The future of design as cultural and creative practice.
Satyendra Pakhalé is an established international design leader, from his native India to his chosen city of residence and practice, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, from products to buildings. He recently published “Culture of Creation” with nai010 publishers of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, his first rich monograph, covering 25 years of his body of work, with critical contributions by Paola Antonelli, Aric Chen, Juhani Pallasmaa, Jacques Barsac, TizianaProietti, and Stefano Marzano. Filiberto Amati of Amati & Associates and I interviewed him on his vision on the future of Design Thinking, his legacy in design practice, and his unique multicultural perspective on creativity, design trends, and what lies ahead for the rest of us, by design and beyond.
Satyendra Pakhalé’s multifaceted practice spans from social cohesion to lifestyle aspiration, thanks to technology and the science of materials, uniquely enriched by multicultural engagement and multidisciplinary insights. His monograph is a journey in both his design practice, as well his intellectual development. With the strong foundation of his studies at the Industrial Design Center at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, at the heart of the Subcontinent and at the Art Centre College of Design and an experience at at Hartmut Esslinger’s legendary Frog, the design firm behind historical hits by Apple and Sony, Satyendra set up his studio in September 1998, after his tenure at Philips Design, under the legacy of Stefano Marzano’s 1990’s direction and vision of the future. There, Satyendra learnt how to converge from his curiosity to the pragmatic application of design practice, that is rooted in theory but always proved in reality. “Culture of Creation” engages with Satyendra’s global experience and history as a designer, as well as with a number of contributors, both curators and critics as well as former and current team members of his studio. The idea is therefore to present Satyendra’s body of work as a a choral suite with various tonalities and varied perspectives, more than a solo song, based on past projects. It is a critical book which illustrates the designer’s world-view and intellectual position, and the theoretical heritageunderpinning the cultivation of a ‘culture of creation’. The twelve essays put Satyendra’s body of work into awider, deeper context. The monograph aims to initiate a new debate about design and its plurality and diversity in the contemporary cultural context. It brings new facts and facets of design history to attention for the first time challenging preconceived notions. The objective of the book from the outset has been to encourage an intellectual debate and trigger cross- disciplinary conversations on theserelevant topics of our time.
Design, from sensorial perception to political meaning
Design is both functional and emotional, bringing opportunities for social change. Human beings are sensorial, and it is through the senses that we perceive and make sense of our world, and our reality. Questions pertaining to design, relate to psychology, sociology, and more domains of humanities. And answers from designers, in the forms of products or services, pertain to meaning within cultures, and societal evolution beyond any separation of form from function. Synthesis through the senses is fundamental to understand design. At the same time, any creative act is a political act, and design de facto is a political practice, beyond direct application of design principles to political campaigns. Design engages with society, by impacting culture. In this sense, design has been pivotal to yesterday’s consumerism but that has been just a phase. Positive change for the masses is what design should be in the future, with a holistic understanding of how to trigger democratisation for all of us.
A message in a book, for next generations of designers
From the viewpoint of this critical mission for design and designers in the future, “Culture of Creation” presents several inspirational viewpoints and experiences, based on intellectual curiosity and aiming at a synthesis, from craftsmanship to technology, from social modernity at planetary level to societal change, from artistry, art and the relationships of creativity with the industry. A practice manifests ideas in a tangible way, understanding from the past to look forward and make things that shape the future. The intent for “Culture of Creation” was to encapsulate a professional practice and a personal journey into critical insights by guest contributors; a record of methods and processes within a professional studio; and a body of work, as already presented in institutions among others like the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, curated by Ingeborg de Roode. This makes “Culture of Creation” three books in one, or one book with at least three overlapping layers, namely a project layer, documentary (studio practice) layer and research (critical essays) layer with accounts from his industrial partners such as Alberto Alessi, Giulio Cappellini, Cristiano Crosetta, Vittorio Livi and Marva Griffin. All these ofdifferent and diverse content, revolving around design. This because to Satyendra, is that design is not a technical act, but a cultural act with contemporary expressions that impacts society, therefore it requires curiosity and diversity to explore the opportunities through pluralism, as Aric Chen articulates in his contribution, “Design and Pluralism”.With the wide range of relevant topics this monograph creates a ground for a vital debate bringing in Satyendra’s design practice as a seminal example in the current conversations related to plurality, diversity andabove all the very nature of design and its contribution to contemporary societies for years to come. Ultimately, social cohesion and cultural diversity are the nurturing ground of design, in the past as in the future.
The future of design, in Satyendra’s words and worlds
Our future is always a reflexive projection from our past and present, in the rear view mirror of our history. This could be seen in the mid 1990’s project Quo Vadis? by Philips Design, a program created and directed by Stefano Marzano, and Renault Pangea mobile environmental lab, a project initiated and directed by Patrick Le Quément e Marzano, on the future of mobility, where Satyendra delivered visionary concepts. A lesson learnt in such projects is that future objects and interactions can be imagined but such imagination, from folding displays to pervasive ambient intelligence, often proves wrong over time, when it comes to specific manifestations. One might say, the future is about desire, direction, and hope, and ultimately about vision. The future cannot be studied as history is studied, because there is no evidence or tokens emerging from the future. Therefore, the anticipation of possible, probable, or preferable futures requires the reinterpretation of the past and the present, through a creative spark rooted in observation. Satyendra remains keen on observing -and practicing in- the built environment, from architecture to systems to objects, from mobility to new possibilities of manufacturing. Built environment is where opportunities lie to improve the quality of life, from everyday experiences in our homes, to the scale of cities, and beyond. These thoughts and ideas are manifested in the book, “Culture of Creation”, where objects have sensorial qualities, that impact our everyday life. Satyendra has developed his practice from such principles, working with a variety of materials and processes, from ceramics to bronze, from traditional techniques of craftsmanship to technological innovation through digitalisation. Materiality is key to creativity that expresses itself in the real of physical reality, where the immateriality of history is manifested in new applications of materials and new visions of objects. As an example of a “memory from the future”, or a design solution that captures the synthesis between tradition and evolution, Satyendra envisions his Add-On Radiator. The radiator is a universal “non-object”, as in every culture and society there are heaters and similar functional devices designed to transfer energy in order to keep our physical environments warm. Robert Grudin defined “design” as the way to organise energy, from light to heat, and this project from Satyendra’s portfolio and book, brings design to the unique opportunity to innovate an almost invisible, unnoticeable object, and make it modular, energy saving and ultimately remarkable, aesthetically. Satyendra created Add-On Radiator with a beginner’s mind, as if the radiator was being made for the very first time. This defiance to rely on conventional notions of the generic radiator led to a design that implied something not merely novel, but actually new. Add-On Radiator can be placed on a wall, recessed or used as a space divider connected to floor and ceiling. It is not only a typological innovation, but also fulfils more utilitarian needs than conventional radiators — offering faster temperature regulation with less power — and conforms to international safety requirements.
The impact of Metaverse on our digital futures
What will be, in Satyendra’s vision, of deep digitalisation, from the Metaverse to Artificial Intelligence, that already impacted luxury categories and lifestyle industries? Looking at the evolution of technology, where Satyendra’s multifaceted practice lies its roots, history is a good source to understand how the future might evolve. From the first Apple computer experience with the mouse and the opening up of graphic design opportunities to the rest of, to the impact of digitalisation on product design, the process is one of meaning-giving.First, there is a phase of orientation and cultural adaptation of the new technologies within a given culture, then there is a tipping point and new technologies open up new cultural opportunities. For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, music videos evolved from early formats where other cinematic plots or visual effects were adopted, until MTV gave them cultural and aesthetic dignity on their own, resulting in their evolution as a new form of visual arts. With the Metaverse, the curve will be similar. Looking at the Metaverse as a new “built environment”, where the first examples might look “silly”, e.g. NFT’s, sensorial design will be a key driver in establishing those new connections, and feeling those new sensations, that will trigger new perceptions. In this, Satyendra looks at the work (and the words in “Culture of Creation”) by Juhani Pallasmaa, whose experience in architectural design is paramount to him. The direction is towards a new gravity, where virtual objects and digital manifestations will acquire their own personality and ultimately, cultural meaning. Of course, the future in the Metaverse will not look like today’s built environment as we know it but hopefully, the Metaverse will grow complementary to our built environment, to ultimately make it better.
Next steps for Satyendra‘s’ design practice and vision
A lot of challenges lie ahead of us, and design is the practice where solutions might arise. Healthcare and social robotics, specifically looking at the interaction with people in their everyday life, seem to be fields where examples are relegated to extreme and dubiously applicable anecdotes. Like social robotics, healthcare represents a field where interaction with humans is and will increasingly be key. Here, another major challenge will increasingly lie in the chemical pollution and environmental impact of pharma industries, e.g. single use products, and medical devices. Here, the challenge is to create medical devices and pharmaceutical products that does not create waste, and the management thereof, from exploitation to sustainability in hospitals and residential healthcare. A third context of design innovation in the urban context, and in particular urban mobility infrastructures beyond electric scooters with low priced, low efficiency batteries but focusing on overall comprehensive vision, communication and policy-making as design. In order to shift from science fiction in case of humanoid robotics to our next new everyday, or better, in order to make our future visions becoming our next present, design will be key. “Satyendra Pakhalé. Culture of Creation” illustrates the designer’s journey by placing his body of works in the cultural, artistic and intellectual context to which it belongs, and to which it always returns. At the same time, it anticipates what is yet to come.