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Top 10 Takeaways from Delhi Design Festival

concluding group photo at delhi design festival

Delhi Design Festival 2018:


Delhi Design Festival at the India Habitat Center brought together key stakeholders from consulting, urban planning, urban design, IoT/ICT companies, academia and startups engaged in civic initiatives. This was also the first public platform where the idea of LocalFeedback.Org was discussed, and appreciated.

Delhi Design Festival : First of its kind Event

Held between February 23-25 at the India Habitat Centre in Lodhi Road (New Delhi), Delhi Design Festival is the first initiative to bring together participants, speakers and agents of change from cross-disciplinary fields like consulting, government agencies, urban design, planning, media, venture capital and social enterprise. It also featured innovative startups and NGOs which are engaging with both urban local bodies (municipalities) and citizens alike to transform key issues like mobility, involving children in the design process, and waste management.

I found information on the event through the offical SMARTNET portal run by NIUA (National Institute for Urban Affairs), based in New Delhi.

“Celebration of Design and Design Thinking” was the underlying thought behind the well-organized event by the USID Foundation, and Mr. Raman Saxena. A star-studded gathering from the urban design sphere included senior representatives from companies and institutions like Ernst and Young, Ambedkar University Delhi, PwC, NID, Efkon India, Chandigarh City Administration, School of Planning and Architecture, to name a few.

delhi design festival suresh prabhu
Mr. Suresh Prabhu’s address to the audience over video

The evening key note address was given by Mr. Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. Mr. Sudhir Krishna, former Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, who steered the JNNURM and initial stages of the Smart Cities Mission, also addressed the gathering. Prof. Darlie Koshy moderated the panel discussion that was held right after the inaugural session.


The event was very well managed by the USID Team led by Ms. Rashna Saxena. The break-out sessions, round table discussions and Q&As with the guest speakers encouraged healthy interaction and participation from the audience comprising students, design faculty and professionals alike.

A set of ancillary activities included Design Challenge competition – Design enabled Digital Technology for Social Impact, which was won by the team from Pearl Academy, Delhi. A series of outreach events, such as Urban Labs and Workshops at several colleges in Noida and Gurgaon were also organized for engaging with design students.

susmita talk on stage
Delhi Design Festival was one of the first platforms where the founder discussed the idea behind LocalFeedback.Org, connecting people with infrastructure development


In this article, i discuss the top 10 ideas from Delhi Design Festival that struck out as novel, and are bringing about real change in the urban landscape.


1. OYE! Ambala – Waste Management initiative by Re-City

It would only be fair to have this initiative on the first spot, because it involves large scale turnaround of the waste scenario in the city, and galvanizing all stakeholders – residents, municipality, the administrative machinery, waste collection staff, and even waste recycle plants. This initiative has a massive social impact as it brought about lifestyle changes in households for waste segregation, and gave due recognition to the efforts of the waste collectors. In addition to households, OYE! Ambala also covered 177 hospitals, 83 schools and 66 hotels. A total of 27 parks and open grounds also underwent the metamorphosis. The outcome was not only a clean city, but a feeling of immense pride among all.
The speaker from Re-City, Mr. Nandakumar, gave a comprehensive overview of the existing scenario, which included lack of cohesion between the internal departments of the municipality in Ambala, Punjab, and also mismatches in ideas between municipal and administrative bodies. Use of technology, social media and smart branding, such as t-shirts for safai karamcharis, also played an integral part in making people aware of the problem.
Recity ambala 2
the Re-City methodology for transforming solid waste management in (OYE) Ambala
During Swachh Survekshan of 500 cities of India, Ambala was ranked a low 308 in cleanliness. Mr Satyendar Duhan, the Municipal Commissioner, then decided to take charge of “the open garbage bins, the mounting piles of uncleared garbage, and the filth that people were living in“. OYE (Open Your Eyes) Ambala was launched in July 2017. To understand the problem, volunteers (around 100 college students) went door-to-door to find out what happens to household waste, who collects it and how frequently. In a parallel exercise, every dumping site was mapped. Training programmes were held for the ‘safai karamcharis’ and the sanitation team of Municipal Corporation, Ambala.
Every household was provided with unique ID plates, installed near the entrance gate. If the waste was not collected by garbage contractor, the resident could click a picture of the unique ID and upload on monitoring portal of AMC. This would incur a fine of Rs. 1,000/- per day on the contractor. If the households would not segregate the waste, the contractor could also upload the UID, and the houseowner would have to pay a fine of Rs. 100.
Re City ambala
Unique ID issued to households participating in daily waste collection
Solid waste recycle plants were set up, and the processed waste was used as a source of revenue, which in turn provided a sustainable means of financing the initiative.
I have stayed in a couple of green buildings where segregation at source is the norm, and have interacted with senior members of startups like Waste Ventures who collect and recycle household waste in cities like Hyderabad. But to achieve this output from close to 80,000 households in less than 6 months’ time is truly remarkable. Hats off to OYE! Ambala!

2. Designing the City of Chandigarh for people aged ‘8-80’ years

Inclusive design and environment-friendly transport by incorporating bike lanes helped bring transformation in the city of Chandigarh. Already well known as a planned city in India. Mr Kapil Setia was speaking to the audience at Delhi Design Festival as the Chief Architect of Chandigarh. He emphasized the need for walkability in public spaces and ease of using public transport.
The key challenges were transition of Chandigarh from an administrative city (it is the capital of Haryana and Punjab) to an educational/healthcare hub. Other constraints were establishing a balance between heritage and development pressures. Chandigarh has one of the highest per-capita vehicle ownership in India, hence the challenge was also to bring about a change in mindset.
chandigarh urban design
Project vision for Chandigarh: 8 to 80
Chandigarh bike urban mobility
Creating bicycle lanes alongside roads in Chandigarh
The urban mobility design initiative received funding from the World Bank. It involved participation from the local government, the design team, corporates, civil society and individuals. the project also touched upon issues like poor lighting, debris and garbage dumps, and under utilized public spaces. The redesign of the city’s roads and pavements provided for better & safer public transport with cities having high quality of life.

3. Prof. K T Ravindran’s guest lecture on the role of Urban Design and how it differs from Urban Planning

The audience was fortunate to listen to Prof KT Ravindran on the day of inauguration of Delhi Design Festival. He is a stalwart in urban design. He has headed the Department of Urban Design at the renowned School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. Prof. Ravindran has also served as former chairman of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission. “Humanizing Cities” is an area in which Prof. Ravindran does pioneering research.

You can listen to a brief recording of his speech in this video here:

The talk goes a long way in demystifying the notion that urban planning and urban design are same. It is crucial not only for people working in this or related fields, but for all city dwellers who interact with urban features and elements. Its significance lies ever more in the kind of connect we have with our urban environment and how it determines our well being and safety.


4. Inclusive Design by Prof. S. Balaram at Delhi Design Festival

Professor Singanapalli Balaram is the Founder and Dean of DJ academy of Design. He has also headed key positions at CEPT and at NID, and a is a pioneer of design education in India. “Inclusive design” is a indispensable for making easier the lives of those with disabilities, and constraints in mobility due to old age.

For his work on design for people with disabilities, Prof. Balaram was conferred the Helen Keller Award. He has also won several awards for innovative and cost effective  designs of Oxygenator, bicycle, Energy saving stoves, water purifier and crutches.


5. Design for Senior Citizens

Senior citizens account for more than 8.5% of the population of India. In old age, navigating through fast-moving lanes of a city become difficult on a day to day basis. Barrier friendly design within the home also becomes important for living comfortably.

It is interesting to explore how Indian cities can offer better lifestyles suited to the needs of the elderly. Moksham is an organization which is trying to address this issue by introducing design retrofits for the senior citizens. Mr. Sunil Gulati, who was a senior officer at Delhi Development Authority, discussed how his team is transforming homes. (Architect Rishabh Jain could be contacted for the operations at +91 9811662605)


6. aProCh at the Delhi Design Festival

We know that street smart kids fare pretty well in life. But how smart are the streets that cater to the needs of the young citizens? Founded by Ms. Kiran Bir Sethi, aProch is one entity which has undertaken remarkable efforts on a large scale to mobilize children through outdoor camps and events in cities. It is a children’s initiative, contributing immensely towards ‘safer cities for children’. Reaching out to over 2,00,000 kids in 10 cities, aProCh has worked relentlessly for creating a sustainable platform for children.

aproch parents of the park delhi design festival

I was happy to share my thoughts with Ms. Kirti Zala, who leads aProCh – a wonderful initiative, important especially because these kids will grow up to shape the future of the cities. If they are more connected and have a vision for the city, they will endeavour to make the city better. (Engaging dwellers with cities is also the idea behind “The Home Connect Contest” being hosted by LocalFeedback.Org)

aProCh has received recognition at various platforms, including Urban Ingenuity Award 2013 by Financial Times and Citibank. We hope more and more children get involved in this unique initiative and grow to become positive change-makers – citizens who grow to understand cities better. They are the future after all, and our current urban policies need to allocate commensurate efforts to make cities child friendly!


7. EFKON Traffic Management & Inform2Improve

The team from EFKON India showed the audience how their high-tech traffic management system is helping reduce accidents and provide quick response on Noida Expressway. Their Advance Traffic Management System (ATMS) is a designed specifically for Indian road conditions. It helps in integration of latest traffic management system like speed violation, ANPR and video incident detection systems with ATMS.

It is a beneficial tool for both drivers and for authorities because it provides Real–time traffic information, displays dynamic variable message signs providing informative message or warnings to road users and reduces operations and maintenance costs.

I also connected with their team, for Local Feedback to work together on EFKON’s “Inform2Improve” initiative. It is an app based service which allows users to upload pictures of civic anomalies (like potholes, leaking pipes, etc) along with location. Much like how Swachh Bharat or Sadak apps work, but keeping all issue-reporting together on a single platform.


8. Discussion on Design Startups at Delhi Design Festival

Design-based startups were a highlight of the 3-day festival. The need to equip young designers with entrepreneurial ability, so that they can form a small business based on their creative talent was something all participants reflected upon.

Final_LogoExplanationChart-B IKD delhi design festival
Toran – an embroidered door hanging (Official Website)

One of the presenters spoke about his venture which makes TypeCraft – type faces and lettering with craft, which reflect the folk art from villages. has detailed portfolio with illustrations for books, packages, installations and products. Mr. Ishan Khosla’s work on The Typecraft Initiative has been highly acclaimed and well-received on several international design platforms like Kyoorius Design Yatra, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (Japan), among others.

Prof. Amit Sheth, founder of Mind’s Eye Design Pvt. Ltd. discussed a case study of how his team transformed road signages in Ahmadabad, Gujarat, for better comprehensibility and usefulness.


9. The Smart Citizen

The reason why it is included in my Top-10 takeaways is that “not only cities should be smart, but citizens should be smart too”. Or rather a first!

The Smart Citizen is a global platform for stakeholders to share knowledge, collaborate and develop capability on smart nations, regions, cities and communities. Ms. Vineeta Shetty, a co-founder of the initiative, is a strategic communication advisor with vast experience in Advocacy and Public Affairs, Market Analysis and Development, and domain expertise in Global Communications and Urban Innovation


10. Panel discussion on Design Education

The Delhi Design Festival offered plenty of avenues to discuss the future of design education, since the gathering had a good mix of stalwarts from various fields who could influence the course of study. The audience also got a chance to present their innovative ideas and solutions to a panel of faculty from design schools.

susmita question delhi design festival
Interactive Q&A allowed two-way dialogue with speakers

During the QNA, i stressed upon the need to provide better business orientation and knowledge, 3-month internships or secondments in business schools. I also gave the idea to connect design students with manufacturing, so that they can develop prototypes and launch their products in the market. Especially those products which enhance the quality of public spaces or make life easier in villages.


Other participants and eminent speakers i interacted with at Delhi Design Festival

This small report on Delhi Design Festival 2018 would be incomplete without a mention of some of the amazing professionals and people who are doing pioneering work in the field of both design and technology. I was fortunate to have got a chance to interact with them personally!

Ulla Koivukoski – with over 30 yrs of experience in ICT & Telco business in sales, marketing and R&D. She worked with Nokia for 16 years and is currently Country Head of the Finland-based Avanto Ventures in India. It was enlightening to interact with Ms. Koivukoski, who appreciated the concept of Local Feedback and offered valuable insights on urban mobility.

Shri Subroto Bhowmick – one of India’s leading graphic designers, and a visiting faculty at MICA for 36 years, specializing in textiles. With over 50 awards and 18 President National awards in graphics, advertising and photography, he has contributed in building brands such as Vimal, Cali-Cloth, Deepam and Handloom House.

Sudhir Sharma – Founder of Indi Design and Editor-in-Chief of India’s first design magazine, POOL Magazine. A graduate of NID, he has worked as creative director for brands such as Bajaj, Volkaswagen, Network18, ICICI Bank, to name a few.

Arvind Lodaya – strategic design and innovation consultant who has served as Creative Director at Ogilvy and Mather. He stressed upon inclusion of management education for design professionals. Mr. Lodaya also mentors startups on design.

Dr. Sudhir Krishna – former Secretary at Ministry of Urban Development, he steered various national programmes and policies like JNNURM. He also served as Chairman of the 5th Delhi Finance Commission.

Prof. Amit Sheth – founder of Mind’s Eye Design Pvt Ltd, he has taught at institutes like NID, MICA, NIFT, IIM-K, CEPT and Nirma University. He is also on the Traffic Cell Committee of the Raksha Shakti University which provides innovative solutions for traffic-related problems.

Prof. Jatin Bhatt – a 1977 graduate of NID, he set up the Accessory Design Department at NIFT Delhi (1991). Currently serving as Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of School of Design at Ambedkar University Delhi, which offers M. Des. in Social Design.

Among other eminent professionals present were Ms. Anubha Kakroo (Dean of IIAD), Mr. Shrinivas Kowligi (Partner, E&Y – Smart Cities) and Mr. Samar Jodha.

A recap video of the Delhi Design Festival can also be viewed on YouTube.

The event concluded with closing remarks by Raman Sir, and with a group photo and announcement of the Satellite events in Gurgaon and Noida. The participants would eagerly look forward to the 2019 edition of Delhi Design Festival! The quality of the content, speakers and projects were all benchmarks to learn something from. I am also grateful to all members of the audience and panelists who appreciated the idea of Local Feedback.



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