“The only thing that can stop you is your own mind”
You specialized in Industrial/Product Design from MIT Institute of Design. Tell us more about the course and how the time spent in the institute helped shape your career.
MIT-ID Product Design undergrad was an extensive four-and-a-half year course with the first year as design foundation and the last six months as an industry internship. It was a great balance between aesthetic and technical inputs – along with a good amount of research-led in projects.
In hindsight, I might have focused too much on the process of doing things rather than good output, but I think I improved massively towards the last three semesters. Being in a design school, you always have tons of people around you who do interesting work and you’re always motivated! There is always so much to do!
MIT-ID also helped me get the first couple of freelance projects in my final year about one and a half year ago and thus helped me kick off my design initiative, “Quip Studio”, with a classmate. I go solo for a few projects, and do some with Quip Studio.
What is your usual workflow pattern in designing any product for the client?
After the brief from the client, I take my time to brainstorm, look up parallel products in the industry, make moodboards to map where I could take the product. This is the stage where I expand the project along all the relevant ways, look for insights. I love making this stage extremely visual and detailed as this is the framework for the ideation process.
Then, I make my own brief above and around the client’s – if you do exactly what the client says, where’s the fun in that?
Sketching has always been at the core of my ideation process and I believe it’s the best way to iterate and come up with the best possible idea before detailing and prototyping. Although these are generally the steps I follow, design process is fluid and has to adapt with different natures of projects. Some are experimentation and prototype intensive, others are research intensive. The only thing common in all is being thorough. I’ve realised that good design decisions come only after quantitative efforts!
Freelance life is fun because you direct every decision – but that’s the reason why it’s scary too. There isn’t another experienced person who can tell you what is the best thing to do.
Which has been your most memorable product that you have created? Can you give us a brief description about it?
A couple of months ago, I got a mail on LinkedIn from an AC-manufacturer (HVAC to be precise) called Toro Cooling Systems. They called me to their office in Pune, and asked me to make their 5-metre long machine modular for manufacturing, transport and installation ease. Now here’s an industrial / commercial AC that doesn’t go in houses, people don’t interact with it, and by all intents and purposes – it is just a box on the terrace or outside a building. I had to detail out the assembly, down to the last screw!
Here too, sketching has been my weapon of choice and a lot of new ideas have come through it.
What are the challenges that you face while working on such projects?
Industrial designers are generally seen as stylists. But we really are so much more! The brief from Toro was certainly the most complex brief I had received till date, and they promised me – that if I did this well, they’d give me their next project – a household AC. I thought that if I can design the commercial AC well, then all my dream projects (i.e. coffee makers, mixers and all food related product design), will be easier for me to design in the future! I did end up getting the household AC project!
Many clients don’t know the full extent of how cool product designers really are, and in the beginning, there’s always a resistance to our intervention. We’re literally a few mathematical formulae short of engineers – and we can sketch like artists! When you do one project well, and show it to the next client, it creates a butterfly effect and you end up with better projects soon. And you make it better not only for your own future clients, but also for the product design community in general.
“XYZ company made such a cool product, how’d they do that?”
“They had hired a product designer, I think.”
“I should do the same for my next machine!”
How was your experience at the TEDx event?
I’d never expected a mail from the team, and it was a big surprise for me when I was invited. But when you get an opportunity, you own it. You prepare as though you are meant to give that 13 minute talk! The event was fun and there was a great rapport with a very lively and smart crowd. I was inspired to do even better since then! I took up playing violin more seriously than ever, and started working on my illustration skills apart from my design work. There are so many people who do so much! The only thing that can stop you is your own mind!
The products you have designed till date like the Citro Lemon Squeezer, the Loop Torch or the Spepper are all so convenient and beautifully designed. Who or what acts as the inspiration behind this work?
Thank you for the kind words! There is a small 5-people design agency called “YouMeUs” in London. If you’ve used a Kenwood kitchen product in the last five years, chances are it was done by them. They have been the greatest inspiration behind my work. Their work is smart, their ideas fresh and their visual language simple and crisp!
After working on highly technical and specific client projects, you have to let off some steam and work on what you like, you have your passion projects lined up, and for me it is food related product design – lemon squeezers, blenders, the likes. One day I wish to come up with a design led company that makes these.
What are the tools / software that you use regularly as a part of your work?
I make it a point to carry a sketchbook and a few pens everywhere. Right now I’m in the process of improving my sketching skills – especially on Wacom Tablet using Photoshop. For ID work, nothing really comes at par with Solidworks and Keyshot. Illustrator and Photoshop are the easiest ways to making crisp presentations.
These days, my favourite stationery comprises an alcohol-based brush pen of a Japanese make, a simple Luxor Felt-Tip pen, a 0.7 2B clutch pencil and tinted sheets.
I like to keep myself up-to-date on various social platforms and put up sketches regularly on Instagram – which has a great community of ID Sketchers. I gather my inspiration from them.
Any piece of advice for the aspiring Industrial Designers?
Take short projects and complete them fully. Don’t delve into unnecessarily complicated topics and leave them incomplete. Make things. Open up objects. Use their mechanisms for your own products. Nothing is better than the joy of a working product that you have made on your own. Work on topics you really like. Work on topics you really hate. Show all your work beautifully. Sketch more. Read, ask, interact, look things up! Be a nerd, nerds are cool. Have tangible outputs for all your important experiences!
To see more of Viraj’s work, click here