Making The Jump: From Student to Working Designer (Part 1)

By Pallavi Rao   views

Studying design may be a passion but being a working designer is a whole different ball game. We sat down with three designers to understand their approach to design thinking, how they found their current jobs and what being a working designer really entails. In part one of this series, we put the focus on the ‘design’ part of being a ‘working designer.’ In part two, we’ll focus on the ‘work.’

Working designers spill trade secrets. From L-R: Trupti Shigwan, Surya Rai and Sanjana Mehta. Image credit: @truptishigwan, @suryarai and @sanjanamehtaa

Meet Trupti Shigwan (a product stylist,) Sanjana Mehta (a graphic designer,) and Surya Rai (a game designer.) They’re all in their early-20s and have made the jump from studying design to flourishing careers. Despite their different fields, they have some common advice and insights for design students worried about making the cut. Here’s a brief introduction of who they are, what they do, and where they’re at:

Trupti Shigwan

Trupti works as a product stylist at The Glitch, (http://www.theglitch.in/) a digital advertising agency and production house. As a product stylist her main responsibility is to visually communicate the core values of a brand and sell a lifestyle that’s attractive to the brand’s ideal customer base in the form of product images.

Sanjana Mehta

Sanjana is a junior designer at Open Strategy and Design. (https://openstrategy.design/) She specialises in UX/UI design but also ends up dabbling in brand strategy, branding, editorial design, packaging and web design. In brief, she’s a ‘digital designer.’

Surya Rai

Surya is a game designer at Sumo Digital. ( https://www.sumo-digital.com/) He works on developing the player experience with game mechanics and is also the central point of contact between all the different departments in a game studio: art, sound, programming, UI/UX and a whole host of other things!

So how did these three get to where they are now? Did they ever feel like it was risky to make their careers in the design world? What were their designer journeys like?

Trupti was working as a director’s assistant before she stumbled across a legend of the perfect product shot: Joel Fonseca. (https://vimeo.com/joelfonseca) Inspired by his work she did a bunch of small-scale product shoots at home with a phone camera. Using these images, she scored a job for Lakmé products, and since then it’s all been self-study, practice and experimentation.

“I was never worried about the risk,” Trupti says, “I was just excited to try it out.”

A look at product shot expert Joel Fonseca’s work. Image credit: Joel Fonseca

Surya Rai and Sanjana Mehta agree with the sentiment, but for different reasons. For Surya, he’d always been a passionate gamer: video games, role-playing, you name it, he played it. When he stumbled upon a game design degree in Pune he wanted to do it, even if he didn’t know it was a viable career path.

“Making games has always been my dream,” he says.

Sanjana’s journey to UX/UI design was a little different. “UX/UI design is fresh and new in India,” she says, pointing out that most brands looking for scale in digital avenues need UX and UI designers, now more than ever.

“I never saw it as a risk, since there was a larger opportunity in it,” she adds.

Despite their different approaches, all three of them have busy (often demanding) schedules that prove designer jobs are viable in India!

But before they ended up in these careers, did they ever think of themselves as designers?

Not really,” Trupti says, adding that only continuous practice and experience has made her take on the title. Designers, according to her, should be able to have a vision of how something will look in a specific setting,  “and that,” she says, “only comes after studying the fundamentals of design.” In the end, design is still a skill that one needs to acquire.

Surya agrees, pointing out that the field of design is extremely vast and ever expanding and that careful scrutiny is required before one starts thinking as a designer. “I didn’t even think about the ‘design’ of things,” he says, “let alone games, until I started studying it!”

Design is still a skill that needs to be acquired. Image credit: Med Badr Chemmaoui, https://unsplash.com/@medbadrc

And even though Sanjana is an artist and painter, the title of designer didn’t come to her immediately. “I only started identifying as a designer after I studied more about it,” she says, “and was able to think within the spectrum of communication and design principles.”

So rest easy, those of you who are worried you’re not designers yet! Study and practice will get you there in no time. Speaking of studying:

What about formal design education? Is it required to succeed? And can fundamental designer learnings be used across various fields of design?

Surya did two years of game design in Pune and another two years at Abertay University, Dundee, Scotland. He says he hasn’t formally learnt any other kind of design but user experience is something that stands the test across all platforms.

He says, “All design is about how something will be consumed, and how seamless or least intrusive you can make that consumption.” And at its most fundamental, irrespective of process, title or career path, “design is about interaction.

Sanjana did a diploma in visual communication and digital design from Ecole Intuit Lab. Her first year was all about the essentials of design including: graphic and editorial design, studying form and colour and visual identity. “It definitely did give a strong sensibility of design as a whole,” she says.

And even through Trupti didn’t formally go to design school; she still studied it in her own time, taking initiative and opportunities where she found it. After her Bachelor’s degree in Advertising, she worked in the advertising field and met all kinds of skilled professionals (graphic designers, art directors, food stylists and set designers to name a few) who all gave her “something or the other to learn from.”

A product shot for The Glitch. DOP: Pritish Raj. Client: HUL, Lakmé. Image Credit: @truptishigwanstyling.

Aside from these insights, she picked up many books on branding and advertising. But most importantly:

“I studied the social creative of brands itself— Lakmé, Tresemmé, Loréal—to properly understand their space.”

Okay, studying design is important. But how does one start to “think like a designer.” What does “design-thinking” even mean?

Sanjana and Trupti are unanimous in what it means to ‘think like a designer.’ Who you’re designing for, what need you’re fulfilling, and how your idea or solution fulfills that need, are critical first steps.

And in order to know that, Sanjana says, “you need to observe the world around – to be aware of environments people live in, the lifestyles people adopt and the choices they make.”

Design isn’t just a job; it’s a lifestyle, according to Sanjana Mehta. Image credit: author

Trupti agrees, because studying real people “lets you develop the language that will make your artwork/creative resonate with them.” With practice, this sort of observation and analysis becomes second nature to designers and in turn helps them develop their ‘design-thinking.’

Surya also believes that while the fundamentals are important, in the real world, application is key. “I believe in tried and true processes that work like a charm and are adapted to different visions.”

What about their hobbies? Do they help inform their work?

All three of them have some  creative hobby that they use for different purposes. For Trupti, her sketching is something she does in her free time. “It helps break up the—sometimes—monotonous work I have to do everyday.”

For Sanjana and Surya, their creative hobbies influence their real world jobs. “I recently started to learn calligraphy and embroidery,” Sanjana says, “and calligraphy has helped with my sensibilities of typography, spacing and letter forms.”

‘Feeling Renaissance’ done by Sanjana Mehta when she’s not working as a digital designer. Image credit: @sanjanamehtaa

Surya, meanwhile, is a big fan of creating fantasy maps, which has helped him become aware of spatial limitations. He’s also started looking into architectural differences across geographies which, when applied to his work, “makes for a very cool feedback loop!”

Keep studying the fundamentals, don’t be afraid to take risks, practice the craft and take inspiration from your hobbies and surroundings—that’s what these three say will help improve your design. But what about the harder parts of being a working designer: landing a job, networking and designing on the clock? Find the answers to those questions in part two of this series.

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