With growing market uncertainties and intense competition, a key challenge for organisations is to optimise costs without compromising on customer experience. As the fervour of harnessing ‘design thinking’ for strategic advantage and innovation continues, more firms are looking to reinvent themselves by becoming design-focused.
Elephant Design is one such agency that is helping brands leverage the benefits of design. The agency, that started its operations in Pune in 1989, has today spread to Delhi and Singapore with more than 100 people across multi-disciplinary teams.
In conversation with exchange4media, Ashwini Deshpande, Founder Director and Principal Designer, Elephant Design speaks at length about the agency’s journey in the last 25 years, observations on Indian product design, and the way ahead.
How would you describe the journey of Elephant Design in three words?
Pioneering (the business of design), learning (which never ends) and exciting (it keeps us going).
Could you share some milestones in Elephant Design’s journey?
Elephant, as a concept that became real and stayed true to the original vision of creating India’s pioneering multi-disciplinary design consultancy that kept getting bigger as more and more pieces fit in, is a milestone in itself.
Design was not a recognised tool of business differentiation when we started way back in 1989. We have spent years creating awareness about the power of design as a strategic tool. Once India saw liberalised economic policies in the mid-nineties, it became obvious that Indian businesses needed to compete with global products, brands and services in the common marketplace, whether in India or overseas.
That was a turning point for business of design. Design thinking could lead to differentiation, find innovative ways to solve problems or overcome challenges, and all this with an added potential of delighting the consumers.
India’s progress from being a third world country to a developing economy, seen in parallel with global recession in the last decade, gave rise to another set of opportunities. Suddenly, large global businesses woke up to India as a potential market for anything – from shaving razors to insurance policies. Elephant was firmly in place to offer insights on the Indian consumer to these global businesses so that they could orient themselves better for Indian expectations.
So, the journey has been very interesting with milestones almost parallel to the way the Indian corporate world was shaping up. From design being a non-business to design being the only strategic tool of differentiation, Elephant has been a pioneer and remains at the forefront.
With the pioneering experience as a multi-disciplinary design consultancy, practices at Elephant include branding, product design, retail and branded environments. Elephant has presence in India and Singapore and works in a variety of domains, including FMCG, banking, white goods, sports, media, engineering industry, etc.
Indian marketers today are very conscious about their products’ look and design. What are your observations on this?
The defining moment in a brand’s life is when a potential consumer is walking the isles of a modern retail store or standing in front of the counter at the friendly neighbourhood grocery store. It is increasingly becoming apparent to marketers that a great TVC doesn’t do it at this moment, what matters is the packaging and point of sale when it comes to the decision point of opening the wallet.
So the design, features, benefits and looks that communicate the brand persona are very important. They form the toolbox of the marketer to go and sell their goods.
Typically, when does the process of design thinking begin? What are its various stages?
Design thinking is a process that begins by looking at the user for a meaningful and relevant insight that can be converted into a product or a service to fulfil an unmet or latent need. Fifty years ago, Prof Levit told his Harvard Business School students that people don’t want quarter inch drills. They want quarter inch holes. Now, that’s an easy to understand and brilliant starting point. At Elephant, we begin with ‘Discovery’ of a great insight and move on to ‘Defining’ the possibilities, potential and limitations. Design development happens only after the ‘Definition’ reaches a clear and logical scope within the purview of insight. Design thinking is a user-friendly mindset that can be applied to business processes as well.
What will the key area of focus of Elephant Design in the next five years?
It is a very interesting time for us as the world is looking at India for frugal design principles and Elephant has demonstrated how to get more for less for more in more way than one; be it product innovation, building an enhanced retail experience or creating new benchmarks in out-of-box through user-friendly packaging design.
The key focus will be to unlock the potential of our experience in India and apply it in places and situations where years of abundance have become a curse in recessionary times.
We already have good presence in Singapore since the last two years and we are looking at very interesting challenges across South East Asia. We will soon have presence in Europe, where our understanding and experience in emerging markets gives us a unique advantage.