About Butter Chicken and the way of life

If I were to cook Butter Chicken for dinner, I would probably first call up Pooja aunty. Because I remember having dinner at her place once, and her butter chicken was delicious.

I know she would happily share her recipe. And along with it, I am prepared to hear her details of what each ingredient brings to the dish (example: onions cut down the sour taste of tomatoes), or her personal preferences in food prep (example: soak the cashews in hot water, and use a coffee grinder. Don’t use machine blenders – they kill the aroma).

That’s Pooja aunty – she will passionately share all the details to make a good butter chicken, the way she makes it. But maybe, is it too much information? I wasn’t aiming to be a professional butter chicken cook – it’s just a dish for an evening.

I recently met a senior designer in Delhi who narrated the same scenario. A bunch of Gen-Zs were asked to cook butter chicken, and in the midst of chaos, the recipe wasn’t passed on.

Miraculously, the dish appeared on the dining table.

“Youtube. We followed the video from the first search result” 

Who was the chef who gave the recipe?
“No idea. It looked easy. That’s why we followed.”

But was the butter chicken good?

Surprisingly, yes.

Random butter chicken recipe here.

How “we” learned vs how “they” learn.

As “we” become oldies in the design world, “back in those days…” becomes the standard conversation starter.

Design can be a fascinating rabbit hole if one wants to start crawling. 

For subjects we want to learn, we dug really deep. A font we randomly see on a printed leaflet will trigger a quest to find out who the designer is and which font foundry produced it. A movie title sequence will make us stay back for the end credits to find out who produced the magic. An illustration, a leaflet, a logo, a book, a campaign, an installation, a shop, a building, a product, a t-shirt. Everything is potentially a trigger.

We call each other and ask, “Did you see _______? Do you know who did it?”

It was the time when internet speed was slow; no Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. For corporates to even have a web presence was a big thing.

We learned by going behind the scenes to understand the craft, the process, and the minds of the creators. We felt deeply connected to the OGs. “Seven” is not just a movie; it is Kyle Cooper. “Meta” is not just a typeface. It is Erik Spiekermann.

Back in those days, that’s how we learned, and ideally, that’s how we expect our next generation of designers to learn. Go deep, absorb the substance, and don’t just scratch the surface. Five seconds of a cursory glance on an Instagram post won’t do any good.

Seven, end credits. Kyle Cooper appears at 1:59.

Typical Instagram moment. 

I stared long and hard at a post. A cutesy illustration that has garnered 5778 likes. All the heart emojis . All the comments of “So good. So beautiful. Awww. Wow wow wow. Awesome. 😍😍😍❤️❤️❤️”

Something inside me felt like it died. The inner critic tells me there’s nothing fresh about this illustration. It bears a striking resemblance to the style of an established illustrator from London. The color palette also reminds me of another experienced designer who’s worked on numerous Wes Anderson movie sets.

I strongly dislike it because I know where the influences come from, and I respect the original creators. This young illustrator probably saw the original works while browsing online, found them interesting, and remembered them without knowing who made them.

The illustration didn’t work for me, but it worked for at least 5778 people. For comparison, I can’t even get 100 likes for any illustration I post on Instagram.

An experienced brand designer forwarded me an Insta link about a new startup brand she declined to work with due to budget constraints. She observed that the visual identity scheme was all over the place – lacking the finesse and consistency expected in a well-executed branding program.

Yet, I saw it differently. It appeared to me as a scenario where a young client collaborated with a young designer, both seemingly unaware of old branding standards. They were focused on creating a brand that resonates with its target audience, i.e., themselves.

The takeaway here: I must shed my preconceived notions about standards and quality in defining good design. There’s a whole new world and audience out there to cater to.


Back to the butter chicken.

If Pooja aunty were to taste the butter chicken cooked up by the Gen Z using a random YouTube recipe, she’d likely make a big fuss about how bad it is. But that’s just Pooja Aunty being herself, because all the other guests at the dining table enjoyed it.

And that’s what really matters.

As usual, the “subscribe me” plug.

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