Design and Development

The twenty-first century has brought with it accelerated change in every sphere of life, dependency on machines and excessive consumption of natural resources in a manner that is no longer sustainable. In the past the crafts sector had been rejected by many as an unviable economic activity for the twenty-first century.


Artisans still make up twenty million of India’s working population. Therefore this sector has to be developed in such a way so as to offer sustainable employment to millions of skilled artisans. Crafts producers cannot be economically viable unless their product is marketable. The product can only be marketable if it is attractive to the consumer, i.e., if the traditional skill is adapted and designed to suit contemporary consumer tastes and needs. Design does not mean making pretty patterns—it lies in matching a technique with a function.


In the field of traditional craft these two aspects of design and development are not always synonymous; design can lead to development, and development should be designed. However in the field of design and development a conflict may arise between function and responsibility. Whose creativity will be expressed—the developer’s, the designer’s or the craftsperson’s? Who is the client—the consumer, who wants an unusual and exciting product at the most competitive price; or the crafts community who needs a market for its products as similar to the traditional one as possible, so that it does not need constant alien design interventions, or is at conflict with the social, aesthetic and cultural roots from which it has grown?

The crafts community has several priorities such as food, clothing, shelter, education, health and economic stability. The craft development sector needs to be sensitive to these very real concerns of the crafts community.

Therefore, craftspeople must be involved in every aspect of design and production and understand the usage of the product they are making. Voluntary agencies or designers must also understand and study the craft, the product and the market they are trying to enter.

Changing Profile of the Craftsperson

In Ancient India, every individual had an implicitly defined role in society, ordained by birth. Craftsmanship was a heritage that evolved over centuries of arduous apprenticeship in chhandomaya (the rules of rhythm, balance, proportion, harmony and skill), controlled and protected by the structure and laws of the guild. In the guild the master craftsman, the raw apprentice and the skilled but uninspired jobsman all had a place and purpose. Today’s craftsperson has to be all things in one, including his/her own entrepreneur.


The craftsperson had the status of an artist. As a member of a society with strict rules and hierarchies, both within the guild and the outside world, the community and its products were protected, and the quality was controlled. Patrons were well known to the artists, customers were close at hand, their lifestyles not too markedly different from the artists’. Whether the craftsperson’s skills provided simple village wares or jewelled artefacts for the temple or sultan, it was a supportive inter-dependency based on a mutual need, understanding and appreciation.

The craftsperson was his/her own designer and the embellishments came only after the shape was perfected to the function. The aesthetic and the practical blended in a natural rather than artificially imposed harmony.

Why Design Inputs Are Needed

Today most craftspeople practising traditional skills are vying with machines, competitive markets, mass-produced objects or consumers’ craze for foreign fashions, and are no longer protected by guilds or the enlightened, hands-on patronage of courts or religious institutions. Crafts communities are increasingly faced with the problems of diminishing orders and the debasement of their craft.

Crafts communities are making products for lifestyles remote from their own, and selling them in alien and highly competitive markets. Their own lives and tastes have suffered major transformations alienating them further from their skills and products. A traditional jooti-maker may still embroider golden peacocks on a pair of shoes, but he himself will probably be wearing pink plastic sandals! Consequently, craft has degenerated today. For instance, the metal diya, a traditional ritual object of worship has been turned into an ash tray that sells on the pavement for just ten rupees.


Design Inputs: from Inside or Outside?

Do craftspeople with centuries of a skilled tradition need outside interventions? In the past no deterioration of crafts has been caused by interventions, however well intentioned, from the outside, from agencies outside the crafts community.

However, tradition must be a springboard not a cage. Craft, if it is to be utility-based and economically viable, cannot be static. Crafts have always responded to market changes, consumer needs, fashion and usage. Today with the distance growing between the producer and the consumer, craft cannot respond to change with the same vitality that existed in the past. It then becomes the role of the designer and product developer to sensitively interpret these changes to craftspeople who are physically removed from their new marketplaces and new clients.


There are professionals with formal art, design and marketing education who have the technical expertise and tools to assist crafts communities in the process of design, innovation, understanding foreign or urban markets and contemporary marketing practices that can protect the interest
of the artisans. Working with craftspeople, the design consultant has to dampen his/her own creative flame in order to light the craftsperson’s fire. He/she can provide a sample design range to inspire craftspeople to do their own further innovation, not just force the artisan into passive replication. The crafts community must be at the centre of the crafts development process and at every step craftspersons must be taught to use their minds and imagination as well as their hands.

A Fridge That Uses No Electricity

Mansukbhai Prajapati, a potter living in Wankaner, Gujarat, has invented a refrigerator called ‘Mitticool’. Here is how he made it: Mansukhbhai mixed several kinds of mud in a churner. Once the mud was mixed, the slush was filtered and then made to dry. Then the raw material i.e. chunks of dried clay were simply modelled in a vertical shape and baked in the furnace.


The upper part of the ‘Mitticool’ can store about 20 litres of water, while the bottom cabinet has a separate space for storing fruits, vegetables and milk. This brown fridge has an inlet for water, which is circulated through internal piping that keeps the temperature cool. This keeps vegetable and fruit fresh for around five days, while milk can be preserved for three days. His invention is unique, inexpensive and emits no Cholro Fluro Carbon (CFC)!

Young INTACH, Vol. 6., No. 3,

July–September 2009

There is a need to see product design and marketing as the catalyst and entry point for integrated development in the crafts sector. There is a growing demand for these services from craftspeople all over the country, who wish to learn more about their new clients and customers, of new trends so that they can play a significant role in contemporary life.

Many well-meaning, income-generating projects by by the government and NGOs suffer because they have not taken into account the need for design and development of crafts products and the well being of the community in a holistic and integrated manner.

Crafts and Income Generation Schemes

Many government and non-governmental agencies
have discovered that traditional crafts can be a vehicle for income generation. Such schemes have not always been accompanied by sensitivity to the needs of the craftsman, consumer, or an analysis of the market.

As the tourist and export demand for Indian crafts have grown, middlemen and traders, many of them exploitative, have begun craft production and sale. This has resulted in the loss and disappearance of
many of the more intricate and unusual art forms and skills. Traders and middlemen demand quick production
of cheap objects so that their margins of profit are large without regard for how this may affect the craft tradition and the community.

A Tussar Story

Good ideas and good intentions alone are not enough to ensure the desired results. Some years ago a funding agency commissioned a talented young designer to do a design project for an NGO working with tussar weavers. She developed a stunning range of high-fashion Western garments which were showcased at a high-profile exhibition in Delhi.

But the producer group—tribal women who were part of a Gandhian Ashram in rural Bihar—were unable to fulfil the orders as they didn’t have the requisite tailoring skills and the whole investment of over four lakh rupees turned into a disaster.

The Ashram women continued to participate in melas and bazaars trying to discount-sale the stock piles of unsold samples, all now out-of-date, crumpled and shop-soiled, and finally the programme folded up altogether.

Techniques, skills, motifs and usages distinctive to particular communities or areas have been merged in the production of new items today. Each region of India once had its unique and authentic design whether in the textiles or the pottery it produced. In order to create products for an international market, traders often force crafts communities to amalgamate designs that are known to be popular in another state and region. Patchwork and Ikat have been introduced into places where the skill never existed.

India produced a wide range of utilitarian crafts for everyday use in the home. This sector has also suffered as artisans are forced to produce more eye-catching, ornamental products for customers outside their own community.


The opposite is also true. Inexpensive skirts and dresses sold on the streets and at melas under the generic brand name of ‘mirror-work’ and ‘Kutchi bharat’ bear little relation to the extraordinary embroideries various Kutchi communities make for themselves, or their potential customers. This is not just aesthetic disaster, but bad economics as well. Thousands of women with high-level skills and earning power are reduced to breaking stones for a living, while the antique pieces their grandmothers made sell in city boutiques for a fortune.


At a Crafts Council of India seminar on crafts in 1991, Reema Nanavaty recalled the inception of SEWA’s project in drought-ridden Banaskantha: “But even before water, the major problem of the women was work. Whenever you talk to the women, the first thing they ask about is work. Everything else is secondary.” Today the old embroideries they were selling off their backs are the design inspiration for contemporary garments that earn the craftswomen incomes of Screenshot from 2015-02-10 12:21:241000 to Screenshot from 2015-02-10 12:21:241200 a month.

People often ask why Indian craftspeople don’t make the same beautiful things they used to? The reason for this is craftspeople cannot afford to keep and preserve samples and so have never seen what their forefathers used to make. Study, documentation and research of the crafts, the creation of Design Centres, the development of a craft data bank are what are needed for craftspeople to delve into their past to draw inspiration for the future. The motifs and usage of a craft tradition cannot and should not remain static. But changing them requires knowledge, sensitivity and care. The NID students’ documentation of crafts programmes and the documentation exercises of this course can be an invaluable reference source. An essential requirement for craft development is that motifs, designs and techniques be documented and are accessible.


What the artisans have is only in their minds and fingertips. If an artisan gets a large order to paint Mickey Mouse on hundreds of papier-mâché boxes instead of a Mughal rose, eventually the memory of the rose will fade away. A craftsperson does not have the confidence to say ‘no’ to a trader or middleman. He desperately needs the order because the livelihood of his family depends on it.

Therefore, the role and responsibility of the NGO or craft developer should be to enable crafts communities to study their own heritage—to access museum collections and reference books and sensitively interpret to the craftsperson his own tradition. This is our responsibility.


Project in Madhubani

Mithila in North Bihar—one of the poorest, most backward parts of India—is an example of changing the function, changing the design, and finding an appropriate though radically different usage for a traditional craft through the process of documenting its motif tradition of Madhubani painting.

Discovered in the 1960s, the votive paintings of Mithila were transferred from village walls to handmade paper, and became an instant success. The paintings rapidly became popular in contemporary urban Indian homes. Village women of all levels of skill and artistry were persuaded by eager traders and exporters to abandon farming and to take up the painting brush and mass-produce Madhubani paintings on paper.

Inevitably there was a surfeit, and the market was flooded with Madhubani paintings of every size and colour. By the 1980s, twenty years later, Madhubani painting as a marketable commodity was dead. Women painters who had tasted economic independence through the sale of their paper paintings, did not know what to do. New ways of tapping this creative source needed to be found. The decorative motifs, the floral borders, the peacocks and parrots, the interlocking stars and circles that embellished their artwork provided a rich directory of design motifs and decorative elements that could be used on products of daily usage and wear. They painted on sarees, dupattas, soft furnishings, and tried to support their craft in imaginative ways.

– Pupul Jayakar

The Earthen Drum

Purpose of Crafts Development

The ultimate objective is the all-round development and self-sufficiency of the craftsperson.

  • The development process must be matched with the existing skill levels of the target crafts group.
  • The designer must work with one or more master craftspersons to ensure quality of production.
  • Successive sampling workshops over the years must be organised to gradually upgrade skills and design sensibilities in the community.


In the Craft Centre project in Ranthambhore, Rajasthan (see page 112), the women who started working were almost unskilled—their hands more used to wielding the scythe than the needle. The first patchwork products were made up of vivid and unusual combinations of colours and prints that disguised the crudity of stitchery and simplicity of design. These simple products sold well and gradually the women have been trained to improve their skills, create finer work and develop new products.

NID Problem-solving Method

A community of weavers in South India experienced great suffering when their traditional skills had to compete with mill-made mass-produced textiles. Additional problems arose because their equipment and technology was dependent on outdoor spaces. This meant that the weavers were idle during the long season of monsoon rain.

The design solutions identified for this community was one of product diversification to reach new markets, the revival of traditional design in new applications. Secondly, they had to redesign tools, implements, workplaces and production techniques so as to move the looms for weaving indoors and thus facilitate year-round activity.

Effective Design and Development Inputs

Creating a simple but effective design, using a small budget and limited resources, is an exciting test of a designer’s skill. Seeing the growth and confidence of a newly emerging crafts community successfully selling products they have made themselves for the first time, using skills they never knew they had, is even more exciting.


These are the main principles for crafts development:

1. To make the product competitive in price, aesthetics, and function

2. To so empower and train the craftsperson that he/she becomes independent

3. To provide ideas and stimuli for creativity and innovative product design by the crafts community

4. To explain the rationale behind items developed and guidelines laid down by market forces

5. To develop a product range that incorporates the different skill levels of all members of the group

6. To keep the product usage and price applicable to the widest possible market and consumer

7. To harmoniously incorporate traditional motifs, techniques and shapes into the design of new products

8. To ensure the development of aesthetic sensibilities so that craft designs no longer mimic or remain static, but constantly evolve by mingling tradition with innovation.

SEWA, Lucknow

The design intervention from outside the community was by trained designers working with the community. Their inputs were as follows:

  • Documentation and revival of traditional stitches, embroidery motifs and tailoring techniques, developing a contemporary cut of a kurta, and introduction of sizing and application of a new embroidery buta.
  • Skill upgradation of craftpersons of this community.
  • Introduction of new kinds of raw material (ranging from kota to tussar)
  • Addressing aspects of marketing like costing, quality control and production planning—and an alternative marketing and promotional strategy that would enable a small NGO to gain complete self-sufficiency.


Quality Control and Market Forces

Craftspeople are increasingly the marginalised and forgotten people—trapped between their past and their future. Investment in research and development, raw material, credit and infrastructural development that is automatically given to any other sector of the economy and industry, is not always available to them.

Crafts-making, especially by rural or tribal people, are often dismissed as outdated, with only ornamental and, hence, short-term use. Often, it is not really the look of the product that causes the customer to reject it in favour of the assembly-line, industrial alternative, but the quality of the materials used—a factor beyond the craftsperson’s control. Colourfast threads, rust-proof hinges and buckles, seasoned leather, fabric that does not shrink, are not available in rural markets for the crafts community to use in production. There is an urgent need to address this problem and provide infrastructural facilities, basic raw materials and quality goods. Otherwise, one day, India may have no crafts left at all.

It is equally important for designers to keep in mind some salient features of change in the tastes and requirements of consumers, especially in the export market.

1. The generally high price of handcrafted goods is sometimes an obstacle to their sale. Items in various price-brackets should be designed to secure maximum sales. The effort should be to get the best unit prices for handmade products.

2. Excessively ornamented surface decoration without structural strength is unsatisfactory. Though there is always a small demand for fine decorative pieces, especially antique reproductions, a contemporary consumer would prefer less elaborate patterns and simpler forms.

3. The contemporary consumer is not often either sensitive or responsive to religious themes and symbols that usually dominate traditional craft design. The consumer wants beauty as a supplement to utility; hence the increasing demand for good-looking, well-designed functional items.

4. There is today much less insistence on the use of expensive materials. Thus, well-styled imitation jewellery often replaces pure gold and silver ones. At the same time there is a growing interest in natural materials such as clay, grass, stone, wood, and leather, and handicrafts made from these should be in great demand.

5. Modern designs, in some cases, are preferred by discerning consumers; this would also provide encouragement to designers and crafts communities.



An Integrated Approach to Craft Development

Design and product development are an essential input for the survival and economic empowerment of craftspeople. Craftsmanship is a form of communication—one person’s way of interpreting the needs of another and transmuting creative impulse and skill into fulfilling that need. This communication cannot succeed if rural Indian craftspeople are not taught the language of today’s contemporary urban consumer. Once learnt, however, the language of good design can help them to re-design the development, not just of their craft, but of their lives as well.

As Rabindranath Tagore has reminded us, “The mind is no less valuable than cotton thread”.




1. Develop an integrated plan to raise the standard of living of a particular crafts community in your area.

2. Why are design and development so important for the survival of the crafts sector?

3. Develop a strategy to promote craft products for the growing ‘Bollywood’ industry.

4. Enterprising entrepreneurs are reaching out to global markets through innovations. For example, three shops in Chennai supply Bharatanatyam dance accessories to the growing number of dancers around the world. As an entrepreneur of a craft production and marketing unit, outline your dream project.

5. Research ‘Needs and Requirements of Contemporary Life’. How can crafts products be designed and marketed to meet those requirements?




National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum

Established in 1972 in New Delhi’s main exhibition ground, Pragati Maidan, the village compex in popularly known as Crafts Museum. The Museum is a homage to the artists and craftspersons who have kept alive the artistic traditions of India through the centuries. The small-scale replicas of village houses from different parts of the country, the display galleries of textiles, masks, etc. and the crafts demonstration area are some of the salient features of this muesum.http://www.nationalcraftsmuseum.nic.in



Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art

This museum, named after a great educationist, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, was set up in 1937 within the university complex in Kolkata and its focus is on the crafts of the State of West Bengal through the ages. Apart from art objects from the past, the museum also holds an exemplary collection of craft items, some of which are still produced and used in Bengal. The collection of craft products displayed consists of toys and dolls made in West Bengal. Along the walls are painted scrolls, Patachitra, once used by story-tellers. There are some samples of textiles for which West Bengal and Bangladesh are famous.

Calico Museum of Textiles


This is one of India’s finest specialised museums. It was founded in Ahmedabad in 1949 by Gira Sarabhai who initiated the collection of rare, historical and exquisite fabrics from different parts of India. The State of Gujarat, with Ahmedabad as the capital, has been a major area for textile production.


Salar Jung Museum

In the mid-nineteenth century the Nizam of Hyderabad appointed a prime minister to whom was given the title of Salar Jung. Salar Jung’s son, Salar Jung II, and grandson Salar Jung III, were also selected as prime ministers by later rulers. It was these three men who contributed to what is now called the Salar Jung Collection in this museum in Hyderabad. In 1958 the collection was donated to the Government of India and in 1968 the museum was transferred to its present building. The museum is famous for its European art collection and Indian art selection of great variety and quality. There are excellent collections of jade, weapons, textiles and metalware, which are significant as they provide a glimpse of post-Mughal court life and are suggestive of the grandeur and wealth of the rulers.



Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum

The museum in Pune contains the collection of a dedicated lover of Indian art, the late Dinkar Kelkar. He spent 60 untiring years travelling and purchasing objects from the remotest villages and towns of India. Kelkar’s passion and sense of humour are reflected in every item of the collection, and his contribution to the study and preservation of art has already become a legend.

The Kelkar museum and its collection of about 21,000 objects focus on the art of everyday life in India—pots, lamps, containers, nutcrackers, pen-stands, and such objects that were found in the homes of the village landlord, farmer, merchant and shopkeeper.

There are a variety of things made out of wood, from carved doors to toys. There is a range of metalware—from locks, to ink pots, ritual bowls, hookah stands, nutcrackers and lamps.

There is an assortment of oil lamps in a variety of materials from clay to brass, each with its own form and shape. Lamps in India can be broadly divided into two categories—those used for ritual purposes–arati for ‘worship with light’ and those used purely functionally, to provide illumination in the home. The lamps are usually small open containers, to hold oil or ghee and the wick made from rolled cotton. Sacred emblems like the peacock, the goddess Lakshmi, elephants and birds are most commonly used for decoration. There are hanging lamps suspended on heavy, ornate brass chains, and standing lamps used in the temple and the home on view at this museum.


Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya

Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Madhya Pradesh, one of India’s largest states, has many regions still inhabited by tribes and it is only recently that due honour and importance have been given to folk and tribal art forms with the establishment of this museum of anthropology in Bhopal. Here in a complex of many acres are tribal houses from every part of the country representing the different tribes which their members themselves have built. There is a covered museum with samples of tribal homes with everyday household objects. The hand-crafted objects range from bronzes, terracottas, toys to ritual objects. The art of everyday life in India, as it is even today, is especially interesting, for there is a freshness and spontaneity about it that anyone can enjoy.




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