Indianama takes design to Delhi's streets, collaborates with designers to give businesses distinct identities
Design is often an afterthought for most small businesses, but Indianama is working towards giving them a visual identity to enhance their prospects
Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, yes, but it can be repurposed, redrawn and eventually resold, because at the end of the day, it is an exchange between the object and the person who views it.
The founding principle of any marketing exercise is probably similar; the belief that not only can an image be created, but that it can also be altered from time to time. Indianama, a unique design project that began back in 2015, has in its current season brought together 71 designers to work on 71 small shops and businesses with the motive to change their outlook, all through the soft power of design. Indianama 2018 therefore goes to the roots — the streets of Delhi, of neighbourhoods like Mehrauli and Karol Bagh to give small businesses a new lease of life.
While Indianama 2016 focused on India’s history and the 2017 edition invited designers to create posters about tourism, its current edition intends to engage with the streets. “We wanted to go to the grassroots, basically the streets of the city. Design is often an afterthought for most small businesses. If these small businesses have a board and it lists objects and prices that make sense, that is enough for most of them. We wanted to change that perception and help people get noticed. Because to any shop or business, the attention it gets is essential to the eventual business it does,” says Jaynish Shah, the manager of the project.
Each of the designers has been assigned one shop from a neighbourhood in Delhi. Shah says the choice of shops was fairly organic and not pre-planned. “Our team of three people went around Delhi, walking and speaking to shopkeepers. We did not have set types of businesses in mind. But we were aware that some of them would be more challenging than others,” he says. The most difficult part, Shah explains, was where they had to convince the owners of these businesses. “A lot of people did not like change. Nor do a lot of them want to have conversations about financial details or anything personal that makes them uncomfortable. Convincing them to allow us this chance at a makeover of their businesses was the most difficult part,” he adds.
Once the list of shops had been prepared and documented, each was assigned to a designer who would then bring their own sensibility to the project. Naturally, certain types of businesses, like tea and coffee shops, are easier to market and even improvise on as compared to something like a hardware store. “Design is not just a tag, or an information placeholder, it is also often identity. A majority of the small businesses on the streets of Delhi exist without any identity of their own. They are basically generalisations of a business type. We wanted to change that, so even the smallest, meekest of businesses could get that identity and their own sense of place on the street,” Shah says.
Delhi itself is a glorious example of how design and visual currency works to elevate neighbourhoods. At the heart of Delhi’s Hauz Khas village, often considered one of its most culturally affirmative places, has been a gradual exercise in visual language. Most shops, bars and outlets here invest as heavily in the brands they purportedly want to become as in the thing they want to sell. There are similar hubs that are evidence of how effective the language of visuals can be. India has, of course, itself undergone massive change in the way its businesses communicate after globalisation. And the shops chosen by Indianama have now made that long overdue step into the modern era.
But while convincing shopkeepers to allow modern designers to rebrand their place of work is one thing, getting it right is another. “The shops, the businesses that we rebrand stand out in their place, but we can’t overdo things either. The idea was never to revamp a neighbourhood, but basically give a business a visual identity, so it may enhance its prospects. We can’t be too loud. The designers also need to have a conversation with the business owners, because sensitivity towards the work and understanding stakes on both sides is crucial to the project being a success. Then we had to also make sure the installation onsite was as satisfactory as it must have been to work on, inside the designers' studios,” Shah says.
Indianama has so far remodelled 14 shops. Since it is self-funded, Shah says the project will move forward cautiously. As for its impact, he is delighted so far. “A lot of people have come forward with requests, asking us to rebrand their shops. Some of the businesses we worked on have started to draw more attention. We managed to get a whole lane of shops in Karol Bagh, so it is safe to say that this part of the neighbourhood will look decidedly different," he says. From a little kiosk that sells eggs to a hakeem from old Delhi, Indianama’s attempt to bring small businesses into the visual dictionary of the modern world is laudable, and could yet prove decisive to the future of its subjects.
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