Festival / Graphic Design

Constructing The Stature Of Design In India — V Sunil

A man of humble beginnings, V Sunil’s life and career took him far from where he thought he was headed. We tap into the mind of the design thinker, who shaped the popular Make In India and Incredible India campaigns.

By Ritupriya Basu on 19 March

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Installation of the mascot of V Sunil's momentous Make In India campaign

Hailing from the coastal city of Kannur in Kerala, the young V Sunil had packed his bag and set forth to Bangalore in the hopes of landing a job as a motor mechanic. Cut to today: he is one of the leading design thinkers of the country, having reshaped India’s image as a global force with the momentous Make In India and Incredible India campaigns.

After merging his boutique agency A with Wieden+Kennedy, he launched Motherland Joint Ventures (MJV) with co-founder Mohit Jayal in 2016. Working at the intersection of urban development, merchandising and hospitality, Motherland initially began as an avant-garde publication studying the undercurrent of subcultures in India. As a part of MJV, they are executing Jodhpur Urban Regeneration Project, one of their most ambitious ventures yet. The project reinvents the ancient city of Jodhpur, injecting a fresh perspective into its invaluable landmarks and livelihoods and building a complete ecosystem around it.

Over a quick chat, V Sunil shares Motherland’s journey from a publication to a studio and India’s developing perception of design.

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The Jodhpur Urban Regeneration Project aims to restore the old city, breathing new life into its heritage landmarks

You have had an illustrious career in the industry spanning over 25 years. Who were the early influences that made you want to enter this profession?

I entered this profession by accident. My plan was to become a mechanic or a stenographer or any job I could land. I got into advertising thanks to my neighbour, who saw my paintings and told me ‘If you do fine arts, you die poor. But commercial art is the way forward.’ Obviously, I didn’t know the difference then. But in the early days, Ravi Deshpande influenced my sense of aesthetics. He trained me on how to look at a page and plan a layout.

How has India’s perception of design changed over time?

I think we went from being really good before Independence to super bad in the last sixty years to some sort of awareness in pockets in the recent past. If you look at the design industry in general, most of the good graphic designers work in advertising as art directors, and are treated below par to their copy partners because they lack confidence and can’t speak English well. Only very recently have art directors become creative directors and started taking charge of the situation. The fashion industry also wasted a lot of our time in the last thirty years. I find it very frustrating to see that so many smart people (most of them my friends) over the period of thirty years have yet not managed to create one good brand all of us can wear proudly. So many fashions weeks, so many magazines focusing only on fashion and so much media noise...we still cant get a well made white shirt.

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From the Jodhpur Urban Regeneration Project spearheaded by Motherland Joint Ventures

What kind of potential do you think India holds to become a stronghold in the global creative community in the field of branding?

Potentially, it is very big. But we don't have enough good designers or organisations thinking at that level. We need really good quality design education to meet the demand of the rest of the businesses around the country. The design industry needs to up their game to match the energy and excitement of the start- up culture. It is lacking massively now.

Having spearheaded the Make In India and Incredible India campaigns, how difficult or easy is it to work on government projects and create an impactful image?

Both of these projects were easy because both the government and we agreed on the larger idea. The difficult part is always executing our combined ambition for the idea. We were lucky to have Amitabh Kant as our partner on the other side.

What's the better approach - learning on the job or design education?

Education obviously, if you go to the right school. Most design school in India teach craft and not aesthetics.

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Incredible India Campaign conceptualized by V Sunil while working as the Creative Director at O&M

What kind of projects is MJV working on presently?

We are working on multiple projects. Jodhpur Urban Regeneration Project is in its second phase, and we’re also working on launching Motherland Products. A couple of new joint ventures with some of the most exciting tech companies are also in the pipeline.

Another project in the works is Motherland in partnership with Oyo: This partnership will allow us to co-develop a series of new hotel formats and enhance various aspects of customer experience, including merchandise, F&B and ergonomics, all of which will offer guests an unprecedented combination of style, efficiency and affordability. This category transformation process began earlier this year with the launch of Oyo Townhouse, the 'friendly neighbourhood hotel' that is receiving rave reviews as it rapidly expands across the country.

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Oyo Townhouse designed by Motherland Joint Ventures

V Sunil takes the stage on 30th March at Design Fabric Festival 2018.

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