Design principles have changed due to the mobile-first approach: Ashwini Deshpande

Ashwini Deshpande

Ashwini Deshpande from Elephant Design speaks about gender-oriented challenges seen by the workforce in the industry, the changing axioms of packaging and design in a mobile-first world, and more.

The pandemic has changed the inner workings of agencies – be it adding Work From Home as a staple to the digital push to processes. Ashwini Deshpande, Co-Founder & Director, Elephant Design speaks about the nuances of the current setup for working women. She also dabbles into the changing design trends seen in the industry and shares a message with the participants of the #SS40Under40, as a jury member. 

Edited Excerpts: 

While the pandemic and the subsequent WFH setup have been difficult for everyone, it has been particularly challenging for working women and women leaders. Please share a few observations from your experience and the experiences of any other working women you have interacted with? 

When the pandemic hit the world, none of us had ever visualised the scenario. So, we did not really have a plan.  WFH was quite challenging in the first few months, especially when supplies and house help were not available, and one had to manage multiple chores. It seemed more difficult because there was extreme uncertainty about the way things would shape up at work and at home. But we now know this uncertainty as the normal. Since things opened out on all fronts and businesses/ schools adapted to hybrid or online models, it has eased everyone into a routine and people have found ways to manage their schedules. 

Women with younger children that need assistance for online schooling perhaps face a greater challenge, but not the others. With practically no commute time or stress of driving or public transport, no out of town travel, reasonable flexibility & control over working hours, I do not believe it is any more difficult for women compared to men. 

However, there are newer challenges being identified as we still grapple with adjustments. Women find it hard to raise their voices or make their point in online meetings. As the primary home-manager, they are disadvantaged being in two roles all the time as the boundaries between work tasks & domestic chores are blurred. 

I have never found a woman colleague or client missing in action throughout the pandemic months. I see a lot of women leaders going through a burnout phase as they feel compelled to be available for their team 24/7. 

Even as the pandemic situation betters, sudden crises and volatility cannot be ruled out. Any tips for agencies and brands in terms of setting up work policies that aid women during WFH. 

The Indian culture that is being mentioned as the reason for women being primary home managers is not new. All working women have figured ways to deal with what they can and they cannot do. The crux of this issue has not changed though it may look glaring in current times. 

Organizations are run by people. If those people embrace ’empathy’ as their guiding policy, work-life will improve for everyone. However, I do not believe empathy has to be demonstrated for just one gender. 

Advertising and Media is often stigmatized as not safe enough for girls and women. Any tips on how aspiring girls or even non-binary folks who wish to make a career in this industry? 

Elephant has always had a balanced gender ratio and equal pay policy. I have heard far too many negative conversations about the creative agencies and their culture though never experienced it myself. But hopefully, things are changing. More women leaders in the industry need to make themselves available for mentoring younger team members. A good boss creates a good future boss. Younger people entering the agencies need to see role models within and outside the industry. It is still a very exciting industry where future-gazing and creativity is valued. Unless a good number of women or non-binary folks join in, it will be impossible to reach a critical mass to achieve balance. So, my advice would be “hop in and make a difference.” 

Also Read: Agencies should try to follow an Asset Light Model: Sam Balsara

While women’s representation and leadership is still a burning issue, equal representation of non-binary industry members has evolved as a challenge too. We seldom see non-binary folks in leadership roles. How can the A & M industry become more conducive for their non-binary members? 

This is a chicken & egg story. Will the non-binary folks affect cultural change or will the organizations make transformative policies and facilitate non-binary people to achieve their potential? What will happen first? Both sides need to make a beginning consciously. 

You have presided over the jury panels of many national and international industry awards. In terms of marketing technology, how do you think the Indian industry is performing when compared to their global counterparts?  Any learnings from your time as a jury member across panels that you think the Indian A & M industry can apply? 

Indian agencies are winning everywhere. So, there is no doubt about their creative or execution capabilities. They are on top of their game. At the same time, I feel quite disappointed to see that most winning works from India are either for a social cause or limited editions or self-promotion. There is very little mainstream work winning awards. I hope to see Indian agencies winning awards for mainstream clients that actually reaches their client’s audience and makes an impact as a norm rather than the exception. 

In the last few years, a number of brands have changed their packaging and branding. Please shed some insights on how consumers these days perceive product packaging and designs. As a design expert, any tips on what should brands and agencies keep in mind, while deciding on their branding and packaging in a post-pandemic world? 

Any FMCG brand looks at refreshing its branding & packaging in three to five years depending upon the periodicity of purchase by its regular consumers. This is guided by the degree of fatigue/ blind spot due to repeated purchase, newer technology & design trends, and changing category dynamics due to new or old players. 

The last couple of years have seen a huge rise in online shopping for foods, personal care & homecare. This has led to a rise in D2C brands that can reach consumers without having to spend on distribution or conventional advertising. Whether D2C or not, almost all brands now reach their consumers through mobile-first. This has had the biggest impact on how packaging is being designed. 

The packaging on shelves can be seen, held, and read through. But it also needs to stand out shoulder to shoulder with its competition on the same shelf. 

‘Mobile first’ has the task of conveying everything at a short glance even if it may not have the competition next to it. 

So, the design principles have changed. The tone of voice has become conversational. Colours and fonts have become pixel-friendly. Brands are adopting cleaner, simpler looks that work better on screens. These changes are here to stay even post-pandemic. 

As the Jury member for #SS40Under40, what is the one thing you will be looking for in entries? 

Consistency of passion. Hoping there will be passion. 

Please share one message for all #SS40Under participants. 

Make a positive difference because you can.