Please tell us about yourself
Historically, watches have always been time-telling devices. But people like Mahendra Chauhan try to reincarnate the same watches every year to adapt to upcoming trends and evolving lifestyles. He is the proud designer of Titan Skeletal Edge which won the Red Dot Award for 2013 in the “Best Product Design of the Year – Watches and Jewellery” category. The award-winning watch is supposed to be the slimmest watch in the universe: clean, contrasting lines and a minimalist vibe.
Born and brought up in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh, Mahendra always had a creative inclination which motivated him to take up architecture. He completed Masters in Product Design from NID, Ahmedabad which enhanced his design thinking from a macro to micro level. There he went on to win a “Rado Design Excellence” award. It had the theme of “Time and Creativity.” Since then, he has felt intrigued by time-telling devices.
It was here that he developed a keen interest in the notion of time and timekeeping devices, which won him a ‘Rado Design Excellence’ award. “All products around you, from a refrigerator to a pen, everything has a design story behind it. Product design is all about creating products which can be mass manufactured. It’s all about fusing form and function with a twist of emotion and innovation,” he says.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and exciting career?
Mahendra Chauhan spent five years training to be an architect at the National Institute of Technology, Raipur. After graduating in 1997, he worked with a Mumbai-based architecture firm and designed residences for a year. “But I felt that my strength lay in product detailing,” says Chauhan, who then joined NID’s product design course. His final project involved the design of bicycles with TI Cycles, manufacturers of BSA and Hercules cycles. “I worked there even after my thesis got over, but as a designer you tend not to take monotony well,” says Chauhan, who joined Titan, Bangalore, in 2006 and now spearheads the design team.
What does design mean to you?
Design is translating the intangible needs of the user into tangible products. My foundation in design started with studying architecture at NIT Raipur, which led me to understand form, space, and structure, and scale the core elements that construct design esthetics. I delved deeper into design by completing my Master’s in Industrial Design at NID, which enhanced systems thinking, user perspective and the relation between services and strategy. During my Internship at GE, I enhanced my knowledge on material and industrial processes. After completing my education, I started working with TI Cycles of India, an engineering-driven company where I was the sole designer. My role varied from designing bikes to instilling design culture by being a design ambassador across departments. Moving on to Titan Industries, a design-led organization, I could apply my skill sets of designing for details towards iconic lifestyle pieces. It was the amalgamation of macro perspectives and micro detailing that led me to apply design in different industries.
Tell us about your career path
He worked with GE Plastics and TI cycles before joining Titan Industries and as he progressed, he took forth his learning at each level to evolve his design thinking. He has been contributing to Titan for the last seven years and leading the Titan Design team handling brands/sub-brands namely Raga, HTSE, Nebula, Orion, Edge and the core brand Titan itself. Titan gave him the opportunity where he could use his creative designs while applying the understanding of the intricacies of watch mechanisms. He says, “When it comes to designing watches, the thought process should be in microns as compared to architecture where it was in metres. This level of detailing requires micro design thinking to execute into reality.”
What is a day like in the life of a product designer?
Some days are spent meeting consumers, interviewing them and understanding their aspirations. The consumer insights are then translated to product attributes. Since Titan is a design-driven organization, the design team plays a strategic role in Titan’s product portfolio. There are multiple presentation meetings and the final idea is then sent to the engineering department, where the product is created. “We also spend substantial time on design immersion trips, where we travel for inspiration. For instance, we wanted to do a collection inspired by Indian textiles, for which designers travelled to Jaipur, Rajasthan, others to the south to explore the Kanjeevaram technique; Titan’s Raga Weaves was a result of that. We also came out with a Phulkari-inspired collection,” says Chauhan.
What are the challenges that product designers face?
To design while keeping costs in mind is difficult. “You can dream dreams but everything is not possible. There are manufacturing limitations, and there’s always a game going on between the design and manufacturing teams, both pushing for their points.”
What I love most about the job?
“The concept of creating and recreating a product that’s existed for so long is quite a challenge, and yet the most fun part of it. Last year alone, Titan came out with 15 collections. And when you see your design on people’s wrists, it’s satisfying.”
Tell us about your work at Titan
Chauhan, now working with Titan, recently won the Red Dot Design Award. Considered to be the ‘Oscars of the design world’, the Red Dot is an international prize awarded by the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen in Essen, Germany, and is awarded in three categories: Product Design, Communication Design and Design Concept. Chauhan is a rare Indian recipient in the Product Design category.
The product in question is Skeletal Edge that Chauhan and his design team at Titan conceptualised.
It is an update of the Titan Edge, launched in 2002, famed for its slimness. The new Edge knocks the remaining fat out of its previous avatar. At 36 grams, it is the slimmest and lightest watch available.
“We have developed a movement which is 1.1 mm thick. The whole design objective behind the creation of this watch was to celebrate this movement.
I have created a form which is very modern and contemporary, and what I’ve done is, taken two sapphire glasses, and this movement is sandwiched between the glasses. It’s a see through watch construction.
It symbolically defines lightness, light physically and visually. The whole watch is just 4 mm thick, crafted in titanium, a tough but light material,” Chauhan says.
The timeline of watch creation, from concept to execution, spans eight to 10 months, he says. Prior to watches, Chauhan designed bicycles. Which does he find easier to design? “Actually, because I studied architecture I realised all these creative fields are very strongly connected.
I enjoy creating spaces as much as creating a watch or a bicycle. As long as the end product is good and people appreciate it, it gives me immense pleasure,” he says.