First day,First show

First day,First show

Just like the movies, every business idea has to be impactful on its first day, says design entrepreneur, Sonia Manchanda


Sonia Manchanda is in the business of transforming lives through design. As one of the founding members of Idiom Design and Consulting (Idiom), she takes pride in the fact that her company is a one-stop solution for all things design right from business strategy, to design strategy, to an integrated design story. “All aspects of design, as required by the project, are integrated – like visual communication, online strategy, product design, furniture, interiors, architecture and more,” states the National Institute of Design graduate. Manchanda explains that at Idiom, all ideas are born from Indian insights and this goes a long way in delivering results beyond initial projections. The Bengaluru-based company, which was established in 2005 with financial support from Future Group’s Kishore Biyani, currently handles numerous brands. Its most notable effort in the recent times has been the creation of a look and identity for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Manchanda is rather modest about her efforts at Idiom as she says, “There are many leaders at the helm of Idiom, I’m only one of them.”  Her plans for Idiom’s future are clear. In the next five years, she wants to see the company grow intelligently, organically and smartly while adding on areas of design that are relevant to India and the emerging world. “At another level, Idiom will be doing and planning to do important global work, right out of India,” she says.

Carrying forward her vision for design and its place in the world, Manchanda’s spin-off from Idiom is a design incubator that is slowly establishing a global identity. “DREAM: IN is a super-incubator and ecosystem to transform the youth from being mere consumers of income and employment to become creators of income and employment,” says Manchanda. The incubator aims at creating a knowledge base that includes training while providing research and analytics consulting for corporates, constituencies and institutions, both locally and globally.

It is associated with several international education centres including Parsons School of Design Strategies, New York. The incubator holds ‘Dreamcamps’ on a regular basis where prospective entrepreneurs gather to share ideas. Where DREAM: IN differs from other incubators is that it uses design as a catalyst for an idea. While there is no specific industry focus, Manchanda and the other mentors at DREAM: IN are open to supporting young entrepreneurs with a passion to see their dreams turn to reality. “The youth seem confident that with a high level of passion and an even higher level of knowledge, it is possible to create sustainable ideas even in small town India. Unfortunately, our education system only prepares them for jobs and does not prioritise value creation,” she adds. Ask her about her role as creative chief in the project and she replies with candour, “I’m a designer and that is the only thing I do well. I create robust systems, the operating system if you can call it that, to power the human imagination engine that is DREAM: IN.”

I have created systems, hopefully, to help my team manage their time. I never manage other’s time, just my own.

The organised dreamer

For a person who lives and breathes design, Manchanda is less maverick, more organised. “On my way to work, I make a plan for the day, so I get started before I’m there,” she says. She puts her iPhone and iPad to good use to help her plan her day but she’s quick to state that she’s not addicted to technology. She’s also big on sharing stories so any free time she gets at work is spent Tweeting her favourite moments.

Even before she can think of her day at work, Manchanda is up early enough to catch the morning sun. “I love sunshine, one of the reasons why I am also a photographer,” she adds. Her start to the day might involve a session of yoga or even brainstorming a new idea but the one constant is the time she spends getting her five-year-old daughter, Navami, ready for school. “It is our most important time of the day together,” says the 44-year-old mother.

At office, Manchanda terms herself as the ‘creator and the hander-over’.  Her management style is less than rigid as she says, “I have created systems, hopefully, to help my team manage their time. I never manage other’s time, just my own.” Having said that, she doesn’t tolerate her co-workers just “hanging around” the office, wasting time. “Why can’t people start work early and leave early? And live a little, instead of hanging around? I can hang around with friends forever, at home or on holiday,” she says.

She should probably be more forgiving of those who spend more time at the Idiom office, it sounds like a fun place to be. “Sometimes, we have client teams visit us and they drop their formality and enjoy our college campus atmosphere and are equally relaxed, having a good time. And that always translates into good work, great outcomes and even better memories,” shares Manchanda.

Food for thought

Manchanda’s passion for design is matched only by her passion for food. “I do these ‘projects’, even around food. I have to figure out a certain cuisine or dish and then I need to get it right, starting with growing the ingredients,” she says while adding, “Currently, I have made these special pots in which I am growing arugula and other salad leaves. I smuggled the seeds in from California!” And Manchanda’s even more animated when she describes her home, “I love being home more than anything else in the world. If you come over and we love having people over, you will know why. It’s a little urban farm, with fruit trees, flowers, birds and all.”

While just dreaming about food and its endless possibilities relaxes Manchanda, she also loves unwinding at the end of a long day by reading with her daughter. “I absolutely hate the television,” she states with the same passion she exudes for everything else.

For a woman who is set on changing the landscape of the Indian industry through design, Manchanda has managed to achieve what few others have – a beautiful balance between home and work. That’s probably because her heart is at both places, all at once.

Sonia Says

Design to you is: Philosophy!

Design philosophy: Dream, believe, realise with beauty, intelligence and simplicity

What frustrates you about the way people perceive design: Nothing! Every new perspective is interesting, that’s the beauty of design. I don’t know how to be frustrated

Favourite design idea: I love the brand UNIQLO and recently, ATHLETA for their unique designs and philosophy. I also love what we are doing with DREAM: IN

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