The most striking aspect of any design, something that can influence a customer psychologically, is the colour. Our reactions to colour run very deep. So the choice of colors is an integral part of design decision making.

Salonee Pathak, CMF Designer at JSW Paints, develops new products in the paint market for décor finishes with different patterns, textures, finishes and colors.

Salonee talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her exceptional performance at college that led her to an exchange programme on Color, Materials and Finish and Trend Forecasting from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.

For students, just imagine the products you see around you without colors and you will realise the impact of CMF on design !

Salonee, please tell us about yourself

I grew up in a small town Belgaum at the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka. After 10th std, as usual, I opted for science keeping in mind the wide career options and society beliefs as I scored distinction. But after reflecting and spending a few days at college I started to question if I really wanted to continue with science. I had never been interested in mainstream subjects as such. I had a tough conversation of shifting to arts with my parents, and trust me, it’s just the thought of conversation which sounds challenging but things ease out once you actually speak about this. I never studied science/math willingly. My father, just like any other Indian parent, wanted me to be a gynaecologist. It took him time to accept and respect my decision. But I strongly think it is essential for us to be patient with them. It is not that they are reluctant to support us when we choose for ourselves, but the fact that they are brought up differently which impacts their mentality and parenting. I have always been good at liberal arts and all of my efforts and this huge decision to switch to arts really paid off when I won the best girl of the year award. Growing up, I have excelled in drawing, acting and every other extra curricular activity. My mother took great efforts to make me participate in competitions, public speaking and other activities to the best of her knowledge. She being a school teacher, made herself a stern mother, but inculcated me with every skill. As a kid I wasn’t exposed to the media or the idea of being a designer. But the idea of thinking out of the box and being goal driven did influence me initially. My father owns a small business and I come from a middle class family where nobody is familiar with the career I ended up choosing. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation? 

After finishing PU college from my home town I did my graduation in B.Des in textile design from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India. It is a renowned college to study Design in India.I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in an exchange programme where i learnt about Color, Materials and Finish and Trend Forecasting from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. My exceptional performance at college led to receiving the Endeavor Cheung Kong Scholarship of 5000$ at Australian government house from the Australian governor. These are cherishable memories, ah ! 

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

I started learning more about design through the web as well as about new advertisements and new products in the market. Also, my curiosity in finding alternatives to problems and thinking about how to deal with them or how different would my solution be, led the way. My mother has played a major role in this journey, starting from the day when she goaded me to participate in public speaking or involuntarily enrolled me to drawing classes and art workshops. This was a huge encouragement to me because she herself was in art. Another big challenge was finding the appropriate guidance, coaching classes to study the basics of cracking the entrance exams. Belgaum is a tiny hub and known for medicine and engineering universities. People are not even aware of something like design, they just assume ‘fashion design’ if you are talking about designing. Such perceptions can push you down, because it is really hard to deal with society when you are doing something that is different or not accepted by them. It is important to understand that you don’t need their validation to pull off something that you like and are going to thrive in. Criticism always makes you mentally stronger. I had to go for a coaching class at Mumbai during my 11th std summer vacation. I had to travel daily for 2 hours in Mumbai’s hot and humid temperature to reach my destination. But I could always see my goal flashing all time in front of my eyes and the urge to be an ‘NID’an.

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 

I prepared myself for NID and NIFT entrance exams. Though I secured 7th rank all over India at NIFT i failed to clear NID in the final round of interview and portfolio. I was a bit disheartened as I could not clear NID. So I joined NIFT Mumbai at Kharghar where I chose to pursue B.Des in Accessory design and simultaneously started preparing for NID again. Being a part of NID was my dream as it is a top design college in India and has a great recognition globally. I figured out the loop holes and worked on it accordingly. My hard work paid off the next year. I completed 1 year at NIFT and joined NID, Ahmedabad. It was a dream come true. 

NID brought a change in me and gave me exposure to such an extent that I decided that in my life, by word or deed, I will prove myself worthy of the graduation degree conferred upon me.

While NID transformed me into a ‘Young Designer’, RMIT was a turning point in that it introduced me to something that I liked, being a CMF (Color Material Finish) designer and Trend forecaster.

I was also awarded a ‘Design Copyright’ for my product ‘Bandhan – Transforming Lights (A bamboo lamp) and Bloom’ – Kids furniture out of scrap. I thank NID for giving me this opportunity on a global platform.

I also worked with an NGO Khamir’ at Kutch, Gujarat. It was a co-creation approach with Khamir and the weavers of Kutch. (Reet – ‘Aant Se Aarmbh’ – ‘On loom products’) was the project. The idea was to create a sustainable future and empower people by providing them with means of livelihood. The idea was to revive Kala cotton, an indigenous variety of cotton. The products are made completely on loom without any wastage, with natural dyes and multiple functionality with slits for head and hands with no stitching required to make the garment. The motto was to sustain local culture and tradition as Kutch stitching and fabrics are an integral part of local identities of local groups and hence open a much wider range of market to them.

I did my internship with Kansai Nerolac Paints as CMF (Colour, Materials, Finish) designer and a trend forecaster where I had to develop new shades and names for their fan deck inspired from our Indian culture and traditions keeping in track with latest upcoming trends. It was a great learning and hands on experience in corporate life.A Fan Deck is a set of easy-to-view strips with various shades and intensities of the same hue that are usually categorized by color family and bound together at one end.

I did my final year graduation project with Maruti Suzuki, Gurgaon, Haryana as a CMF designer in developing Color, Material and Finish for ‘Next Gen IGNIS 2025’. I always had a curiosity about the aspects of textile design beyond fabrics. I had to come up with CMF for the interior and exterior of the car along with the seat trims. This opportunity gave me a chance to work with OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) partners. This project was a great source of learning about the applications of textile design as a value-add in Automobiles. 

Having studied Textile Design and worked as an Industrial designer, I had an urge to look beyond  and pursue a career as CMF designer ( which interested me) in the future.

 How did you get your first break? 

At the time of placements, after the draining jury, it had been an an anxious time for me just like others. Declining markets and the global unemployment crisis made it even harder. Though I came across various interesting and well paying companies, I was only looking for CMF design opportunities. After numerous attempts and tiring interviews I came across the company Kansai Nerolac Paints. After explaining my profile to the company, I got an opportunity in the same area. After several rounds of interviews I got finally selected.I decided to not to wait any longer and chose the current company. 

Linkedin has been a good place to refer to. Choosing the right company is a real mission, because every aspect like location, work environment, paycheck, personal growth matters. Though everyone wants a good paycheck it is a requisite to start slow and steady and get settled. The first job won’t have the best pay. I still struggle to fix my bills and manage my work life, but you have to trust yourself to get through this. We just need to keep pushing ourselves to our best capacities. 

What were the challenges? How did you address them? 

The challenge was to become independent and not take money from home. Moving to Australia and adapting to a new culture and country was a struggle initially, but with diligence and patience, I did part-time jobs on weekends along with my studies in the university.  Hence i could meet my daily needs and saved some for exploring the places around. I stopped taking help from home and from then on, learnt to manage myself independently..

During my study at NID, I always felt the need to earn for myself, in addition to my parent’s contribution. Every penny makes a difference when we work our asses off to earn it. My social skills helped me connect to people better.

While I was studying at NID, I developed a passion for teaching and helping the students to ensure that they did not face the problem I faced. I started teaching at BRDS as a part time faculty on weekends. It was sometimes difficult to handle projects + study + work, but patience and dedication taught me all. I am their alumni and being able to give back and help other students just feels very pleasing. I have had numerous opportunities to flourish through this experience and also learn from the fellow applicants. The students don’t have to face the problems like I did. It has been extremely encouraging and engaging. Learning to teach and convey perspectives is a whole new experience, coping up with college and work is really frustrating at times, but I am grateful that it gives me a lot of skills to handle high stress situations at work and life. Respecting, accepting and understanding other perspectives and ideas through group projects is extremely important in corporate life. 

Where do you work now? What do you do?

I am working at JSW Paints as a Lead Designer. I cater to the décor finish market of paints. JSW paints is an upcoming venture where we are coming up with new products in the market of which one is décor finishes with different patterns, textures, finishes and colors like Asian paint has Royale Play effects.

Over the 10 day break I had before I joined work, I really researched and established some strong resources for me to learn from. I also viewed applying to other jobs as an opportunity to practise and solve challenges without the fear of judgement. Learning and reflecting from our own work and projects is where you will start your growth.

The typical day at work is brainstorming, creating solutions and coming up with fresh ideas for décor finish range for JSW paints. I am usually very tired after work but manage to put the efforts needed each day. Consistent effort and constant motivation is hard but motivation to do it makes it approachable and doable.

I also go on field visits, do market research, tap the problems, sharing solutions with different stakeholders involved in the project, and testing the solutions at the R&D department at Vasind, Mumbai. In addition, i conduct seminars, workshops and create simple and easy youtube videos for painters and contractors to help them with the process of creating the patterns.

This job is all about being creative all the time and I am lucky to have all the freedom to explore new décor finish patterns.What makes me happy is seeing my product launch in the market and the feedback, people purchasing it and applying them on their walls at home. The best part is I am passionate about the work I do and the difference it makes in people’s lives.

How does your work benefit the society? 

Design is entirely about problem-solving. As a CMF designer, I help the society by providing them access to a wide range of fresh designs based on upcoming trends in the market. We fail to realise the usage and importance of design around us, literally it impacts our lives in every way possible. Even though I have limited professional ways to give back to the society, i hope to inspire students with my experiences. 

My website : 

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

The multi-disciplinary project done in mixed mediums and with combination of materials is the ‘Bandhan – Transforming lights’ project which is a simple yet innovative approach and a step forward towards sustainability. Bringing the concept into life, and transformation to a better living starts from home itself. The product aims to bring sustainability by daily use of bamboo as the major material which is considered as the wise man’s wood. Moving towards modernity these days is misinterpreted, due to which we forget the traditions of India. Respecting the traditions of India – ‘Bandhan’ comes into existence, keeping in mind the form, format and materiality of the traditional material – bamboo. Binding together the traditions and the lost craftsmanship over bamboo gives the product its name.

It is a lot more that just a piece of admirable work, it has given me a lot of experience handling people and getting work done. This project also tested my creativity and convincing skills, and my hard work definitely paid off. I was able to copyright my design and received a lot of appreciation from the media and authorities.

Your advice to students based on your experience? 

Having a motive for each thing is very essential. As youngsters it is easy for us to get distracted, each one of us knows how easy it is to lose focus and be unproductive. Getting back on track and creating a balanced study routine as well as social life is a task of its own. I am not asking for cutting down on your friends or isolating yourself from fun activities to get admitted to your dream college. I know how exhausting relationships or college life can be. But prioritising well is a skill you all need to develop. Having constant motivation and perseverance is crucial. Believing in yourself no matter how unsupportive your family is or how much you are trolled by the society or made fun of for being a geek by your classmates is very important, because these are the same people who are going to admire you when you have you have accomplished something. Proving yourself to them is irrelevant but staying true to yourself through this journey has its own benefits. Saying that everything is possible is very irrational because advice without a backstory or experience is just like blabbering. But dreaming big is definitely a start, doing each and every thing passionately is always impactful, following these directions will make your story better, trust me. 

Future Plans? 

I really look forward to working on a global platform with Pantone, WGSN on researching upcoming trends. I also want to be the founder of guidance centres for coaching and counselling in Belgaum.I strongly think that I will be able to give back to my community through this and be able to create awareness and also mould fresh enthusiasts for NID and other such competitive exams.

The time when I had to deal with finding the help I needed has been very overwhelming. To have resources and knowledge to get started is going to create new minds that can flourish and bring change. Having a studio of my own and creating my own projects is something I have always wanted to do. Keeping in mind all of these plans is very demanding and is going to need consistency and perseverance. Failures happen because plans don’t always work and times can be unfavourable, but effort and growth is all that matters. Keeping all our aspirations realistic, we as individuals need to keep finding ways to get better and grow professionally, like keep up with market trends and get those extra credentials to find better job opportunities. Online training and courses make this easier.