Come March, Kerala will have a Centre of Excellence for Design in Kalamassery, Kochi. The vision of the Kerala government for this space coming up in the integrated start-up complex is ambitious. Here, it wants to attract and nurture creative talent who will design cutting-edge products. It wants established companies to set up studios, mentor and supply software to upcoming start-ups.

“From furniture design to jewellery design, software design to communication design, we want it to be the place to lead the action on innovation,” says Arun Balachandran, Chief Minister’s Fellow (IT), Government of Kerala. The Centre will work as an incubator for design professionals. “Typically, young designers tend to work on pirated software and generally adjust and create — we want to make licensed software available to them,” he says.

Kochi Design Week

Even before the Centre comes up, the action is hotting up. Next, Bolgatty in Kochi will turn into a veritable Design Island.

From December 12 to 14, at the Kochi Design Week, organised by the state department of Information Technology, creative professionals from several industries will converge to ideate, imagine and innovate.

There will be discussions on blockchain, on product design, new technologies, art, and architecture, urban design and even food design. “Swiggy will be curating the food design track and there will be nearly a hundred items showcased by participating restaurants,” says Balachandran. “If you look at the Sadya served on the plantain leaf, it is the best example of food design,” he illustrates.

Similarly, there will be tracks on music design, and dance design. Kerala Kalamandalam will put up a three-hour-long performance with over 100 artistes, featuring all the performing arts — from Kathakali to Theyyam to Mohini attam in one show.

From technology to the arts and lifestyle, every aspect of design will come together. “If you look at nature, and the way we live, whatever you see, there is design in it. That is the message we want to give,” he stresses.

Over 100 speakers will converge on the island and address over 3,000 delegates. Kochi Biennale founder Bose Krishnamachari will create art walls in the city. Italian designer Giuseppe Morando, Design Head of Space Matrix, will put up an installation.

The Design week will be supported by various industry associations and the State is not spending from its coffers on the event, clarifies Balachandran. “We asked them to curate their respective tracks.” Also, to ensure maximum participation, the organisers are giving hefty discounts in the registration fees to students and professionals.

“The Biennale has created such a big impact that we got 300 applications for volunteers”, reveals Balachandran.

Last year, KFW launched in a small way, this year it has got bigger but the plan is to make this the biggest design event in the world by 2021.

Calling creative people

The idea behind all these initiatives is to make Kerala the creative hub of India. As Balachandran says, “Kerala has traditionally been one of the largest talent suppliers in the creative domain — be it writing, films, advertising, or architecture. Even if you look at the top echelons of big software companies, you will find a lot of decision-makers are from Kerala.”

For example, Balachandran points out how, when he was chatting with Biren Ghose, country head of Technicolor India, the fact emerged that more than 20 per cent of the US’ $5-billion global arts and sciences leaders workforce was from Kerala. “We thought how to leverage this? “ he says. That led to brainstorming. “Earlier we used to run behind every buzzword in the industry. But we decided to sit back, analyse our strengths and create the buzz.”

Last year, the first Kochi Design Week was held in a small way to test the ground.

The response spurred the State government to think ambitiously. “We decided to create such a design ecosystem here that top creative professionals from several domains feel like returning,” he says.

The integrated start-up complex would be the centre of much of this action. Currently the complex has 1.8 lakh sq feet built up area and is the largest in South-East Asia.

Two more buildings are coming up to create a live, work and play environment where start-ups can stay and work. When ready it would be all together 5.5 lakh sq feet.

Since there are already hundreds of start-ups working in multiple areas in the complex, it will be easy to match synergies and for multiple companies and freelancers to collaborate, argues Balachandran.

In Tourism, God’s own Country led the action — let’s see if it can do so in the creative domain.