Not getting into your dream college in the first attempt can be a blessing in disguise, because this gives you an opportunity to introspect, gather your thoughts, focus on your priorities and give it another shot.
Ashish Anand, our next pathbreaker, Furniture & Interior Designer, heads the R&D department of a Recliner Furniture manufacturing company and provides design related consulting services to clients.
Ashish talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his dream of becoming a Furniture Designer that made him reapply to NID after 10 years and specializing in Furniture Design.
For students, there is always another chance, another shot and another day when everything comes together to help you fulfill your ambitions !
Ashish, tell us about Your background?
I was born in Patna, Bihar to a middle-class family. My father is a retired government officer while my mom is a homemaker. I have an elder brother working with Adobe, Noida as an Analyst after completing his education from IIM Rohtak. I have spent most of my childhood days in my hometown. Though I was an average student during my school days, I had a profound interest in art and design. As I was growing up, there was a lot of pressure on me to study hard, due to which, every now and then, I used to get scolded for devoting time towards painting. This resulted in a big setback for me. I had to put curbs over this passion for the sake of studies. I finished my 10th standard with an average of 78% which gave me a big shock because these marks weren’t enough for admission into the best of colleges/ schools for 12th standard. Somehow, I took admission to a very average college. My parents started dreaming of making me an Engineer and sent me to the best coaching institutes of Patna. With every passing day, I started realizing that if I continued with engineering, I wouldn’t be able to take my career much ahead. At the back of my head, I always wanted to get into design. Till then I wasn’t allowed to devote time towards art and design. Somehow, my parents and brother realized that my interest lay in designing and I was further sent to Arts college in Patna for sketching classes. Though I didn’t continue classes, I filled my form for NID, but couldn’t get through. My dreams of getting into design were shattered. I couldn’t get through engineering as well. With this I started feeling as a loser and everything appeared hazy to me, especially when all my friends were getting good ranks in engineering. I didn’t want to blame anyone, rather I started introspecting. At this time, my brother was my backbone and helped me realize what I was good at. He has always been like a shield to me. He learnt from his failures and made sure that I don’t see such failures in my life. With his support I chose what I was good at and wrote the AIEEE exam for Architecture and finally I got through the exam. My career as a designer took a step forward.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
After clearing AIEEE with a very good rank in Architecture, I took admission into National Institute of Technology, Patna through counselling. Though I was not aware of Architecture as a subject I trusted my brother’s instinct and started researching it. My parents were completely unaware of it. Though I got admission into a very good college, I somehow had it in my mind that I would have to spend 5 years in Patna when all my friends had taken admission in various cities of India. College started and I really started liking the subject and did very good in my first semester. This gave me confidence that I could get admission in a better college, so I applied again for the same exam next year and did much better than last year. I was on the merit list but was allotted the same college. This made me realize that my destiny lay in this college only. With all my best efforts I cleared Architecture with distinction and got into Larsen and Toubro as a Senior Architect.
My family business in Furniture was still in my head. I really wanted to continue the legacy and dreamt of getting admitted to the National Institute of Design. With my job, I prepared for NID and after working for 4 years at L&T, I got admission into NID which happened 10 years after my first attempt. NID restored my lost happiness and I could finally see my dream coming true with every passing day.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I come from a family of creators. Our family name is Vishwakarma- known as Architect of the World. My grandparents had a furniture business but somehow, no one opted to continue this legacy. I used to see my grandpa making masterpieces using his own hands which used to give me goosebumps, but my parents didn’t want me to take up this profession due to which I was pulled away from it. My parents and my elder brother have always been my mentors. My parents never said “no” to any of my dreams. Though they didn’t want me to take up this career, they still helped me pursue my dream. My brother was always behind me as support and helped me find the right path to get things in line.
While I was at L&T, I started feeling bored with the same monotonous life. Though Architecture was my newfound love and I was getting enough exposure with projects like 300 bedded hospital at JIPMER Puducherry, Bengaluru International Airport and Sardar Patel Statue, I could still not forget my dreams about furniture. This drove me to fill the form for NID after 10 years. I became so desperate with my first failure (NID) that I wanted to crack it at any cost for which I thought of using my caste reservation which I had never used till date for anything. Though I got full support and advice from my friends and family, one of my friends (Anantha) in particular was aware of my aspirations. She has always supported me as a friend and made me realize that I should never forget my principles just for the sake of one exam. Hence, I filled my form in the “General” category and to my surprise, the efforts put in by all my friends including Suzanna, Ravi and Shobana helped me find the right track. Every day I used to work at office till 6pm, sit with friends for discussion for an hour and sit from 8pm till morning 4am finishing my portfolio. To my luck, all my freinds and seniors were there to give me feedback. They were the ones who took care of all my daily needs and after my selection, they used to take me for parties till the day I had to leave for NID. I am lucky to have such friends in life. I always have a knack of doing things in a unique way and it was this attitude that made me finish my portfolio with my hands and a personal touch in every page. It was so liked by the interview panel.
Hence, I realized that “there is no shortcut to success and once you see your dream, you need to start running behind it until you achieve it.”
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
Though my first love was Design, I was happy with Architecture as a career until I finished my 3rd year at NIT, Patna. We as a batch realized we are not authorized to be called as an Architect by Council of Architecture (CoA). After many requests and protests, all our efforts of calling CoA for re-evaluation of our college went in vain, due to which no companies were coming for campus recruitment. We started a major protest against the college and called the media, and wrote letters to different ministries. Finally, we were called to represent our problem to Mr. Kapil Sibal who was education minister at that time. It was after his intervention that we could finally get recognition by CoA. We immediately built a team for placement cells and started inviting companies for recruitment. It was the first time that companies like L&T were called for recruitment. Coming into the merit list, I was selected by L&T and was posted in Chennai HQ as a Senior Architect. The first job at L&T was also not so easy. I was lucky to get into Healthcare. Though I was happy with Architecture, I still wanted to be a Furniture Designer and continue the legacy of my family. Also, during these days, I understood that Furniture is a subset of Architecture, hence Architecture as a subject would help me a lot in understanding Space Design and its elements.
With this understanding, I got admission into NID. The open learning atmosphere and hands on experience of making things made me go crazy and flourish at NID. With all favorable conditions for learning, I started feeling a sense of accomplishment. With better involvement at NID, I was also offered projects at NID under Earn while Learn scheme which helped me get better exposure. One such project was the Sardar Patel Museum at National Science Center, New Delhi. This project included brainstorming with clients and conceptualizing the flow of traffic, look and feel as well as the prototyping of displays, details and doing final installation checks.
Later I was also involved in the architectural project of NID Vijaywada’s new building.
My interest towards sustainability and Circular Economy increased with projects at NID. I started taking keen interest towards Bamboo products and construction technologies as well as products made from waste.
I did a Design Internship at Tripura Bamboo Mission. Here I worked on understanding various bamboo species and the process involved in treatment and manufacturing as well as identifying solutions for faster manufacturing of bamboo furniture and introducing the concept of mass manufacturing by developing innovative jigs for cutting, bending, drilling etc. I also worked on development of a better joinery system and knock down feature that could simplify the transportation and delivery of such products in a much efficient manner.
This brought about a different perspective altogether and made me understand how we as a designer hold the responsibility to make the world a better place to live in. With all such events, people started noticing me and various projects of mine got published in daily newspapers, news and magazines. Thrice, my products were even showcased at National exhibitions through NID.
A major breakthrough was post demonetization when NID was selected as a partner by Government of India for making useful products from demonetized shredded notes. Under the mentorship of Mr. Pradyumna Vyas(ex-Director, NID) and Mr. Pravinsinh Solanki (Prog. Co-ordinator), I was officially involved in finding opportunity as a product from the shredded notes. This project brought enough recognition in major news channels of India. (Link- https://www.thequint.com/videos/news-videos/wonder-whats-happening-to-demonetised-notes-watch-to-find-out )
My project in Bamboo for the World Bamboo Organization also got selected and won accolades.
Further, with my textile friend- Sandip, I started exploring rain water plastic as a material and explored its usage in textile and fashion. Using this, we created a garment for World of Wearable Art, New Zealand and our project got selected and we were further invited to New Zealand for the finale by the New Zealand Govt.
How did you get your first break?
During my 4th semester at NID, as i was looking for an internship, I got a call from Little Nap Designs Private Limited to design a recliner for them. My presence on the internet and my portfolio on various websites brought me this breakthrough. It was a completely new experience for me and I was very excited as well. Within a few days, I was called to Delhi and was taken to their factory to understand the making of the recliner. During my meeting itself, my proposal to them got appreciated and this is how I got associated with them as a Product Designer. My post internship work profile with Little Nap Designs included meeting with clients and understanding their requirements and developing exclusive designs by coordinating with vendors and various service providers.
I have always been very active on Behance and always keep my online portfolio on the website updated. One of the co-founders of this company, while looking for potential candidates, found me and my portfolio matching their requirement. As a policy, I have always made sure that I join a company which has invited me for a job rather than companies which I really want to join.
Related to portfolio, I have always made sure that it is updated and relevant based on all my knowledge. A potential employer doesn’t look for a specific portfolio, instead they look for anything creative and out of the box that is sufficient to prove your creativity. Though I have always wanted to be associated with furniture design, I have always believed to leave things on my destiny and I have always taken a path on a very positive note. Not having any regret for whatever I do is the most important aspect of my belief.
I also did work as a freelancer for Livspace. It was when I wanted to take up entrepreneurship and take projects to generate revenue for my company. I worked on commission basis as a Design Associate, but with my extra efforts, I started getting my own projects. Hence, I left Livspace and started concentrating on my own projects.
Life is never easy for me. Hence, post joining Little Nap, I was given a very tough project for developing a recliner bed for PVR to evaluate my design skills. In just a month, i was able to develop the product which was very much liked and appreciated. Post this, I further developed Verve recliner which is now a best-selling premium recliner. It is a unique design and the features were even showcased on NDTV Gadgets (https://youtu.be/DyC3xx0622g) and various magazines. In a short span of 6 months, I developed three recliners, all of which brought good revenues to the company.
This company made me feel so good that I am still working with them as a consultant for their newly created R&D Department which is being headed by me under which I am introducing new materials and manufacturing techniques for the company and revamping their product catalogue completely.
What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
A major challenge was taking care of my financial needs and sustaining myself post L&T. With 4 years of experience of earning and sustaining myself without asking money from parents, I was finding it difficult at NID. I have always tried to stay away from my comfort zone and excel in things which I am not good at. Hence, I started teaching at BRDS and started mentoring students for the NID/ NIFT/ CEPT preparation. This made me interact more and more with young minds and this way I was exploring a completely new arena of design wherein I was teaching and was learning as well.
Next challenge was when I was in the 4th semester of NID. Just 2 days before the final jury, I met with a very serious accident and broke my elbow and shoulder. I was so passionate about designing by then, that just after the accident, when I got into my senses, I was requesting doctors to let me go to the workshop to finish my prototype, but unfortunately my condition was so bad that they could not let this happen. My friends Sandip, Padma and Dhananjay came to my rescue and arranged everything for me. The next morning I was sent back to my native for a major operation. My brother and Bhabhi did their best to make me comfortable during my flight journey though my parents were still unaware of the situation. With this accident, I started feeling nervous whether I could even get back into the workshop. It was at this time that I started realizing the importance of life to fulfill ones dream. Somehow things worked and the operation went well by the grace of almighty and I could again live my normal life. Cooperation from college, especially by Mr. P Ramakrishna Rao helped me present to the jury later without any delay in my academics.
My third challenge was when I left Little Nap Designs to pursue my career as a real time designer with my own projects. I started my own design firm in the name of “The Design Approach” and started pitching for projects. With god’s grace I could bag 2 projects altogether which I finished and later rejoined Little Nap Designs as a consultant after receiving a better offer.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do
Currently I have started my own practice as a designer under the name “The Design Approach” wherein I am providing design related consultation services to companies.
I have few ideas related to circular economy and sustainable design for which work has been completed at the planning level. Currently I have stopped working on it for lack of funds. Once I am able to collect funds, I will start manufacturing in full swing. I have always admired a Minimalist design approach and really feel that people are unnecessarily paying for things which are just being overloaded for the sake of beauty. I want to make things simple and work more on functionality rather than on beauty. Thats why the name- The Design Approach. Our world is fully loaded with waste and as a designer, if I could reuse all the waste to make meaningful products, my purpose to become a designer will be fulfilled.
Such a job needs hands on experience and a positive thinking that anything and everything is possible with design and if we apply our thoughts constructively, we can surely find a way out. We need to really strengthen our knowledge base and develop observational skills. Reading and updating oneself is another key attribute that a designer needs to work on. For me everyday is a unique day, and I take this very positively to come up with better designs.The most important thing is being loyal to my profession. I believe that based on what I have learnt, I should apply everything and give better products. The best thing that I like about this job is freedom. It is believed, designers when given freedom, can act more responsibly. Apart from freedom, I love to be still in touch with design through hands on experience.
How does your work benefit society?
Wherever I work, I make sure I teach my subordinates. My belief is to give what I have received. I have always tried mentoring my juniors since my graduation days. In this profession, I make sure I teach new technologies and better working methods to the workers for easier and smarter working.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
My most memorable work as an Architect was when I was given the responsibility of designing a 300 bedded hospital for JIPMER Puducherry. It all started with preparing tender drawings for L&T and leading different teams from the Architectural side. To everyone’s surprise, the design was so nicely done, that the client approved it in first draft itself and we were able to bag the project. Hence, from scratch till completion, I was a major part of this project and it was one of the major projects that makes me cherish my days at L&T. Post this project, I was assigned the Sardar Patel Statue and was asked to design the tapered garden part of the base below the feet. This part was as it is approved and implemented.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
My only advice to students is to stay loyal to your work. There is no shortcut to success, and one should be patient enough to find their area of interest. Observation and hands on experience are two major attributes that every design student should be having. Never get disappointed by failures and take things positively into your life and make sure your efforts don’t go waste.
My future plan is to start a design studio with my wife Mohena, parallel to the concept due to which I started- The Design Approach. Under this plan we can partner with various design colleges and students and provide them a platform where students can test their design skills professionally and build prototypes at our centre because many times due to lack of facility, ideas die off. This would in return help them build their confidence level post college. We both also plan to start a concept bakery/café where visitors can have hands-on experience on various materials and techniques involved in furniture design.