This year's DXD Roundtable gathers to discuss the state of design competitions in India.

Design competitions are democratic calls to action that recenter designs and decentre designers. While '“ideas” competitions, often promoted by patrons, fraternal organisation or academic institutions, do much in breaking new theoretical ground and furthering discourse, it is the promise of actualisation of a project through competition that truly energises design practices. Organised by clients/ promoters for commissioning design services, they can range from being a contest of two, like that between Brunelleschi and Ghiberti for the famed Florentine Duomo in 1418, to millions like the open design competition, held in 2010, for the Indian Rupee symbol won by Udaya Kumar. In many cases, both the successful and the unsuccessful designs have been inflexion points in the history of design and the competitions themselves part of its lore.

Arguably, designers inherently compete in practice and admittedly, too often on costs of services rendered. Design competitions, however, differ in as much as they are a simultaneous, comparative, evaluation of design proposals, performing to specific predeclared parameters or a brief, sought from more than one designer. The culture of jury-reviewed, design competitions for specific commissions appears more robust in the domains of habitat design and less so in the domains of product/industrial, graphic/communication and apparel/textile design. However, from a showcase for emerging talents to contests for visual identities, and from one calling for participation by invitation only, or participation through pre-qualifications, to open global calls for designs, all design fields hosts such “professional jousts” in other formats.

Question 1: “What are the avatars of design competitions and their relevance to various domains of design practice?”

Most would agree that competitions are “healthy” for design practice. So, like any good tonic, are eulogised by practitioners but very often leave a bitter aftertaste! The benefits of a well-conducted design competition are many. To begin with, they empower clients (rarely designers themselves) by giving them the power of choice. Competitions can potentially disrupt the status quo both in terms of challenging the preeminence of well-established practices as well as the relevance of existing theory. For domains constantly seeking innovation, the design competition is an elixir: reviving, rejuvenating and redirecting. 

Question 2: “What is the significance and contribution of design competitions to the discourse, maturity and trajectory of the various design domains in India?"

Equally, as contests go, design competitions rely very much on the competence, enthusiasm and ethics of the participants, as much as the expertise, wisdom and integrity of their juries and most importantly, the clarity, maturity and propriety of their commissioners, for their success. These preconditions, subject as they are to “human” infirmities, often elude design competitions, embroiling them in unseemly controversy and, regularly, lead to their unfortunate demise. India has seen regular government and private commissions handed out through open and closed competitions but also through a growing, and perhaps misplaced, emphasis on fee bids accompanying the designs themselves.

Controversies have abounded in the past and continue to riddle design competitions. Growing presence of online competitions today that seek global response has enlarged the field and its scope. With greater visibility, and more diverse participation, comes the need for more ethical participation, transparent adjudication and impartial conduct of the design competition.

Question 3: “What has been the impact and manner of the conduct, good and bad, of design competitions in India? What would improve it?”

About D X D Roundtable: The Roundtable component of Design X Design involves an open forum based focused sharing of ideas, experiences and opinions about burning issues concerning design, irrespective of form and scale. 

At DXD Roundtable-1, future of design based creative communities in India was deliberated upon under the broad theme titled 'WHITHER DESIGN?' while at DXD Roundtable-2, the focus was on 'DESIGNLOK PAL’: management of design based creative communities in India'. The subject of discussion at the DXD Roundtable-3 was 'DESIGN PORIBORTAN': design as a domain & an agent of change in India. The DXD Roundtable-4, ‘DESIGN NARA YA MADA’, took up for discussion gender and design in India. DxD Roundtable-5 titled 'DESIGNER SARKAR': the design of governance and the governance of design, explored the linkages between design and governance. Roundtable-6 ‘DESI DESIGN’: Making in India, deliberated over the make in India initiative from the perspective of Design in India. Roundtable-7 ‘GLOBAL HULCHUL’ introspected on the meaning and the impact of the apparent turmoil on the disciplines, practice and profession of design. Last years’ D X D Roundtable ‘AI KI KAYA’ : Beyond Intelligence, Yours Artificially! discussed the Artificial Intelligence Revolution, its significance to and the repercussions on Indian Design.

About Design X Design: Design in its many manifestations forms an integral part of every culture. Civilizations evolve and attain their full potential because of it. Design based creative communities in India are witness to a fascinating churning, necessitating a search for a vision, that may inform their evolution beyond - spanning education, profession and the industry. Thus, involving exposes, roundtables, exhibitions etc. Design X Design is a step in that direction.

The energy behind the design of a pin or a city being the same, this joint initiative of Alliance Francaise de Delhi and Studio IF is also geared towards raising levels of appreciation within, and nurturing connections across, various creative communities – architecture, urban/ landscape/ interior design, product/ industrial design, textile/ fashion design, graphic/ communication design etc. Local and global in outlook, it is directed at the initiated and the uninitiated alike.