From your touch-screen cellphone to stainless steel coffee mug, from the abstract décor piece in your lobby to the ergonomically modelled writing table—design is an inherent part of our lives. The people who spend their lives applying science and art to create more functional and logical things play a big role in defining the world we live in. While industrial design colloquially refers to designing products with the aim of mass marketing, product design can also be used to imply smaller studios that produce limited pieces, and generally pay more attention to artistic expression. Three designers tell us about their experience.
Alex Davis, 46
Product designer and entrepreneur,
Indi Store, New Delhi
How he got here: After finishing school in Kochi, Kerala, Alex Davis got a degree in mechanical engineering from Mysore. At the age of 24, Davis had a change of heart. “I was never the type to have complete clarity on what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t engineering,” he says. In 1991, he enrolled at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, and did the graduate programme in product design. He then headed to Khurja, in Uttar Pradesh, known for its ceramics. “India’s arts and crafts sector is huge and waiting to be tapped,” he reasons. With a collection of Khurja serving sets, Davis designed the first non-textile line for home and clothes store Fabindia.
Nature lover: Alex Davis with his design of a leafless champa tree. By Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Davis then went to Milan, Italy, for his master’s in industrial design from the Domus Academy, interning simultaneously with Italian designer and architect Stefano Giovannoni. While fresh graduates in Europe generally end up paying a studio to let them work there, Davis was lucky—he got a stipend. “It was just about enough to survive, pay rent, buy food and a few beers. It was a fantastic learning experience.”
On his return to India in 1998, he set up his studio, Indi Store, in Shahpur Jat, New Delhi. The idea was to create and sell furniture, lighting and interiors accessories. Ask him about the journey today and Davis says he lives his dream. “Initially it was hand-to-mouth, but of course you gradually grow. The only thing that holds you together through everything is true interest in what you’re doing. Otherwise you cannot sustain it. You’re always too tempted to take up a job.”
A day in the life of a designer: Davis spends 40% of his time on the shop floor or in the workshop. The rest of the time is spent between the studio and marketing, trying to get projects. “It is not classically disciplined like a 9-6 job but the buck stops with you. You have deadlines to meet and you stress even while you sleep,” he says.
Skills set: While a basic understanding of the science of substances, processes and textures is important, being able to communicate the idea of your design is imperative too. “Rendering, 3D modelling, graphic presentations, as well as verbally communicating your idea well is important,” emphasizes Davis. An inclination towards art could be a good thing.
What I love most about the job: “As a designer, you’re in a position to art-direct, to set the mood, to create an experience. You have freedom of expression, which is what I love most about this job.”
What I’d like to change: While the fashion design industry in India has established itself to some degree, product design is missing its identity. “There’s nothing like the India style of work. We need a lot more people in the field of design, at least 1,000% more,” he explains.
Is design education important? While it may shorten and make your route easier, it can also leave you set in your thinking.
Challenges: “‘Recycled’ has to be integrated in our mass marketed design world,” believes Davis, who also feels strongly about India’s wealth of local craft. “We’re sitting on a goldmine with the variety of materials, techniques and products we have,” he says.
My mentor: “I was influenced by Stefano Giovannoni early on in my career. He was a tough taskmaster and I have tried to follow his way of disciplined work ethic.”
Dream project: “I have an idea called Dilli Bagh (Garden), which is basically a garden installation for the city.”
Money matters: An approximate yearly turnover of Rs 3 crore. “I have a staff of about 30 people and we barely manage. But if you market yourself better you can really go higher. It’s a very scalable profession, but that’s a personal choice.”
Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three executives at different stages in their careers.
Mahendra Chauhan, 34
Design manager, industrial design,
Titan Industries, Bangalore
How he got here: Born and brought up in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, Mahendra Chauhan spent five years training to be an architect at the National Institute of Technology, Raipur. After graduating in 1997, he worked with a Mumbai-based architecture firm and designed residences for a year. “But I felt that my strength lay in product detailing,” says Chauhan, who then joined NID’s product design course. His final project involved the design of bicycles with TI Cycles, manufacturers of BSA and Hercules cycles. “I worked there even after my thesis got over, but as a designer you tend not to take monotony well,” says Chauhan, who joined Titan, Bangalore, in 2006 and now spearheads the design team.
Timekeeper: Mahendra Chauhan translates consumer insight into form and function. By Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
A day in the life of a designer: Some days are spent meeting consumers, interviewing them and understanding their aspirations. The consumer insights are then translated to product attributes. Since Titan is a design-driven organization, the design team plays a strategic role in Titan’s product portfolio. There are multiple presentation meetings and the final idea is then sent to the engineering department, where the product is created. “We also spend substantial time on design immersion trips, where we travel for inspiration. For instance, we wanted to do a collection inspired by Indian textiles, for which designers travelled to Jaipur, Rajasthan, others to the south to explore the Kanjeevaram technique; Titan’s Raga Weaves was a result of that. We also came out with a Phulkari-inspired collection,” says Chauhan.
Skills set: “You should be sensitive to your consumers’ mindset. Good sketching, ideating, communication skills are needed. Knowledge of form, composition and colour is important.”
What I love most about the job: “The concept of creating and recreating a product that’s existed for so long is quite a challenge, and yet the most fun part of it. Last year alone, Titan came out with 15 collections. And when you see your design on people’s wrists, it’s satisfying.”
What I’d like to change:“I would like to make design a strategic tool for creating and developing business vision rather than just a form-giving activity.”
Is design education important? Design education is important because it prepares students for their future role in the industry.
Challenges: To design while keeping costs in mind is difficult. “You can dream dreams but everything is not possible. There are manufacturing limitations, and there’s always a game going on between the design and manufacturing teams, both pushing for their points.”
My mentor: “I love the work of Karim Rashid (New York-based ) and Marc Newson (London-based). They have a form language which is distinct, stylish and contemporary and yet so manufacture-friendly.”
Dream project: “I want to find a new way of telling time. We’ve been using the three hands clock system—hour, minute and seconds hand—there must be something new we can do.”
Money matters: “Starting salaries range from Rs 5-7 lakh per annum. Experience of four-five years may fetch you about Rs 10 lakh. Eight to 10 years experience and you can earn Rs 15-17 lakh. The more strategic your role, the more money you make.”
Abhilasha Nandal, 23
Product designer, Designwise
How she got here: Abhilasha Nandal had no clue about product design until she met a career counsellor in her last year at Mayo College Girls’ School, Ajmer, Rajasthan. “I was preparing for engineering when the counsellor asked me what I liked to do apart from studying. I said sketching, painting, creating. Eventually I understood that design is a lot more than being able to sketch, but it got me started,” says Nandal. She enrolled in the undergraduate programme at the Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune, in 2006. “Those four years were packed with workshops about electronics, furniture, metal crafts and other such fields of study,” says Nandal. She understood that she was inclined towards lifestyle design. “After finishing college in 2010, I came across Mukul Goyal’s work and found my starting point. There was an interview, and I was hired as an intern for four months before I joined the studio,” she says. Nandal has now spent a year working with Designwise India Pvt. Ltd.
Passionate: Abhilasha Nandal loves to play around and create objects. By Pradeep Gaur/Mint
A day in the life of a designer: Some days are spent going back and forth on ideas, others go in meetings and brainstorming sessions. Nandal assists in administrative work which involves sending out invites to exhibitions, letters, etc. But the most interesting part of her day is “when I’m in the production department and make samples and prototypes and see how ideas become creations”.
Skills set:“Knowledge of materials, techniques, what magic you can make with them or when you can’t be too radical—while you need to know all that, most importantly, you need to be curious and passionate. Then even if you know nothing, you find a way and learn.”
What I love most about the job: “I love being in the production department, and have the freedom to think, touch, play around, and create objects.”
What I’d like to change:“I wish products are designed to be more interactive.”
Is design education important? “It’s important because you need to have a basic knowledge of material. However, it is also true that I have learnt more in the past one year of working than I did in four years of studying.”
Challenges: “When you design something, you have to remember it’s not just for yourself. It is for your client or eventually the buyer, who has to like it too. At the same time, coming up with something exclusive, radical and interactive, all adds up to be quite a challenge.”
My mentor: “I’m lucky to be working with my mentor, Mukul Goyal. Apart from the fact that there is great work to do here, at this stage I really need a mentor, and I found one here.”
Dream project: “I want to invent a whole new lifestyle product that solves a particular need.”
Money matters: Smaller studios pay less than multinational firms, but Nandal claims you learn a lot more at the former. Stipends can range from Rs 4,000-10,000 a month. Starting salaries vary from Rs 15,000-35,000 per month.