Thursday, 27 June 2019

Story of How the "Story of a Development Bank" Was Designed

Forty long years after this “book” was published, and almost two decades since the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI), whose silver jubilee it sought to commemorate, lost its identity, it is time to put the book out in the public domain as an archival document. Apart from the graphic design of the book, what also needs to be archived, as a case-study perhaps, is the entire experience of creating a commemorative volume at a time when imaging and printing technology were rudimentary in India; simple things like getting the right colour and conveying the right emotion through visuals was an achievement! Even graphic literacy was in its infancy in the country and there were few in the corporate world at that time who understood subliminal messaging.

The Assignment
The year was 1978. I had not even completed three years of employment with ICICI, then a development bank. But, in that brief period, I had inspired a feeling of respect with the then top echelons of the organisation, perhaps because of my background of research in development administration and of what they perceived as my writing skills. I was still too ‘wet behind the ears’ to understand my abilities and too steeped in the upbringing of self-effacing professionalism, to appreciate the reason for that respect. For a comparative novice in the hierarchical corporate world, and a very junior employee, it was quite an enviable achievement.

HT Parekh, who had just retired as the Chairman of ICICI, after having launched HDFC (Housing Development Finance Corporation) in 1977, undertook to write the history of ICICI as its silver jubilee commemoration volume. He specifically asked for my services as a research and editorial assistant. And Siddharth Mehta, the then Chairman & Managing Director (CMD) of ICICI entrusted to me the task of ‘publishing’ the book. In his signature way, he told me: “Remember, I want a world-class book. And the deadline is sacrosanct.” There was no ‘briefing’ about design, agency, size, paper, costs, etc.

Thus commenced the odyssey resulting in this publication – I would have hardly called it a book. The text was a longish personal memoir by HT Parekh (HTP, as he was known in the haloed world of banking & finance as well as government and corporate circles). In that genre, it had nuggets of very valuable information – in fact, invaluable for a business historian of that period. But the manuscript was all of about 50 pages! HTP did not want a data-heavy book; its target audience comprised international bankers, corporate executives and Indian policy-makers – who would lap up every word that HTP wrote – such was his standing in those circles. So the author too did not expect a typical coffee-table tome that would be looked at but not read. But he did want gloss and colour. His one sentence brief to me was: “I want a book that’s good looking – one which will be noticed all over the world.”

The challenge was terrific and the opportunity once-in-a-lifetime one. Of course, I had to work with the best designer available in Bombay then – one who would be able to translate my concept into a work of art. So I turned to Yeshwant Chaudhary with whom I had just finished working on the corporate identity of HDFC. My instinct, and the experience of designing the HDFC symbol and logo, told me that Yeshwant Chaudhary would be able to weave together the symbolism of Indian tantric art with the industrial photography of Mitter Bedi blended with the thematic photography of Vilas Bhende and the philosophy of development that HTP and ICICI espoused.

The Concept
In the 1970s, communicators in India were animated about Marshall Macluhan’s book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”, in which he had coined the famous phrase “medium is the message.” I discussed with Yeshwant Chaudhary if a similar visual phraseology could be developed to communicate ‘Industry – The Extension of Man’. It would convey that ICICI was into assisting Indian industry; industry was working toward the total development of man; it was in a way extension of human faculties – the five senses. If we could develop that graphic phraseology, it would add a lot of gravitas to ‘verbal content’ of the book – where the book, as the medium, would also deliver the message of total development of humankind through industrialisation.

The concept charged up Yeshwant Chaudhary such that we spent nearly three months debating various aspects of this phraseology – even as HTP and Siddharth Mehta were getting impatient to “see” the presentation of the concept. They had to approve it before I could go ahead and commit the financial resources and work out a detailed implementation plan – within the deadline! We presented to them just the three theme pages; and we had expected that we would have to spend at least an hour explaining the why and the wherefore of it. We came out beaming, in three minutes flat! The visuals were powerful enough. No ‘wordy’ explanations were needed.

These were the three finally printed spreads.

Three images of the cover and the two theme pages

For readers who may like to access the entire document, here is the link