April 2014 | Rishi Vora

Inspired by design

The focus on design and innovation has become stronger at the Tata group in response to the growing awareness of how good design enhances the value of the brand and creates stronger, longer-lasting consumer experiences

The difference between a me-too product and a well-designed one is that the former merges into the background and the latter stands out from the clutter. Design combines creativity and innovation to create a product that enhances the user experience and delights the consumer.

At Tata, a group of companies have come together to drive the new mantra of design-driven innovation in order to build a sustainable, competitive advantage for their products and services. A recent roundtable conference titled ‘Design@Tata’ was the setting for senior leaders from Titan Company, Tata Technologies, Tata Global Beverages (TGB) and Tata Elxsi to discuss why design is a key function in their organisation and how it translates into value for the brand.

How Titan ‘thinks’ design
Operating in the fashion and lifestyle space — where visual appeal and user experience is of paramount importance — Titan Company regards design as a crucial function. India’s leading watch and jewellery maker, Titan has developed two distinct capabilities: for ‘thinking design’ and for ‘executing design’.

Revathi Kant, associate vice president, design, innovation and development, at Titan, explains, “Design enhances the brand’s image, so keeping that in mind, we have created two separate teams for design. We have a team that only does the ‘thinking work’. Its functions include understanding the business and its customers, and developing a strategy or an idea based on the design.”

Titan’s superior product aesthetics are a result of the seamless integration of ‘design thinking’ and, its next step, the actual ‘designing’. Titan’s robust design process — called 3I design — has stages for immersion, ideation and implementation.

This design innovation at Titan ensures that its conceptualised and created products ‘stand differentiated in the marketplace’. “We try and use our design concepts in the company’s other business categories, so that efforts are not duplicated within the company,” says Ms Kant.

Refreshing designs at TGB
Operating in the fast-moving consumer goods sector, TGB is aware that design can play a vital role in increasing sales, especially on retail shelves where a great pack design can attract customers. “A good design for a brand can refresh a brand completely, scaling its business substantially,” says Sushant Dash, global brand director, Tata Global Beverages.

TGB says that a great design often depends on getting the very first step right — having a deep understanding of the business and the customer. A case in point is the Tata Tetley innovation, which increased sales for the brand substantially. “Based on the insight that the string tea bags were messy, we designed the ‘Tetley drawstring’. This helped eliminate the dripping and allowed for easy disposability.”

Although direct linkages between design and sales are often not possible, what is indisputable is the impact on the brand image. “In many cases, we have found improvements in brand imagery post improvements in design or its packaging,” says Mr Dash. One such example is the Tata Tea Gold standy-pack, a modern design that translated into premium imagery for the brand.

Designed by Tata Technologies’ engineers
Within the Tata universe, Tata Technologies occupies a unique space where design meets engineering meets IT. With 6,500 people on its rolls, Tata Technologies uses its design and engineering skills to create solutions for the automobile, aerospace and heavy engineering sectors.

Design is integral to the work that Tata Technologies does as it creates products that establish new benchmarks for a list of clients that include global leaders. Gopinath Jairaj, president, global delivery, Tata Technologies, shares his company’s approach to designing products for its customers: “By deploying engineering and technology in designs, we are able to convert consumer insights into class-defining products.”

Embedding high-end design capabilities in its core business process is critical to the path that Tata Technologies has mapped out for itself — that of becoming “the world’s number one partner of the manufacturing industry”.

Tata Elxsi’s attention to detail
At Tata Elxsi, the role of design is to solve the customer’s business problem. Working closely with several companies in the product and industrial design space, Tata Elxsi has expertise in both design and technology, and uses innovation and design to add value across the brand and the product development lifecycle.

Nick Talbot, global design head at Tata Elxsi, is unequivocal about the significance of design: “Design can increase a company’s sales or revenues, but to do this it has to create an experience for its customers that will have a lasting impact on their minds. Every 1 percent intelligently spent on good design can possibly yield a 3-5 percent increase in revenues for a company.”

This is why Tata Elxsi works as a strategic partner with its clients to create a differentiated brand and to address the needs of the consumers. Says Mr Talbot, “With the rapidly changing demands and requirements of consumers, blending creative design with technology has become the need of the hour for companies.”

At Tata Elxsi, a design project is broken down to several smaller elements — for a brand design, for example, it may include crafting the story of a brand, the values it represents, the tone of voice it uses to converse, the colours it uses to attract, etc. What’s needed is a clear objective for the design, says Mr Talbot. This translates into an idea or a strategy, while the rest is all about quality execution with a strong focus on detail.

A recent successful design makeover was for Bru, the 50-year old coffee brand from Hindustan Unilever (HUL). With the rise in consumer interest in gourmet cuisine, Bru had to make its presence felt in the premium end of the coffee market, which was dominated by international brands. Tata Elxsi’s task was to uplift the traditional imagery of the brand by creating an international appeal. To achieve this, it developed a unique pack design with a glass finish and an innovative cap design. The premium look and increased visibility led to increased market share for HUL.

Demand for design
In a country like India, where customer expectations are being driven by the rising youth demographic and the increasing exposure to international brands, design can play a vital role in not just building a brand but in defining it. Consumers today do not pay much heed to marketing campaigns, instead they look to break away from the advertising clutter — and that’s where design becomes pivotal, providing a single, visible opportunity for a brand to stand for something that is relevant to the audience. Interestingly, this is irrespective of business category, be it a consumer durable such as a car, or a lifestyle product like a watch, or a consumable such as a beverage.

Innovation has for long been an area of focus at Tata, with several pan-Tata initiatives in place to encourage and support innovators. Of late, the need for strong design capabilities has led to the Tata group looking to support and build its design skill sets. After all, it is designers across the group that are, at this very moment, working to create the brands and products of tomorrow. ¨

The T2 experience
One of the most visible outputs from Tata Elxsi today is its work on Mumbai’s sparkling new, critically-acclaimed airport terminal — the T2 terminal at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.


Bringing in its strength in integrating creative design with technology, Tata Elxsi worked in collaboration with the GVK group to design the experiential services across various consumer touch points at T2. This included designing entertainment zones, customer service zones and general and lifestyle seating areas from security through to boarding gates. Other work included designing pay phones, charging stations, ATM and vending machine housing and internet workstations and kiosks.

T2 is a distinctly unique terminal that meets international standards, while ensuring sustainability, reflecting elegance and a better convenience and comfort experience. It is a landmark achievement for Tata Elxsi in terms of the high quality of design, technology and innovation.