The designer life
Three professionals tell us why design is about creating value for the user in a way that is both aesthetic and conserves resources
The world can’t do without designers. Whether it is furniture, an advertisement, a website or an app, designers are always in demand to create the perfect look and feel. Three designers tell us how they find inspiration and how they work with users to find artistic solutions to a myriad problems.
Jacob Mathew, 55
CEO, Industree Foundation, design strategist and entrepreneur, Bengaluru
Jacob Mathew lives in what was once the village of Horamavu, and is now a suburb of Bengaluru. The house uses water from a tubewell as well as from a rainwater harvesting system. All the waste is treated at home, the run-off from the kitchen is used for gardening. For Mathew, designing is both about aesthetics and the judicious use of scarce resources, something he tries to implement through his own lifestyle choices.
How he got here: Mathew graduated in design from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. In 1985, in his final year at NID, Mathew, along with three batchmates, set up an independent design studio, Tessaract Design, in Bengaluru. He went on to collaborate with a brand and communications firm, Esign, and co-found a design-led furniture manufacturing company, Dovetail. In 2005, Tessaract and Esign were merged to form Idiom Design & Consulting Ltd. He is the co-founder of Idiom Design & Consulting Ltd. In 2011, he joined Spring Health Water India Pvt. Ltd, a social enterprise that provides clean drinking water in rural India. Two years later, in 2013, Mathew joined Industree Foundation as chief executive officer (CEO). The foundation, set up by his wife and fellow NID graduate Neelam Chibber, helps artisans develop their own businesses. Mathew also works as design principal of the Bengaluru-headquartered Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, where he runs an accelerator lab that helps social entrepreneurs design effective businesses.
A day at work: Most of Mathew’s day is spent mentoring and strategizing with different teams. He starts early. In a day, he may discuss curriculum with a colleague at Srishti, then drive to Idiom, where he offers advice on the details of projects, like a workshop for a visiting delegation from Ethiopia. Mathew says he is able to divide his time between the diverse organizations because he has spent time building up leadership teams at each organization. Since he is not involved in the day-to-day work, he is able to function as a mentor, sharing knowledge and best practices.
Skills needed: “I would like to believe we are born creative. Then our education system knocks it out of us. And we have to relearn, and yes, design can be taught. Besides design, designers need to learn business skills and apply these in their work. They should have a growth mindset, an ability to embrace failure as a way of learning by doing and not repeating mistakes,” says Mathew.
What I love about my job: No two days are the same. Mathew says he has enjoyed working on all aspects of design, co-founding a furniture design company, a design consultancy, and even turning social entrepreneur with Spring Health Water, before he set up an accelerator for social enterprises.
One thing I would change: The lack of alignment between the designer and the client. “We come from different worlds and do not speak each other’s language. As a young designer, I would preach sustainability to my clients. They laughed at me and called me jholawala. Now I give them design solutions. They tell me I am talking the language of business and they listen,” says Mathew.
Compensation: A CEO of a mid-sized design firm can earn Rs40-80 lakh a year, and a design executive in a company, Rs60 to Rs1.6 crore a year.
Anish Tripathi, 36
Vice-president, design, BookMyShow, Mumbai
Anish Tripathi dropped out of his international business management course at Lynn University,
US, in 1999 because he was busy designing all the time. “I started with party flyers and went on to design websites for companies,” says the designer, who has never had any formal design education.
How he got here: Tripathi grew up in Germany, where his father had a trading business. After he dropped out of Lynn University, he ended up working as a freelancer. In 2007, he made a trip to India to visit friends, but ended up staying behind to work with upcoming digital design agencies like Paper Planes Solutions (2007), Webchutney (later acquired by Dentsu) in 2007-08 and ad network Media.net from 2010-15 before he joined BookMyShow, an entertainment company, in May 2015.
A day at work: Tripathi gets into office early and makes sure he attends to every email. Once his team is in, they gather for the morning briefing.“We do a stand-up. It’s like a casino, what’s today’s take—what are we going to work on today; it could be a new feature for the (BookMyShow) app or a tweak,” says Tripathi. The team spends time discussing the feasibility of a new feature on the basis of feedback from the technical team.
The afternoon is about detailed reviews. For Tripathi and his team, the most important factor in the design mix is user experience. “After working with different businesses, I began to realize that the reason behind design is more problem-solving, and not just doing party flyers and throwing some big fonts, trying to invite and entice people.” For him, it is important to understand “why we are doing what we’re doing”.
Skills needed: “In this day and age, if you know how to code, you’ll go really far—you have a super advantage. Typically, a designer will design something and an engineer will say, I can’t implement it. So there is too much back and forth and erosion of value. Also, be ready to take feedback and never settle for mediocrity, no matter what; take more time, delay the launch, that’s fine—choose quality over time. And keeping your sources of inspiration open is important.”
What I love about my job: “The fact that design is about problem-solving—and that if you change a few things in design—the compounded effect they can have is phenomenal.”
One thing I would change: “I’d love for offices to all be in one building (they are spread out over three buildings in the same area). If the engineers, the coders and the design team are in the same location, it will help productivity.”
Compensation: Rs60lakh to Rs1.4 crore a year.
Jagruti Jaykar, 30
Young creative partner (digital), Creativeland Asia, Mumbai
As a young girl, Jagruti Jaykar carried her sketchbook everywhere. When she joined college, she would take it with her on the long train journey from her home in Virar to her college in Mumbai and sketch people and places around her. “I didn’t really know then that I could make my hobby into my career,” says Jaykar.
How she got here: Jaykar took the long route to design. After doing a bachelor’s in biochemistry from Mumbai’s Mithibai College (2007), she studied dietetics at Nirmala Niketan College (2008) and worked as a diet consultant at Kaya Life (2008-10) and then at Gold’s Gym (2010). “It got monotonous, and just about weight loss, with no attempt to understand the science behind healthy eating, and eventually it become demotivating.” Jaykar says she decided then to switch careers and try her luck in design, something she had always loved. “I was already 27 and friends advised me it’s going to be a major step to restart. But then I thought I have to at least try studying, let’s see where it goes.” So Jaykar joined a weekend design course at Wigan and Leigh College in Mumbai, and moved to working part-time as a diet consultant at Dr Ashok Kripalani’s clinic. She completed the course in 2012 and got a job as a graphic designer at Asymmetrique Communications Pvt. Ltd, a small advertising company. The young dietitian discovered her flair for design and was even shortlisted in 2014 for the Young Lions category, for the prestigious Cannes award. In October 2014, she joined Creativeland Asia, a Mumbai-based advertising agency.
A day at work: Jaykar is at work by 8.30am and is briefed on what has to be done that day. She is working on an app for Godrej and certain design changes need to be made. Another client, United Colors of Benetton, is running a campaign around women titled United By Dont’s, since women are always told what not to do—don’t party, don’t drink, don’t take a cab at night. Jaykar is working on the look of the digital creatives that will accompany the print campaign.
Skills needed: “You have to trust your gut and be ready to make mistakes—you never know what works. As a designer, you have to work with the developing team, so you should be able to communicate well. You should know how the code is written, even if you don’t know how to write, like what are the special effects possible, or how they are adding animations to a particular image.”
What I love about my job: “It’s never monotonous. There’s something new every day.”
One thing I would change: The process of getting the client to understand your point of view.
Compensation: Starting salaries at advertising agencies are approximately Rs2.5 lakh a year. With a few years’ experience, a good designer can expect to earn around Rs7-8 lakh a year.
Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three professionals at different stages in their careers. Tell us which profession you want to know more about at email@example.com.