When you have the curiosity and the intent to explore areas other than your stream of study in college, the experiences gives you a wider perspective of what you are capable of !

Shubham Pudke, our next pathbreaker, Product Designer at Signify, works on the design of lighting products like Smart home devices, Architectural lightings, Decorative lightings, Sport lightings etc. for the North American market.

Shubham talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about two clubs that he was a part of during his under-graduation in Engineering ( “Art and Craft”, “Team Octane Racing”) which steered him towards a career in Product Design by combining his background in engineering and love for arts.

For students, the world is yours to explore. Don’t limit yourself to a narrow vision. Instead, look across disciplines, connect the dots and follow your aspirations !

Shubham, tell us about Your background?

I grew up in a small village located in Maharashtra. Right after my primary education, we moved to a nearby town for my further studies. As my father was a teacher of mathematics in school, I was naturally inclined towards mathematics and science while growing up. Moreover, I used to sketch and paint a bit, as a result of often getting tips and tricks from our skilled teacher from the school. He encouraged me to practice and pursue painting even after school education. He used to review my paintings and used to provide both appreciation and constructive criticism, making me better at art and inspiring me to continue painting. I still have those paintings from school with me. Looking at them now makes me laugh; well, they were okay. Other than that, I was very much interested in cricket. Most of my childhood went into playing and watching and listening to the cricket. I was so crazy about cricket that on some days I used to carry a radio to schools to listen to cricket commentary. 

My parents were very supportive of whatever I wanted to do. They gave me the freedom to choose my career path and like most young Indian teenagers, I chose ‘Engineering’. In Maharashtra, we had a CET exam to get into an engineering college. I prepared for that during my high school and got into one of the prestigious colleges in Maharashtra, COEP.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did my graduation in Mechanical Engineering (B. Tech) from the College of Engineering, Pune (COEP), and Post-graduation in Product Design and Engineering (M. Des) from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru (IISc).

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

I was mostly influenced by my seniors from the College of Engineering, Pune to choose a career in design after my undergraduate education. Back in COEP, I was a part of a club called “Art and Craft”. We were a team of 50-70 people from different domains and years. We used to conduct three exhibitions in a year with our sketches, paintings, and crafts. In my third and final year of Engineering, I started helping my juniors sketch better and teaching them tricks that I learned from my seniors, following the culture we had in our club.  

A few of my seniors from this club were preparing for design entrance exams and they introduced me to the design field and future opportunities as a design professional. They introduced me to the design exams, also told me what should one study, how should one approach these exams. They also helped me in preparing my portfolio for the interviews and the list goes on and on. 

I would also like to mention another club in particular that I was a member of, during my engineering, that has played some role in me choosing this career path.

Team Octane Racing:

During the second year of my bachelor’s degree, I got introduced to the student club called “Team Octane Racing” where a student team designs and manufactures a Formula-type racing car to participate in nation-wide events like Supra India/ Formula Bharat. I was fascinated by the nature of the work undertaken by students in this team. And for obvious reasons, cars were, and will always be a thing of love and fascination for any mechanical engineer. I wanted to be a part of this small group of 20 people and learn as much as possible in this domain from seniors and mentors. The team was a group of students from different years and domains like mechanical, electrical, manufacturing, etc. 

My interest was mostly in manufacturing, along with designing the chassis of the car. So, when I got selected in the team through a couple of interviews, I stated my interest in manufacturing and started learning minor manufacturing tasks like profiling a pipe in the exact required shape for welding, pipe bending, etc. This was one of my favorite tasks. I like to make things and this was my opportunity to create something exciting, based on the theoretical knowledge of engineering that I was getting through my formal education. In no time, I became the “go-to” manufacturing guy and the only welder for the team (every team is required to manufacture their car without external support, as per event guidelines).

All these experiences collectively brought out my interest in design, trying out new things, learning CAD/rendering software, and a whole lot of design-related things.

This exposure to Design, Manufacturing, and Art from these two clubs helped me decide the path I wanted to pursue as my career. I started preparing for design entrance exams for my Master’s degree, even though I got a job in a firm right after my graduation in Mechanical Engineering. I was fortunate to get selected for a Master’s degree in Design at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. I owe this achievement of my life, to study at one of the most prestigious institute in the country, to my seniors from both the clubs who helped and inspired me to take up a Design as a career.

As I had expected, once I was in this design school, I was flooded with inspiration from everywhere, my design professors, my peers, and my seniors. The support from faculty and the Design Director from my first job (after graduate studies), who gave me a lot of freedom and time to learn and grow as a designer, helped me ease into the design field and community.

How was your experience studying M.Des from IISc, a Research Institute?

There are a lot of Design schools in India, some are quite new, while some are very eminent, like NID’s. IISc falls somewhere in the middle. IISc is unique on its own. The design department i.e. The Centre for Product Design and Manufacturing (popularly known as CPDM) is not talked about in the world of Design. The obvious reason being the research tag behind IISc. IISc is undoubtedly one of the best research institutes in India.  Then there is this 20 odd-year-old design department that sits within this huge campus surrounded by researchers and scientists. So, pursuing design in IISc is a completely different experience than what one would experience in other design schools in India.

CPDM is a small department and has only master’s and Ph.D. programs in design. CPDM has a different and unique approach to design compared to other design schools in India. The design syllabus is a mixture of design, engineering, and research. One may not get a chance to sketch for a long period but will get a good chance to work on research aspects of design, which, I believe, is in high demand in the current market. Course-work makes sure that you become a well-rounded designer by the time you graduate. One gets to work on a lot of good design and research projects as every professor encourages students to take up a project in their course which is relevant to the design and research field. Simply putting, IISc makes you a ‘T shaped’ and/or ‘X- shaped’ designer.

CPDM is a department with a mix of engineers from different domains, as well as architects and students from many other fields. This helped me learn new things from my peers and also allowed me to work on a wide variety of projects. Such experiences provided me a wider perspective as a designer. 

Also, it is a good place for a master’s degree if one wants to go for a Ph.D. in design as IISc provides a good background to the research.

Tell us about your career path

For me, it was quite simple, as I went with the flow. I made my decision during the third year of engineering studies that I wanted to go for design and I was fortunate enough to get admission to a design school in my first attempt. Luckily for me, since my cousin was doing his master’s in the same college (IISc, Bengaluru), the transition was easier.

Other than that, as a part of my application, I prepared my portfolio to appear for an interview which was based on my work within two clubs I had mentioned earlier – “Team Octane Racing” (Formula Student racing Car) and “Art and Craft”.

Moving into the design field is a completely different experience. It’s nothing like going for a master’s in engineering or any other technical degree. In design, one needs to have a very open mind to follow everything happening around, gather, read, study and do whatever is possible to imbibe the learnings. One need not be a master of one particular thing in design, but knowing something from everything definitely helps (again, one may argue that this is not true, but I feel one can always dig deeper and learn more while working on that particular area). My thought process is to learn as much as I can from whatever sources I have an access to – my professors, fellow students, researchers. 

Additionally, the Indian govt. gave us a stipend of Rs.12400 a month for the master’s course. In most of the top colleges, this fellowship is available (IITs, IISc) and admission fees are relatively low for these colleges. Moreover, the campus has almost all required facilities, so this stipend pretty much suffices for all the expenses during the study.

The IISc design course does not have a 6 months compulsory internship program as a part of their curriculum as in other Design schools, but students have the choice to take up an internship during summer vacations. A few companies do visit to hire students for internships and through that, I got an internship at Godrej and Boyce, Mumbai, in their Security Solutions department for 2 months during summer vacation after the first year of my master’s studies. I was a part of a small design team and got to work on a very interesting project in this short period. I improved my skills like design sketching and soft prototyping and the team gave me sufficient time and help to work on that. I worked on developing a solution for securing the Goldilock Product – a personal locker designed to secure everyday valuables. 

I completed another internship during the fag end of my master’s course before I joined as a full-time employee at Madlab. This internship was at a startup named Greendzine Technology in Bengaluru, which focuses on electric mobility solutions. I worked on the Design of the Electric Drift Trike for recreational purposes, to be used in amusement parks, playing zones, on go-kart tracks. I worked on the initial phase of the design i.e., defining requirements and developing concepts and mockups of the product. This product has been launched in the market now.

First Job: Product Designer at Madlab India

Madlab is a design studio/consultancy, with a dedicated team of 15-20 designers. Madlab works in almost all the design domains, from Industrial design, Furniture design, UI/UX to Packaging design, to almost everything else that falls under the design umbrella. My tenure as a Product Designer lasted for almost 3+ years at Madlab. This was a very good opportunity for me to work on all the different domains and to learn more about design in general. It also helped me to understand the working culture of design studios and often provided me opportunities to interact and work with clients directly. That is one huge plus of working for any design studio. You get to work with direct stakeholders and exposure is quite astonishing.

How did you get your first break?

IISc is not known for placements. But companies do visit to hire designers. I was very selective in choosing the kind of work or kind of company I wanted, so I did not appear for interviews with most of the companies. I wanted to work for a design studio. But most of the design studios hire designers off-campus. So, I prepared my portfolio, which took me almost 3-4 months to complete, to get it to an industry acceptable level. Here as well, my seniors from IISc helped me plan my portfolio and improve it (for example, they explained to me what the industry expects and how it should be presented). Once I finished my portfolio I started applying for jobs on LinkedIn, sending emails to companies, giving interviews, and all. Frankly, it wasn’t that easy as I had thought at first. I got the offer from Madlab after I finished my coursework. And I must say it was worth the wait. Madlab had a unique interview process. They took my short interview over the phone and asked me to visit their office to work with them for a day so that they can evaluate me better and I can also understand their work and culture in depth. And I was sold! I loved the kind of work they were doing, the people working in the office, and the overall environment, it was exactly what I was looking for. 

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

Going into the design from an engineering background has its perks and challenges. As an engineer, I had a mindset of finalizing one solution quickly rather than exploring different directions. It took me good time and practice to change this habit and to have an open mind to every possibility and explore more. I addressed this by sketching a lot and following design thinking processes on the projects I was a part of.

Also, as a designer, you will always be challenged in your career. Challenges vary as per the product you are working on, the tools that the project requires, and how your clients are. I keep on learning and working on my design skills and tools, whether it is sketching or modeling or learning a new technique to do research. I try to keep myself updated with what is happening around the world, in the technology, and design community. This helps me address the challenges that come my way. I feel there is no harm in knowing a bit of everything, as a designer is needed in almost every realm and one can address the need to learn about a particular area whenever required. Knowing things definitely helps to start a conversation.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do

Currently, I work for Signify (formerly Philips Lighting). I moved to this job recently, 3 months back, as I wanted to explore and learn the corporate culture, different ways of working and approaching design, by working for a completely new market. Here I work on the design of lighting products like Smart home devices, Architectural lightings, Decorative lightings, Flood lightings, Sport lightings, Street lamps, etc. for the North American market.

For my current job, just like any other design job, the following skills are required

Design research, which includes studying the market, understanding customer needs, taking stakeholder interviews, synthesizing data, competitive product study. I did my master’s from one of the top research institutes, so we have been taught all these things during our course in IISc. Along with that, I got to work on a lot of projects from different domains with completely different markets and their needs, both in IISc and Madlab. Therefore, in the process, I learned these skills and am still learning. It’s a never-ending process. There are always some new ways to achieve the task. After all, it’s a continuous learning curve.

Sketching: This is a very important tool to communicate your ideas. Every designer should have this skill. Practice, practice, and practice. It is the only way to master this skill. Design schools have dedicated courses for sketching. A lot of YouTube tutorials and books are also there for help.

Modeling: 3D and 2D modeling is another thing every designer should learn. It is required in almost every project. I learned these skills on my own. I think there is no need to take up any course to learn modeling softwares. I learned these skills while working on projects, my portfolio, and doing other personal work. Just like sketching, this also requires practice, practice, and practice.

Rendering: Same as 3D modeling

Prototyping: I feel this is one of the most important tools for any designer. This helps bring ideas to life, and to visualize, criticize, improvise on the ideas. My participation in Team Octane Racing and Art and Craft during my engineering helped me a lot to develop this skill.

These are the major skills. But there are a lot of other minor skills that designers get exposed to during different projects and can be learned along the process.

I get to work on different problems every day. No two projects are the same. So, I don’t get bored with the projects as the work is never repetitive and it is always challenging. This opens up the opportunity to learn new things and to stay updated and challenged. I love this part the most about my profession.

How does your work benefits society? 

The work of a product designer can benefit society in all the ways one can imagine from the utility point of view. Whatever products that I have worked on have benefitted customers in one way or another. Take the Cinema chair that I worked on for one of our clients or the premium range of ceiling fans that I designed for another client or the website that I designed for a heavy equipment rental. These products are directly used by customers like you and me. And that makes the whole difference. A Designer’s job is to make things simpler, easy to use, and market-driven. Designers not only make the product look good but they make it functionally better, they make it feel better. A difference between a good, user-friendly product, be it an app or any physical product, and a badly designed product is the designer.

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

I have two;

During my degree, I worked on a smart baby cradle for the Indian market. There are a lot of smart cradles in the US and European markets, but these will not be suitable for the Indian market. My project partner, Pratik, and I wanted to work on something which would cater to the Indian market taking into consideration how traditional cradles function in India. We developed a beautiful and functional product that works quite well and loved by people in our survey. This product is not in the market yet, but we are planning to bring it to the Indian market in the near future at an affordable price.

Another product I worked on which is very close to me is Premium Ceiling fan which is now available in the Indian market and loved by a lot of customers. This fan is not like any other ceiling fan. The design is unique with unique challenges.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Design is a process, which you can apply to any problem. 

Whatever is the domain in design, the learnings/ process will remain the same and will apply everywhere, be it Product design, UI/UX design, Packaging design, or Mechanical design. Only the tools will change. Practice, follow the process and you will do great. 

Design is an amazing field that anyone can take up as a career option. There are a lot of different domains in design for everyone’s interest. Job opportunities are also growing in different design fields in India. Also, a lot of designers are becoming entrepreneurs, as designers are always exposed to new ideas and surrounded by multidisciplinary people.