13 November 2006
Yamini Prabhakar
Yamini Prabhakar

Exploring her heritage, a California designer finds inspiration among peers in her parents' native India.

Education. In the traditional sense of the word, one would think of kindergarten, then elementary, high school and so on. But for me, along with the traditional path, learning has come from the school of world travel. And as a graphic designer, it's been a visual wonderland.

I was born and brought up in the U.S., a child of Indian immigrants. I believe the best thing immigrant families can do for their children is teach them about their heritage. For me, this has meant a trek from Southern California to Bangalore, India, numerous times since I was a year old. India is a unique land of many people, religions, languages, terrain, colors, smells and tastes. You'd think that this mixture would result in chaos-and in some ways, it does-but if you take the time to understand the history and see the genuine nature of the people, you'll see the calm amidst the activity. What would you expect from the birthplace of yoga?

In India, you'll find graphic design in English and also in the official language of the state. India has more than 22 languages with different scripts and more than 100 dialects. Comparing this to my life in Southern California, I think of the people I know who harp about having to select a language when they go to the ATM-English or Spanish. Be happy you only have to choose from two. This is where that advice about world travel comes in handy: If you get outside your box, you'll see what life is like elsewhere and appreciate what you have-or better yet, you might experience something new that can enrich your life back home.

On my most recent trip to India in December 2002, I was lucky enough to meet a circle of artists in Bangalore. Talking to the cream of the crop of graphic designers in that city, I realized that a lot of their issues were similar to my career back home. Their biggest challenge was teaching businesspeople about the value of good design and getting properly compensated for it. The lack of awareness about graphic design in India came across loud and clear. So I wondered, "How can this issue be solved? What's the one thing that could promote a change in such attitudes?" The answer? Education. The public needs to understand why we do what we do.

What can you do? With groups like ICOGRADA and AIGA's Cross-Cultural Design Forum there's an evolution in the works for a global change in attitude toward design. I was president of my local AIGA chapter; through that, I was introduced to ICOGRADA and was excited to learn that such an organization exists. ICOGRADA (www.icograda.org) is an international association of design organizations, and it's the best way to connect with fellow designers around the world. (ATypI is the only U.S. group that's affiliated with the world body, but U.S. designers can join as individual Friends of ICOGRADA for an annual fee of $100.) If you're curious about job prospects in Japan, for example, or further studies in Denmark, you can tap into a list of contacts that can help you exchange ideas and information through the Internet.

By getting involved with such groups or doing it on your own, designers can pave the way to make this world a better place-visually-for all. Now get out that passport and explore your world.

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Yamini Prabhakar

About this article

Reprinted with permission from the author and HOW magazine, April 2002.

Yamini Prabhakar
Yamini Prabhakar was born in Milwaukee, grew up in California, completed high school in India and attended the design programme at Arizona State University. She's an art director, a Friend of ICOGRADA and past president of AIGA/Orange County.