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Philips Design, Director, Pune Branch, India
Ashok Panwalkar finished his bachelor's in Electrical engineering and began his career by working briefly in Almonard Engineering Pvt. Ltd. Company. Like a lot of companies during the 70's, a lot of energy was invested in reverse engineering existing products. As Panwalkar was an Engineer with good sketching ability he was often asked to go and sketch out existing products.
Ashok Panwalkar - Philips Designer India
Ashok Panwalkar - Interview Part 1
Ashok Panwalkar - Interview Part 2
During this time Prof Vijay Bapat called him from IDC, informing him about the field of Industrial Design at the Industrial Design Centre in the IIT Bombay Campus.
Here his interests were invested in design and engineering, ergonomics, rendering skills and form development.
His final thesis project involved the re-design of a drill machine, where he worked extensively on the form, functional safety and improving the usability of the machine.
After he completed his post-graduation, he worked for 2 small fan manufacturing companies. Where he gathered experiences of working in a smaller company, playing multiple roles of engineer, supervisor and designer.
Then he joined Philips Design of Philips Electronics Co. as a Jr. Industrial designer in Mumbai.
He started out by handling packaging graphics and visual design on the products, which proved a useful skillset as his sensitivity towards the finer details of a product was honed.
After 4th year he was sent to the Netherlands for training. During which he learnt advanced sketching skills and the design process, he was also allowed to attend departmental meetings, attend management development programs, he was also allowed to study the local culture and design trends during that time.
Ashok Panwalkar in Netherlands during training
Philips being 133-year-old Dutch co. started out with one product-the Light Bulb, but in the course of time, the company has become a multi-product conglomerate.
Philips Design is more than 80 years old and has become one of the largest design agencies in the world.
When he began working in that organization, there were 500 design professionals with more than 30 nationalities located in 14 branches worldwide, he joined Philips Design in Mumbai which was a part of the consumer electronics division. The main aim is to design products for local market needs i.e. Local for Local! Their portfolio included supporting other product groups such as Domestic Appliances, Lighting, and Professional and scientific equipment.
Philips worldwide went through a difficult period around 1990. As part of a cost-cutting drive, Philips Design along with Consumer Electronics Marketing and Domestic Appliances marketing groups moved from Mumbai to Consumer Elec. factory in Pune. Though it helped in reducing products creation process time from 12 months to 9 months (Design brief to the launching of the products) they faced a lot of bureaucratic problems in the factory. During this shift, Ashok Panwalkar was chosen to be in charge of Philips Design.
Mr Timmer then CEO of Philips International visits Philips Design Pune.
The License Raj had been abolished with the help of new economic reforms, however, there was still a lot of bureaucracy in the factory and at the same time doing good designs for all product groups in Philips India was still challenging owing to a vast demographic. Lots of designers started visiting India on short assignments thus improving existing benchmarks. With good work being recognized, Philips Design India became a part of the Asia Pacific Group consisting of Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan branches.
Eventually, Philips design worldwide became an independent division. They began selling design services within Philips and also catered to external companies in non-conflicting areas of Philips Businesses.
When the Asia Pacific Philips Design head realized the quality level of deliverables was par with the rest of the studios in the world, he invited the management team of the Netherlands, and senior members of Asia Pacific design branches to assess India Philips Design in India.
Stefano Marzano, CEO of Philips Design impressed so much, he issued a letter recognizing the quality of deliverables, design process, communication, software hardware knowledge par with International standards and announced Philips design in Pune to be a Global resource to support other branches in the world in the area of Product Design, Communication Design, Interaction Design and Spatial design (Exhibition and Brand shop Design).
After his first innings at Philips, he founded a company called 3F Design (3F stands for Fun, Form, Function) where he designs quirky and unusual products for personal or corporate gifting. 3F design has a design studio and a Design Store located in the Deccan area in Pune. He leverages his vast experience in the design and design management field, he also gives back to pedagogy by mentoring the next generation of designers and counselling unwilling parents when their children want to join design programs.
There was a perception in marketing and the management at the headquarters level as to why India needed different products when Philips has a basket full of internationally accepted products.
Philips India made radios that used names such as Jawan, Kisan and Commander instead of using European names such as Philletta, and Philettina and that worked well after a war with Pakistan, capitalizing on the patriotic feelings in the country.
Another example of the Indian Context is in the way grinding spices is different from the European sense, so a region-specific need of our market was addressed by a locally designed Mixer Grinder.
His team developed a range to meet the requirement of 4 regions in India. Since the North grew fruits and they needed a Juicer as an important function, while housewives in the south needed grinding as the main function for pulses and rice grains, spices etc.
Mixer Grinder to cater to the Northern Region
Mixer Grinder to cater to the Southern Region
Though there were global guidelines for Packaging graphics. We adapted it to suit the local market. One side of the packaging box carries images of North Indian dishes and the other side carries images of South Indian dishes. This smart approach to graphics was well appreciated in HQ. One-third of the turnover of the Domestic appliances and Personal Care Division came from the range of Mixer Grinder that he designed.
They followed a design process holistically, thus involving the end customer at the early stage of the product creation process to develop strong designs in Audio, leading to a leadership position in the Audio market. We had European designs of color television. But at an early stage, there was a gap in perceptions of
people about color television and sophisticated designs led to lesser market share.
The audio console that Ashok Panwalkar and the team at Philips had conceived and executed for Indian automobiles is an example of concurrent design and engineering capabilities and collaboration between two different appliances (Philips) and engineering giants (Maruti).
Evolution of Industrial Design-Post IDC:
When he joined IDC, monopoly was a key in the market. People had limited choices for cars or any other product. If somebody wanted to buy a scooter one had to wait for 5-6 years. So the Industrial design profession was recognized only by only audio product manufacturing companies. After the Design program, he had to carry his portfolio and keep knocking doors of various companies for the job. When our country opened up, the market was flooded with international brands in all product segments. This turned out to be a threat to local businesses and their existence.
Then local businesses started using Design as a strategic factor to achieve competitive advantage. This changed the design job market. A designer started getting 3 -4 offers from reputed companies.
Food for thought: