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Doctoral graduate develops toolkit for culturally sustainable design

May 07, 2013

Tejas Dhadphale is discovering how to merge disciplines and ideas to help businesses compete in an increasingly complex global marketplace.

One innovative trend in a world of emerging markets, shorter product lifecycles and increasing worldwide competition is “sustainable product development.”

Yet even sustainable products can lack a key element that will ensure the success of a new product, says Dhadphale, who is receiving his doctoral degree in Design, Environment and the Arts from Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“Sustainable product development focuses mainly on environmental issues, and to a certain extent on social and economic aspects,” he says. “Unfortunately, companies often fail to deal with the cultural dimension.”

The goal of culturally sustainable design is to develop products that embody and enrich a particular way of life or culture, says Dhadphale.

While doing his dissertation research in India, Dhadphale was surprised to see limited penetration for modern and multinational retailers in India.

“Modern retailers fail to resonate with the cultural practices of daily shopping, specifically among Indian women. India consumers equally value personal relationships, trust, and informal communication with retailers.”

Since many cultures resist homogenization or the one-size-fits-all sameness of mass-produced products, Dhadphale’s goal is to create a toolkit for designers to develop culturally appropriate products and services. In his studies, he drew from multiple disciplines, including design, anthropology and sustainability.

“Apart from design, I have taken classes in socio-cultural anthropology, material culture, justice studies, visual ethnography and education,” he says. “I have also shared my work with faculty from diverse disciplines, including communications, social justice and education, and received constructive feedback.”

“I feel that the interdisciplinary nature of my program has helped me to develop an empathetic relationship with other disciplines. Over the years, I have made some wonderful friends across different disciplines."

After growing up in Pune, India, Dhadphale received a bachelor degree from B.K.P.S. College of Architecture in India. When he decided to acquire a graduate degree, he applied to and was accepted at two design schools in India and three U.S. universities, including ASU.

When it came to a decision, Dhadphale chose ASU because of its highly ranked programs in the Design School, as well as the quality of faculty research.

“I was looking for a research-intense degree rather than a drawing skill,” he says.

Dhadphale credits Prasad Boradkar, an associate professor in The Design School and director of Innovation Space, as a mentor who gave him exceptional support and guidance. His other committee members reflect the variety of input he solicited for his project, including Jacques Giard, a professor in industrial Design, and Benjamin Broome, a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

“The entire faculty at The Design School has been extremely supportive of my work,” says Dhadphale. I am also extremely grateful for the support I received from the Graduate College, which awarded me a Completion Fellowship for my final semester, and the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) for their continuing support. Finally, I would like to thank my family for their unwavering and unconditional support.”

As he graduates with his doctorate, he plans to pursue a career in academia that will allow him to express his passion for design, research and teaching.

“I want to open the world of design to a multitude of perspectives and disciplines.”