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Jugaad - Design for the real world!
Thanks to the recent demonetisation in our country, the word 'jugaad' has been much in currency for the wrong reasons. Crooks got cracking at their games for beating the system.

Even before the banks opened on 10th November 2016, they had whisked away stacks of new currency, while the hapless Common Man patiently stood in the queues and returned home empty handed. So many other demonitisation tricks emerged, which must have surprised even the experts. These gimmicks are negative examples of India's famed 'Jugaad'.

From childhood I had been vaguely aware of the word 'jugaad'. In North Indian usage, it meant a machine or something put together. Or a short and simple way of getting something done!

Then in the 70s while driving through Punjab and Haryana, I very often saw a strange hybrid vehicle, which was a matter of pride for the owner/driver, a matter of joy for about 20 farmers swinging beer bottles, returning home after a day's hard work. A transistor blasting a bhangra beat completed the picture!

It appeared that the automotive part of a discarded tractor had been linked to a carriage. Pretty soon 4 and 3-wheeler versions of this contraption emerged all over the country. They were popularly known as 'Jugaad' or 'Marutas'. Reasons of popularity: cheap in cost, served to transport people, goods or entire wedding parties in rural India. No driving license, no encounter with RTO, no number plate. Matters of safety and braking were minor irritants!

There was no state regulation or taxation, as no 'neta' wanted to annoy the vote bank! These were the 'desirable' aspects. The dark side: it was a major source of rural pollution. Numerous accidents each day. And police did not book any case, as the Maruta did not come under any Vehicle Act. This is just one example of India's talent for out of the box thinking or bypassing rules or conventions to concoct cheap and fast solutions.

Some studies have been done on this predominantly Indian phenomenon, which is also apparent to a certain extent in all developing economies. The need to achieve the minimum in face of scarcity and stifling rules! Experts have both praised and scoffed at jugaad. They complain that jugaad ignores safety and quality aspects and has little respect for legal or social concerns. 'Indians have the knack of leaving things half done and be satisfied'.

I however, see one very positive spinoff for India vis a vis jugaad. Few months ago when Tim Cook, CEO Apple Corp. visited India, he looked into this very Indian preoccupation. We all know that in USA and some other countries iPhone comes locked. Tim Cook asked his colleagues to take him to one such street technician, who unlocked the phone for just Rs.500/-.

Cook was knocked over by the manner it was achieved. A mega corporation beaten by a street technician! This set him thinking and he announced that he was setting up in Bangalore, an Apple Redesign Centre; to design-down Apple products, thus making them more affordable, without compromising the basics. It would certainly save on material content, too. This could be one of India's core competences: to design affordable and responsible products. Solving complex issues by looking at the essentials!

In the 70s, I randomly picked up a book from Madras Gymkhana Library. Little did I realise that it would very soon become a cult book among designers: 'Design for the Real World' by Victor Papanek. The author claimed that everyday articles were over-engineered. They irresponsibly had seldom-required features and consumed too much of materials.

He and his students dedicated themselves for developing simple designs for the developing world, preferably from local materials and scraps, etc. They gave their design patents free of costs to UNESCO and WHO.

For Africa, they designed a TV set for US $9.00 (1971) and a local radio for an Indonesian tribe for less than US $ 1.00 (1971). This radio used use old aluminium soda cans over which the coil was wound. Source of energy was a candle flame, inside the can. The thermocouple and the ear plugs were mass manufactured in Japan. The local youth assembled the radio sets and decorated them with local beads and shells.

They also built double walled earthen 'refrigerators' for cooling water and storing vegetables. The cooling effect came from jumping a few time on old tyre and tube. India's own innovative earthenware coolers (no electricity required) and cookers manufactured by Mitti Cool, Wankaner, Gujarat (see are worth encouraging. Dr. APJ Kalam was particularly delighted to visit their works.

I am sure that Indian jugaad has a very promising future, when it goes hand in hand with green and socially responsible design. Apple Corp's, Bengaluru Design Centre is one of those promising starts.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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