We don’t repeat our speakers for 7 years: Rajesh Kejriwal

08 Sep,2014


By Pradyuman Maheshwari


The Kyoorius Designyatra (and IAA Kyoorius Digiyatra) happens in Goa later this week – from September 11 to 14 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. MxMIndia caught up with Kyoorius Founder and CEO Rajesh Kejriwal on his plans for this year’s edition, the speakers and highlights and how the conference is a serious one and not about fun and entertainment. (*See Disclosure)


For someone who’s a regular at DesignYatra, how will the 2014 edition be different?

Apart from it being a great conference with a very inspirational and super line of speakers… well, I don’t think it will be very different. It’s not just the difference between 2014 and any other Designyatra, it’s always based around a theme. We sit and work with speakers for almost three months on the theme. Most of the speaker presentations are tweaked to reflect the theme and this year’s theme is “What if?” Last year’s was “create change.”  We also choose speakers based on that. At least 40 percent of our speakers are selected based on the theme.


I don’t believe it. You actually tweak the presentation of speakers?

We don’t tweak it, we discuss with theme and create it around the theme. We don’t have a hand in what they present, but we talk to them. This is what we expect from you, this is why you are chosen to be a speaker. This is our theme and this is the basis of what we’d like you to present. We also give them timelines. For example, if you take Ivan Chermayeff we have this year. We don’t really want him to come and show all the work he has done for donkey years. He’s an 84-year-old man. Everybody knows all the great logos that he’s done. Everybody has Googled that. We want him to talk about his life experience. What humbled him? What were his challenges? Which of his works challenged this?


All biggies in the business. Do they really listen to you?

They love it! There are a few speakers who have come back to me saying ‘we’ve attended so many conferences, where we’re just called as speakers, we go, we present, we come back. We like this! This is the first time! You’re interacting with us, talking to us, which means you’re very serious about what you do!’


Don’t they say… who are these third world country guys telling us what to do?

We don’t tell them ‘this is what we want you to do.’ We tell them, ‘this is the theme and this is the reason we’d like to have you on board’ at the invitation stage itself. Once they agree, we go back to them and say, ‘this is what we’d like you to do, these are the messages we’d like you to convey.’


Do you pay your speakers?

We take care of all their expenses – business class travel, stay, visas. A few of them are also paid.


How many speakers do you have?

Yesterday we had, 22. Very large number.


22 speakers, business class travel, stay at 5/7-star hotels. That’s a huge amount of money!

This year our cost is 54.5 lakh! Without the fees.


How many Indian speakers do you have this year?



You’ve been very generous (laughs). All resident Indians?

(laughs) We have been, yes. But, these are Indian speakers who have quite a different take on life. We have two from the US and two from India.


Who are the lucky 2 from India?

One is Stalin K who runs a company called Video Volunteers. It’s not about advertising but about social impact and how you use that. And then we have Karsh Kale.


Coming back to this question of what’s new and special this year. What’s going to the standout event this year?

The diversity of the speakers this year is far more than the previous years. We also have a musician this year. We have Silent Studios from London who actually are not graphic designers for advertising people. They use technology, music, design, intersection of all these three-four things put together to create meaningful messages. We don’t repeat our speakers for 7 years. That’s our bottomline.


I’ve always been very curious about Kyoorius. The amount of money a person spends on coming to the Designyatra is huge! If you’re a regular delegate, it could be around Rs 50,000. Or even more. What is it that you offer to the delegate that he or she comes back to you again and again?

Actually, we have to view it in different perspectives. Today, Designyatra in many ways is no different from Think or Ink Festival. inspiration, great speakers, diversity. You come back charged, you get a lot of learning, personal satisfaction, morale boost, you feel proud to be in the industry you are. It’s not very different from all of these festivals.  The minimum you pay at any conference in India that has a certain stature is Rs 8,000 per day. None of them have this depth of speakers, this huge width of international speakers. If you ask for a comparative chart, we are the cheapest design conference in the world.


You spoke of the Think Festival.  And KDY is happening at the same venue? So have installed CCTV cameras in the elevators?

That was a very sad thing to have happened. Coming back to your earlier question, I do agree that it’s a fair amount of money that the person spends. It’s a serious conference. That’s one of the reasons people come for it. It’s not about fun and entertainment. It’s serious. It also provides networking opportunities in the evening.


It’s heartening to see people are willing to pay for serious fun.

Today’s generation is willing to pay. One other thing I’ve sadly noticed is that over a period of time, the more senior ones, come once and then they disappear for two years and then they maybe, come back again. But if I make a chart of the people who’ve regularly come for the last four years, most of them are between 32 and 40 years in age. Oldies come in spurts. Not all, but some of them still come. That could also be because they are more senior. They have more responsibilities. I know some of them don’t come because they have budget constraints and they want to give this chance to the juniors. But some also feel that they’re senior enough to go just once in two-three years.


So how many new people come each year?

If you remove students and faculty from our delegate list, we have about 1000 delegates from the professional world. I think we always see about 200-250 new ones per year. So this year we’ll have similar to last year at KDY. 1420, that’s the maximum we can allow. We’re already at 1180. (this interview was done last Wednesday, September 3)


Out of these 1420, you have around a 1000 professionals.

We have about 250 students. We sponsor about 75 faculty members. There are about 75 VIPs, very senior people, associated people or past speakers and 50 fresh speakers.


Are the traditional design company guys, the NID graduates, attracted to Design Yatra or is it the non-NID folks who come to KDY?

There are a lot of NID guys who are not attracted but there’s also a large bunch of NID guys who are interested. But let’s not be specific to NID. Today, you have a lot of design schools across the country. Most of our regulars, 650-700 from the last four years. These are people who are passionate about design. That’s the difference. We attract creatively passionate people. These people come because this is a place where there passion gets heightened. At any Designyatra, when you walk out of the conference room between 10am and 6pm, except for the breaks. I doubt you’ll find more than 50 people outside, gossiping or at the bar. The bulk of the people are inside, listening. We need that passionate, serious crowd, who use the opportunity to gain something.


How I wish other creative conferences were also similar?! Who are the star speakers?

All of them are star speakers.


Why is it that you don’t get Indian speakers?

No specific reason. I think the content focus that these speakers bring, the bold and radical approach they have is something seen very rarely in India. Unless and until I find Indians on par with these speakers, it won’t be fair to bring them in as they will not get the applause once at their session.


Advertising is huge in India and there’s a fair amount of design work happening there. You did have Pops last year. So why not from there?

We had Pop to talk about a certain story and mixed him with another speaker who also had a similar story. When we have an angle, we call somebody. We’re not about famous, well-known or influential people. There must be a message, something in him or her that must be good for the audience to hear.


The orientation of the Kyoorius Designyatra is on visual communication. But there’s a fair amount of great work being done on product design.

Dhairya Dand is into product design.


But one of the only criticisms I’ve heard about KDY is your bias is towards visual communication.

Depends on who you’ve heard it from. I must tell you that we do bring in speakers who are away from visual communication also. We have guys who have done product designs, installations. In the past we’ve also had Ross Lovegrove. It’s interesting because we’ve been contemplating this since a very long time. We didn’t invite one or two architects this year, but we’re inviting them next year. The fact is that India has an infrastructure problem. We can fit in only 1420 people. They are from the visual communication field. I can have other diverse speakers, even an architect can inspire a visual communication designer. But if I have four architects, it becomes boring. Unless I then start drawing architects into this. Finding the right mix in this discipline is very different. This is why we’re starting another conference which will focus on architects, interiors, furniture and product. We’re going to extend it to architects and interiors from next year. We have a fair bit of expertise in the visual communication area. So we’re sending people from Kyoorius to the Milan Fair, London Design Festival. I don’t really understand the architect’s mind. I need to do a lot of research. From January we’ve been sending people to different conferences, festivals over the world, not related to visual communication to see what excites people and what kind of work they’ve been doing. We’ve been collating stuff.


In terms of mix of people, we saw a fair amount of clients last year. Is it the same this year too?

256, as of end of day today.


What gets them to come?

I once asked Karthi Marshan of Kotak this question. He brings his full team to the conference. He says, ‘For me, Designyatra is a pilgrimage. A place where my mind in that field of creativity, I get exposed to so many different things. I get exposed to a lot of people’s thoughts around the world, to what pushes people and I can then apply this to my business when necessary. I feel inspired, very nice listening to them. It’s the overall curated content.


But you don’t get clients who come to speak too? Like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, P&G?

It’s a creativity conference. It’s not necessary that we must have only creative people but the plot has to revolve around creativity. This year too, we have a CEO of Moving Brands. Next year, we already have five speakers lined up.


Why do you plan so much in advance?

Most of the speakers are busy, there are a lot of conferences, advertising sessions happening around the world. These are people who are called to every conference in the world. That is a tedious task. One week away from work, three days preparation prior to that. There’s only that mush time each of them allocate to go to a conference. I’ve been trying to get Michael Bierut for two years now. He’s booked till 2016 because his fundamental rule is only to attend three conferences a year. Can’t spare more of my professional time, he says. I’ll get him in 2016. I have no choice. Basis the radical change we’re planning to have, I’d like to have those people booked in much earlier. It’s easier to do that too. I also think it’s unfair to the 1300 people who come, who plan three months in advance. Spending 50,000 to come. It’s not a small amount. Companies send 50 people to the conference. They spend upwards of Rs 25 lakh. It will be very unfair of me if I didn’t give them what they expect. It’s not possible in just two months.


How many do you have working on the Designyatra?

Three, full time


You have nobody from the industry advising you?!

We talk to people, we bounce off ideas. But we don’t have anybody on the committee. It’s Kay and me who are at core, Chaitanya is the third. We’re quick, agile. Fast No politics no egos to be satisfied.


How are the design awards going?

Very well.


You raised the bar to a great extent with the advertising awards. Now you have to match that.

I have to match that with the next advertising awards. Not really with these awards. The benchmark we set for advertising awards is the same for design awards. Except may be the awards night. The jury selection, curation, international jury mix, the software used, the process, it’s all the same. The D&AD involvement. The benchmark for advertising was only in the curation of the awards. Advertising is a much larger industry, design is a smaller one.


So, will we have the same fizz and frolic at the awards?

Not the same, but similar.


The same extra large stage and scale.

Can’t, because you can’t create that in Goa indoors. There’s no other place in Goa to create that. But, in terms of the graphic, the language, the look, feel, etc, it will be similar. Very unlike last year. I think, I set a bad example for myself last year, that helped me do better in the advertising awards and will help me do better in the design awards.


Any entertainment acts on any of the days?

No. No. The conference is a serious one where you must have networking in the evening. Also, an awards needs to be serious. You must have an opening show and a party afterwards. Entertainment every half hour or 45 minutes takes away the seriousness and the respect for the winners. We won’t do that.


Are the sponsors happy with it?

I don’t think entertainment adds to the sponsor’s value. The recall value for any sponsor for our advertising awards or Designyatra is far greater than for any other event in India.


If you see a large television or film awards these days, you do remember the sponsor. For a conference, not just yours but even Goafest, there’s hardly any recall for thee sponsor.

I’ve spoken to people who’ve come back to me and said, ‘Hey! What a great advertising show you’ve created. I’ve heard about it, brilliant! Colors is so lucky to have caught onto it early.” This is about 10 days back. Then they know Colors being a sponsor. We never have more than five sponsors. This doesn’t include media or event or hospitality partners. That means one title, one, powered by, one main and two associate. We will never take more than one from the same industry. If you have Zee as a sponsor for Designyatra, I will not have any other broadcast channel, not Colors. Max we allow two that too if it’s part of the agreement. Beyond two is something we won’t agree to ourselves. A sponsor must get full value out for the sponsorship.


I’ve seen that Zee and &Pictures are your principal sponsors this year. Is there any integration with the entire event? Something in the conference or an element that will remind people of the association with the conference?

We’re doing some stuff. It won’t be on stage. We’re very serious about the speakers and content on stage. We do integration in different ways. This year we’re creating something special for & Pictures and Zee. We’ll do something or the other in and around the conference, certainly. But not a direct intervention in the content of the conference.


So you don’t have a person from Zee to speak?

No. The audience knows that if a sponsor speaks, it’s a bought spot. I think that works in the negative even for the sponsor.


We’ve spoken only about Designyatra. How’s the Digiyatra working for you? Has it worked well for your delegates?

It’s evolved. See, Designyatra has always been a three-day event for us. In 2012, we decided to focus on digital because everyone was talking about digital. So we said let’s keep one day as digital. We didn’t brand it Digiyatra three. We called it a Digital Day. The next year we decided to split it because digital is going to be the future. That’s the future we all are in and it’s important people learn from that. To brand it separately, we also brought in the International Advertising Association to support it and made it flexible for the audience to just attend Digiyara if they’re from the digital domain, or not come for that and come only for Designyatra. Or you could come for both. This year we have about 1150 people coming for Digiyatra and 1420 people coming for the next two days.


And how many of them are not common?

There only 50 people coming only for Digiyatra. Digital is now the mainstream. It’s no longer a divide.


This piece  is going to come on Monday. Is there any message for someone who’s not registered and still wants to come in?

I’d like to say: Please come next year.


* Disclosure: MxMIndia is a media partner of Kyoorius Designyatra (and Digiyatra)


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