Indian Democratic Design: a new mantra for developers

Everybody has one book in them, or so the saying goes.

We also know that many tech industry CEOs will at some stage in their career lay down a tome of some note. Bill Gates famously wrote The Road Ahead, but Intel’s Andy Grove surely set the bar for tech industry writing excellence with his Only The Paranoid Survive.

What we find less often is organisations coming forward with a book written ‘from the corporate voice’ of the entire company… that would normally demand a leap forward in terms of democracy if no single voice is called out as the author.

This egalitarianism is perhaps almost precisely what has driven Freshworks to release a new book called ‘Indian Democratic Design’.

The book articulates the emerging democratic design movement in India based on a set of goods and services design principles that gravitate around simplicity, self-reliance, scale, craftsmanship and affordability.

The company says that Democratic Design is derived from India’s cultural history, which is rooted in the world’s largest democracy.

This egalitarian design concept is thought to have been started by Phillipe Starck (and then also championed by IKEA) and is said to result in products built for the common masses, versus the elite few.

Core end-user focus

Freshworks has noted that India’s product and service ecosystem is embracing this end-user focused approach as design and product development.

The Indian Democratic Design book itself showcases democratic design principles and the Indian companies that have embraced them.

Marcus Engman, former head of design at IKEA spoke at the book launch about how democratic design principles at IKEA complement Indian Democratic Design and how both reinforce the viability and sustainability of building useful and affordable products that can scale to the masses.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise to me to see that Indian designers and engineers share the same ideals we had at IKEA. I am proud to be associated with Indian Democratic Design and this emerging movement. We have the same source of inspiration: our passionate commitment and research into the everyday life of many people — how they live, work and play,” said Engman.

The book details the five pillars of simplicity, self-reliance, scalability, craftsmanship and affordability:

  1. Simplicity – Democratically designed products are approachable, easy-to-use and self-explanatory. Good design brings together form and function to solve problems in the simplest way possible.
  2. Self-reliance – Global products must be easy to deploy, adopt, and maintain with minimal assistance to empower as many users as possible.
  3. Scalability – Democratically designed products are designed with a large number of users in mind and, therefore, must work for businesses of all sizes.
  4. Craftsmanship – Global markets and customers expect the best possible product and high-quality experiences crafted to perfection.
  5. Affordability – Central to the idea of democratic design is affordability. Making scalable products available to everyone but also passing on the benefits of economies of scale to the end-user.

CEO and founder of Freshworks Girish Marthrubootham says that he has discovered that these principles are deeply rooted in Indian culture. He notes that they extend to businesses of all types that are building products designed for the needs of  all end users.

“Be it the simplicity of yoga, the self-reliance of our Swadeshi movement, the scale of the Indian elections that process 600 million voters from the southernmost seashore to the northernmost mountain top, the craftsmanship displayed by our artists who continue our ancient shipbuilding traditions or the ingenuity of our engineers who’s Chandrayaan-2 rocket shot to the  moon for the cost of a Hollywood movie, India is pushing the boundaries of what is possible.” said Mathrubootham.

‘Indian Democratic Design’ is available as a free download.

A mantra for developers?

The stripped back to functional simplicity movement is surely a good lesson for developers, especially when looking to build monolithic enterprise-scale applications that might need to be used by wide groups of people. Democracy in design means that users of all types with different skillsets might be able to use and interact with complex apps and data services.


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