Perfecting the skill of getting lost in rickshaws.

Perfecting the skill of getting lost in rickshaws.

Design Thinking and Postmodernism in India

When the five of us met for the first time at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship, approximately one week before leaving for India, we were all told three things: your senses will be assaulted, you will return a changed person and chances are the experience will turn out to be unsayable – that is too complex and multifaceted for our limited imagination to make sense of. All three statements turned out to be true. Still, in order to give you a flavor of what we were up to during those amazing days I will stretch my cognitive capabilities and do my best to connect the dots of this crazy experience.

National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India.

National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India.

Out and about in Ahmedabad.

Out and about in Ahmedabad.

The first thing that struck me when stepping out of the cab and onto the streets of Ahmedabad was the extreme contrasts. If Stockholm is quiet, clean, conformist, cold, individualistic and secular then Ahmedabad is loud, dirty, rebellious, hot, communal and religious. I quickly realized that I had left the land of moderation for the nation of exaggeration. Luckily, I was not alone but accompanied by a group of wonderfully bright minds from the all over the world (Sweden, Poland, Brazil, Germany and Turkey) covering a large part of the academic spectra (Psychology, Engineering, Design, Public health and Economics). And if this diversity weren’t enough, we entered the National Institute of Design with the task of exploring the development of post-modernism in India with the tools of design thinking.

Looking for signs of post-modernism.

Looking for signs of post-modernism.

A hindu temple in downtown Ahmedabad.

A hindu temple in downtown Ahmedabad.

Entering the N.I.D campus was equivalent to opening the doors to Narnia. Leaving behind the busyness of the street and the madness of a traffic system without lanes, lights or rules, we found ourselves in a giant beautiful green garden with wild peacocks, monkeys and outrageous drama students. During the first day we were introduced to the interdisciplinary campus and given a lecture by professor Ronald Jones on the difference between modernism and post-modernism and what black holes has to do with John Keats and the ability to live with ambiguity.

Professor Ronald Jones talking about negative capability, poetry and NASA.

Professor Ronald Jones talking about negative capability, poetry and NASA.

Random peacock taking his daily stroll through the N.I.D campus.

Random peacock taking his daily stroll through the N.I.D campus.

Entering the campus of wild ideas and wild animals.

Entering the campus of wild ideas and wild animals.

We were soon divided into groups and given our first assignment: to venture out on the streets of Ahmedabad to look for subtle signs and symbols of post-modernism. A day spent practicing the art of looking at the world through the eyes of an ethnographer revealed interesting findings that we brought with us into the design process. Well versed in the values of post-modernism we then spent a day in Gandhi’s Ashram getting to know his way of life and the intricacies of experience design. Back on campus we were ready for the main assignment: to create our own exhibition exploring post-modern India through the art of experience design.

The future of Uber?

The future of Uber?

At Gandhi's ashram exploring the future of experience design.

At Gandhi's ashram exploring the future of experience design.

The following days were spent in thrilling conversations about art versus propaganda, if inclusion can lead to the dilution of culture, how sustainable progress will become possible and whether non-violence is a useful method in the 21st century. Accepting the nature of post-modern thinking we soon rejected the existence of a universal truth and agreed to base our project on asking the big questions. We created a full-sized labyrinth titled “walking paradox” where the Zen-inspired tradition of mindful walking merged with the Socratic notion of public dialogue. Another group used mirrors to confront guests with questions about their own basic assumptions, one created an art-show displaying contemporary paradoxes and yet another presented a visual timeline connecting the abstract with the concrete, taking the visitor on a journey from the inside of a black hole to the multi-sensory experience of riding a rickshaw in downtown Ahmedabad.

Walking paradox - a mindful way of blending Zen-buddhism with Socratic dialogue

Walking paradox - a mindful way of blending Zen-buddhism with Socratic dialogue

Proud designers showing of their final exhibition.

Proud designers showing of their final exhibition.

Despite a couple of virus-infused Pepsis and a Dengue-mosquito in the mood for Scandinavian blood, the trip was a mind-blowing experience that I will never forget (and likely never fully comprehend). What I do know is that I met a group of people with whom I now share a bunch of wonderful, crazy and confusing memories that I hope we will laugh about for years to come.

Thank you Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship, The National Institute of Design and my fellow comrades Clara, Lara, Savas and Piotr for making this possible.

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