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Design outsourcing may be big--think India.

R&D spending doesn't always pay off--Booze Allen. |


| Apple's nano can be scratched--and wash and dried.

October 11, 2005

Design outsourcing may be big--think India.

Bruce Nussbaum

David Kohler, the group president of that great bath and kitchen appliance maker (and award winner) that goes by his great, great grandfather's name writes from India to say it is booming way beyond software and business process outsourcing. He says it's time for US companies to catch the wave and get into the huge marketplace now.

Kohler is right on. India received more foreign institutional investment in September (we're talking money flowing into stocks) than China. Japan in particular is pouring in funding. Foreign direct investment into Indian companies and their own subsidiary factories is soaring as well.

Design outsourcing is probably one of the big things to happen over the horizon. U.S. corporations might want to take a look at a number of Indian design consultancies that appear to do great work. India's National Institute of Design graduates hundreds of highly trained designers a year. India has a vast manufacturing infrastructure in place--something US and European and Japanese companies are discovering. And design firms such as Elephant Design and Lopez do good work. Outsourcing design to India is going to be big.

05:03 PM


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I'd just like to add that Lopez Design is run by Anthony Lopez, and he started a firm prior to that, called Whisper Design Pvt Ltd, with Niladri Mukherjee, who still runs it.

Posted by: Niti Bhan at October 11, 2005 08:14 PM

Lopez Design online - selected portfolio -

Posted by: saurabh wadhwa at October 13, 2005 05:49 AM

I would suggest a different approach to outsourcing - India and its designers would enjoy working on projects - big projects - messy projects - with designers from other parts of the world. There is so much to be done here and design can be the way ahead.

Posted by: Poonam Bir Kasturi at October 18, 2005 06:24 AM


After reading this post of yours I've been talking to some of my friends from design schools and here is what we think,

India will be the better destination for a knowledge type outsourcing such as design. This is because you don't need language compatibility to discuss assembly of a product to the extent that you do for designing a said product.

As anyone who has been on either side of the client/designer table knows, the essence of the project is fleshed out in the briefing stage for the RFP. It is here, when we sit and listen to t he client speak about what they want, we ask questions about their business, their challenges, their strategies and goals, and then reflect it back to the client in the context of the project. Then the proposal is but a formality. Because you've already fleshed the project strategy out and will just present it as a memo. The sale takes place at pitch not proposal.

And so, India provides English speaking designers, erudite, literate and well read, after all NID had Truffaut weekends, and we've ALL seen the 5 hour version of Peter Brook's Mahabharata, in a drive in with mosquitos.

I look forward to the changes taking place.

Posted by: Niti Bhan at October 18, 2005 06:46 AM

Yes, it may... after India has stopped stealing design and content from other companies. We are really tired of tracking the companies that steal the design elements (or even the whole concept sometimes) and our content. Most of those companies are in India. I know that we can't blame all the Indian companies, however, statistics shows that it's a common thing in the country. They definitely should do something about that. I think it greatly damages the reputation of India in the field.

Posted by: Lucy, web designer at October 25, 2005 02:32 PM


While what you say is true, I'd just like to share some background with you. Historically, independent India had a closed market economy with little competition, long waiting lines for consumer products and no international brands like Coca Cola [away from 1977 to 1995] - the indigenous market for design services in late eighties/early nineties was not only non existent, most companies did not understand why they needed to pay for design services in the first place. Add to that a historically low level of appreciation for intellectual property and "rights", you get rampant plagiarism. Cultural perception is only now, as the global economy opens up and links to India, waking up to the fact that original thought has monetary value. The standard answer to those of us marketing design services in the pre-liberalization era was "why should I pay you guys to design a product for me when I can source engineering drawings from abroad for $5000 or reverse engineer an imported product for nothing".

I believe that the change you're seeking will come about as the internal competition in the market increases and companies perceive the need to build unique brands and products that best reflect their organizations.

You may note that the other previously closed economy, China, suffers from many of the same issues.

Posted by: Niti Bhan at October 25, 2005 08:39 PM

Design outsourcing to India may happen, but there is an obstacle that i see here. My study tell me that many orgaisation in India who have started their design and develpment division are facing the prolblems of not being able to managing design innovation and creativity. No design school/ management school in India offers formal training in managing design. The problem is not just about the education but also process, culture and orgnisation structure. If some how India manages to get over this problem the future is bright as the sun.

Rushikesh Kulkarni

Posted by: Rushikesh Kulkarni at November 6, 2005 06:45 PM


Ashoke Chatterjee taught us Design Management at NID.

There are schools of thought were design management is an integral part of the education.

Posted by: Niti Bhan at November 6, 2005 10:31 PM

I have studied Product Design with keen interest as I am personally involved with designing a high-technology product. My experience, career as well as life is split exactly 50-50 in the U.S. and in India of the total of 20 years.

I have carefully researched what can be done here more at ground level and I have come up with a model to determine whether a design can be outsourced to India at all. While I have put it into a well researched documentation, I briefly, present it this way:

Know-how based:

Product Design normally involves market exposure and risks associated with it on one side. On the other hand, it may involve Application backup and many a times Domain knowledge.

This is an area where westerners have excelled.

This cycle involves research work + market exposure & risks with both involving creativity and transformation of built-in know-how acquired over generations of Product Design or sheer methodical efforts over years.


Here we primarily focus on post-definition deliveries and things start binning to clear cut tasks. The tasks also get removed from know-how based processes, especially risks, and start delving into absorption of specific knowledge by a given team. The team in turn gets groomed, mentored, trained, etc.

Between the Know-how based Product Design and Knowledge Based Services, we have a classic "gap".

It is this "gap" that needs to be understood in each and every situation. If we don't model it carefully or understand through self-honesty where we stand with respect design on hand, then we are bound to be disappointed.

I do agree with Lucy's comments. China or India, we have to be extremely careful with Intellectual Properties. In both countries, I know IP is stolen without even blinking. Again, it is how you model a "gap". That is, understand the context of given an opportunity to outsource design with adequate measures to protect IPs.

Recently, I applied for 2 Patents. Honestly, I had a choice for Patent Attorneys, one extremely smart technical guy and one plain attorney. Obviously, I chose the latter because I sensed that the former may steal the technology even during patenting itself!


Yes, I do agree that there is possibility for exciting things to happen in Design Outsourcing. We have to responsibly demonsrate to the world this capability. The interest to outsource may even increase as Indian market gets attractive by itself and western companies start thinking of Indian version of their products. It is becoming a wonderful reality!

Knowledge and Know-how are becoming highly interdependent. Warning: Don't mix the two and most importantly: "Mind the Gap between the two!"

Posted by: A.K. Vishwanath at November 18, 2005 10:33 PM

I believe outsourcing is necessary in today's business environment to save on cost. It has become necessary to cut the corner every where to remain competitive.

Posted by: KPO | Outsourcing at September 14, 2006 09:47 AM

Design in india and designers with indian flare are truly evolving.. To talk that Indian designers have had a raw deal and just now woken up to the mainstream is wrong..

Indian design in all its forms from tools to machinery , from pins to computers, from brands to movies have had a spicy content that has been truly unique in them and the difference has to be felt and iconised rather than blamed..

In every market there is up and down trends and new industries and technolgy shifts..

The growing consumerism in India in its wake has brought about a remarkable challenge and change with new shopping behaviours, exposure to global brands, packaging and products.

Certainly this will pave way for a new understanding and meaning to use Indian way of designers whether they are from India or not and it can happen that a new set of realms or equations can come through..

It is also important to visualise and see the actual cases before any conclusive comments or evidence is presented.



Posted by: V.K.JAGANNATHAN at October 5, 2006 10:38 AM

Indian product Design needs an ecosystem to support it. 20 years ago the local industry was protected, but there was very little competition because of the licence raj. So design never really flourished.

Now there is no protection, and the bar has just been raised for consumer preferences, making it difficult for Indian manufacturers with insufficient resources to be able to buy design, even if they know they need it. The key is to do fundamentally different and more locally relevant work. Design is a symbiotic parasite. it has to live off the spoils of another industry, and add more to its spoils in the process.

One can only wonder if the west will ever outsource real design work to India. Creative work is something they hold very close to their chest. And most Indian designers, even the many who are very talented, are shackled in their work or thinking by the circumstances around them, including the absence of people who can take a dangerous idea to market.

Posted by: Vinay Rao at October 12, 2006 10:45 AM

Hi,I'd like to say that It's necessary look for outsourcing design in Brazil too. We are in a great Stage of product an graphic design with big and great design consutancies like - - - - - among others that Already design product for industries arround the globe.

We recently divide with Indian Deign Scene the publish about design in AXIS, Japan Magazine. There have a great view of Brazilian design scene today. Another way about is the IF Design Award that the last years the Brazilian products have win a lot of prizes. Brazil has many conditions to develop products for any country on the Globe. We have a Great expertise, flexibility and Knowhow. i think It is time to look for Brazil.

Best regards

Posted by: Leonardo Massarelli at October 14, 2006 08:32 AM

There is some great graphic design work done by graphic design studios in India like Hatch Design ( product portfolio stretches from logo design, corporate identity, brochure, leaflet, magazine, packaging design.

Posted by: vidur at November 6, 2006 06:38 AM

an interesting tweak to outsourcing of design is not being talked about.....I am familiar with Design Outsourcing after running a Product Design Company in India since way back in 1997 onwards which mainly survived because we could latch on to clients abroad and stay afloat when 90% of other design companies switched to more lucrative 'Graphic Design'.

Today, Onio Design is focusing not on 'Conventional Oursourcing' of design...that is an easy thing to do, and would happen on its own. Today the new game is also 'outsourcing of design for the local market' i.e. Braun hiring services of local design companies for designing for Indian market....I think there is more stuff here, then the 'design outsorucing' that borders 'engineering outsourcing'. And that is also the ladder, India has to trascend to ver.2 of design.

Posted by: Manoj Kothari at December 29, 2006 04:11 AM

India’s rapid economic growth has got no parallel to previous fast growth economies. It’s different. Rather than export manufacturing as with Japan and other South-East Asian countries, the economic growth is fuelled by exports of services and huge domestic consumption (1+ billion people)

Design firms in India will get better and equal price points for design in India. There is a huge demand in the Indian market itself. Niti speaks of the market getting competitive internally to need good and original design. That is happening now and at a very rapid pace along with the economy. The problem is awareness of good design. Clients now know that design can create differentiators, but do not know whom to go to and how to make a good and right choice. Client education & maturity is the need of the hour. And then there are the not so good design firms who think it’s ‘OK’ to copy or say yes to a client who wants their site to be like the competition. Lucy’s apprehension is here to stay for some time. Historically Japan long liked to copy the west and then improve on it. A lot of China is doing it too. India has just started. Let us see how constructive can this get.

On the other hand, Indians have an ability to understand and comprehend complex environments because of its own inherent complex culture both current and historical. I see this as a great advantage to design thinking for application at global scale. But before that, I see a lot of international clients now sourcing design from designers in India for India, and then adapting the same internationally.

Posted by: Anthony Lopez at February 14, 2007 04:10 PM

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