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Open Office Encourages A Sense Of Ownership:Harsh Goenka, Chairman, RPG Group

The office shouldn’t be like a hotel. I like the use of art to create a narrative in our work place. It brings energy and vibrancy. Art is intrinsically related to design. They both deal with the narrative and need to relate with the audience

Photo Credit : Subhabrata Das

When a business embraces design as a management tool, it becomes a transformation engine helping write success stories. This column puts the spotlight on captains of industry who are design evangelists and have successfully employed strategic design thinking and design disciplines such as branding, packaging, digital, retail, product, textiles and more. They will talk about how they have profitted from design in conversation with Preeti Vyas, Chairwoman of Vyas Giannetti Creative, a design consultancy. A design veteran from NID, Vyas is also on the governing council of NID New Amravati and the chief mentor of Designomics, a knowledge platform that helps foster the understanding of the value of design. Here, RPG Group’s Harsh Goenka talks to Vyas about the importance of art and design in his everyday life and at the workplace.

Welcome aboard, Harsh, on Designomics. The power of design as an enabler and as a management tool is so vital, and it is so important at this sort of inflection point in our own country, to embrace for all businesses. So, hopefully your story and our episodes will inspire more people?
Harsh Goenka: Design is something that has been very dear to me. Design has two aspects – one is the softer aspect and the other is the business aspect. I believe that good design means good business sense, functionality and design. I have always had a very close relationship in the way I have envisaged things whether it is a product  or even interiors of the office. Our workplace is typically designed around this very philosophy and both functionality and design have evolved with time.

I remember, we used to have very ornate plush wooden interiors in the early part of the last century and now, there is a need for greater transparency.

You have to cater to the millennials and it is all about a lighter ambient atmosphere. For me, nature is a key player in all of this. What is therefore important is having natural ambient light and we have built our offices based on this very philosophy as design and aesthetic can have a very deep effect on our psyche. One of the things I try to ensure is that there is no disturbance. You need to have that peace  and tranquillity at workplace.

Design is key to aesthetics and there are so many variables such as shades of colours, what colour palette to use – there is a certain thought behind it – where to place things, the lighting, the angle of viewing, the balance between soft and hard surfaces, the texture and so on. It takes a lot of sensory effort to get the balance right. Getting design right is an  exciting journey. The visual is one part of it, the rest is all about what kind of materials you use, how you interact with the elements and the touch and feel of things.

The use of everyday objects is very important to me. They need to tell a story, a narrative that speaks to your soul and has a lasting effect. The office shouldn’t be like a hotel. I like the use of art to create a narrative at our work place. It brings energy and vibrancy. Art is intrinsically related to design;  they both deal with the narrative and they both need to relate with the audience. I have had a very long journey with contemporary art and I do not know where design finishes and art starts – to me, there is a lot of blurred lines. Using art all over in the workplace has been an inspiring experience for me.

What we have also tried to do is educate people. Recently we invited Mallika Sagar (Christie’s first woman auctioneer of Indian origin) to talk to us about the RPG collection, introduce the entire group to the art in the RPG spaces, because I think its important that people start relating and understanding what is around them.

The colours and the freshness, brings in a special degree of energy. The boundaries not being there encourages collaboration.  Open office encourages a sense  of ownership. We have allowed design to enter our processes as well. For example, a few years ago we revisited RPG’s vision statement. What is interesting is that we used a smiley in our vision statement and I don’t think anybody has done that. We wanted to show that happiness is a very important theme for the group. Our smiley is a square smiley, which is again a very strong design element. We also introduced a new tagline ‘Hello Happiness’ and we used the design in a way that signifies happiness.

So, what I see is that RPG is on the move, it is embracing the new, it is embracing the next, there is a new way of engaging and RPG is alive and sensitive to this. And it is extremely inclusive because when you talk about an emotional quotient, building that into a vision statement is a very powerful message – that all of life’s purpose is to eventually create happiness, not just in our lives but also in our work place.

That is a big step and what I am seeing here is a journey well designed. Which means there are minds that are alike, alert and are extremely eager to embrace the change, so that’s a fantastic design story akin to a corporate message...

Goenka: We are in the design business oursleves. We have now acquired two companies; one in the US called Indigo Slate and one in the UK called Foolproof. And we have about 270 people who are working to design consumer interface and help people in their customer journey.
It is very important for us to be in the design business today because in our IT business, we used to deal primarily with the CIOs earlier and now we are dealing with the CMOs. When we have to give an entire design experience, the CX part becomes extremely important to the user interface and the user experience. For example, we have helped Sony Entertainment expand its position in the home entertainment market by reimagining their video-on-demand service by making it easier to find and engage with video content.

The new design helped deepen the value and relevance of the PlayStation store. We have also worked with Oyster card (electronic ticket used on London’s public transport), their kiosks are all over London and we have designed them. We have millions of happy customers who use the transport networks in the UK. We also handle the entire interface of Domino’s in Europe for their website and application for ordering and we work with Suzuki in their European operations for all their digital sales, and Suzuki found an increase of 37 per cent after they brought us on board.
We work a lot with Avis, for example, and we have made a lot of design changes that have improved the experience that Avis now delivers to customers. We work with the UK post office and one of the main businesses of UK post office is to offer loans, and the entire piece has been designed by us. And therefore, design has now also become a core business for us.

One of the major customers for Indigo Slate has been Microsoft, so we are working with the best. In our other businesses like in KEC, which is our infrastructure business, design competency for transmission towers is extremely important. Our ability to design towers and substations across various countries competitively differentiates us. We use the best modelling techniques 3D, 4D, special techniques, digital tools to see how we can provide the best of designs and that has become our core strength as we have to create transmission towers that go through jungles, streams, remote areas.

Some of our challenging ones include the one across the Ganges, which is under the water. We have done some very unique tie-ups in Africa, and the Middle East. Most of them are custom-made and we have around nearly about 250 people in our design team just designing transmission towers. We have also got into railway and civil infrastructure. Again, we have a design team for creating factories, buildings etc.

We have done another interesting thing in our company Raychem RPG. We have designed a Ray Pole, which is the next-gen multifunction outdoor pole designed to efficiently provide several features that are intrinsic to Smart City requirements. It functions as a self-sustaining intelligent street light while also having the surveillance equipment and sensors to monitor air quality. It has a handy advertising display and a convenient Wi-Fi access point. So, when your Electric Vehicle is low on charge, the Ray Pole is your charging station. In one pole, all of these services will be offered. And it is completely solar powered. Our R&D department has designed this and I am sure that is where the future is.

In CEAT, we have taken inspiration from nature for some of our innovative designs, like the panther’s paw, to develop tires that provide better grip and bite during off-road driving. We have seen how a panther moves, stops and swerves quickly and we use that as the inspiration for our Czar range of tires and this helps us brake at high speeds.

More recently our Gripp tyres was inspired from the rope. And it is interesting how these inspirations come in and how a simple thing like a rope helps you to design a tyre and again there is a lot of expertise which is needed because its all about safety, mileage, tight swerving.
A lot of our design and R&D we are working on is undertaken at our German office. We believe that is where a lot of advanced design and technology resides. We also have several patents, whether it is in the tyre business or the transmission business.

Furthermore, to enable people through design, we have started a new business called Seniority. It is primarily an e-commerce brand with some physical outlets meant for old people. We design, help design, procure and also collaborate with design agencies and universities to see how we can make products that are good for older people.

For example, a mobile phone, with bigger fonts and bigger keys, special sensors to turn lights on when the user gets up at night. Another change, which I think made a great difference was to help senior citizens cut nails. We have a nail cutter with a magnifying glass on it. It is surprising, there is no product like it.

Another initiative that we have started is art in public spaces. We have adopted a fair number of public parks, crossroads and spaces, all over Mumbai and had some senior artists and some not-so-well-known artists design these spaces. Our idea is to take it wider and deeper. So, Mumbai can be a much more aesthetic city!

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