Design Jobs And Creativity To Thrive In The Future: An Interview With Dr Sanjay Gupta
With artificial intelligence expected to take over routine work and demand for creative skills going up, creative fields will flourish in the future, says Dr Gupta, VC, World University of Design
By Ashwin Dewan • 10 min read
For ages, engineering and medicine have been the big career options for students, as these two disciplines offered great job opportunities. Today, one can safely say that art and design, considered offbeat choices not too long ago, are slowly but steadily gaining popularity among students. But when new technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) completely change the way we work in the future, would creativity be still in demand? Will creative fields like design help our children thrive in the job market of the future?
ParentCircle spoke with Dr Sanjay Gupta, the vice-chancellor of the World University of Design, Sonipat, Haryana, about the importance of creative skills and how AI and automation will increase job opportunities for art and design graduates. A well-known name in design, Dr Gupta is a former dean of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and an alumnus of IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad.
This is a condensed transcript, edited for clarity and brevity.
1. The past year has seen the emergence of online education. Is this trend here to stay? How can students living in rural areas, with limited or no access to electricity or the internet or smartphones and facing financial challenges, benefit from online education?
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of online learning, which otherwise would have been slowly rolled out over the next five years. When the pandemic is over, online learning is not going to go away completely. Blended learning, which is a combination of face-to-face learning and online learning, will become the future of education.
In March 2020, when there were reports of an outbreak of COVID-19, we expected lockdowns. So, the faculty and the students got together and chalked out a strategy to facilitate online learning. Everyone had access to either a laptop or a computer or a smartphone. There would be issues regarding connectivity, so we also created a WhatsApp group to stay connected.
Having said that, yes, staying connected can become an issue. However, if the students can work out a strategy that involves using smartphones (even recycled or used ones), apps such as Zoom, and social media platforms, it’s possible to stay connected. Thanks to our used smartphone market, many entrepreneurs are using refurbished or used smartphones for online education. So, we need the government, private entrepreneurs and the students to come together and develop a strategy to use these devices to access education. I am looking forward to such solutions.
2. For a long time, most students aspired to be an engineer or a doctor. Today, there’s a noticeable shift in focus, with many students opting for art and design. What are the reasons for this trend?
There’s no straight answer to this question. Many engineering institutions across the country did not revise their curriculum or invest in providing training for faculty. As a result, we had many qualified engineers whose skills were not in sync with industry needs. For this reason, they couldn’t find jobs, and this in turn led to widespread unemployment. We are already talking about Industry 4.0 but for graduates to break into various industries, we require trained faculty and a curriculum aligned with industry requirements. Earlier, people were focused on engineering and medicine, but over the last couple of decades, they have started appreciating the value of design.
3. Why do you think it took people time to recognize the potential of design when it offers plenty of opportunities for students?
Parents’ perceptions of a particular domain are based on the types of jobs that are available. Take, for example, placements. Even before engineering students graduate, they are offered jobs. Now design is not far behind. In the past few years, the placements at the National Institute of Design (NID) and NIFT have made news for the attractive salaries offered by companies. Earlier, this type of scenario was restricted to the IITs and the IIMs. When parents read about these placements, they begin to realize that, yes, there’s an alternative to engineering and medicine, there’s an established branch of education that can lead to fulfilling careers. As a result, design slowly made its way from being viewed as a hobby to becoming a field that offers much scope.
This happened because of the coming of age of industry in India. Earlier, Indians were fascinated by foreign goods, but now they also want goods made in India. Companies realized that in order to sell their products in India, they have to rethink their strategy—they have to make products that are suitable for Indian consumers, instead of just marketing their existing products. So, a lot of product redesigning took place.
Engineers have a problem-solving attitude, but designers have a different approach, as they think from the point of view of the user—what happens when a user approaches a website, what does he look for and how would he navigate the website.
4. The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, when fully implemented, will bring about big changes in education. Some notable highlights of the new policy are common entrance exams for universities and undergraduate courses of either 3- or 4-year duration. What are your views on the policy?
I firmly believe that the recommendations of the NEP are for the good of the education system. The NEP aims to raise the quality of educational institutions in our country, matching the standards of top institutions such as the IITs, which already have a common entrance test in place. However, it will take time, and the focus should be on training the faculty members in educational institutions. Administrative measures alone cannot change an institution.
5. Is there any country’s education policy that you like and if so, why?
I like the education policy of the United Kingdom (UK), as it considers the creative industries a part of the main industry system. In the UK, the creative industries are counted in the GDP. In our country, we don’t have creative industries as a separate sector, even though arts and crafts, visual arts, design and others contribute greatly toward the economy and development of our country.
If possible, I would like the creative industries to be identified as a sector industry—this will do a lot of good to our country, to this sector and toward education.
6. You have served as UNDP fellow at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York. You have also served as dean (academic) at the NIFT. You are an author, editor and consultant to national and international organizations. Do you think that art and design provide more scope for creativity?
I believe creativity exists in every job. Take, for example, management. I would like to share a famous anecdote from the past when Coke was appointed the official sponsor of the 1996 Cricket World Cup. The company came out with an ad campaign saying they were the official sponsors … that they were the chosen one. Their rival Pepsi came out with a counter-ad that said, “Nothing official about it.” Many people still remember this Pepsi campaign. Without paying a single penny and without actually being the sponsor, Pepsi gained a lot of publicity and derived benefits during the World Cup.
When we say design, it’s a creative that can be applied anywhere—manufacturing, sales, banking and finance, and other fields. So, when we try to have an education system that boosts creativity, it would boost every sector of our economy.
7. How do you select students for admission?
Here at the World University of Design, we don’t place too much emphasis on marks. In fact, we don’t ask for marks, and the only criterion is that the student must have secured 45% in the exams so we know he or she has passed. Selection depends on the student’s aptitude for design or creativity, which we assess through our entrance exam and interview. We just need students to be passionate about design. We select students across streams—psychology, arts, science, engineering, medicine and others.
8. What would you like to say to parents who are skeptical about job opportunities in design?
Let me lay out the scenario of the future. Several technologies, such as AI, machine learning, 3D printing and alternative energies, have already entered our lives. They are controlling the way we do everything. AI is changing the face of online shopping—it’s offering us everything from personalized services to robots who answer our questions. For instance, you want to book a flight ticket but decide to wait because of the high prices. But when you check the ticket prices again, they have become lower—it’s nothing but AI that is prompting you to buy.
Automation, robotics and AI will transform businesses. In the next five years, the industry as we know it will undergo change. Jobs will change. India is a huge country and this change will take time to show, but change is coming. Take the role of a chartered accountant. There was a time when many would fill in income tax returns by hand but today, you can file your income tax returns online. The process has been automated, leaving little for the chartered accountant to do. This is a common scenario everywhere today.
Experts are saying that anybody who has creative skills, who knows how to think out of the box, who can work with skills that the computer lacks is going to survive and thrive. And the career on top based on these criteria is design. So, the future is secure, the jobs are coming in and they are going to increase. The value and the kinds of careers your wards can have in design or art or in design thinking or design management or in architecture or those kinds of creative programs will be huge. In short, parents have nothing to worry about.
Written by Ashwin Dewan on February 16, 2021.
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