A background in Science and Arts presents a unique opportunity to those aspiring to apply their creative side and scientific inclination to delight customers in the world of Consumer Electronics.

Upendra Shenoy, our next pathbreaker, Advanced Concept Design Manager at Samsung India Electronics Ltd, develops innovative solutions to help infuse technology in the daily lives of people based on their cultural values and lifestyle.

Upendra talks to  Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about setting his sights on a career in design, driven by the desire to explore a space at the intersection of technology and art.

For students, never underestimate the role of arts in the technology enabled world that we live in today, because art is the one thing that connects with our human side. Read on …

Upendra, tell us about your background

I grew up in Bangalore, Karnataka. My dad migrated to Bangalore after completing his engineering from Manipal. I grew up playing gully cricket, star gazing, cycling and in-line skating after school. I was influenced a lot by my dad’s career domain, consumer electronics, while I was indoors. I always found new toys, appliances, gadgets to dismantle and sometimes reassemble it back. Thus Lego and Mechanix kit played an important role in my early childhood. Meanwhile my mom was a lot into art, craft and home décor hobbies, which also had a big impact on my life.  

Both my parents encouraged me a lot to get into all sorts of extracurricular activities, starting with art classes in the neighbourhood, to taking me to Indian Institute of World Cultures for painting and sketching classes on a daily basis for many years. I was fortunate enough to attend astrophysics & aeromodelling courses at Vishweshwaraiah Science Museum and Indian Institute of Ham Radio and Aeromodelling at Kanteerva Stadium respectively.

Apart from comics like Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha & Tintin, I used to spend time reading EFY (Electronics For You Magazine) and soldering LED’s and batteries. I was severely obsessed with LEDs. All the above and more, have definitely influenced me and career interests. 

As for TV shows apart from Tom & Jerry, Jetsons, Top Cat, Swat Cat, Shows on Discovery Channels like Junkyard wars, mythbusters were my favorite ones. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation? 

I did my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from Amrita University, after which I worked for a couple of years before pursuing my Masters in Product Design from NID-Ahmedabad.

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

As mentioned earlier, my parents were my biggest influencers, via a mix of tech and art. I was always confused about what side to take, until I discovered the field of architecture, civil engineering & design. The teachers in my school motivated me a lot, and even gave me opportunities to do the props, stage design and costumes for the entire school, apart from helping me participate in creative inter-school competitions. 

I did want to take up architecture, but ended up in mechanical engineering, where my creative works were appreciated by my faculty from the engineering drawing and chemistry departments. That is when my chemistry professor suggested that I could give a shot in Design Schools. And I did, through CEED, where I was invited to attend the interview round at IIT Kanpur. I did not get through the second round.  

Meanwhile I was placed in a “core-mechanical” company. My work involved installation and maintenance of large commercial generator sets (Malls, Hospitals, Stadiums, Tech parks and Airports). I had to visit our client, Tata ELXSI Campus, to get to know more about their design services and that is when it hit me, that Design is where I should be.  

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 was placed in 2 “core (mechanical) companies”. I took the better of the two offers. I was initially posted for a few months in Chennai after which I moved to Bangalore. I was exposed to several companies and domains, where I learnt about organisations that were into design engineering and design services. Also, since I and my colleagues/manager never really synced and there were conflicts of interest, after a year and half, I decided to start working towards my true passion: Design. 

I started working towards getting into design schools. One of the perks of my job was attending all the cricket matches held at the Chinnaswami Stadium (To ensure the floodlights work). I utilized this time at the stadium to read about design and design schools, and also to practice sketching, to help with design school entrance exams. During this time, I also applied for other jobs (Design Engineering Domain) as a ‘Plan B’. 

I got through a German Design Engineering company: Tecosim GmbH. I was excited and motivated. A few weeks later I had to attend the NID Design Entrance exam (Masters of Design Program). Results were out in a few months, and I got a seat in Product Design (Ahmedabad Campus) and Universal Design (Bangalore Campus). Thus, I had to quit my job inspite of being comfortable and happy with it. The MD of the company, Mr. Shyam Kumar was extremely supportive and kind enough to gift me with a very thoughtful book, which I believe changes the way we live with and see things.  

“The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman, I really wish I had read this earlier. I highly recommend this to one and all. 

I took up Product design, through the continued support of my parents, and hence moved to Ahmedabad.  

During this golden period at NID, I participated in and won several design contests at national level, but more importantly, i met a lot of great people who have had a significant impact on my career and life. Mr. Praveen Nahar, Dr. Ranjit Konkar, Dr. Krishnesh Mehta, Dr. Pradyumn Vyas, Mr. Kenneth Segal, Mr. Bhaskar Bhatt, Ms. Poonam Kasturi and Dr. David Williamson. It was here that I made new connections and friends who have helped me learn and taught me to be a student forever. The biggest learning while at NID was the importance of unlearning that one already knows.

During the course of my Masters I did my internship with Titan Industries. Mr. Nagaraj, Mr. Sunil Hajeri and my dear friend Narayana gave me an opportunity to work on new concepts and product line ups. It was a wonderful and memorable 2 months. 

My final thesis/project “Smart Water Management for Indian Apartments” was sponsored by Honeywell Technology Solutions, where Mr. Unmesh Kulkarni provided immense support through the 8 month long challenging yet fruitful journey. The thesis won the Lexus Design Awards and the LeNs International Students Award. 

The project’s broad and main objective was to provide Fair Usage of Water among Residents, while bringing in a behavioural change and positive attitude towards water conservation.

During the final Semester of my master’s program, Samsung India had thrown an inter-college business challenge Samsung E.D.G.E, among the top tech and management schools of India  (IITs & IIMs) and NID. I teamed up with my good friend and amazing product designer, Mr. Anshuman Kumar. We won the contest and bagged ourselves a position in Samsung, and we have been working with Samsung ever since. 

How did you get your first break? 

There was no concept of day or night at NID, the campus is active 24×7, courses are extremely demanding, and a few of them are brutal. It was during one of the most brutal phases of NID days that I came across a contest “Times OOH (Outdoor Media Agency) Bus Shelter Design” which was open to students, architects and firms. It was a pleasant surprise when I learnt that I had cracked it. This gave me the confidence to apply to more competitions and challenges thrown, one of them being Samsung E.D.G.E. This was my first break after NID.

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them? 

 Challenge 1: Time and resources will fall short, always. 

Time and resources are scarce, it always has been it always will be, we need to accept it and navigate our way out of it, that Is when we start being creative and innovative. This means sacrifices, which help you be in a better place not worse. 

Challenge 2: “Haters gonna hate”

Everyone has an opinion, everyone has the right to air their views, let that not affect you. The only thing that you should accept is constructive criticism. 

Challenge 3: Don’t get attached to your ideas. 

Designers are not artists; designers help to solve real world problems. Designers are emotional, we tend to have pre-conceived notions and ideas, that we get so attached to. We work hard to make it work. Without being able to let ideas change, you limit options. When we become so insistent that we have the best idea, we stop learning and growing. Why should someone who has the best ideas 100% of the time, ever try a new technique or learn a new process? 

Where do you work now?  Tell us what you do

I am working with Samsung India Electronics Ltd, Gurugram, Haryana, as an Advanced Concept Design Manager. 

I am associated with a small but agile team: “Product Innovation Team”. We understand Indian Consumer pain-points and solve them through products and services across the entire spectrum (Mobile Devices, Wearables, IoT & Consumer Electronics). We meet various people across India, understand their lifestyle and cultural aspects, and create innovative solutions to help infuse technology in their daily lives. Our role involves building road maps & strategies, planning and developing the concepts into reality, collaborating with design teams and R&D. 

Apart from basic design skillsets like Visual design, Product design, we also need to empathize with our consumers, and have a bit of engineering knowledge and experience. My job profile demands a lot of Critical Thinking & Emotional Intelligence. 

What ‘Innovation’ requires the most is having an open mind and collaborative approach. To put it simply, Innovation is not a process with a standardized formula. It is, on the other hand, all about working in a chaotic environment, finding the dots, connecting them amidst all the chaos.  

You always go to bed learning something new, and you wake up knowing there is something to learn today, that is the best part of this job. 

How does your work benefit society?  

Our team at Samsung believes in five core philosophies—people, change, excellence, integrity, and co-prosperity. And these values have inspired us to come up with innovations that help make the lives of consumers better. Infusing cutting edge technology into Indian Lifestyle without altering our cultural values, is what we strive for. Some of the examples of our work include Refrigerators that can make consistent curd every single day to Microwave ovens that helps to make tadka, sundried fruits, roast masala and papads to  Washing machines with built-in sinks to scrub tough stains with hands to Smart TVs that can turn into fully functional PC with a click of a button to Smart Phones with delightful experiences and needs of the young India and many more across various product  categories.

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

The work I did during my Final Thesis at Honeywell is close to me. It was a complex and challenging problem which needed a solution at the systemic level, keeping in mind the technical expertise and scalable business interests of the organization while solving a major social/resource issue – Water. 

The work was accomplished end to end, including system level analysis and solution, hardware and software design, prototyping, branding and designing the business model. The journey was hectic and chaotic, but extremely satisfactory. It is something that I am really proud of. 

Your advice to students based on your experience? 

Be humble, be agile, learn from everyone, empathize not just with people but every living being, life will surprise you.  

Future Plans? 

I never left India for better education or career prospects, India has it all. There is a lot to be done here. I would like to eventually move towards Social Innovation, that attempts to solve or at the least streamline lifestyle and living conditions. Visit http://www.upenshenoy.com to know more about the work I do and what I am upto these days.