The Art of Jugaad: What we learned from Birmingham Design Festival

Last week, Faber rubbed shoulders with Birmingham’s up-and-coming creatives at the first-ever Birmingham Design Festival. A standout talk was by senior marketing creative, Sweta Pathak: ‘Creativity: Birmingham vs. London,’ where she drew on the principles of jugaad to demonstrate how creatives can overcome geographical boundaries…

Do you know the meaning of the word jugaad?

It’s a Hindi word that roughly translates as the modern/slang interpretation of “hack” (as in “life hack.”) In a nutshell: to find a cost-effective solution to a problem through innovation.

Faber went along to the inaugural Birmingham Design Festival this week to listen to freelance creative director Sweta Pathak deliver a talk on the challenges faced by creatives in Birmingham compared with London.

She gave the analogy of London being the beloved first-born; showered with “expensive toys and attention,” and Birmingham as the neglected second child, who must make do with hand-me-downs. Having worked and lived in both cities (she’s currently based in Birmingham), Sweta is well-placed to draw this comparison. With fewer brands to work with, smaller budgets and the inevitable brain drain of graduates to London, it can make for a challenging environment for creative agencies working outside of the capital.

But, argued Sweta, maybe having less could actually make us more creative. “I grew up in India, and I was very used to hearing the word ‘jugaad,’” she said. “It’s a phenomenon that’s widely practised on the streets of India and it doesn’t matter what you do in life, or how rich or poor you are; everybody does it. It’s a problem-solving approach that uses very limited resources and pushes you to be more innovative.”

You only need to search “examples of jugaad” on Google images to get an idea of what Sweta is talking about. But jugaad isn’t just about finding madcap solutions to broken toilet cisterns; it’s also something that some geographically challenged creatives have been deploying for years, perhaps unknowingly.

Sweta provided a multitude of examples of small, once-unheard-of agencies, who’ve managed to create some of the world’s most memorable advertising campaigns, catapulting them into the big time. Fallon Minneapolis, for example, when it first launched in 1981 with no clients, placed an advert in the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune calling on all companies that would “rather outsmart the competition than outspend them.” Fallon wasn’t New York-based like the majority of the leading agencies at that time, but it still managed to bag The Wall Street Journal in its first year – because it made its size, location and relative anonymity part of its appeal.

In the context of restaurant design, the merits of jugaad couldn’t be more relevant. That’s not to say you should take risks with your design in order to save money. But making the best of your space, budget and location needs a nimble, adaptive approach; one that can see past the problems and find a way to make the business work for you.

A key lesson we can learn from jugaad is that limitations needn’t stifle creativity. Instead they should be the catalyst for out-of-the-box thinking. Because in the end, your “problems” could be exactly what makes your business stand out from the crowd.

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