Frederick Noronha (FN) on Wed, 19 Jan 2005 14:56:42 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Design and People... design to improve people's lives

Making a difference: Outlook's weekly profile of people who work under wraps, 
beyond the laudatory limelight.

Sethu and Suku Dass
The Visual Metaphor Of Dissent

And you thought design was the preoccupation of the elite? Ask the Dass 

Cloistered in their ivory towers, designers often grow insular  to the 
concerns of the masses. Sethu and Suku Dass, sons of Kerala's noted 
political cartoonist Yesudasan, were irked by design buckling under its own 
dead weight of elitism and big money.   They believe creativity can make its 
own contribution to the lives of the ordinary people. Drawing upon their long 
voluntary stint with non-profit organisations and movements, the brothers were 
keen to bring design out from the circle of the affluent into the realm of the 

They try to identify the design needs of people disadvantaged by war, 
disability, political and environmental conditions. "But people aren't 
comfortable with the idea of free design."

Born of this urge in '03 was Design & People (D&P), a non-profit organisation 
of over 40 graphic, industrial and architectural designers, who work 
voluntarily for individuals and organisations--mostly for free--to identify the 
design needs of people disadvantaged by war, disability, political and 
environmental conditions and improve their lives by catalysing design 
theories, practices and solutions.

"Design doesn't exist in the better part of India," explains Sethu. "Our aim is 
to turn designers into activists, get them out of their air-conditioned cabins, 
take design to the people on the road and change the way they perceive 
designers." That Sethu, 36, is armed with a fine arts degree, while Suku, 33, 
is a qualified architect has certainly helped them in their crusade. But the 
real driving force is their conviction.

As a student, Sethu had bowed out of the Industrial Design Centre at iit Mumbai 
when he couldn't reconcile with peers whose sole ambition was to make money. 
Later, moved by the plight of the Tibetans, he founded the Friends of 
Tibet--India (FoT) in '99 and has since presided over its growth. Suku has been 
no less passionate. A keen artist and a practising architect, he has 
successfully balanced his exacting job with the responsibilities at D&P and 

For many, D&P spells an unconventional concept. "People aren't comfortable with 
the idea of free design," Sethu says with a smile. "They doubt anything that is 
available for free." Yet, there's no dearth of organisations--stretched either 
for funds or know-how--approaching D&P with varied requirements ranging from 
the design of websites, logos, stationery, badges, posters, brochures, banners, 
bookmarks, T-shirts, books, reports and campaigns to buildings and campuses.

Some of D&P's beneficiaries include Pratyasha Cancer Children's Welfare 
Society, a trust named Enlightenment and Development of Vulnerable and Outraged 
Rural Masses, FoT, Greenpeace India, and Buddha Smiles Education Movement 
(whose alternative primary school project for the underprivileged in Vellore 
district is being supported by D&P through voluntary architectural services). 
D&P hosts and maintains the websites of organisations like Food Safety 
Solutions International or Society First, helping them to reach out to people.

While D&P contributed to the likes of Plachimada's anti-cola and Kochi's 'Save 
Periyar' campaigns, it spearheaded some of its own, promoting neem plantation 
and condemning plastic. Such is the commitment of the brothers to their cause 
that they walked out of a project on discovering that it was part-aided by an 
MNC they'd castigated for its ecological wrongdoings.

D&P also holds film and documentary screenings, discussions and citizen 
get-togethers for various causes. "When foreign designers visiting India 
contact us, we invite them to hold public workshops on alternative 
technologies," reveals Sethu, citing those held recently by Canadian architect 
Elke Cole and German designer Sandy Kaltenborn.

D&P designs, manufactures and markets eco-friendly scribble pads, braided cane 
chairs, audio-visual CDs of expert lectures and a collection of topical 
writings named Creative Resistance to generate funds for various organisations 
as well as for itself. With initiatives like relief concerts and rebuilding 
plans for tsunami-stricken villages, D&P seems increasingly keen on a larger 
role for itself.Contact D&P at: M-10/31, Changampuzha Nagar, Kochi--682033. 
Tel: 9388465953/9847044248 Website: ---Harsh 

  M I S S I O N   I N   B R I E F

For the last eight years, both of us worked for various non-profit 
organisations and movements in India on a voluntary basis. And it was a great 
experience for us to work for those organisations and people with less money 
and training, but a great vision. We are proud of working with them at every 
stage. We neither had an official name nor existed in the virtual world untill 
we decided to take the shape of an 'organisation' in the year 2002, in order to 
reach the maximum people. We named the organisation 'Design & People'. A 
Website was launched. Today, we are a network of hundreds of creative 
professionals working from various parts of India with years of experience in 
architecture, graphic design, illustration, cartooning, info-graphics, web 
design, print publishing, and implementation. Our Mission: voluntary design for 
people in need.

O b j e c t i v e s:
1. To work voluntarily for people and organisations in need 2. To work in 
association with humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations in 
India to identify the design needs to find possible solutions and develop a 
theory and practice 3. To use our skills and experience to improve the lives of 
people disadvantaged by war, disability, environmental and political conditions 
etc 4. To unite and encourage creative professionals to participate in social 
and humanitarian projects

Visit our Gallery section to know 'Design & People' better. Contact us if you 
require our service. We shall work together.

Sethu Das & Suku Dass
(Co-founders, Design & People)

s u p p o r t @ d e s i g n a n d p e o p l e. o r g

Frederick Noronha (FN)                    Nr Convent Saligao 403511 GoaIndia
Freelance Journalist                      P: 832-2409490 M: 9822122436             
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