Indian Design Influences


In a civilisation as old as ours - we have so many cultural influences - from food, to fashion, to craft. In a medium like graphic design which is relatively new, how can we use these influences to make it authentic to us?

Now what exactly is authentic to us? There is a saying in Hindi - “Caravaan aate gaye, hindustan banta gaya”. As caravans and ships came and went, they left us their language, their dress, their food, their architecture, art and technology.**

**Language - English. Dress - some say that the saree with the one pallu over the shoulder is influenced by the greek toga as Alexander paid us a visit. Food - gobi manchurian, thanks to the Chinese settlers in Tangra, Kolkata. Architecture and art - Mughal pietra dura, marble edifices, geometric structures. Art - persian miniature paintings. 


Graphic design can be broken down into these 5 components. 1. Typography, 2. Colour, 3. Imagery 4. Illustration 5. Medium (paper/web/mobile)

Each of these present an opportunity to express a certain character for the overall piece personality we are trying to build. Assuming that being Indian is part of the brief - how does one achieve that?

In order to infuse indian-ness into graphic design, one must first try and find the essence of what about it is Indian? Is it its ornamentation? How does one bring in ornamentation into design, without resorting to adding paisleys? 

Going into the detail of how this can be infused in the 5 components of design as mentioned above. 

1. Typography: 

Much like how a fashion designer might start with a piece of fabric, which already has a lot of character - its fluidity, it’s weave, its thickness, a graphic designer starts with the choice of a font. While letters when they come together tell you something explicitly in the words they form, the way the letters are shaped tell you many things implicitly. Observe the shapes of the letters - their edges and their curves. What exactly from the Indian essence are you trying to showcase through type? Is it that it's delicate? Or is it ornamentation? This essence can now be found in various typefaces. Dig further deeper and see how the lines modulate from thin to thick, and have a certain unusual angle, that portrays a boldness, an avant garde edge to the earlier mentioned delicacy and ornamentation. Fonts can be so many thing n s, if one allows themselves to feel - they can be fluid, lyrical, or edgy and bold. Alternately, one may choose to use a font which has the least amount of character - in order for all the other 4 elements (colour, imagery etc) to allow for expression. 

An overt way of saying - this is indian, is to use the devanagari font - but please don't do that - it's cliche. 

2. Colour

Indian colours are not just what you see on trucks. A garish combination of hot pink, bright orange, blue, green, all combined together in a kaleidoscopic clip art mess. My client Tarun Tahiliani is an indophile and all his designs, his shoots are all inspired by Indian art, architecture, and people. In building his identity, we chose beige as the primary colour, as for him that is very Indian. It's the colour of Indian mitti. Botanicals like indigo, madder, turmeric, have been used in dyes for thousands of years in paintings, and textiles. If one looks at miniature paintings, the beautiful ombres of pinks and blues from pastel to nude, much before the english brought them in to suit their pale complexions. So an old faded rose madder is not really an English colour, it is very much Indian. Let's move away from the obvious kitsch choices to depict Indian, and show what is historic, authentic and has depth. All of us don’t love trucks, bollywood and drama, just because we are Indian. I for one, can’t stand bollywood or oversaturated colours, and that doesnt make me any less Indian.