Series on design teachers in India:
Professor Singanapalli Balaram
‘No life, no thing, or no person is without a good story!’ - S. Balaram
“At that time, our village did not have a school, and the people did not really believe in the need for education. It was then that Madhavrao sir came into our lives and gave us the opportunity,” says Balaram
“After my father passed away, mother and I lived with our Uncle’s family, who were against letting me go to school in the beginning. The common perspective was to let the children grow up in the fields and eventually join the family occupation of farming.” - Balaram
Born in 1944 into a joint family of a farmer in Gunnathota Valasa, a tiny Agraharam (a village gifted to a scholar by the king) in Andhra Pradesh, South India
He was captivated by the songs and storytelling events put up during festivals, with special attraction to Tholu Bommalata, a shadow puppet theatre tradition of the state
He tried recreating the work with paper to put on shows for the children of his neighborhood
He has said he owes his life to his teacher, Varahagiri Veni Madhavarao without whom he would have been like most children in his village - without education and tied to life in the fields
He started out his professional career as a sign board painter and then went on to be a mechanical engineer, then finally settling down to practice and teach design
He went on to complete his diploma in Mechanical Engineering and was employed at JK Paper Mills
He then joined NID when a friend pointed out an opportunity for him
He was able to get an opportunity to go to the Royal College of Art, London and was fortunate to work with people like Misha Black and Bruce Archer
He has had varied pursuits such as short story writing; package designing and even film criticism
He is an industrial designer; senior faculty and former Chairman of Education at the National Institute of Design in India.
He is a founding and governing council member of The Craft Development Institute in Kashmir and is currently the Dean of DJ Academy of Design in Coimbatore
He is the Emeritus professor of CEPT University, India
He is married to a Textile Designer, Padmini Tolat and has two children
He has held various senior positions such as Chairman of Extension programmes, Co-ordinator, Foundation Programme, Associate Chairman, Industrial Design etc. at the National Institute of Design. He is presently Governing Council Member of The Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology; Vice President of The Society of Industrial Designers of India and Co-ordinator, Design Foundation Studies, NID. He was even a part of the advisory board of ‘Design Issues’, a journal of international repute.
He has been involved in many projects over his many years of service to the design industry. Over the years he has taken part in projects like the Bicycle as a project at the RCA to address the need for a personal vehicle in India that was affordable and comfortable; some early projects of the Bullock-cart and other harvesting implements; revolutionised architecture for common man with the heightened use of Indian Aesthetics. He was even criticised by the well known writer, V.S, Naipaul for the use of harvesting blades in a foot worn implement but was greatly appreciated for his design of the wheelchair. He even worked with his team on the life-saving oxygenator for the Sri Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology which was awarded India’s prestigious National Meritorious Invention Award. He is an internationally reputed designer with four patents to his credit. The life-saving equipment he designed jointly with a colleague for the Sri Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology received India's prestigious National Meritorious Invention Award. His varied pursuits include short story writing; package design and film criticism.
He has over four decades of teaching experience who even taught environmental exposure(rural exposure or living with people), immersing them in observing the rural ways of life. He was the first to coin the term ‘majority world’ in place of the derogatory term ‘developing world’. He has been invited to various national and international forums, being the keynote speaker at the Second IAUD conference 2006, Kyoto and third IAUD conference 2010 at Hamamatsu. The most significant international meeting organised by him was the ‘UNIDO-ICSID meeting on Design for Development’, the first of its kind meeting to be held in a developing country.
He is a published author with many helpful design books to his credit. These include books such as ‘Thinking Design’, ‘Design Quotes’ and some sections in ‘Britannica Encyclopedia’, ‘Universal Design Handbook’, ‘Teaching Universal Design’, ‘The idea of Design: Arthaya’, ‘Design and development in South and South-East Asia’, and ‘Quality through Industrial Design’. His article on bullock cart design was prescribed as a core course for secondary schools throughout India by the National Council of Educational Research and Training.
He is a recipient of the honorary fellowship of the Society of Industrial Designers of India and an invited member of the advisory board of ‘Design Issues”, U.S.A. Four of his inventions have been patented by NID. NID has also won the first ICSID - Philips award (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) for its outstanding achievement in Industrial Design. One of the seven projects which won this award was Prof. Balaram’s. He has won numerous awards which include – the Ron Mace international award for Universal Design, the Helen Keller award for outstanding contribution for people with disabilities, and the UNIDO-ICSID award for Design for Development.