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Jennifer Bove
Aug 30, 2012
Interaction Awards Profiles Anab Jain

For our third profile in our series on the 2013 Interaction Awards Jury, we’ve interviewed London-based juror Anab Jain. Anab invents stories, scenarios, products and experiences that imbue our everyday lives with a sense of the magical, and provoke thought and reflection around the near future. She is the Founder and Co-Director of London and India based design studio Superflux. Working both as a client-facing Consultancy as well as a more open-ended research Lab, the studio’s projects range from the wildly speculative to the immediately applicable, but always with a focus on humanising technology and its implications. Recent clients include Sony, European Commission, Microsoft, Design Council and Mattel Toys. Originally from India, Anab has a Masters in Interaction Design from the Royal College of Art and has been a TED Fellow since 2009.

We asked Anab two questions, and here’s what she had to say:

1. What is your favorite product, digital or otherwise, to use, and why?

I have been trying to think of some of the current products I use – guess the phone, kindle and laptop would feature at the top. But they are not necessarily my favourite products, they are more products of necessity that allow me to be more efficient in my work and social life.

Actually thinking about it, probably one of my all time favourite ‘products’ is our family’s paper calendar that hung near the kitchen when I was growing up, back in India. Like paper calendars in homes around the world, my Mum, Dad, sister and I, and occasionally cousins and friends who visited, annotated it with birthdays, school trips, work trips, holidays, anniversaries and so on. But there’s more to it.

The amusing and often entertaining part of the calendar were all the other things that were marked on it. Numerous festivals, from Kiteflying to DiwaliRakhsha Bandhan to Dussehra, were important cultural events that would otherwise be missed, as there are too many to remember. Then, it also had a second calendar parallel to it – the lunar calendar which showed the growing moon all the way upto full moon day and back to no moon day. This was important for all those who were going to do any kind of fasting.

And finally, the most important marking on the calendar was the Hindu Swastika symbol, a little red mark on the corners of the dates which were meant to be auspicious. Now this was serious stuff. If you were going to buy a car, you’d do it on a day that had that symbol. If a wedding was being arranged, you’d sift through the pages to come to the month in question, and find the most auspicious day for it. If you were about to name your baby, you’d wait for the right time and day. Despite our amusement and jokes around it, secretly we’d all glance at it just to make sure we were not crossing the dreaded boundaries of auspiciousness. In case we did ignore it, neighbours and relatives who would be invited for any family event would go look at their calendars to make sure we did not plan a wedding on a day that was not auspicious. In strange ways, this little paper artifact with its little red markings and a growing moon governed our lives.

From being a reminder to a conversation piece to controlling how we would buy things and plan family events, it felt like it was part of the family somehow, almost as if it had agency or a life of its own. Unlike so many products we use today, this paper calendar understood cultural context, it understood its users whims and idiosyncracies, it understood the value of collaboration and conversation, it was flexible and it could grow. Yet was cheap to buy, never ran out of batteries and was 100% recyclable. Really quite brilliant.

2. What are 5 things all designers should know?

This is my personal current list, it keeps changing, as such lists do. Actually I dont keep many such lists for that very reason.

1. Saying NO is OK.
Designers feel obliged to say YES, just in case saying NO might mean turning down potential opportunities in the far future. One day. Maybe. But between a sense of moral obligation and humility, exercising good judgement to avoid being pulled into a tiresome spiral of never ending ‘favour jobs’ is OK.

2. Writing is a GOOD thing.
Designers dont write enough about their work, stuff that excites them, stuff that annoys them. I know its not our job to write, but I have learnt that actually sitting down and writing is super helpful in articulating my thoughts. It also brings clarity for clients and collaborators, and creates useful debate in the community.

3. Collaboration is BETTER then stagnation:
I prefer to collaborate and work with many of the talented, wonderful people I meet and get on with, rather then hold onto precious ideas which eventually stagnate and decay.

4. Drinking lots of TEA is important:
We drink *loads* of tea in our studio. Everyone makes it, everyone drinks it, everyone talks around it. We’ve invented bands, hatched plans to hijack space jets, listened to amazing lectures, drawn pirates and watched ridiculous amounts of cat videos around cups of tea.

5. Make a WISHLIST, amuse yourself:
Robert Boyle’s wishlist has left a remarkable impression on me. Some of the ideas in the list are far-fetched, others have already been achieved. But its not so much about what is actually realised, but the way in which the wishlist helped him articulate his vision for a desirable future that he hoped science would realise. As a designer a wishlist might perhaps help me think more carefully about what my ambitions are, how they juxtapose with our collective hopes and, naive as it might be, how I can push myself to be a useful member of society.

You can learn more about Anab at superflux.in and follow her on twitter @anabjain.

The Interaction Awards are open until October 1st and will be celebrated at Interaction|13 in Toronto in January 2013. Find out more, read about our other jurors, and submit your work!

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