Viraj is an Industrial Designer and has worked as an Industrial Design consultant from October 2014 – July 2016 with a number of companies in Mumbai, Pune and Nasik. He graduated from MIT-ID in April 2015, and has won a number of international awards for his work, and has also spoken at a TEDx stage in Pune.
He is currently pursuing a Masters course in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art and the Imperial College of Engineering, London.
Here, he speaks about his journey as a freelance Industrial Designer.
How I started freelancing?
Before I graduated from MIT-ID, Pune, in April 2015, I had already gotten a call for 3 freelance Industrial Design projects. These came through the features I’d gotten in various mass media because of my design awards. I thought I’d give that a shot since I wanted to take up design entrepreneurship sometime down the line. One project led to another and I found myself busy as an Industrial Design Consultant.
“Is freelancing / consulting a viable option for an Industrial Designer?” this is a very subjective question. I’ll be trying to assess the viability of the money, experience and happiness in Freelance Industrial Design life with my experiences. There aren’t clear black and white records in freelance consulting, and there are a massive amounts of greys. So here’s what I think:
To begin with, the money is less
The first couple of projects will give you less money than you expect, unless you have designed something that has made it to the market – or have any kind of credibility to convince your client that you can take on a project by yourself that is readily manufacturable.
You don’t design everything you always wanted to
The scope and reach of various companies is different – sometimes you’d design a small part of a huge machine; on others you’ll be working on only the sheet metal covers. Ground up innovation in products for freelancers is rare.
You get to do complete projects from start to end
And that is amazing. Your friends from companies and design agencies might work with a group of designers and work on a certain part of the design process – but you do it all – from research to overseeing prototypes, from sketching to meticulously detailing out CAD models. This is huge learning!
You get to put almost everything in the portfolio
Although there are nondisclosure agreements, you get to show a lot of the project (generally sans the technical details) in your own portfolio. This way you can go ahead and pitch to other clients and slowly but steadily raise your design fees.
You get time to work on side projects
This one’s my favourite. I have prototyped my old projects, practised a lot of sketching, did even illustrations because I had a job in which I was at home for a decent chunk of time. If your client projects seem to drab at times, you have this as the highlight of the day!
What’s so good about freelancing? Is it worth the trouble?
Learning is through experience and not through teaching
Although you learn a lot through experience, you lack peers. You always speak to clients and not equals. Your design decisions are absolute and yours alone. This may be both a good thing, and a bad thing. A lot of this happens though:
“What thickness of aluminium would you suggest here?”
*tries to sound confident* “3 mm”
“Are you sure?”
The importance of design and your prowess has to be convinced through action
Unless you show that your design ideas are smart, they optimise and save on costs or add a certain value, you are just an external trying to tinker with a product of a company. So being thorough is important!
Being a jack of all trades
Industrial Designers have to come up with concept ideas that go with the brand’s ideology, detail out the engineering smartly, suggest materials and manufacturing processes, make visually appealing presentations, be good at the colours, aesthetics and their impact on people. Since it is a profession that bridges science and art – this is no surprise! This may be exhausting at times, but is interesting none the less.
If you are working with a manufacturer – they have engineering wisdom and practical knowledge of years! And if you are working with startups, you are the design and engineering person all by yourself. So striking the golden mean of technicality and good design is really important.
Some weeks are hectic, some are empty
This happens a lot, especially towards the beginning! You are also in an eternal state of having work and being in a holiday all at the same time.
My two cents
Do it a 100% or not at all
Since I was applying for postgraduate courses in Industrial Design and preparing my portfolio for it, I found myself torn between the two. Because of this, I found it difficult to give my 100% to freelancing, and I think if I’d done it fully – I could have spent time in designing and prototyping more of my own ideas, renting a workplace, pitching ideas to companies, etc.
Put up work
The best thing that came out of freelancing for me was a lot of ground-level knowledge about technicalities and a compelling portfolio. And it is always good to put up work for a freelancer. There are a great number of sites that let you publish work, and that’s how word spreads. I have been regular on Behance, Instagram and my own websites with the work that I have been doing for myself and for clients. That’s how I got more clients, and features in various online magazines.
This want for doing more than just client work and applying for various competitions led to me being invited at a TEDx event in Pune in September 2015 where I spoke about how all of us secretly are designers and inventors.
Link for Viraj’s TEDx Talk, click here