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ADITYA DEV SOOD
TURTLE NECK

Aditya Dev Sood runs the innovation consulting firm Center for Knowledge Societies (www.cks.in). He can be reached at adityadevsood@gmail.

Wildly different yet remarkably similar— spectacle design

change the way you see the world, I change the way the world sees you. I am a hard mask upon your face. Before you say anything, I speak for you, about you, about how you see yourself and your place in the world. I am, of course, your spectacles, your eyewear, your frames, lenses, shades, specs, your glasses.

I have the slightest power possible, in both eyes, for which I blame the class 12 board exams, and the three months I spent in hibernation, growing a beard and snorting textbooks, notes and guides. I miss my glasses when I'm watching a movie or driving, or typing into my machine, the way I am now. But then I suddenly feel like they're filtering the world too much, that I need to present to the world more directly, without protection or enhancement, naked. And my frames fall into a breast pocket, sling from a shirt button, slip into a bag, get left on a bar, or in somebody's car. And it's once again time to go out and get myself a new pair.

The design of spectacles represents one of the most sculptural dimensions of industrial or product design, where the features and functionalities never change, but where the sway of form and its caress of the human body represents endless variety, mood, meaning.

The design of spectacles has undergone numerous variations and innovations over the last couple of centuries, since Benjamin Franklin was experimenting with his pince-nez, glasses that perch like a butterfly on your nose, with no arms to help them reach out to your ears. With increasing global affluence, eyeglasses have become larger, more expressive, and cheaper, made more often now from acetate, a kind of plastic, than from animal horn and bone, tortoise shell, wood, ivory, or other rare and naturally-occurring materials. The design of spectacles represents one of the most sculptural dimensions of industrial or product design, where the features and functionalities never change, but where the sway of form and its caress of the human body represents endless variety, mood, meaning.

n my college days it never failed to amaze me how much the cost of eye-wear might vary -- from three hundred rupees to three thousand, without much discernable gain, in terms of style and impact, at least to my cash-poor and style-forward way of seeing the world back then. I would buy sunglasses on the street in every part of the world and then bring them back to Delhi, where I would change out their dark glass for clear lenses in my prescription. This little DIY trick was a perpetual source of satisfaction and pleasure for me, resulting in some fine translations, but also some bizarre and funkadelic looks. This summer in New York, I visited Morgenthal Frederics boutique in Soho, where I gazed longingly at thousand-dollar frames made of sterling silver, wood, and horn, with all the craft, care and ceremony of an atelier from another century.

At the other end of the spectrum is VisionSpring, a social enterprise working globally to deliver glasses to those who would not normally even consider buying eye-wear on account of price and non-availability in rural areas. For as low as $4 for a pair, thousands of customers have had eye examinations and then bought a pair of glasses that can substantially transform their quality of life as well as their livelihood. Studies have shown that their investment in this eye-wear can result in a year on year increase in income as well as other social and lifestyle benefits. The company continuously innovates on its business model and global sourcing to ensure the absolute lowest price point possible for its customers. Recently, it has even offered glass photo-chromatic lenses at very low cost, on account of the expressed demand from farmers, tractor and truck drivers and others with occupations that requires them to work in the open sun. So here too, in one of the most stable of product categories, it is possible to build fortunes by innovatively meeting the needs and price-points of non-traditional users.

 
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