Posts Tagged ‘john heskett’

I stand on the shoulders of giants

On the first day of 2019, instead of looking back over just the past 12 months, I am going to look back ten years. There’s an African proverb which says if you don’t know where you’re coming from, then you don’t know where you’re going.

The photograph above was taken towards the end of 2009, at a design event in New Delhi, India. Its the only one I have, so I’m using it here though its rather unclear and blurry. I am lucky to be standing between two giants in thinking about design, both of whom were my teachers, one each, in each graduate school of design I attended on two continents, in two different centuries.

On the left, grinning through his beard, is the late MP Ranjan of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, who was a legend in his own time.

The system after all, remained at the heart of Ranjan’s design philosophy. People, processes, relationships and the environment unified into an ecology within which every design solution had to exist in harmony; there could be no product without a paradigm, and no concept without a context.

On my right, is the late John Heskett, author of the book Industrial Design, and teacher of planning for design in a multidisciplinary way.

Communicating clearly the value of design that designers can contribute to any organization is a continuous challenge. Understanding economic theory as it shapes business attitudes and conversely, how design can shape economic value, can be a valuable means of integrating design into business thinking.

As I reflect upon my own work, in thinking and writing about design, as well my design practice, I can see how each of these forward looking thinkers and teachers shaped my approach and methodology for problem solving in conditions of uncertainty and adversity.

Ranjan’s hands on systems approach to design blends well with John’s lenses of economics and business, particularly strategy and policy, together offer a powerful framework for undertanding the complex adaptive systems within which interventions and innovations are intended to be introduced.

Heskett once said, in class, that an invention wasn’t an innovation until it was adopted by the end users, thus gaining the critical mass necessary for transformation, an inherent quality of innovation. While Ranjan never failed to remind us of the people involved – in both creating new design solutions, and embracing them – when we undertook to intervene.

John taught me Design Policy and the impact of Market Forces on Design Planning. Ranjan introduced the fundamental methodology of the design process and systems thinking.

If I am, today, finally comfortable with labeling what it is I do as design, it is because of having had both of them in my life.

May they rest in peace.

Tecno and Nokia: The tale of two brands

Chinese mobile maker’s original brand strategy succeeds in Africa: Transsion’s Tecno

This year, Nokia got shoved out of the top 10 most admired brands in Africa list, not bad for a company that had lost its way in emerging markets 7 or 8 years ago. As an old (in all senses of the word) Nokia fangirl, here are some of my favourite posts from the heyday of following Jan Chipchase around Africa vicariously through his blog. These days, I tramp my own paths in Africa.

Luthuli Avenue, Nairobi, Kenya, July 2012 [Photo Credit: Niti Bhan]

What’s interesting about this list is Tecno, a mobile phone brand that’s unknown outside of Africa. Transsion Holdings, the Chinese manufacturer that owns this brand has a clear strategy and focus. They own Itel and Infinix brands of phone in addition to the Tecno brand and focus only on the African consumer market. You’ll note Itel is listed at number 16 in the chart above.

According to a report released by market analysis company Canalys, Tecno, iTel and Infinix, which are all sub-brands of Transsion, overtook Samsung with a 38 percent market share in the first quarter, compared with a 23 percent share for Samsung. Via

Rather than the old Nokia strategy of a product aimed at every price segment whilst keeping hold of the mother brand, Transsion has broken branding rules by deploying three brands each with their own persona – Itel for example is very popular for its featurephones among border market traders in Kenya and Uganda due to its week long battery life. Few are aware of Transsion itself. Until its time to add up the numbers.

This brand and design driven original manufacturing strategy reminds me of the work Prof. John Heskett had done in the Pearl River Delta before his untimely death.

John, posing for me when we met in Singapore, back in 2009

This slide captures the essence of his teaching. I only have my class notes.

Transsion’s focus, rise, and brand strategy are all hints of his influence, either directly or indirectly in their approach and work. I’m very glad to be reminded of him today, and I recognize that I will be back writing on more of his work in the very near future.

On the relationship between economics and design

This is an extract from the Introduction to John Heskett’s seminal paper, “Creating Economic Value by Design


The work of Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate in Economics in 1978, is a rare exception of design being considered as a factor in economic theory. His starting point was acknowledging that the world we inhabit is increasingly artificial, created by human beings. For Simon (1981), design was not restricted to making material artefacts, but was a fundamental professional competence extending to policy-making and practices of many kinds and on many levels:

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state. Design, so construed, is the core of all professional training; it is the principal mark that distinguishes the professions from the sciences. (p.129)

Implicit in Simon’s reasoning is an emphasis on design as a thought-process underpinning all kinds of professional activities; yet the varied skills through which design is manifested are not discussed. He did indicate, however, why design is so rarely considered in economic theory. Economics, he stated, works on three levels, those of the individual; the market; and the entire economy (p. 31). The centre of interest in traditional economics, however, is markets and not individuals or businesses (p. 37). A serious problem is thereby raised at the outset: two important considerations relating to design—how goods and services are developed for the market place and how they are used—receive scant attention.


I was lucky enough to both work with him as a colleague as well as attend his classes in Design Policy and Design Planning & Market Forces as his student. I’ve been diving into my notes and his lectures of late as I wrestle with my theorizing on what I’ve been calling Biashara Economics, whose earliest avatar was the prepaid economy project of 2008/9.