Prof. Mahendra Patel is a retired senior faculty member of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, India. Currently, he is an adjunct faculty member at SID & MIT-ID, Pune and a consultant with The Leaf Design, Mumbai. He studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU Baroda and at NID, followed by a degree in Advance Graphic Design at School of Design, Basel, Switzerland. In 1971, He went on to work on type design projects at Atelier Frutiger, Paris.
He has worked on type design development projects in Devanagari, Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil scripts. He has designed detailed Tourist and Bus-route Maps, Guide Maps, Irrigation & Ecology Maps and Industrial & Archaeological Maps and signage systems for Tirupati and Hyderabad City.
(We, at Design/6 have always found sir’s classes and company extremely inspiring. Recently, we cornered him into giving us a sneak peek into his life, work and everything else...)
When and how did you decide to teach typography?
In 1969, after a specialised education in typography at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad for 2 years and then School of Design, Basel for 1 year.
Could you share with us your experience at the International Gutenberg Society where you were awarded The Mainz Gutenberg Award?
It was the best I could expect for myself, I am proud and overwhelmed by the honour and recognition it gave me at an international level, I was very charged to share my experience of teaching Letter Design in India at Gutenberg Museum, School of Design (where I studied in 1968!) and at Reading University which has a post-graduation course in Type Design.
I also took the opportunity to meet many of my teachers: Hans Pulver (Typography), Dourothy Hoffmann (Letter Design), Armin Hoffmann (Graphic Design), Adrian Frutiger (Type Design in Switzerland) and Bruno Pffafli (Advanced Typography in Paris)
I had also a great experience of travelling with my wife in Europe (our first time trip together abroad!).
You are very inspirational as a person and mostly as a teacher. Your classes have always left a mark on your students. Could you tell us about some of the wonderful teachers you have had?
K G Subramaniam from Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda, who gave me a good foundation and sensitivity towards Fine Arts. He also recommended me to NID for a Post-graduation course.
Armin Hoffmann, I had a hard time with this strict task-master to learn Basic Graphic Design, that would later become my core strength.
Peter Teubner, who gave me thorough knowledge and extensive skill of hot-metal typography. He was more hard-working than me and a perfectionist.
Christian Pulver, hardly 2 years older than me, introduced me to illustrative typography.
Andre Gutler, the letter design teacher at School of Design, Basel, gave me in-depth perfection in quality and skill in letter form construction as well as roman script writing with a quill pen.
Adrian Frutiger, my friend, guru and mentor for my proficiency in Type Design. I had a great one-to-one working time and relation with him that has become my lifetime’s best. I stayed in the apartment above his studio and everybody was very excited to have me around, it was almost a year long festive time for all of us.
Bruno Pffafli, the typographer from Atelier Frutiger has become a great friend of mine. Apart from doing some professional projects with him, I had a great time with him, his wife and sons during off hours.
Ashoke Chaterjee, Executive Director of NID in 1970’s groomed me into an efficient performer, administrator and manager in design education. He was extremely supportive and kind to me.
An assignment you particularly enjoyed doing as a student?
The 3 Letter forms “a,s, & n” in 3 weights and italic family with Andre Gutler. I was doing it for almost six months! It was completely freehand; I had a layer of almost 1 cm on my mount-board! At the end I become a master, breathing my letter forms.
The most difficult assignment/project you had to as a designer?
An Exhibition Design project “UDYAM, A Theme Pavilion” at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, for Ministry of Industry in 1979. I was the chief visualiser/designer.
What are your hobbies? Any favourite movies?
Collecting small idols made out of terracotta, metal etc.
Favourite movie: Hum Apke Hain Kaun, Bagban, Paa
What are your opinions on design in India today vs. since when you started?
I started with design that was mostly dependent on our hand skills, precision and grid-based layouts.
Today, design is more idea and concept dominant with an identity/branding element. It is complex with layers, tricks and techniques that the computer makes possible. So it is a brand with a good mix of art, ideas, design and technology.
What are your opinions on the teaching methods in design schools today? And what changes, if any, would you like to suggest?
The syllabus as well as teaching at design schools is more or less linear, all the students need to do everything. It should be much more learner-centric and based on their choices, aspirations, mind set and objectives.
Do you think designers in India receive enough acknowledgements for their work?
No. The designers themselves do not respect, appreciate or acknowledge each other or their work most of the time. We hardly use any Indian designer’s work as an example or teaching reference.
The industry, however, mostly seems open to give credit to the designer.
One peculiar thing about you that your students don’t know?
I am a transparent person, I have a habit of using myself as a case to explain or motivate my students.
I prefer modest and economic things over precious items. I do not like to posses any gold, diamonds, cars, costly watches or pens. But I love the scooter..