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Your influences? How did you end up in an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career such as this?

As a child he always wanted to know how things worked and how they were made. He often ended up painting what he observed. Till today, his doodle sketchbook, in which he has recorded and continues to pen down thousands of impressions at various points in his life, is his best friend and constant companion. Meet Neil Foley, India’s leading watch designer who has a genius of the mind of a scientist and an artist all rolled into one.

Popularly known as the ‘Fastrack’ Man, Neil Foley is the face behind Titan’s range of Fastrack glares, watches, and sporty and masculine timepieces titled Aviator, home appliances Preethi, and is currently designing high-end cellphones.

National Insitute of Design, Ahmedabad graduate (batch of 1995), he later went on to specialize in business design from The Domus Academy, Italy. His first stint was with Ruby Coach Builders in Mumbai, which designed luxury coaches. He joined Titan in 1996, and now after turning into a freelancer; he still handles projects for the watch and jewellery maker.

Since childhood, the inquisitiveness that led him to redefine a product became a passion with Foley. The fact that creating something new and unique that was tangible and could improve and influence the lifestyle of the masses was the chief reason why he chose watch design as a career.

What did you study?

Foley is a graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. He joined the institute for a five-year professional product design programme. Later, he pursued a course in business design at the Domus Academy, Milan, Italy.

Incidentally, he has been designing watches for the company for the past 14 years. “NID teaches you a design process that one can apply to any product category. One needs to further apply this design process to a specific product category such as watches or any other product to become an expert in it,” he points out.

What are the key skills needed?

Creativity plays a very important role where design is concerned. “Price, affordability and manufacturability are hygiene factors today. If your design is not unique, it’s not going to be looked at and therefore not noticed and hence not bought,” he says, adding, “Today, it is gratifying to see that a small product such as a watch that I design has the ability to touch a million lives in a positive manner.”

Watch design comes under a larger umbrella of industrial and lifestyle design. A watch designer gets to design sporty looking watches for people who are not sportsmen but are sports enthusiasts, high fashion watches, youthful watches, classical watches and ultra modern watches. “To me the overall skill sets remain the same but the key differentiator is the ability to grasp the need of the target consumer and apply that requirement functionally and tastefully through design,” he says.

It’s important for a watch designer to be sensible to detail, have good presentation and conceptualisation skills as “design is an expression of what one thinks, feels and experiences,” he says.

Last but not least, this profession does not have any boundaries like other professions and “if you’re a kind of person who is ready to learn and relearn with every new project, there is no better profession that design,” he adds.

According to Mahendra Chauhan, design manager, Titan design studio, watches are an amalgamation of functionality, technology and form. “They also have a strong lifestyle quotient and that is the reason why I became a watch designer.”

With several international brands coming into the country, there is a need for frequent product launches resulting in increased demand for designers who can constantly come up with differentiated designs, adds Revathi Kant, design head at the same company.

What’s it about?

A watch designer’s job starts with a detailed insight mining exercise, trend study and analysis, lots of iterative sketching, ideation, concept refinement.

This is followed by concept detailing, idea presentation, idea sharing and group presentation, group interaction, concept shot listing, detailed technical drawings, watch prototyping and production drawings. The industry is growing at a rate of 8 per cent every year

Clock Work

A watch designer’s job is not a 9 to 5 job; it is a 24×7 creative process. As a designer one is always thinking of new ideas, one does not know when or how the next big idea will strike. Idea triggers are all around.

The day is packed with design presentations, meetings, factory visits, mentoring new designers, working with other designers, meeting clients, spending time with family, watching TV, swimming, meeting friends. Life is packed with excitement

The Payoff
. Starting salary of a junior designer is Rs 4-5 lakh per annum
. A design manager with 5-6 years of experience can earn Rs 10-14 lakh per annum
. A design head can expect to earn above Rs 14 lakh per annum
. If you’ve launched your own brand, then the sky is the limit. Much depends on how well-networked you are and how good an entrepreneur you are

. Creative spark
. Attention to detail
. Sense of form and proportion
. Knowledge of materials
. Love for miniaturisation
. Ability to learn and relearn
. Observant and an open mind
. Need to respect people you design for, understand the customer
. Ability to analyse and resolve things

How do I get there?

One needs to have a basic design aptitude. A design degree always helps. One can study industrial design at National Institute of Design (NID) or pursue accessory design at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). There are also a few schools in Europe that offer a specialisation in watch design

Institutes & urls
. National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad,
. National Institute of Fashion Techology, various centers
. Creative Academy, Milan