The First Design Abroad: India Class


From left to right: Michael Lewis, Maya Das Gupta, Vanessa Hausman, Sarah Tranum (instructor), Felipe Sarmiento, Monifa Charles-Dedier, Zimeng Yu,
Arielle Bourret-Klein, Anna Kolesnikova, and Kylie Thompson.

Last May, nine OCAD University students traveled to India as part of the Design Abroad: India course. This diverse group of students came from both the Faculty of Design and the Faculty of Art and represented a cross section of disciplines, skill sets, and perspectives. This blog documents the projects these students undertook and the incredible work they did as they co-designed with two organizations over the three-week period of the course.

The students worked in two groups. One group co-designed with KESBO, a boys orphanage, and the other team collaborated with Sadhana, a human rights organization that works with residents living in slum areas. The KESBO team designed and built a new playspace with and for the boys who live and go to school at the orphanage. This playspace not only provides a safe place for the boys to have fun and interact with each other, but also offered the boys the opportunity to express their ideas and work together to see these ideas become real.

The Sadhana group worked with the founder of the organization, her staff, and the residents of the nearby community to develop a visual identity that would represent their goals and collective voice. This identity, used on letterhead, posters, flyers, etc., was also printed on textiles and worn as a means to unify Sadhana and the residents at meetings, rallies, press conferences and other events where they are working to have their rights upheld in order to improve the health, safety and governance of their community.

You can learn more about these projects by reading the following posts, which document the participatory design process, from start to finish. The blog also reflects the students’ thoughts and observations during the course and documents the creation of their final individual projects, which were completed after their return from India. These projects challenged the students to thoughtfully reflect upon their experience and how it has influenced them and their work as designers.

Final Project for IndiaEX

Concept for the reflection piece about our trip to India:

This installation is my analogy for the life in India as it unpacks more meaning the more one interacts with it. At first glance, the disarray of elements seems random, that is to say, to the foreign eye India can appear chaotic and lacking infrastructure. However, upon taking a journey and experiencing the culture for yourself, you gain another perspective: the “random” pieces line up to create a geometric shape and reveal order amongst chaos. The geometry in the linking fragments is derived from the Flower of Life in the Sacred Geometry that is present in Indian architecture as well as in the design of the Lotus flower, a national symbol of India.

Although not perfect, there are, in fact, systems in place. They are different than what we are used to in the west, and they work.

Still, the system is handling more people than what it was designed for and can bear; the forces of tension and compression in the installation represent that strain.

Using reclaimed materials is intended to point not only that the system is old and has flaws, but also the opportunities within it. Recycling industry is a prominent business in India. Discarded goods are salvaged by people, pulled apart and sold for parts or recycled. Thus, used materials are not necessarily disposed; instead, everything that can be sorted is put back into the system. Likewise, I have recovered old lumber and repurposed it to make something new.

If you follow the blue footsteps, your journey will lead you to discover another vantage point to understand my story.

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