What led you into design?
I wasn’t a designer even after 4 years into my tech career. Perhaps, in retrospect, there certainly was a seed, that wanted to sprout, ever since I was a kid.
Back in those days, in India, the idea of design as a career wasn’t a very easy product to sell to your parents. Lack of references made this case even harder. I did show interest in many ways but was very casually smirked at each time.
I think I dodged the thought of being a designer throughout a huge phase of my life. In middle school, I loved graphic novels, especially, mystery and thrillers. I drew various characters in action with speech bubbles almost everywhere, but being a detective felt like a more practical thought. In high-school, I got into movies and video games. I calligraphed audio cassette covers and video game covers but wanted to become a fighter pilot instead. I actually worked hard for it, went close, but failed in seeing that through.
Later, during college, for the longest time, I secretly nurtured the dream of making films but had no idea where I’d land with it. I started taking up super-short jobs in sales and advertising and started to learn coding on the side. During this time, I made a lot of interactive greeting cards for fun and started spending a lot of time on tools like Flash and Photoshop.
After college, I quite serendipitously landed into a multimedia production company as an intern, and things took off. I was loving what I did there. I immensely enjoyed this new way of storytelling with digital tools. After finishing work I was tasked with, I sat for endless hours and observed designers, animators, and artists working in the studio and create magic on their screens. Somewhere at this point, that seed finally started sprouting, and I faintly started seeing how it could grow. Even after a lot of friendly and elderly advice to go back to school for further studies, I didn’t. I think I couldn’t find an honest reason to go back to school. I just wanted to learn it this way.
Over the next several months, I worked on coding interactive applications for the web and large screens but continued to learn the craft and apply it on whatever I did. The following year, I got an offer from Adobe Systems for a software engineer role in their mobile and devices team in Bangalore. At Adobe, I got some great opportunities to do what I wanted to do. I made many mobile applications for keyboard-based phones and helped the team ship the mobile version of Flash to the world. Honestly, my formative understanding of digital product design happened by following and working with some amazing leaders and designers at Adobe.
After a few years in this role, I moved out of Adobe into a full-time design role. Eventually, becoming a designer! Yes, there was a designer seed, a very curious one, that stayed intact for the longest period of time, waiting to sprout, to grow.
What does a typical day look like?
I usually start my day, with a cup of hot tea and reading news. I listen to old Hindi music while I get ready for work. Pretty much the same playlist my dad played in the morning when I was growing up. I feel very deeply connected to my own life during this part of my morning, and it is just a great feeling to enter the day with.
My commute to work is a good 20-30 minutes drive. During this time I usually talk to my mom or brother. Each of us live in different parts of the world now. This daily ritual reminds me that technology seamlessly fades our physical distances away.
I make sure I start looking at my emails and work messages only after walking into the lobby at work. Usually, my day at work starts with casual coffee chats with my team-mates. Then I spend some time in structuring my schedule around what I plan to achieve in the next 7-8 hours. After this, I take it as it comes.
My work involves a lot of thinking. In the current role, I am able to carve out a lot of time to think, collaborate and then execute. I typically try to solve a moderately important problem every week. In my head, I spend a lot of time in peeling the skins of an onion while thinking about a problem, until I reach the bud. Once I find it, I try to solve for the bud, which most of the times helps in solving for the whole onion. So, in terms of onions, one onion per week is my usual goal.
I love to take a solo walk on the rooftop in the late afternoons. This is the time when I try and escape the computer screen and spend time thinking about the problem in an infinite space. Finding the right metaphors to describe a problem and typically working around that metaphor is at the core of my process.
I make sure not to take work home. I have a no-laptop policy for myself after getting back home and on weekends. I love to cook and my evening hours mostly involves listening to music and cooking something unless I am hanging out. I enjoy cooking almost at meditative levels. It is a very effective stress-buster I wish I had discovered earlier in life.
What’s your workstation setup?
I spend very less time at my desk. Either I am in meeting rooms or at an open space. Here are few spots I spend a lot of my time at work
I intentionally don’t have a “setup” at home. It is a simple, non-designer desk setup that is shy enough to reveal itself to the world.
Where do you go to get inspired?
Apart from the regular feeds, I spend a lot of my inspire-time reading about Culture, History, Society, and Tech.
A great source of my inspiration are the ACM Interactions Magazines.
I have been a subscriber for the last few years and find these as a huge source of information and inspiration in the field of my interests.
I also keep myself updated with cinema and the craft of filmmaking in general. I draw a lot of parallels between filmmaking and product design.
I try to observe and be aware of things around me. There is a peculiar kind of peripheral awareness that inspires me a lot in my thinking process.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
Philz App: I’ve become a fan of the Philz Coffee app recently. I use it on a regular basis. It is beautiful, simple and smart. Their service is very efficient. I always get my coffee ready at the counter on time. Most importantly, they make good coffee. Their app is a clear reflection of their brand and service.
Lyft: As a user, I’ve made a great connection with Lyft. I think their app is very fast, maps are accurate and they have done some great thinking around understanding the context of the user to deliver the right experience. They abstract a lot of complexity with smart and delightful UI.
Bellroy: Bellroy as a brand and its products has really touched my bar and I enjoy using their products. They have put a lot of thought in each and every product they have in their portfolio. There is no intention of creating a pack of features, yet each one is desirable due to the craft, utility, and durability of the material used, and I love that.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
A lot of my current work involves new thinking, fresh perspectives and a visionary point of view on problem-solving. I am really proud of a lot of foundational and forward-thinking work I’ve been helping the team building Facebook Stories.
As a product, I hold Live audio very close to my heart and feel proud about the level of empathetic thinking it evolved from. It is a feature on top of live videos that help people with low connectivity go live with audio only. I particularly enjoyed the meaningfulness it brought to people and how we scaled a delightful audio-only experience on top of an existing ecosystem of live.
Back in the days, Answers was Yahoo!’s only UGC product. It also was my first product that enabled people-to-people interactions. I learned a lot while building this along with another designer and feel proud of systemically rethinking the whole Q&A system at scale and helping redesign Yahoo! Answers.
I’ll always have a very soft corner and an innocent sense of pride to have designed and developed mobile applications before touch interfaces captivated us. Imagining and executing delightful experiences under a myriad of constraints had a very different sense of satisfaction. In retrospection, I think constraints are really beautiful. They demand more from you and make you more creative. Also, fun fact, I wasn’t officially a designer when I made these.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Many! pouring my top 10 in this bullet list. Happy to elaborate on each. Feel free to reach out if you are particularly interested in anything.
- Be open and absorb like a sponge. Applies to feedback, diverse perspectives and opportunities, in that order.
- Create a vision and a plan of execution for yourself first.
- Focus on growth, success will follow.
- Always question yourself and learn to sense your gut early.
- Try and develop a strong point of view about your work over time. It will the most valuable capital in the long run.
- Consider “data” and “process” as a tool, not your crutches.
- Swear by your craft, but don’t forget the trade.
- Be honest and vulnerable about your work with the people you trust.
- Bring storytelling into everything you do, not just how you present your work.
- Be valuable to others either by disclosing how you win or by sharing the experience of your failure.
Remember nothing is permanent. Times change. So relax, have fun with whatever you are doing, give your best shot and move on.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Also, we are hiring for various design roles here at Facebook!