Field Notes:
Kyoorius in India

Date: 9 Oct 2020
Location: Mumbai & Pune, India
By: Felix Ng (Anonymous)
On my first trip to the world’s second-most populous country, I learned about how staying small can be beautiful. Here is the story.

Growing up, some of my closest friends in school were of Indian descent, and the neighbourhood I grew up in was Singapore’s Little India. The culture, food, music, and language always seemed fascinating. Naturally, I was ecstatic when Rajesh Kejriwal, the founder of Kyoorius sent an invitation to visit Mumbai as a jury member for their 2014 Design Awards.

Upon arriving in Mumbai, I met up with the organisers and rest of the jury team which included Alok Nanda, Anthony Lopez, Brendan McCormick, Ram Sinam and Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks who was the foreman. We then drove from Mumbai to Pune, where the judging would be held.

The drive took 4 hours, with a pit stop at a bus terminal which had a local market. Although we were curious, the organisers discouraged us from having any street food there. They were worried that we might not be accustomed to it and suffer from indigestion or worse, food poisoning. This tough love extended to the meals we had upon arriving at the university in Pune, where we would stay for the next three days, and also where the judging was held. All meals were catered for at the on-site canteen and were either western or local.

The first day of judging passed smoothly, where we trimmed the 450+ entries to a shortlist of fewer than 100. On the second day of judging, the jury had enough. We were going mad from the bubble of comfort and sanitized meals when there was an undiscovered world of local food and culture right outside.

We went on strike.

We just want real food!” we pleaded. The organisers caved in and arranged for cars and guides for a lunch tour of the city around Pune.

After an afternoon out and stuffed with local street food, we returned happily to jury duty.

There is much to say about creative awards and being a judge, which I will write in a future field note. It was once the holy grail for creative agencies around the world as a testament to their abilities and effectiveness, but I sense there has been a shift for the younger generation of creatives. They don’t seem to care much for it, preferring a more immediate and public validation of their work through social media and portfolio platforms. A note for another day.

Rather than a judge presiding over the efforts of others, I have found that the role is closer to a magazine editor—where you curate and collect entries based on certain criteria, and the vision and tastes of the judges . Just because you don’t win, doesn’t mean that the work isn’t great, but that the work didn’t fit neatly into the criteria that year. Judging awards is a great opportunity to learn as a designer about how others respond to your work, and a peek into the different cultures the entries come from.

Here are two of my favourite entries.

On the drive back from Pune to Mumbai, I shared a car with one of the judges. During the ride, amongst the many things we talked about, I asked what it’s like to run a design studio with 40+ employees.

He said “I wished we could be like before, when I was more hands-on in the work. At the beginning (of running your business), you will think success means to grow and scale. More projects, more staff, more revenue. And when you get bigger, the bigger clients will come. That was how I used to think. Now, after 20 years in the business, I have some regrets. Because I see a direct relation between scale and quality. When the founder can’t be directly involved in the work, the quality will suffer and vision will be diluted. Not because the people are not capable, but that the founder's personality and attention to detail will be lost in the process. So I am starting to make changes to the company again. To reorganise the structure and to stop growing, so I can be closer to each project.

Even though Anonymous has always been small (the biggest we have ever been is 4, including both partners), what he said that day stuck with me. The challenge of maintaining quality as you scale applies to all businesses, when the founder and creator can’t be directly involved in the daily process. Today, we see companies trying different workarounds for this challenge. One of which is to create small independent teams within an organisation, with a leader operating almost like an owner (for example, Pentagram). Some create spin-off companies to incubate ideas and experiment with solutions without the bureaucracy and need for profitability of the main brand (Space 10/IKEA).

The pandemic we live in today also presents new challenges, and with it opportunities for businesses to redesign their organisation. To be more agile, more collaborative, and more resilient to changes in the world. All this remotely, without being in the same building. And all this at a time when automation and artificial intelligence are adding enormous pressure on jobs and old technologies.

But, there has never been a time in history where there have been more start-ups, new virtual businesses, and millions of self-employed proprietors around the world, all offering new and unique ways of producing and delivering products and services. I can’t wait to see the new business models that will arise from this era: balancing quality with scale and providing solutions for the greatest challenges we face in the world today and tomorrow.