuals of underlying structures, and the usage/consumption from everyday life. The intent is twofold – a celebration of the beautiful contrast, that is, in many ways, representative of everyday life in India; and a reminder to step out of our studios, into the ‘real’ world, to find inspiration.
What do you feel about the state of design in India? Do you feel that our collective aesthetics need to improve?
The present is an interesting time to be practicing in India. The awareness of what design can do is growing across all sectors – commercial, cultural, even political. It’s boosted by successful real-life cases of better user engagement and experience through design. Design can successfully straddle both macro and micro levels of user experience, which makes it an especially powerful tool in a country like India, where reality is often fragmented between the old and new, big and small, local and global.
There’s always room for improvement in everything. But we are largely on the right track. Moving beyond questions of form and style, it is heartening to see instances of work, which are Indian in their form of query, and therefore a truer response to our environment. That to us, is an authentic representation of the Indian identity. The identity will continue to emerge, not as a set of guidelines, but through an increased sensitization to the lives of end-users—paving the way for design which complements both the diversity and transformation of culture.
What advice do you have for aspiring creative professionals? Would you advise them to take on graphic design as a career option?
• Design is not a career option, it is almost a life choice. So you’re never going to be “off-work”—whether you are trekking, cooking or dating. Everything has the potential of inspiration, you’ve only to learn to spot it.
• Work hard, with your heart in it and respect every bit of the process, from the big idea to the colour-proofing.
Who would your design team like to take out for dinner?
Wolfgang Weingart. He’s got some stories!
What’s on the company iPod?
There’s no company iPod or playlist. If you walk across the studio it is likely you will encounter everything from jazz to thumri, Kishore to Metallica and Hinglish to Malayalam, in five minutes flat. Of our 2 studio dogs, Saaboo has been known to show a liking for the saxophone, while Ninja hates percussion instruments.
Codesign can be found here online.
Open Minds poster
The Codesign studio, Gurgaon
Colour Quotient magazine covers
D&AD Annual 2014, page 430
Royal Enfield crest