Elephant Design: Trailblazer in Design Consulting
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At a time when awareness about the role of a designing consultancy was dismal, a group of three young and ambitious graduates from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, dreamt of revolutionizing the concept of designing in India. Co-founded by Ashwini Deshpande, Ashish Deshpande and Partho Guha in 1989, Elephant Design is the largest multi-disciplinary design consultancy in the country today that boasts of a wide clientele base. Tata, Godrej, P&G, Kurkure, Too Yumm and Epigamia are some of its many clients.
Ashwini refers to herself and other founders of Elephant as ‘accidental entrepreneurs’. Talking about the journey, she shares,
“The most challenging task during our initial days was to demonstrate a genuine professional design practice that helps businesses grow. The fact that ‘design’ and ‘design thinking’ could add value to a bottom line was not experienced by any business house then.”
Elephant started its journey by working with established brands like Bajaj, ICICI, TCS that were looking for leading paradigm shifts in their respective domains. It also started developing user-friendly products for progressive companies like Symphony (a leading air cooler company), Nirlep (pioneers in non-stick cookware), to name a few. While working for Symphony, Elephant designed coolers that were light-weight, could easily be used indoors and looked chic.
L - R: Partho Guha, Ashwini Deshpande and Ashish Deshpande, Co-founders & Directors, Elephant Design
Today, Elephant guides start-ups in their journey of brand designing, positioning and development. Sharing her experience of working with start-ups, Deshpande professes,
“Our model of working with start-ups is slightly different than established companies. We usually take them on board for a longer duration as we believe they need much more hand-holding to be able to maximise the impact of design intervention.”
Elephant is experimenting with other compensation models for start-ups. It maintains a ratio of 80:20 where 80 per cent business is big brands while the remaining constitutes start-ups. The company has successfully designed for start-ups like Paper Boat as well as handled big projects like Commonwealth Games (2010) in Delhi.
Ashwini believes “design requires creativity with context.” She feels that design is a curious mix of rational and emotional. She declares,
“India cannot afford to waste on the frivolous and superficial as our forces should be on basic necessities to improve lifestyle. There is no place for creativity for the sake of being differentiated if it is not adding user value to a brand, product or service.”
Elephant team in T-shirts celebrating 30 Wild Years
One of the most glorious impacts of Elephant has been its scalability. Ashwini agrees that catering to varied clients does pose a challenge at times but when the objective is common, i.e., proper positioning of the product, both the parties work their way out.
“Design-led innovation happens when one is able to combine culture, technology and the need to come up with new ways of solving problems,” believes Ashwini as the mantra for good design.
She feels empathy and imagination are the two most important tools for designers.
Forging Ahead with Elephantine Strength
- Some well-recognised projects of the company include Bajaj Auto branding, ICICI retail Bank experience design, Commonwealth Youth Games identity and livery, Indian Super League livery, Paper Boat branding and packaging, Symphony Coolers product design, Jawa experience design, Bharat Benz branding, Easyday branding & experience design, Asian Paints Colour Pro app design, Bennett University branding and Viacom18 Voot branding.
- Elephant works across five verticals — strategy & design research, communication design, product innovation, environment design, interaction design with a team of 70 people.
(This article was first published in the August 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)