When you have to choose between a path inspired by your grandfather and a job based on following your parent’s footsteps, inspiration always wins !

Yash Patankar, our next pathbreaker, uses his design thinking powered by Virtual Reality technologies to envision trucks of the future in his role as Visualization Specialist at Mitsubishi Fuso Trucks and Bus Corp, Japan.

Yash talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about inheriting his fascination for cars from his grandfather, a rally car racer and the drive to make it to the world of Automotive Design.

A great read for students who want to get inspired by the impact that creativity, imagination and digital technologies are making in the world of Automotive Design. 

Yash, tell us about your initial years?

To start with i’d like to state that im grateful for this opportunity to share my experiences (as an individual and a professional ) and hope this interview can in some way, shape or assist budding students in reaching and realizing their dreams.

I was born and raised in the organised chaos of Bombay ( Mumbai ) city on the west coast of India. I did my schooling and junior college in this lively city. I come from a family with a strong background in the healthcare and medical industry, but as a child I was always encouraged to explore and follow my dreams. Growing up, I always had an affinity towards vehicles and motorsport as my grandfather was a professional rally racer and the stories of his victories always got me excited. I would always look forward to my father bringing me car magazines and would spend hours staring down at the amazing beauties within. Sometimes i would also try and recreate my favourites using Ms Paint!

What did you study?

After I finished junior college, I prepared and appeared for several entrance exams to medical colleges in order to follow in the footsteps of my parents. Incidentally, it was during this time that Design and Communication really started to get me thinking. I did not necessarily have the background or skills required to achieve success at that point but for sure had a keen desire and an abundance of motivation to learn , understand and succeed within this fascinating new world. 

I had set my sights on a completely different path after deciding not to follow in the footsteps of my parents. It was uncharted territory as none in my family had any background in the creative industry. I took admission in a multi-disciplinary college in Navi Mumbai and started a Bachelor’s course in Mass Media. During this time i learned and acquired various skills pertaining to the advertising and creative industry. I even started a part-time job as a graphic designer with a startup design firm in South Bombay in order to develop an eye for design , an understanding of the various software used and just learning to do things outside my comfort zone! In the three years i spent in completing my Bachelor’s i not only developed my skills which are with me forever, but also had an enjoyable time doing it. This is when i realized the importance of following your dreams or remaining true to what you’re passionate about. I feel that if you do something you truly like and believe in you will automatically strive to succeed and take it to the next level. 

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and amazing career?

It was now my turn to add to my skill set. I was really enjoying the design and creative side of the media industry but something felt amiss. My love for vehicles had grown more, especially since I’d been driving / riding for a few years by then. It was during this time I came across industrial / transportation design courses and realized that such a niche profession and studies does exist! I instantly knew this is what I had to do. Bringing my love for design and vehicles together… the dream job! 

I began preparing for the entrance exam for the DSK International school of design, based in Pune. Since I already had some software skills (having worked as a graphic designer) I decided to go deeper into updating my software knowledge and applied for the course in digital design. 

One afternoon I received a call from the Head of Digital Design studies, I had cleared the entrance test and even managed to come first! An interview followed during which I presented a glimpse of my graphic design work and an idea of my personality . I had been accepted into the school and the jury also thought I had a decent foundation of the subject to begin directly in year 3! 

During the 3 years at design school, I learned multiple software applications , predominantly 3D based. The facility was amazing and as students we had access to powerful computers, a full workshop with power tools, a high-end 3D printer and even a photo studio! I always knew the learning curve would be steep but what I struggled with the most was the way in which we were meant to learn. Design has no textbooks, barely any rules and coming from the conventional Indian education system the idea of self-learning or autonomy was quite alien to me. Having said that I strongly believe this style of learning is very effective as we learn to analyze problems and find relevant solutions for it using the right tools at our disposal. One of the best aspects of my Design school experience were the academic internships. We had to create a portfolio of our student work and build a network of professionals in the industry and successfully complete a 6 month internship with a company. Real world exposure not only helped me with refining my skills but also helped me understand processes within the industry, it helped me understand how to work within a team and also helped me realize the importance of time management. 

3 years and 3 internships into my industrial design journey I had updated my skill set and my mindset , which had given me opportunities to meet different people and form strong bonds with some of them, gave me the opportunity to travel and learn. I now had acquired a Master in Digital Design management and was ready to take on the next phase of my Design journey. 

It was pretty straightforward choosing a career in the automotive industry for me. I had a natural love for vehicles, a keen eye for design and a growing interest in technology. I feel I’m the kind of person that thrives within a dynamic yet process driven environment. 

I wouldn’t say I’ve had a formal mentor as such but some of my closest friends ( who both run their own respective design agencies) played a vital role in influencing me and my approach towards design. I feel exchanging various experiences and sharing different perspectives with like minded people is very important in order to get a holistic view of a situation. Whether it’s a discussion about a project at work or just a casual conversation about an F1 race , good communication is always very important in order to have the desired outcome. 

One of the biggest factors in me choosing the automotive industry was my internships with Daimler Trucks. It gave me self assurance that I could potentially have a career at one of the leading automotive companies in the world someday and maybe even achieve success! These experiences also gave me confidence and refueled my desire to drive forward and take it to the next level! 

How did you get your First break ?

I wouldn’t consider any particular experience as a break as such because I feel my journey towards my end goal is more of a summation of various experiences. Sometimes it’s all about how you get to the destination rather than the destination itself. I feel I’ve gained plenty of rich experiences throughout my career so far and look forward to more adventures along the way. 

Tell us about your career path and transition to Automotive design

People often ask me how I link mass media and industrial design. On the face of it they are two very different industries but there are also some key commonalities between the two. I feel design is a form of communication, whether it’s a line, a surface or even the use of a certain color. These are elements that help signify a message or a feeling in a visual form. And the most important aspect of both the industries is that they cater to direct human interaction! A vehicle is used by a human and designed around the fact that the user must come away with a particular feeling , be it a sense of pride or performance or even something they can depend upon in order to go about their daily life. In the end a good product must always help in meeting the requirements of the user and deliver that experience in an efficient and aesthetically appealing manner. 

So the transition from the ad industry to the automotive world was more a case of adapting my sensibilities to solve a different set of problems and requirements. Sure it also meant learning new skills and tweaking certain processes but the core mindset was still somewhat similar. 

I got my first taste of the automotive world during my first internship at Daimler India Commercial Vehicles ( Bharatbenz ) in Chennai , India. Incidentally I was the first ever design intern at the Daimler India studio. It gave me great pride in being there and also a good insight into what it takes to produce a vehicle or even a single part for it from a sketch on paper to the real thing. 

After a successful 6 month internship at Bharatbenz I was truly convinced I had finally found my calling. I didn’t want to stop, I decided to do another short 3 month internship this time with a startup industrial design studio. 

Studio clockwork, an industrial design studio in South-Bombay was the best platform I could ask for in order to further my knowledge and skills. Since it was a small team I had the opportunity to be more involved and hands-on with various projects. It helped me in developing my decision making abilities and also helped me in understanding how to prioritize my workload and schedule. 

My final year internship was another big step towards my goal of being a part of the automotive industry. This time around I was in a better position with regard to my skill set and the small network I had built through my previous internship experiences. I applied and secured a 6 month  internship at the Daimler trucks studio ( Freightliner / Westernstar) this time in Portland, USA. I had the chance to experience a different work culture which was quite different to what I had previously experienced. One of the most exciting aspects of being at that studio was that the Optimus Prime and Galvatron trucks for the transformers movie at the time were designed at the studio. It was truly fascinating to see these iconic vehicles up close and personal especially since I had an insight into the design process that went into developing these. 

After my Master’s course I joined Studio Clockwork as a digital design manager and then had the opportunity to join the Tata Motors Design studio, headquartered in Pune, India. The journey at the Tata Motors Design studio is one that has played a pivotal role in my development as a digital designer. I was in charge of surface modeling and was leading the interior surface development (interior surfacing includes dashboard, seats and door trims) for the Tata Intra ( launched at the Delhi AutoExpo in 2018 ). I got the opportunity to not only further my skills but for the first time help inject my ideas and solutions into a new vehicle slated for mass production. I’d never forget the feeling I had when I saw and drove the vehicle (that was on my screen as a 3D model for over 18 months ) for the first time. A truly special feeling , one that can be second to none. 

Here are some pictures of the Tata Intra

After spending close to 2.5 years at Tata Motors Design I decided to take on a new challenge. The idea was to try and be a self-sustaining design consultant. I setup a small studio space (on a tight self funded budget ) in Pune itself and took a leap of faith into the unknown. 

What were some of the Challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Some of the biggest challenges I faced were during my stint as a self-employed design consultant. I was used to working within an organization which had dedicated resources for various aspects. Now I was on my own. I was the designer, I was doing client servicing, I had to do the invoicing and finances myself and even bring in projects to the table through networking. 

Having a constant inflow of projects was the greatest challenge of all but one that I took head on and got the better of! Another big obstacle was when it came to payments… clients often want the work to be done in record time but are quite the contrary when it comes to payday. I quickly learned that it was important to build a certain rapport with the client in order to create a fine balance between a positive outcome for the project and a positive experience in working with the client. 

Working as a consultant also gave me the unique opportunity to explore design across various verticals. I undertook a wide variety of projects from branding, packaging design and even space design. It was a refreshing experience to put my skills to the test, explore new possibilities and influence new industries with an industrial design approach. Everyday offered a new challenge and an opportunity to deliver a new solution. It was almost a year and a half running the studio on full steam when my automotive withdrawals started kicking in. Although I was enjoying myself and constantly learning new skills I was missing the vehicles and the idea of influencing future transportation devices. I thought hard and long and I feel the self employed experiment was a success but it was time go back to the automotive world. 

Tell us about your current work as Visualization Specialist

I am pleased to say that I am once again a part of the Daimler family. I am a part of the advance design team and leading visualisation for the Daimler Trucks Asia Design Center in Japan. Our studio is the mother studio for both Mitsubishi Fuso and Bharat benz brands. 

Visualisation is another completely different and new role for me. This meant learning and mastering a new software and a completely new role within the design process. I am responsible for creating computer generated 3D visuals and animations of our current and future products. I also help prepare and visualize data for design reviews using virtual reality tools. VR is a very new but important tool for us as it helps us visualize future products not just in real-time but at full scale. It’s also beneficial as it helps save time and costs which would be incurred to make physical mockups. 

I would say a strong understanding of the rendering software and strong ability to plan and organize projects and data are the most important skills one needs in order to be a successful visualisation artist. Needless to say that creativity and an eye for material finishes, colors , lighting and composition are prerequisites for such a profile. 

It’s hard to define a typical work day as it’s quite a dynamic working environment. No two days are often the same. This is something that I really enjoy as it never gets monotonous. Working and living in Japan is also a brand new adventure as everything here is so different to what I’ve been exposed to in the past. The culture, language , food ( which is delicious! ) and even the style of communication is something that has been a revelation for me personally. Overall I would say I’m one step closer to achieving the dream! 

How does the society benefit from your work?

I feel cars as we know them may cease to exist in the near future but trucks and buses will always be there as humans have certain necessities that need to be transported in a safe and efficient manner. We at Daimler trucks Asia are also striving to develop more sustainable and eco-friendly vehicles. I am very glad to be part of this change and proud to be in a position to influence the future of transportation. 

Any memorable Projects that you worked on?

I think all the projects I’ve worked on so far are in some way close to me but if I had to choose the most special ones it would be the Tata Intra which was my first ever project to reach production and also the Fuso F-Cell truck which was unveiled at the 2019 Tokyo Motor show as it’s the first concept vehicle I’ve worked on for Daimler to be revealed to the public. 

Here are some pictures of the Mitsubishi FUSO

Your advice to students?

The advice I would give to students and future professionals is to always follow what they enjoy and feel right about. I would also encourage them to experiment without being afraid of failure as I feel failure is only a bridge to success. And most importantly I would say that whatever they decide to do they should always play to win and enjoy themselves whilst doing it! 

Future plans?

I feel I still have plenty to learn, explore and understand. And I strongly believe I am on the right path and have the right influences in my life to continue my journey and build many more memorable experiences in the future