When you think of leaders in graphic design, India probably isn’t the first country that comes to mind. Of course, India is known for a lot of great things: the Taj Mahal, Bollywood, tikka masala… but, on a recent trip, I was surprised to see firsthand that there’s some great graphic design work going on in India as well.
One of the first things you notice, whether you’re in Mumbai, New Delhi, Jaipur, or any of the major cities, is just how crowded the roads are. It’s impossible to ignore the incessant honking of cars, tuk tuks, and motorbikes, or the shouts of pedestrians and mooing cows that roam as they please. While the sounds can be quite jarring, the sights are something to behold: in fact, one of my favorite parts of my nearly month long trip around the country was the paintings and designs on the trucks found driving throughout the country. Almost every truck you see has some sort of painting on it, whether to give a name or simply “horn please.” Bold and colorful, these designs are truly captivating—from flowers to elephants to stylized typography in both Hindi and English, each truck is different and a piece of art in its own right. I found myself taking more photos of the cars themselves than of the roadside scenery; I’d never seen such lettering before, and hadn’t realized that a truck could actually be beautiful! Rides on the highway or even just from point A to point B within a city felt almost like a moving art exhibit.
After visiting a many of the big sites in the north, we headed to the bustling hub of Mumbai, and I was again surprised by the beautiful designs I saw. While walking through the crowded streets of South Bombay in search of a sun hat and good cup of chai, I stumbled onto a beautiful bakery storefront, hand-painted in blues and reds. It, like many of the things you’ll see in India, felt like a relic from another time, another example of the retro style that, to me, characterizes graphic design in India. Naturally, I stopped to take some photos and appreciate the hustle and bustle of the shop before proceeding with my promenade.
Later, while on the same walk, I found myself strolling past a storefront whose printed t-shirts caught my eye. Upon entering, I realized that the whole shop was literally dedicated to graphic design and sold work from more than 100 artists! Everything you could imagine, from posters to mugs to my personal favorite, pocket-sized notebooks, was printed with bright and vibrant designs by designers from all over India. The notebooks I bought were the perfect souvenir, both for my friends and myself; in fact, the graphic red and yellow design I chose to keep as my own is currently my go-to notebook for to do lists and little reminders. And, luckily, the store has an online shop—kultureshop.in— for when I run out of pages or am just looking for a beautifully designed gift or home object.
India is one of my favorite destinations I’ve traveled to, and my trip this past April was truly one of a lifetime. Visiting the country upended a lot of my preconceived notions about India, including ones about design, and to me, that’s what travel is all about! I can’t wait to visit again, but in the meantime, bringing elements of Indian design into my everyday life is a great way to keep the memories and inspiration alive.