“To design is to come up with a better solution for a circumstance within a context.”
That is how India’s leading multi-disciplinary designer Sandeep Sangaru sums up his design philosophy. Born in Shillong, Sandeep was raised in Bhubaneswar where he did most of his schooling and higher education in mechanical engineering. As a child, he used to draw, paint, hand craft objects, build small things, and tinker with daily objects.
“I was outdoors most of the time; I remember spending most of my summer vacations at my family home working on the farm,” Sandeep recollects nostalgically. “Observing traditional non-mechanised farming equipment and techniques, bullock cart rides to the neighbouring villages, trekking off to the beach, all these activities influenced me in some way,” he adds.
All these early influences are distinctly visible in Sandeep’s furniture and craft.
A post graduation in furniture design from NID Ahmedabad sealed the deal. For Sandeep, the journey was like a self-discovery. NID gave him the opportunity to explore and a way to find himself. Subsequently, he was given the opportunity to teach at NID, which he did for a few years. Being on the other side of the table along with his teachers (who had become colleagues), gave him a new perspective.
“These two years gave me the space, time, and opportunity to think and shape my design skills to enable what Sangaru Design Studio is today,” says Sandeep.
His deep understanding of comfort, eclecticism, and individuality are all reflected in every piece that Sangaru Design Studio has to offer. Every item seems to have a story, and you can’t help but wonder what the design process is like. According to Sandeep, there are no set rules in the design process. “Every opportunity comes with its own set of challenges and options,” he says.
“The design process is always evolving—there is always scope to improvise and build on one’s experiences. I use different tools to create a design; it usually starts with sketching and giving a shape / form to the concept of the object. At the same, at the back of my mind, I am figuring out how it will be fabricated.
Once I am sure about the concept, I make a quick scale down mock- up or translate these into virtual models using 3D CAD software. This gives me a fair idea of how it will look. However, the next stage is very crucial in designing a piece of furniture, as it involves making an actual prototype. This could be made using any material. This is then followed by different iterations, refinements and detailing, leading to the final piece.”
All this detailing and effort is the foundation for Sandeep’s “Truss Me” bamboo furniture system that went on to receive a Red Dot Design award for Best of the Best in 2009. Here, the tensile strength of bamboo and its mechanical properties are utilised to create pieces that are lightweight, load bearing and of course uniquely stylish. Ranging from a round seating arrangement to an elegant bookshelf, quirky stools, sofas, and chairs, this one of a kind range of craft furniture has brought bamboo back in style.
“The only reason I choose to study furniture design was that I could build pieces in my backyard, sometimes with the help of a carpenter or a fabricator.”
“When I started my design studio I went to places and met people I never imagined I would work with. This constant exposure to traditional methods made me realise there is so much one can do— as a designer. I could lend a contemporary definition to products placed in an urban context, and in return, empower the artisan with modern tools to facilitate ease of production and achieve higher quality standards. The demand of craft products has declined over the years due to the entry of cheaper industrial products. Today, these artisans often have to make a living out of decorative craft products with a limited market and low returns. The Indian government has been supporting traditional crafts with different promotional schemes where designers are brought in to develop new designs for emerging markets. Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, the full potential of these workshops and projects do no not see the light of day. All these apsects defined the objective to start my business.”
“To design is to come up with a better solution for a circumstance within a context. There are always complex sets of factors acting upon each other within this context. Being multi-disciplinary, I tend to observe and record from different perspectives at the same time. This in turn allows me to simplify the outcome, making it easier to deduct and cancel out factors than add new ones. This, for me, somehow holds good, be it working on developing new ways to design with traditional methods using craft, or using advanced tools when working with the industry. It also helps me when I am teaching design or guiding an artisan to understand design method and even when I am documenting or making films.”
“After graduating, I started working in the movie industry along with my friends from NID in Hyderabad between 1999-2002. We had this common liking for entertainment and movie making but we were a bunch of industrial designers. We defined ourselves as special effects production designers providing end-to-end solutions.
Our studio would get involved right from the concept, storyboarding, designing the sets, and fabricating rigs for camera and lights. Sometimes we would even supervise the filming to achieve a certain effect. As a team, we all had different strengths and likings to pursue; I was keen on photography, so I started to assist a cinematographer to hone up my skills. During this time, working in the industry made me understand the fundamentals and the process of filmmaking hands-on, and this is embedded in my creative gene now.”
Sandeep’s endeavour is to stay true to his company’s vision statement: Combining traditional knowledge and skills in crafts enhanced with design and technology to make objects of daily use invaluable, accessible and enjoyable. When asked about his views on promoting traditional crafts in India, Sandeep had much to say.
Design schools and policy makers need to address this very important issue in design education and the repercussions of scaling up rapidly.
His experiences as a designer and entrepreneur, enhanced by his stint as a teacher at NID, opened his eyes as to just how young design in India is. Still at a nascent stage and with plenty of scope for development. A lot of design schools are coming up in India now but there is a lack of qualified educators.
Design as a profession has gathered momentum in the last few years moving away from the west towards Asia now.
When Sandeep joined NID as a faculty member between 2002-04 he was involved in a couple of interesting projects. One was a book called “Handmade in India”— an encyclopaedia of Indian crafts. This gave him an opportunity to see and experience a wide range of crafts at the source. The second valuable experience was teaching at the Bamboo and Cane Development Institute, Agartala. Here, for the first time, he worked with bamboo along with an artisan. Thereafter, when he started his design studio, craft projects were in the pipeline and he started to enjoy working with crafts. This took him to places and led to interactions with people he could not have imagined working with. He was amazed at how craftsmen made extremely functional products for daily use with basic materials and tools—all by hand.
“Being in a multi-disciplinary environment for almost three years as a student and then two more years as a teacher, allowed me to experiment and explore all possible ventures I could lay my hands on. When I started my design studio I wanted put all these experiences to good use.”
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