Hard work will not make you a better designer !! One of India’s Most influential Product designers – Narendra Ghate, Chief Designer at Tata Elxsi.

Hard work will not make you a better designer !! One of India’s Most influential Product designers – Narendra Ghate, Chief Designer at Tata Elxsi.

Ramdas Shenoyy in conversation with Mr. Ghate, Head of Research, UX, Service Design at Tata Elxsi on the design trends and other aspects.

With more than 2 decades in the design domain, how would you narrate your journey?

The best part of the design profession is that you always love your job. Every day, you get up with a gusto to solve the next design challenge. The 2 decades journey in design seems like a breeze. It’s no strain, it’s no looking back at the career and thinking if certain things should have been done differently. Of course the big caveat for the above statements is the necessity of being in a job that allows you to grow as a designer.

This is where I was lucky. I was selected in Tata Elxsi as a campus hire from IIT Bombay, IDC. Tata Elxsi, then, was a very flexible company. It was always toying with new products and experimenting with new business models (for. E.g. we were working with virtual reality equipment in 1998 !). I was initially hired to help ‘sell’ a s/w called Alias, This is a design s/w typically used for car styling. As a part of this I had to travel to various companies and show how this s/w can be used for design. So, it was fun, meeting new people, travelling and working on various customer demo projects. Later we decided to start a ‘design services’ business. And we managed to get customers abroad who wanted an ‘Alias’ expert to work on their projects. As a result, for the next 5-6 years I was in various countries (US, UK, Germany, China, Japan) and various companies (Unilever, Fitch, Ford, GM, Nissan, etc) working as a in-house designer ‘supplied’ by Tata Elxsi.

After this I reduced such travel and we focussed on executing projects from our Bengalaru studio. We started doing a lot domestic projects. One of my first projects was a water purifier for Eureka Forbes and a Talc pack bottle for Ponds. We created a unique opening mechanism for the Ponds bottle and got it patented too. Over the years the studio grew from strength to strength and I grew with it. We added new domains like research, service design, UX design, Branding, retail, etc. We added new studio locations and designers becoming one of the largest design studios is this part of the world.

I believe, I personally graduated from being a hands-on designer to a design manager to a design mentor and a leader. And that would be my journey so far.

What are the key elements of designing that an industrial designer needs to take care of?

A good industrial designer has to be able to think wide and think deep at the same time. What I mean is that the designer should be creative in the ability to think through wide options and at the same time be able to evaluate each option for feasibility, costs and other downstream considerations.

At every part of the project the designer cannot forget that he is representing the user. He has to think for the user and make sure that the users needs are not compromised when managing costs or technical difficulties.

Industrial design mean, design for mass consumption. So we are talking about scale. Scale of production, distribution, users, etc. Hence, the industrial designer should be able to visualise this at the concept phase itself.

What is the difference between designing products for industrial products and consumer products?

The process of design for the two may be similar, but there are some key differences. Industrial products are used by professionals. Hence we can assume that the user will be trained and expected to have certain abilities to qualify him to use the industrial product. This allows the design to be more complicated to allow for certain complex functionalities to be present. This allows for the designer to focus of efficiency of the usage of the product. Focus of the regular use rather than the first impressions. Consumer products have to attractive. They need to have a brand language and easy to use. They should have a pride of ownership. All of these make the design approach for consumer products more semantically driven.

What would be your advice to young aspirants who want to get into the design domain?

Design is very easy if you ‘get it’. Hard work will not make u a better designer. This is the biggest pitfall of design. There is no right answer and the designer has to be able to identify a good design solution from a bad one. A creative person can make 20 options. But which is the right option for the product at hand ?

Hence, my strong advice to young aspirants would be to trust their instincts. Once you have an instinct for what is needed, once you have an eye for design, its very easy. Try and judge, if you can do this naturally. Make a small film, write a poem, write a story. Do a small creative assignment to see if you enjoy it. If you do, design will be easy. The skills needed for design (sketching, s/w, etc) can be learnt.

What are the future trends in the design world. Will AI and ML play a role in the design industry?

In the future world, anything that is analytical, anything that is repetitive, anything that is predictable, will be done by intelligent machines. Humans will end up working on the subjective needs of other humans. This is where designers shine. Design as a profession works with lack of information and lack of clarity. So designers have a great future in this world.

When it comes to AI/ML, designers can play a critical role in analysis of the data. AI/ML can find patterns in data. But what does that pattern mean. Designers are good at interpreting these patterns. They are also good at telling what patterns to look for. For e.g. A typical OTT app, like hotstar can have lots and lots of data. But it’s the designer who will come up with an idea like “if its raining in that location, hotstar should suggest romantic movies and show ads of hot ginger tea”. A machine will not be able to make this connection, a designer will be able to do it faster and easily.

Your vision and Life’s motto

I like to make a difference in the world around me. As the world gets more complex, I want to bring clarity and show a simple way of looking at things. This is my ongoing endeavour and design allows me to do that.

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