Nippun Bhalla

COMMUNE – Build and Measure your Social Capital

COMMUNE is an online space dedicated to building communities in the real world. Think of it as a virtual community centre, a park or a plaza.

Our virtual lives are bringing massive civilisational changes in our ways of coexistence. One of them is the erosion of the concept of communities. In an increasingly digitalised and hence also a globalised world, we are more used to having our communities (if at all) in the virtual space. We now gather in masses under hashtags and trends, not in community halls, or public parks. Under the illusion of connectivity, we are living in a disconnect from our surroundings. Apart from its effects on our mental wellbeing, our physical disconnection is also effecting another aspect of our lives. Our SOCIAL CAPITAL. 

Social Scientist Robert D. Putnam defines social capital as the "connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”

The existence, nature and strength of your relationships (Social Capital) is essential for a healthy and comfortable life. Sociologists relate lack of social capital in a society to higher crime rates, mental health disorders, suicide rates, substance abuse, chances of electing Bad governments and even susceptibility to fake news and propaganda. With the onset of the pandemic, a strong community structure has become the need of the hour. 

COMMUNE is my response to living through the deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections in New Delhi, India. Hospitals were full, and governments scrambling for control, as people choked and died in hospital waiting rooms and streets. Amidst the chaos and destruction of the pandemic, the community came forward to fill the gaps in the system, and save several lives. 

During the pandemic, we have all had conversations about strengthening our public health and distribution systems and medical infrastructure, very few are talking about strengthening our community systems, re-introducing resilience and a sense of ownership in neighbourhoods. 

COMMUNE intends to have that conversation.

Key features of the application:

The Forum – A message board that brings everything your community has to say to your phone screen. Apart from local news and other information, you can send out SOS calls directly at the forum and the app will recognise it and mark your profile red in all other screens of the app as well. Similarly if you are offering any kind of support, the app recognises it and marks your profile in green on all other screens of the app. This makes it easy for people to recognise your status and act immediately upon it.

Nearby – A location based system that shows you users of the app in your neighbourhood (based on a social radius that you can edit in settings). You can decide your visibility and the actions that can be taken through your marker on this map. You can interact with other users’ profiles, view their detailed profile, their posts on the forum or send them a direct message.

Events and Outreach – designed to inspire community action. Anybody can set up an event in their community, online or offline, for various purposes. This feature is useful in delivering correct information on government directives and policies, call for action and other general get-togethers (in better times). 

Sharing and Services – The share page is an attempt at creating an inventory of items that can be shared amongst a community. You can also list your small business on the Services section of the page, and manage orders via DMs. Safe and responsible use of community owned items, and a society’s affinity towards employing local services will improve trust (a major indicator of Social Capital) and micro-economy of the community. 

Nippun Bhalla

A designer for social change. My roots are in architectural design, and that compels me to always envision a better, more habitable world for the people I design for. Have also explored illustration, graphic design, typography, heritage conservation and exhibition design throughout the course of my career. After my graduation in architecture in 2017, I worked as an architect at Ideate Design Studio in New Delhi, India, up until December 2020. Working with a multi-disciplinary practice, I was given the opportunity to work on projects that vastly differed from each other, and that gave me the multi-faceted approach to my creative process. I have also taken freelance jobs in graphic and exhibition design, received the opportunity of designing the Bihar State Pavilion at the India International Trade Fair 2018, which won the annual trophy held for pavilions of all 36 states and union territories of India. 

I believe that visual expression open to public view must always serve towards the betterment of society, a designer and an artist’s aim should be to illustrate the face of the world in its truest forms and push for societal and ecological welfare. With the rise of tech and AI, a designer must strive to nourish and preserve the centrality of humans in the whole process of development, and make use of tech to design a better life for us and the planet. 

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

In 20 year I see myself as a designer for the people instead of profit. Someone who has been successful at building an online world that facilitates a healthier life in the offline world.

What is a good design for you?

Good design is invisible. It lives and thrives by our side, serves its intended purpose, but never invades our lives.

What was the most challenging experience during your studies?

To upgrade my skill set from that of an architect to a designer of experiences. To open myself up to other fields of design.

Who or what inspires you?

Design projects that cross boundaries of platforms, contexts and disciplines, inspire me a lot.

How do you approach a new project?

I read books, listen to talks, try to understand public perceptions and norms around the theme.

What advice would you give to students who just started studying in your programme?

Be very flexible in your thinking, dare to go in directions you may not usually take.

Have you changed during your studies? How?

I’ve developed a habit of editing my work much more, making it more pointed and streamline.

Why did you choose to study in your programme?

I was really interested in graphic design, and comiNg from an architectural background, I wanted to see how graphic design can change our spaces and our lifestyles.

What are you not going to miss in your studies?

There’s not much that I won’t miss, I’d probably like to take this way of working forward in my professional practice.

How are you going to celebrate your graduation?


Say hi!

Summer Tran