As home consumers, we have seen the transformation of the “good old” Refrigerators from being just cold storage machines to user driven multi-purpose home appliances. These advancements are not just marvels of engineering but also a result of consumer centric design thinking.

Ritesh, our next pathbreaker, Industrial Designer at Whirlpool, conceptualizes future home products based on attributes such as aesthetics, performance, features and usability.

Ritesh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about the satisfaction of seeing a product, evolving from an idea/concept on paper, to being born on on the shop floor and then playing a very influential role in someone’s day-to-day activities.

For students, creativity is all around you in the form of innovatively designed household products. A career in Industrial Design allows you to blend creativity with problem solving

Ritesh, tell us about your background? 

I was born in Kerala and brought up in Delhi. 

I did my schooling from St. Xavier’s School, Delhi specializing in Science and passed out of school in 2002. From the very beginning of my school days, I was interested in creative activities and was good at sketching and painting. My parents supported and encouraged me throughout and motivated me to take part in a lot of Drawing / Painting competitions, some of them outside school as well. However, back then, it was hard to find people considering art or creativity as a career option. Those days, the typical career path of a Science student was to pursue Engineering or enter the Medical field, the latter being more competitive. Engineering was considered as a safer option in terms of job opportunities because of the IT boom back then. Therefore, I always considered sketching as a pastime, never knowing the endless opportunities out there where I could convert my passion into a job. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation? 

Though I secured a good rank in Architecture, because of the many potential job opportunities, I decided to pursue Engineering. It was only later, that I realised that Architecture is a very creative field and also had plenty of career opportunities. I rued not having received proper guidance, back then. 

I did B.Tech in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala and passed out in 2006. Though I was not very passionate about Electrical Engineering, the 4 years of this course helped me improve my analytical skills tremendously. 

I came to know about the CEED exam through some of the college seniors, while I was preparing for CAT exams. CEED is the entrance examination for securing a seat for Masters in Design (M. Des) in some of the most reputed colleges in the country. I learned more about CEED and I realized that it was the perfect opportunity for me to enter a field where I could combine my creative and analytical skills. 

I appeared for the exam and secured a good rank following which I got selected for the 2 year M.Des course in IIT Delhi. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career? 

The two year M.Des degree (IIT Delhi) helps in developing our problem solving skills and learn the various design processes. These processes reveal their importance in due time as we start working on real projects in the industry. 

Being a generic Design Course, we get to choose different design fields, primarily Product Design, Automotive Design and User Experience Design. The sooner one decides on his/her field of interest, the easier it becomes to channel the efforts in improving the skill set required for the professional world. I found Product Design and Automotive Design very interesting and was finding it difficult to choose between the two.

Though these 2 fields have several overlapping aspects, the methodology and the thought process may differ. 

While Automotive design requires extremely good sketching and visualization skills along with a keen sense of styling, the product design field requires a problem solving mindset. As the Final Semester jury project, I chose to work on a self initiated Automotive project on a Tilting Three Wheeler under the guidance of a College Professor where I understood the nuances of Automotive Designing. I appeared for interviews for both Product and Automotive companies and got selected for a Product company. 

Tell us about your career path and the challenges faced. 

I have worked in different organizations in different fields. Though all these ventures may not have been equally successful, each one of them have played a significant role in my learning curve over the years. 

I started my career in a water filtration products manufacturing Company which caters primarily to the American Market.

I started my career in a water filtration products manufacturing company which caters primarily to the American Market. Some of the products which I have worked on are Domestic Water Filters, Water Purifiers, Sump pumps and Pool Cleaners. Some of these products are very technical and that is where Industrial design adds value by creating an aspirational product out of it. This is where I first realized the constraints and feasibility checks that are required during the product development process. There are a lot of aspects to a product development cycle like manufacturing viability, cost structure, market positioning etc. The knowledge gained during this short tenure has been helpful throughout the rest of my career.

Being my first job, it would always remain a memorable experience, where I first came across office dynamics and work management. 

Soon, I got an opportunity to work for a leading motorcycle manufacturer in India, Royal Enfield. That was one of the most glamorous design jobs one can come across and it looked like a dream opportunity.

I worked primarily on projects related to Motorbike accessories and also assisted in the development of a couple of motorbikes. These accessories were part of the organization’s exhibition at Auto Expo. This was one place where a lot of emphasis was given on prototyping of concepts. I was thoroughly involved with prototype makers as well as had a hands on experience with Clay modelling.

A couple of years later, I realized that it may not really be what I was looking for. Being a sought after job need not necessarily mean you are suited for the job or the job suits you. 

Later, I joined a leading Design Consultancy which proved to be the right step at that time. Consultancies cater to almost every kind of product in the market and you get to work on a wide range of projects. With projects ranging from Packaging to Appliances to Automotive Accessories, the knowledge gained here and the experience of handling clients proved to be very helpful at every stage later in the career. Though the perks are less when compared with corporates, the short timelines and quick executions strengthen you up for any sort of challenge. After 3 and a half years, I decided to move on for a more structured job profile, where I can work not just on product design and development but also manage product strategy. 

I ventured back into the corporate world, and one more job change later, I joined my current organization, Whirlpool Corporation. 

Where do you work now and what do you do? 

Currently, I am the Industrial Design Lead for the Refrigeration category in one of the leading multinational companies operating in India, Whirlpool Corporation. 

While I primarily work for the Indian market, most of these products are sold in several countries across the globe. 

Each product has several key drivers, the most critical ones being aesthetics, performance, features and usability. Aesthetics is one of the primary drivers in the Market and it is important that people identify your product with the brand. New features based on consumer needs and the ease of use are other aspects which are taken care of by the Industrial Design Team. Performance, at times, is a very technical domain but it is an Industrial Designer who plays a very important role in conveying it visually to the consumer. 

The Process: 

The product cycle (From Ideation to Market launch) in the appliance industry is typically a couple of years and we have to foresee what the future consumer needs are going to be. This is done through consumer research and trend studies. We often do house visits which help us in understanding consumer behavioural patterns, the issues they face and their insights. 

These insights are extremely helpful when we start the ideation process to visualise what the product should look like and what novelty it should deliver to consumers. The ideation is done by sketching, digital media visualization and finally photo realistic renderings of these concepts. 

These concepts are re-evaluated with the consumers for further feedback. Once it is passed on to the Engineering team for further development, we keep a check to ensure that when the product reaches the market, it is as per the intent from the Industrial Design Team. 

What is it you love about this job? 

Nothing is more satisfying than seeing your product on the shop floor and to know that it will play a very influential role in someone’s day-to-day activities. It is a very dynamic market with multiple competitors and new global companies joining the race every year. We are always on our toes to think beyond what exists today and come up with a product that stands out in the market. Consumer needs are evolving at a very fast pace and being a very consumer centric industry, the product needs constant reassessment and updates as per these requirements. The opportunity to implement innovative ideas is endless and it always keeps us going. 

How does your work benefit the society? 

The role of an Industrial Designer, in any industry, be it appliance or automotive, is that of a problem solver. While purchasing a product, the consumer seeks not just the physical entity but an entire experience around the product. It is this experience which aims at making their life more comfortable while addressing their aspirational needs. Since we operate in a very competitive market, we strive for more energy efficient solutions at best possible prices. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you! 

That is a very difficult choice to make! I have worked on about 40 products from different companies which are currently in the market. Everytime I come across a product on the shop floor or at someone’s house, it gives me immense satisfaction. However, my proudest moment was when one of the Water Purifiers I worked on was endorsed by Sachin Tendulkar! 

Your advice to students based on your experience? 

There are plenty of good colleges offering Under-graduate Design Courses. NID, IIT-B, and IIT-G are some of the well established colleges for UG courses in Design which accept students through UCEED examination held annually. 

While those who have completed B.Tech, B.Arch or BFA can apply for M.Des in NID and IITs via CEED exam. 

Nowadays, people are more aware of the Industrial Design field and it has become very competitive. One needs to be thoroughly updated in terms of technology as well as skillset to achieve the aim of being amongst the very best in the industry. 

Having said that, one should not be afraid to experiment in the early stages of the career. You may face small failures but the learnings from these failures will help you create a strong base and a decisive approach towards your career later. 

Future Plans? 

I enjoy my work and am quite happy with the place I am in right now and I know I have a lot more to achieve. The future is wide open and looks bright with plenty of new fields to explore within the design domain. 

I owe a lot of people for the knowledge they have passed on to me, be it my college professors, my college seniors or my colleagues over the years. I believe it is my responsibility to ensure this knowledge gets passed on further to as many people as possible. Teaching profession interests me as one opportunity which I might explore in the future, where I can probably inspire and guide the next generation of aspiring Industrial Designers.