‘We used Ashoka Chakra as it is an integral part of our culture’
The man who designed the Queen’s Baton for the Commonwealth Games 2010 is on a new creative trip. This time, he’s blending sports with culture. Michael Foley, who has designed the Airtel Grand Prix trophy for Formula One, tells Anjali Kispotta about the evolving market for product design and his inspiration for the trophy. Foley started his career with Titan Industries and demonstrated his edge over others by designing a range of slim watches in 2002. Based in Bengaluru, stamps of Foley’s creative ideas can be seen all over the city — from the fractal-inspired lighting at the Cubbon Park to the signage of coffee bar chain Café Coffee Day. Foley speaks about creative challenges in the modern world and his enthusiasm to stretch boundaries of aesthetics in public domain.
How did you see the market for product design evolve in India from your early days in Titan?
When I started in 1994, product designing was not very developed. Companies were not much aware of aesthetics of their products. We have come a long way since then in terms of designing sensibility given that now companies are hiring more designers. It cannot be said that we are at the helm of a revolution because for a revolution there needs to be a boom or a trigger, but yeah, we are certainly on the fringes. Corporates have started to understand the importance of the aesthetic aspect of products.
What in your opinion are the specific challenges faced by India’s design industry?
The main challenge is the manufacturing part. We do not have enough manufacturing hubs in India. A lot of times we have to depend on companies outside to get our designs made. Another limitation is that consumer demand and preferences tend to evolve over time. Gradually, corporates are taking interest and initiative in understanding those trends, which is a positive step.
Although we remain one of the most under-designed markets in the world, gradually, there appears to be greater consciousness about the utilitarian aspect of design. Do you see evidence of this change in your work with your clients?
Yes, there is the utilitarian consciousness today. For example, we won a project from Wipro to design the lighting system inside their office. We developed an energy-efficient multi-utility solution using LED lighting. It is an eco-sustainable personal lighting solution for green buildings, which offers flexibility and adaptability and the client happily accepted it. So, there is a change in design consumption too that we see around us.
Which product categories lag behind and can significantly gain from design inputs?
I think the consumer electronics space needs more manufacturing engagement. The IT space, public amenities, consumer products and consumer durables also lag behind in designing aspect. Public space is one area that has umpteen opportunities for product designers, but has not been explored well in India. I personally believe that every design firm would want to give an aesthetic and utilitarian bent to the streetlights, bus stops, the open dustbins, so that they look good and at the same time be functional. There isn’t enough connect between the government and the designers in terms of public amenity projects, I think. Crafts in India are also lagging behind in functional aspect. Today the crafts are generally bought as gifts but I feel we could give them a utilitarian touch.
Is India shaping up as a market for design outsourcing industry? Do we have the creative edge to make significant strides in this direction?
I personally believe that we have enough designing opportunities at home itself. I don’t know about others, but I would certainly like to create products specifically for the Indian market. However, to go back to your question, yeah, there are global firms hiring designers from the country but my area of interest does not lie there. India is a young country and people here feel a sense of pride in making a product that can be called Indian in a holistic sense.
Titan Edge was your step to national recognition, and the Queen’s Baton got you global appreciation. Where can the Airtel Indian Grand Prix trophy take you?
The F1 is a global event so this trophy can give us a global outreach. And since sports connect with the youth, we will also be able to reach out to the younger crowd. Generally, the trophy is not advertised much, it is just presented on the last day of the event. But this time, Airtel has made an all-out attempt to market and advertise the trophy well.
What was the brief given to you by Airtel?
The brief was that the trophy should connect with the Airtel image (which is very youth friendly) and at the same time, it should carry the flavour of India. We have used Airtel red to make the inscriptions on the trophy so that it reflects the brand presence. The design uses a victory procession inscription from old Indian architecture — which is stylised with red enamel filled engraving that envelopes the Airtel Indian Grand Prix trophy — thus creating a strong visual connect with India. We delved into a lot of exploration and iteration to come up with the final product.
The Queen’s Baton was not just aesthetically precise but also a technical marvel. What kind of technological detailing, if at all, can we see in the Airtel Indian Grand Prix trophy?
Formula One is a sport that involves technology, glamour, entertainment and the youth so the idea was to reflect and subtly blend all of these elements. We have used new-age materials like aircraft-grade aluminium and traditional ornamentation. The Ashoka Chakra, the emblem of Indian culture, is embedded at the bottom, which can be seen when the rider raises the trophy. We have given mirror-finished internal surface and a fine matte finish on the outer side. The colours of the Indian flag can be seen in the internal reflections of the mirror.
Last year Qutub Minar was the inspiration for the Grand Prix trophy. What served as inspiration to this one?
Strangely, this time we did not want to pick any architectural subject for the design. However, we used Ashoka Chakra as an inspiration, as we believed it is a very integral part of our culture. It depicts the essence of the country in the best way. Overall, we have tried to carry and convey the Indian impression in a subtle yet effective way.