Jon Fraser, Ruby Steel, Hal Watts, Khushbu Dublish, D. Toppo
Made In The Dark
Made In The Dark
Made in the Dark scented jewellery is made by blind craftswomen using smell to enhance their skills. Using a new colour-scent language, blind artisans can design the aesthetics and fragrances of the products they create. This craft will provide income and improved social standing for blind people across India.
Royal College of Art, London: Jonathan Fraser Ruby Steel Hal Watts National Institute of Art and Design, Ahmedabad: Khushbu Dublish Deepen Toppo Blind People's Association, Ahmedabad Any Kanya Prakash, Ahmedabad
Using smell as a skill that can translate into livelihoods suggests a whole new area of understanding in applying sensory perception to building capacities and confidence among those challenged by disability. Developing a new craft of ‘scent-beading’ could have possibilities even beyond making an important contribution to those who are visually challenged, within a societies renowned for artisan skills.
Made In The Dark
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
India has 15 million blind people - the largest blind population in the world. 80% is preventable, but there is a lack of awareness of the danger posed by sunlight, malnutrition and disease.
Our design team was a partnership between students at the Royal College of Art and the Indian National Institute of Design. Our project was based in the city of Ahmedabad and was focused on helping the blind population in India.
Many blind people in India struggle to find employment, and those that do usually end up in poorly paid unskilled jobs. Even those with valuable craft-skills have difficulty, as there is a social stigma about the quality of their work.
Our design team saw an opportunity to utilise these untapped skills. Our goal was to create unique and desirable objects that could provide income for blind craftspeople and improve their social standing.
The result was Made in the Dark Scented Jewellery - a range of unique handmade jewellery which communicates both visually and with a mix of gentle traditional aromas. Our team created the new craft of scent-beading, which allows blind craftspeople to design both the aesthetic and fragrance of jewellery using an innovative colour-scent language.
The Made in the Dark brand gives a voice to blind craftspeople and improves their social standing by associating them with quality products. It also generates awareness about the problem of preventable blindness in India through innovative products and a progressive brand identity.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
The combination of local and international designers gave our team a unique approach to the project. We combined foreign viewpoints with in-depth local knowledge to inform our design process.
Initially our goal was to improve the quality of life of blind people by providing them with a sustainable income. However, we soon realised that improving their position within society was equally important, as social stigma was a major problem. A survey conducted by the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology found that 70% of people agreed with the statement “losing your sight means losing yourself”. Addressing this problem became a major focus of our project as improvements in this area would impact the blind community as a whole.
We also discovered that 80% percent of blindness in India is avoidable, as it is caused by factors such as sunlight and poor nutrition. Our team decided that generating awareness of this problem was also important, and this became a key factor in creating the Made in the Dark brand.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
The most important stakeholders in the project were the blind people themselves. Through scent-beading we created a way of providing blind people with a sustainable income and improving their social standing.
However, in order for scent-beading to be established we had to design an enterprise system which was efficient for retailers, materials suppliers, and the consumer. We designed the system around the Made in the Dark brand and two NGOs we worked with in Ahmedabad.
These NGOs are a key touchstone in the system, which lets the craftspeople deal with familiar organisations when they purchase materials and sell their products. The retailers and suppliers also benefit from the convenience of dealing only with the NGOs, rather than a diffuse base of craftspeople. The NGOs themselves benefit from the sales of the scent-beaded jewellery and gain recognition through their attachment to the Made in the Dark brand.
We also considered the desires of our target consumers - the rapidly growing Indian middle classes. Our team noted the growing popularity of ethical Indian retailers and developed the Made in the Dark brand to suit this, by letting it tell the unique story behind scent-beaded jewellery.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
We carried out our research in the city of Ahmedabad in Western India. There we made contact with two NGOs which were invaluable in helping our design team understand the lives of blind people in India; the Blind Peoples Assocation (BPA) and the Andh Kanya Prakash Group (AKPG). Through these organisations we were able to conduct numerous interviews and visit blind people in their homes and places of work.
The most surprising thing we uncovered was a wealth of untapped craft skills. Blind people were often highly skilled in various crafts but unable to find employment due to social stigma about the quality of their work. This was particularly highlighted by Arjun, who was trained in carpentry by the BPA, but currently operates a pay-telephone in the city centre.
Craft is a huge part of Indian culture and the country’s economy. Our visits to markets and malls around the city highlighted that for rich and poor alike, hand crafted products are very popular.
Scent-beading utilises skills in jewellery making that many blind women already have. Our trials at the BPA and AKPG established that scent-beading was easy to learn for the craftspeople, and that the new found creativity was very rewarding for them. This was particularly important as it meant that scent-beading has the potential to spread organically throughout the blind community.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
In developing Made in the Dark Scented Jewellery, our design team had 3 primary goals:
1. > Provide a sustainable and rewarding income for blind craftspeople
2. > Improve the social standing of blind people in India
3. > Generate public awareness of the problem of preventable blindness
The craft of scent-beading is easy to learn, costs very little, and results in unique, innovative and desirable products. It also allows blind craftspeople creativity and freedom in their work as well as a sustainable income.
The Made in the Dark brand addresses the social standing of blind people by associating them with quality products. It communicates the story behind scent-beading and informs customers about the problem of avoidable blindness in India. The packaging explains simple measures for eye protection, and products like the Sunglasses Necklace encourage sunglasses use -the necklace actually looks better when glasses are hung from its loop.
Together, the new craft scent-beading and the Made in the Dark brand are of great value to the blind community and to the health awareness of Indian society as a whole.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
The Made in the Dark project is still developing in both India and the UK. Our team is currently in discussions with a major ethical Indian retailer, which could secure a wide release for Made in the Dark jewellery.
This would allow production to be greatly expanded and provide a sustainable income to more blind craftspeople. Hopefully this will allow the craft to grow organically and for more blind people to benefit, both in Ahmedabad and in the rest of India.
The one area in which we wish we could have done things differently was in exploring the potential of applying our colour-scent language to other crafts. We met blind people skilled in textiles, weaving, carpentry and even painting, so these could be exciting areas for the process. We put aside these experimental ideas and chose scent-beading as it was a craft that could provide an immediate benefit for the blind community. However, if the craft grows as we intend, then perhaps blind people will explore these areas themselves.