Image shot while exploring Mumbai's graphic design scene

This is the second piece in our series that weighs the pros and cons of living and working in Mumbai’s creative community. Following in the footsteps of our London City Guide, we explore the state of design education in the city.

Big changes are underway in Mumbai when it comes to design education. “It feels like there’s been a sudden growth in the last five years,” says LocoPopo studio’s Lokesh Karekar. “That’s because India’s growing, so it needs more more designers. And now, people are more interested in design as a career and as an industry.”

Locopopo studio

A 2016 report by the British Council and India Design Council stated that by 2020 the potential market for design in India is expected to be 188 billion Indian Rupees [around $1.8 billion USD], with 56.2 billion Indian Rupees [$870,000] earmarked for the potential of the graphic, communication, and packaging sectors—but “only a fifth of the design market is currently tapped.”

Indian design school’s infrastructure and facilities have seen marked improvements over the last decade, with an increase in design students and academic staff, and a number of younger faculty staff coming through. In 2016, there were around 5,000 students in design education across the country (by comparison, there were nearly 2,000 undergraduate students in the fall 2018 semester at the Rhode Island School of Design alone); with a total of around 7,000 qualified designers across the whole of India (including industrial, graphic, communication, packaging,  and “other” unspecified disciplines). The emergence of a bigger student body reflects the wider embracing of graphic design as a career in India.

Vixen Display typeface designed by Simoul Alva

As elsewhere, parents in India play a big role in what their kids study. And while the recent acceptance of graphic design as a career choice has helped boost design school applicants, breaking the news to one’s family is still an issue. Mumbai-born Simoul Alva has told us that it was a “very big deal” to tell her parents that she wasn’t going to become and engineer or doctor, but a designer instead. 

A Brief History of Design Education in India

In 1958, the Government of India invited Charles and Ray Eames to make recommendations for a training program to support small industries. These informed the 1960 India Design Report and the foundation of the 1961 National Institute of Design (NID). The school offered industrial design and visual communication programs, and the teaching was largely inspired by the approach of the Bauhaus. NID was followed in 1969 with the Industrial Design Center under the aegis of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai (then-Bombay).

Historic image of the NID campus

Until around 2004, design education in India was delivered by a handful of government-owned institutions, but a number of new colleges have opened in recent years, including Indian School of Design and Innovation (ISDI), a curricular collaboration with Parsons School of Design; and French design and visual communication school Ecole Intuit Lab.

How Courses Are Structured

Generally, colleges offer a four to five year course after Class 12 (16-18 years old.) The first year is almost always a foundation year, teaching basic skills and design principles including drawing, geometry, color theory, and composition. Students can then usually choose to specialize from the second year.

The Challenges to Indian Design Education

“Design education really needs help,” says Sameer Kulavoor, co-founder of Bombay Duck Design. He and his sister, who also works at Bombay Duck, both studied at Mumbai’s Sir J J Institute of Applied Art (referred to by many as simply JJ). A bachelor’s degree in fine arts offers students the opportunity to specialize in lettering and typography, illustration, photography, computer graphics, exhibition design and display, and stage craft.

Bombay Duck Design studio

Like many of the designers we spoke to for this piece, Kulavoor laments the lack of industry rigor offered by Mumbai’s design schools—such as hearing from guest lecturers or encouragement to take up internships. “When I studied, we still had to make ads with paint,” he says.  His sister Zeenat, a typographer, calligrapher, and graphic designer, joined five years later, but the course was unchanged. “It was fun to learn something manual, but it’s completely different to what was happening in the outside world,” she says.

Mira Malhotra, founder of Studio Kohl and another graduate of JJ’s applied arts course, agrees that there’s little in the way of teaching “application or conceptual understanding.” As such, she went on to study for an additional four years at National Institute of Design in Gujarat. Even with her further studies, she says the focus was more on “logic and rational thinking” than how to merge those traits with aesthetic concerns. “But that’s changing, I think,” she says.

Cheetah illustration by Studio Kohl for British Council India

The Future of Design Education in India report notes that things get tricky in the lack of well-articulated accreditation or affiliation procedures. There is currently no national accreditation body for design courses, and most of the state universities do not have design programs for which they can affiliate colleges. Only universities can offer degrees, meaning that most Indian design institutions can’t grant degrees—even if they offer degree level instruction.

There’s also currently little in the way of beneficial post-grad courses. Most of the postgraduate design programs on offer are “essentially after-graduate programs,” according to the British Council, with course content “similar… to undergraduate programs.” So rather than building on existing design knowledge, post-grad courses often start with fundamentals of design and cover the undergraduate program content in two years.

“Design education in India needs to evolve to meet the expectations of both the learner and the industry,” the report states. “The challenge is to move to a more holistic, multi-disciplinary design education to create design professionals who can position design more strategically as an integration of aesthetic, business, technological, and sociological concerns.” It also implores that design education is introduced into secondary school curricula.

Jaini font by EK Type

When Sarang Kulkarni, founder of type design studio Ek Type, started his studio in 2005, he says “hardly anyone” in India was talking about digital typefaces, let alone teaching people how to create them. “There was no official full time or part time type design course in India at all, not even a one-week course,” he says. “Everyone got into it on their own.”

He was lucky enough to meet a professor who had a long history working on scripts for advertising projects and academic research dating back to the 1950s. Kulkarni pursued his studies in lettering with him outside of the confines of his degree course. “I think a lot of academic curriculums are starting to move more with new technology and media,” he says. Even so, when EK Type takes on interns, Kulkarni says it takes six months to a year for grads to fully understand type design. When we spoke with him in 2018, he was taking on between five and seven each year selected from 200-250 applications.

Employability of Design Grads

We’re still not seeing enough designers [to hire] with the right level of design education,” says Karekar. His statement is backed up by the design education report, which says that many colleges focus on teaching skills or software knowledge to the detriment of wider learning, research, industry experience, and collaboration across disciplines.

This is partly, of course, down to the relative newness of graphic design as a concern in India. It means there’s far less support for students and educators than in places like Europe and the U.S., and organizations like AIGA, D&AD, or the Design Council simply don’t exist in India.

The aforementioned design industry survey revealed that many working in design in the country see India’s design schools falling short when it comes  to quality faculty with industry experience, noting a particular dearth in “interest among the staff and students to explore real materials, design details, actual functioning of new designs, and very little design mentoring.”  

Mumbai Design School Fees

The the four-year course at IIT in Mumbai is currently 845,600 Indian Rupees ($12,100 USD). In comparison, 2016 U.S. data showed that median fees for in-state public design education for graphic design courses were $6,358, reaching up as high as $28,885 for the median out of state private schools—though at schools like Parsons the annual tuition is currently $46,960.

Mumbai’s Design Schools

Ecole Intuit Lab Mumbai

Ecole Intuit Lab

The Mumbai offshoot of the French institution opened in 2011, offering a three-year bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a masters in visual communication.

ISDI (Indian School of Design and Innovation) Mumbai

Set up in collaboration with Parsons, the New School for Design opened in 2013 and offers undergraduate courses in communication design, product design, interior design and fashion design; as well as masters courses including Design and Innovation and Integrated Product Design.

Pearl Academy

With campuses in Delhi and Jaipur as well as Mumbai, Pearl Academy offers undergraduate programs in collaboration with the UK’s Nottingham Trent University, and postgraduate courses in collaboration with Domus Academy, Milan. These include BA courses in communication design (graphics) and communication design (interaction + digital).

Being a Design Educator in Mumbai

While we’re unable to find statistics relating specifically to Mumbai, the Future of Design Education in India report, which surveyed 33 design education institutions across the country, shows a lack of both skilled students and staff. Out of the respondents, 42% said it was “difficult” to recruit skilled and motivated teaching faculty; and 68% expressed that availability of qualified faculty was a problem.

Monthly Salaries of Design Faculty (as of 2016):

Entry level: 40,000 to 50,000 Indian Rupees ($575-$720)

2-5 years experience: 60,000-70,000 Indian Rupees ($800-$1,000)

5-10 years experience: 70,000-100,000 Indian Rupees  ($1,000-$1,400)

10+ years experience: up to 200,000 Indian Rupees ($2,875)