Amardeep Behl of Design Habit is one of India’s foremost experience designers. In his work he plumbs cultural depths to come up with stunning revelations, enabling viewers to see things from a totally different perspective. Deepa Kamath, who was a year junior to him at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, reconnects with this restless campus non-conformist, now morphed into a design ‘guru’.
“I am a blender,” he begins. “I take graphic design, color, sound, music, various scenarios, and blend them into an experience. My primary work is creating experiential spaces. I take various inputs – theatrical, cinematic, multimedia – and create layered, tactile, sensory, experiences. The base of all this is narrative — storytelling.”
“I dig very deep into the context. Embed myself in it. I wanted to feel what Gandhi felt,” reflects Amar on Mahatma Gandhi travelling exhibition in the USSR project. “My design solutions come from here,” he says, touching his heart.
Amar’s face lights up when he talks of the India Pavilion at the World Exposition at Aichi in Japan. Unlike other countries which start work three to four years in advance, the Indian team had typically only a few months to prepare with no clear idea of the budget or the way ahead! The Exposition theme was ‘Nature’s Wisdom’ and each country interpreted it in ways unique to their culture. Amar’s Design Habit placed the viewer at the center of the concept – the Bodhi Tree and the Dharma Chakra metaphors used resonated with Japanese audiences. On the outer wall of the pavilion were 3-D models of eight Indian trees in full flower, stunning in their glory. The floral bunches were painstakingly created by hand so that each moved, lifelike, with every passing gust of wind, drawing in viewers. Entering through a gateway created by thousands of fabricated marigold strands, the walkthrough moved onto other aspects of Indian life, traditional and contemporary.
Amar is very clear that each project has its own persona and a unique voice. For example, in one of his early projects – the Swaraj Bhavan Museum in Allahabad – the house, witness to many historical incidents during India’s freedom struggle, was turned into the narrator.
The Virasat-e-Khalsa project at Anandpur Sahib is a high point in Amar’s professional practice, the coming together of the many threads. I was curious to know what working on it meant to a non-practicing Sikh like himself. “Religion wasn’t an important part of my personality or my life. But growing up in a Sikh family with grandparents around meant that certain things came together clearer. It was the greatest design challenge I have faced – to take the story of a faith and to express it; to be able to perceive it and understand the pulse of my audience.”
“With a few keystrokes information is at our fingertips. Museums are not relevant anymore…the age of museums bypassed India, like so many other things.”
(Deepa Kamath is a graphic design consultant, and currently Managing Director, INDI Design, Hong Kong)
Read more about Amardeep Behl and his fabulous experience designs in POOL 51.