Heavy industrial equipment like Tractors and Cranes require designers to prioritize attributes such as safety, ergonomics and durability. So whats next for a designer looking for bigger challenges.

Bhupinder Pal Singh, our next pathbreaker, Industrial Designer, works at Bombardier Transportation, a company which designs and manufactures railway coaches, including Trams, Regional Trains and High-Speed Trains for different countries across the world.

Bhupinder talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about initially starting his career with construction/commercial vehicle design and then getting an opportunity to work on one of Sweden’s high speed trains, ZEFIRO Express, which later went on to win a prestigious design award.

For students, there is a designer’s hand in every high-speed and luxurious train that we see across the world !

Bhupinder, tell us about your background?

First of all, thanks a lot for this opportunity to share my background and experience with youngsters. I really hope that this helps anybody who would like to pursue and grow their career in the design field.

I was born and raised in Chandigarh, Punjab. Chandigarh is a beautiful and well-planned city of India. I did my schooling there. I come from a family where honesty and hard work comes always first. My Dad worked in SWARAJ tractors as Quality Inspector and my mother was in a Govt Job. At a very early age, I realized that hard work always pays. I used to always look forward to my father’s talk about new tractors and machines in his company. I was always intrigued by how machines worked and how they assembled the whole tractor. During my studies, I used to do some science projects on my own. I was good at drawing. These skills further drove me to look at a car and draw it on paper. Even during my secondary exams, I used to hide under the blanket and draw something in my drawing book. Even though those drawings look like cartoon cars today, I still have those with me.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

Till Matriculation, I had no idea about my future except that I wanted to pursue something related to automotives. 

For my Bachelors, I took mechanical stream because I saw my future in something related to automobiles or engines. Anytime I saw a new car on the road, I had to know everything about it. In my 3rd year of my bachelor’s degree, I realized that this was not for me. I also discussed this with my parents and told them that I would continue my studies as long as I could pursue more opportunities related to automotives. They told me that it was fine as It was better to do something interesting in life rather than feeling frustrated later. But they also wanted to know what i wanted to do in the future.

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

During my bachelor’s class, I used to take notes on one page and draw trucks, buses and tractors on another page. One of my drawing professors caught me doing that and suggested that I look for a Transportation/ Automotive design course. He told me that they have entrance exams for it and I might be interested in it. During my school years, it was very common to become a doctor, engineer, or get into marketing. But I went into the design field, fully aware that this was a very niche field in India. However, i decided to move ahead and follow my dream.

I did some research on my own and all the affinity for design in my mind kept emerging. I started visiting the Auto Expo in Delhi. At that time, It was like a candy store to a baby. A place where new cars got launched on a big international stage and people get to meet key members for that project. After my first visit there, It was very clear to me that I had to do a design course for my future. In order to prepare for the design entrance exams I moved to Delhi. There I joined a session on design where they make you think creatively and let you draw. Basically, that was the preparation for “how to crack design entrance exams”. After completing my bachelors, I gave a few design entrance exams and cleared them. At that time, I was aware of a few designers like Chris Bangle, Giorgetto Giugiaro and a few more. But I used to follow Dilip Chabria’s work for BMW and Aston Martin. So, to pursue my career in India, I choose DYP-DC in Pune. I joined the Post Graduate Course in Automotive Design and Styling.

After stepping into my new career in design, I learnt how to sketch a car or any other vehicle. I also learnt how to create a 3D model using software as well as real-time environment images for presentation. These helped in building my interest in automotives. Understanding the background and creative side of automotives helped me combine my interest and love for automotives in a dream job.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

My transition from mechanical engineer to a designer was confirmed the day I came to know about the course of my interest i.e, Automotive Design.

Engineering taught me how the mechanical part in a machine works. As I did my internship in Punjab Tractor Limited, I came to know about the things one has to be aware of and be careful about while designing and manufacturing automotives for different terrains. Here I worked very closely with the Engineering department, where there are different classifications of vehicles for different countries. I used to work on AutoCAD and Pro E software. I have worked on the engine and other parts too. Anybody who did his/her bachelors in mechanical engineering would have studied a few courses on  automotives.

People always ask me about my transition from engineering to design. But honestly, whatever I have learnt in my engineering is helping me in design by translating the design into reality. To put it in another way, If you design something that cannot be manufactured in a prototype shop, then there is no use of it. It has to be manufacturable in the real world. So at those times, my engineering background comes into play.

Till date, in my design stints, I have worked in design consultancies and with a few Automotive Manufacturers. One of the best things is, I am enjoying my work every day doing what I do best.

How did you get your first break?

After post graduation, graduates need to compile their best work in the last 2 yrs and submit to placement officers. I also applied on my own to a few known people in the industry. Within a few days, I was in discussions with a design consultancy in Pune about my first break in the design field. Mr. Satish Komargiri from Advandes Design offered me an internship. After enquiring about this consultancy from a few people, I joined immediately. There I learnt to work on fast pace projects. The projects were not just related to automotive but other areas also. After looking at my dedication, they offered me a permanent job which I happily took. That was before completing my internship. I have worked on many design projects like product design, automotive design, farm vehicle design, Heavy duty Vehicle design and many more. I was mentored in many phases of my design projects from User research, design thought process, real world development and prototyping etc. I was lucky to work with some of the good automotive and product design brands of India and in international projects as well.

During my stint in Advandes Design, I got the opportunity to work on a Heavy Duty Vehicle Design for an Internaional client with HCL Engineering Center Team in Pune. It was a design project for a Crane that lifts overhead bridge concrete parts. It was one of the biggest size Cranes in the world. Here i worked on different vehicle platforms where our styling team was responsible for Exterior aesthetics, CAB ergonomics, driver touch points and much more. One of the interesting parts of this assignment was, whenever we designed any panel, it gets a quick feasibility check from the engineering team. That task saved us a lot of time. If component feasibility check doesnt go as required, then the design team would have to modify the component without disturbing design intent. I also got insights into processes where every major part is split across different teams and how they collaboratively worked to get the product manufactured. This was one of the major important projects of my life. Most of the design provided by our team has gone into protoyping. Learnings from this project is still helping me in my current projects.

After completing 4 yrs, I moved to my hometown to join a Buses and Trucks manufacturing company i.e. Swaraj Mazda (SML-ISUZU). There I worked closely with the ISUZU team (Japan), learnt their work culture and understood their approach to a project and their strategy to create a good product. I was handling a team of Designers, Engineers as well as the Prototype shop. All the things I learnt in my first break came into play here. So I was confident to take a project from scratch to final prototype. After a long time, SML-ISUZU launched a fresh vehicle into the market. I was lucky to be a lead designer of that project.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Working in a design consultancy has its own challenges, like, you will be involved in fast pace projects. For example, a fast pace project is a project which has to be finished from product research to final design presentation in a very short period of time. I took that as a challenge and became a part of such projects. There will be tight deadlines which require full dedication and passion for designing something new. After a certain period of time, you realize that you have done so much in that time with so many challenges. In a very short time, I have seen so much of my work coming and going from an idea to a final prototype.

During my work at SML-ISUZU, I was working on many different vehicle platforms. I was also handling a team of engineers and designers. I had to work with prototype makers as well. One has to be a good speaker to tackle such issues while having sound engineering and manufacturing knowledge. I learnt these on the job. Yeah it took some time, but one of my seniors helped me a lot with tackling labor. I was thorough with my design knowledge, but needed to work on my labor handling skills. People there were very skilled in creating a component just by looking at a design sketch. Sometimes they would get confused with a complex shape. So, I used to create more sketches from different views to make them understand what the design is meant to be. During that phase, I made a good collaboration with the prototype guys. In the end, the full team worked as one and helped each other to release some amazing products which further helped the company to create a new design language in their product line.

Where do you work now? 

Currently, I am working in Bombardier Transportation Center, Hyderabad. This company deals in the design and manufacturing of railway coaches which includes Trams, Regional Trains and High-Speed Trains. Here I am working closely with the engineering team. Different projects have their different requirements in the design and engineering world. For example, at a time one designer holds more than 1 project. There are chances that both project might be from different regions in the world. So, for this job, one should have knowledge of train design and its history, including design and engineering trends. One has to have sound knowledge in interior design sketching and 3D modelling, which includes Photoshop, Alias & Keyshot software. On a typical day, we take inspiration from modern trends and create a mood board with design inspiration images. We do some research for the project and start ideating doodles for train components for interior and exterior designs. In India, Bombardier is supporting domestic and international region projects by providing engineering and manufacturing knowhow. One of the main project that I have worked on is ZEFIRO Express – a high speed train for Sweden. That later won a pretigious design award.

In railways, Japan & Europe have a lot of history, as they have created the world’s best trains. In design culture, it is all about reshaping mobility and redefine the user experience. The best part of design is giving a shape to something which is not there yet, which i believe is the most rewarding part of this job.

How does your work benefit society?

I work in the railway sector where we as designers deal with human touch points and ergonomics. So we study human behavior and movements where there are more than 50-60 people in a small area. It is not just about good design of future products. Design has to be with better ergonomics and durable components that require little or no service. We also need to think about user safety for the large part, which is not the case in a vehicle for 2-6 users. So the interior components design has to withstand fire during evacuation time. I am really proud of being in such a place where my skills are creating benfits to the society for their daily commute.

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

Mostly every project that I have worked on is close to me. But there was one project I did in my first job. which was the design for a soil compactor. There were a few other designers doing their own design. As it was a fast paced project, we had just 3 days for research, product study & design. I was already busy with 2 more projects at that time. In my mind, It was getting complicated to add another project. But one of my mentors wanted me to participate in that project as well. So I gave it a shot. After 3 days, everybody presented their design and my design got selected for the final stage. It was not just a sketch which got selected there. A design should pass through engineering component feasibility, accessibility and serviceability. To achieve this the engineering team played a vital role in speeding up the work, mentored by Mr. Satish Komargiri. At that moment I realized that sometimes it is better to try something different for a while because It opens up your mind to a different perspective. So finally, that product got launched in EXCON, an international Expo for construction vehicles, Bangalore. Our team was officially invited by the client. 

There have been many bigger projects/events for me since then which have had a huge impact on my mind. But that was one of the most memorable projects for me.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Advice I would like to give to the students is that if you are really passionate about something, don’t stop yourself from reaching that goal in your life. It might seem like a straight line to you now but during that phase you will learn a lot about many subsequent fields. That will further help you achieve more in your career. Be around people from other fields, try to participate or visit such events. It will eventually open up your mind which will help you reach your destination. Don’t stop trying something new and most importantly, don’t be afraid of failure. Just focus and follow your dream.

Future Plans?

I will say that I still want to learn a lot and still want to explore more in my life than just as a designer. I strongly believe there is a lot more to achieve for me. I know that I am on a right path and I will surge ahead eventually to create some more memorable moments in my life.

(Also If you like to add some design images to inspire youngster, you can go through my linkedin post section. Let me know which are the images you like to add in this discussion)

A few images of Bhupinder’s designs. Check out more on his LinkedIn Profile: