The way you approach Design might change with breakthrough technological advancements, but the one thing that will always remain constant about design is its simplicity in creating intuitive, functional and interactive experiences.

Trisha Mishra, our next pathbreaker, Interaction Designer at Philips, designs interfaces that surgeons and medical technicians use before, during and after an interventional surgical procedure.

Trisha talks to  Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about finding her calling in Interaction Design through her work on screens for both touch and non-touch sensitive infotainment systems of Automotives and deciding to move out of her comfort zone to design for a more tangible impact on society.

For students, no matter what you study, you might still not know what your interests are until you explore different options through projects and internships. You dont know a lot more than what you know.

Trisha, tell us about Your background? 

I grew up in Nagpur, Maharashtra. I studied in Bhavan’s B.P. Vidya Mandir till Class 12. Both my parents are from the humanities background, my Mother- English Literature & Father- Journalism. Both of them hold a PhD in their respective subject of expertise and played an influential role in shaping my career.

My initial interests were always leaning towards arts and crafts, I have been drawing since I was in Kindergarten and by the end of my middle school, I had already explored Paper Crafts, Ceramics, Embroidery, as well as drawing in quite a few mediums like Oil paints, Graphite, Pastels, Pencil, Watercolors etc. By this time, I had also successfully completed both Elementary & Intermediate Drawing exams held by the Maharashtra Government. 

I also really enjoyed reading especially the classics and over time I graduated to more advanced subjects. This really helped me imagine and envision things in great detail and clarity. To a large extent I attribute this habit for helping develop my spatial intelligence which is very important for Designers.

My individual interest and aptitude aside I would also like to highlight the key role played by my teachers both in and outside of school, in shaping my career. Without their support and guidance, I don’t think it was possible to be who I am today.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I have a bachelor’s in architecture from NIT- Calicut and a Masters in Product Design from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.

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

I don’t think I made a conscious choice, but a series of events that I will describe ahead led me to where I am now.

Arts and Crafts were a very important part of my childhood. So I knew I had to do something related, so my obvious first choice was bachelor’s in fine arts. But classic middle-class upbringing that aims at investing in things that guarantee a secure future, swiftly rejected this idea. 

My next option was studying Design, so I attempted the entrance exam for NID Ahmedabad but was unsuccessful in securing a place in the UG program. In retrospect I understand that at this point in life I didn’t have a complete grasp of my own aptitude and lacked the clarity of which design discipline I wanted to pursue, so in consultation with adults I chose to attempt for the discipline of Film and Video Communication, and hence was interviewed on the basis of this choice. To state the obvious the interview went poorly, and I failed to gain admission. I believe this was a key turning point because this failure and an incessant need to correct it stayed with me for the next 5 years. 

My third option was Architecture and I managed to get a good score in AIEEE and secured admission at NIT-Calicut, Kerala. Going away to a new state which was culturally so different, staying in a hostel, meeting students from all over the country and managing a fairly demanding 5-year Architecture Program while staying away from the comforts of home was probably the most challenging but at the sometime was extremely rewarding! This experience offered me phenomenal learning and growth as an individual.

Though I was fairly good at academics during B.Arch, I soon realized that core practice of Architecture might not be my cup of tea. So a little before my final year jury I attempted the PG entrance exam for Master’s in Design at NID. In absolute honesty, another very important motivating factor was to alleviate the sting of my past failure! This time Architecture had prepped me, and I knew exactly what I wanted. So I chose Product Design. Based on the choice of this discipline, the Level 1: Entrance Test and Level 2: Studio Test + Interview both proved to be a breeze and I successfully secured admission at NID for the Master’s Program. At the same time, I also qualified for 4 IIT’s but chose to continue at NID.

During this time, I did receive a fair amount of criticism on the fact that I did not choose to practice architecture and some people even went ahead and said I wasted my architecture education! Despite that I strongly believe that each of these steps was crucial because if I did not go through this process I probably would not be where I am. It’s very important for students to own your decisions because nay-sayers will always try to bring you down. 

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

Similar to my education, my career has also been a series of interesting events & choices I made that led from one project to another. At NID we are expected to do our final year project in cooperation with a firm or a company. I had two opportunities to choose from, one from Hidesign -the luxury leather brand and one from Visteon – a tier 1 Automotive Supplier. My guide at NID suggested I choose Visteon because they worked with technology and from his perspective Product Design including technology made for a more challenging graduation project. 

I completed my Project at Visteon where I was allowed to design the center stack (comprising audio, climate controls and driver information), also commonly called dashboard controls of a B-Segment hatchback for the Indian Market. (Some details of the project can be seen here) As soon as I finished the project, I was offered a job at Harman International which is a competitor company to Visteon. My previous experience with Visteon gave me an edge here. 

I worked close to two years at Harman where I held a dual role of Industrial and UX Designer. As an Industrial designer I contributed towards creating concepts for the portable speakers of their JBL Brand and designing dashboard controls specific to infotainment systems for their Automotive Business. In my role as a UX Designer I worked on the interaction design for infotainment system for Tata Motor’s Zest & Bolt Variants which included designing for screens both touch and non-touch sensitive. This is where I first discovered by inclination towards UX Design and made a transition from Product Design to Automotive UX Design.

My experience with Automotive UX helped at the next step of my career when I was approached by Visteon to join them back as a full-time employee because they had recently won some business that needed an Interaction Designer. 

I was with Visteon for close to 7 years. Here I grew in my role from Interaction Designer to Senior Interaction Designer to the Lead Interaction Designer. As my role changed so did my contribution as an employee. Initially I was only responsible for my work as a designer when I was doing Interaction Design work for Infotainment Systems and Instrument Clusters for various Car Manufacturers. As I progressed, I was also involved in advanced development projects where Visteon as an organization created internal projects to demonstrate their technological prowess to customers and in tech shows like the very popular and a very important milestone event in every tech companie’s calendar- the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas every year. In these projects I got to explore designing cockpit interior concepts for Autonomous Vehicles, Head’s Up Displays and exploring various display technologies like curved displays, OLED displays, displays that offered haptic feedback etc. It was very interesting to note how the change in technology also demands a change in the way you approach your design. As I grew further in my role here along with actively contributing as a designer, I was expected to lead other team members, mentor interns and junior designers, participate in budget and resource related discussions as well as take ownership of Project management. 

At this point in life after spending a number of years living in the Automotive world I realized that I wanted to invest time and effort into designing things that have a more tangible impact to society and chose to transition into the health tech industry with Philips, where I currently work. 

How did you get your first break? 

NID had (and I suppose still does) a very active student community who believed in networking and sharing opportunities over various channels. The intra school email was one such avenue which we used for schoolwork as well as received all kinds of news about design & design related opportunities. I reacted to one such email and ended up getting hired at Harman, which was officially my first job after finishing the masters program. 

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

Challenge 1: 

I think the biggest challenges I faced were unlearning concepts to make room for new things especially when I transitioned from various Design Disciplines like Architecture to Product Design to Interaction Design. 

Often, we become so set in our ways that we are unable to learn anything new, so it’s very important for one to be OK with letting go of somethings for our own growth.

Challenge 2: 

By 2020 I had spent close to a decade working in the niche field of Automotive User Experience Design and had started to feel stuck and stagnant due to various reasons. One being, India as a location does not favor companies to set up their R&D facilities here, so if I had to advance my career, I would have probably had to leave India.

It took me a lot of time to convince myself that I am more than just my domain knowledge and there was no need to be glued to the automotive domain. Breaking out of the comfort zone is never easy and I would be lying if I said that I was not scared while taking this step, but the past half year has been a whirlwind of newness that took me a while to adjust to, but the growth and learning has been incredible. 

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I work at Philips now. It is a very large organization and has various businesses ranging from Consumer Electronics, Lighting and Healthcare, only to name a few. 

I work for the Image Guided Therapy Business. Image-guided therapy is the use of any form of medical imaging to plan, perform, and evaluate surgical procedures and therapeutic interventions. 

I focus on designing User Experiences revolving around Mobile Cath Labs. Generally large hospitals have a dedicated room for a Cath lab where all the equipment is fixed. But the smaller hospitals and clinics don’t have a dedicated area that can be used as a Cath lab, so a mobile Cath lab unit that includes a c-arm and a viewing station can be wheeled into any OR, thus making it an affordable and portable solution. 

I specifically design the interfaces the surgeons and medical technicians use before, during and after an interventional procedure. In my role as an Interaction Designer, I am expected to understand various aspects of the workflow, like the environment in the operation room-the lighting, the noise, the importance of maintaining sterility, patient’s position, surgeon’s position, the fact there might be spillage of fluids like blood, operability while wearing gloves, ergonomics because the same unit is shipped globally etc. just to name a few.

The skills needed to be an Interaction Designer working in this field are not just limited to design tools but an increased sense of empathy towards the real-life users of the things we are designing. One needs to put themselves in the User’s shoes and imagine things from their perspective, this is not easy and needs to be developed over time. Apart from this, one needs to invest time and effort into understanding medical terms and terminologies while having a basic understanding of how an interventional surgery is performed, what are the tools used, what are the anatomies that are affected etc. 

A typical workday for me has a lot of discussions with various stakeholders like engineering teams, marketing teams etc. to understand their point of view and feedback. Sometimes I get to see real users like Surgeons in action. When I am not in meetings, I will use that time for my design work using software like Sketch, Adobe XD or collaborative tools like Miro to gather and document information and work together with colleagues.

How does your work benefit society?

Being able to design something that has a very tangible impact on people’s life has always been the prime motivating factor for me. When I designed in-car experiences I made sure they kept the driver safe but also made life simpler and convenient for them.

Now, designing for the Medical Industry is not easy because the process is tedious and highly regulated which is often frustrating and pushes back on creative solutions. But in the end, all of it seems worth my time because the final product will be used in hospitals by doctors to improve or save someone’s life.

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

While I worked at Visteon, I have helped design the in-car user experience for three generations of the Mahindra – XUV 500. Two are already in the market and the latest one should come out soon. Associating with customers for such a long duration helps you see things from their perspective and it’s always interesting to work with Indian OEMs because they are so hungry and have this insatiable drive to prove themselves which gives designers like me opportunities to innovate.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

“Always be open to learning.” 

When I graduated from college, like a lot of students, I had a big ego and a know-it-all attitude which I promptly discarded upon realizing that, how much ever you learn there is always more. 

Future Plans?

I hope it is not too unconventional for me to say that I have already started dreaming of retirement. Having a job is great because it promises one stability and a regular income, but it also robs you of your precious time, youth and energy. So, I have decided I want to retire early and explore all kinds of things ranging from entrepreneurship, agriculture, blogging, travelling, teaching and much more.