Design led Innovation is all about focusing on the “Big Picture”, influencing businesses from a consumer benefit standpoint and developing meaningful products that directly impact consumer behavior and lifestyle.

Susovan Mazumder, our next pathbreaker, Designer & Innovator, works with small businesses and startups as a design and innovation consultant, providing strategic guidance on newer ways to create customer benefits.

Susovan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his diverse experiences in product innovation in Automotives and Consumer Electronics that led him to applying the innovation process to diverse problems in startups.

For students, India is an extremely diverse market with huge potential that is largely untapped. That gives you a chance to make an impact with your projects and to keep exploring newer ways to create customer benefits.

Susovan, tell us about Your background?

I am from a suburb in Mumbai. Since childhood I was a huge Car and Bike Fan (especially Cars) and used to love drawing and painting. My childhood was spent drawing cars from magazines and newspaper cuttings. While growing up, I had taken up drawing and painting various subjects in general. I had many many hot wheels and toy cars (even today) and had a collection of magazine cuttings and posters in my bookshelf.

My father is a Mechanical Engineer, and my Mother is a Housewife cum Self Employed Beautician.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I completed school, did my diploma in Mechanical Engineering, followed by BE Mechanical Engg, and Post Graduation in Transportation Design

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

I wanted to become a Race Car Driver (when I was asked in my 8th std by my Dad), and he being a Mechanical Engineer himself, influenced me into believing that race car drivers are engineers. So I have always wanted to do Automobile Engineering since my high school days. Also, as my focus was clear, I did a diploma in engineering right after school as I did not need an option after 12th (also was not the most studious student in high school, so parents were worried about me going to HSC college and getting spoiled..haha). Since Automobile engineering is not offered at the diploma level in Maharashtra, I took up Mechanical Engineering.

During my BE, I had a couple of great professors who encouraged my Robotics participation (I was doing a lot of intercollege robotics events). Also our HOD Dr Pradhan, told me about the Industrial Design program offered by IITB IDC, as he was an IITB alumni. Although I didn’t take note of it at that time, it stayed at the back of my mind.

As mentioned above, these were some key events that influenced my early paths. 

After B.E., I got placed in Godrej & Boyce in Mumbai as a GET (Graduate Engineering Trainee) and was working in the procurement division. After working for 11 months, I got frustrated by the monotony and felt this is not the job for me. That, I believe, was the start of my soul searching journey which led me to connecting the dots of what I was good at (drawing), what i loved (cars), and last but not the least, as my HOD mentioned, to something called Design.  Eureka Moment…hahaha

That was the beginning of my research into this field of Design and its opportunities.

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

So, as I mentioned above, Godrej & Boyce was my first Job after Engineering, but I had to break the GET 1 year Bond as I wanted to Pursue post graduation in Design. (Hence no mention of it in my resume till date)

I was unprepared for design entrance exams. I had very little knowledge about it and also had a job. I just tried my luck in the entrance. Though I did not get into NID or IITs, I got shortlisted for MIT Institute of Design, Pune.

After selection, I decided not to take a break to re appear for NID/IIT entrance exams and hence joined MITID

My first Internship was in Honda R&D (2 wheelers) in Gurgaon, which was a one month internship. And that really gave me my first hand experience of how intensive the industry is really. Because, typically in design schools, the atmosphere is quite chill and easy going (although transportation design is not so chill). But the industry doesn’t work that way, especially Big Brands and Manufacturers (OEMs). 

After that, I went for a 6 month Internship (Final Project) in TI Cycles, Chennai. That was again a very intense experience as that was my first experience with non hindi speaking colleagues around . I also had to cope with internal dept politics and many more corporate related learnings as 6 month really gives you time to immerse and experience the environment along with project work.

Also, frankly, I could not do very well in TI Cycles as I could not find myself passionate about the work I was given. (Although I thoroughly enjoyed long distance cycling and testing bicycles during the tenure. I also ended up buying  a couple of cycles on discount..haha)

This experience was a lesson that I would not be able to perform or sustain a job that I am not passionate about. Hence, during placement, I couldn’t convince Honda R&D to offer me a job.

But, as I was passionate about cars, and worked hard to create a good portfolio, I got placed in Maruti Suzuki India, Gurgaon. This was my First real experience with Car Design. I joined the Exterior Design Team in Maruti Suzuki.

Here I got to work on various small to big projects like Headlamp design, Front Bumper facelift designs to Full Concept Car design Projects.

Couple of my most memorable experiences were doing some design research in Rural parts of India for an Internal Project as it gave a lot of insights into how Rural India uses vehicles and what are their expectations and aspirations.

Another memorable moment for me was when my concept was selected in the top 3 across all the Suzuki Design Studios globally. And it got translated into Clay Model and shipped to Japan HQ Studio for the final presentation.

Also, during my Maruti days, I started exploring design gigs on the side and took up freelancing work on various platforms and started making small to medium size business clients. That gave me a very good exposure to service providing and client handling as well. 

Also, during that time, I started my first side business along with my wife – we made canvas bags and organizers – I designed them. We got it manufactured from a vendor in Noida, and we did the photoshoots, built an e-commerce platform and started selling them online.

This was my first taste of creating something to sell online, and I learnt many things around e-commerce, such as, how to create a store, how to manage  expenses, how to catalogue products etc. I also gained valuable knowledge about social media tools like Google Ads, Facebook Analytics and many more. This experience actually triggered me to look at creativity from a Big Picture perspective, and not just from a design perspective.

I soon realized that Automotive companies in India have far more constraints when it comes to creativity across all levels of the company. (Although it is changing gradually, Tata and Mahindra are good examples in India)

So I decided to move from the Automotive industry to a more diverse Industry, and that brought me to Samsung Electronics, where I joined the Product Innovation Team. 

Innovation is different from Design, as it is more cross functional and strives to create business impact based on consumer insights, whereas Design becomes one of the aspects in it. Hence, In Innovation, you have to look at the “Big Picture” and develop an approach to products right from “What are the consumer needs”, right upto “How impactful will it be for Business”.

At Samsung, I got to work on projects ranging from Smartphone experiences to Smart TV and Appliances – Small, low cost Innovation for local markets to Big Global level Changes in Products and Experiences.

I cannot talk much about the internal Innovation Process much as its confidential for every company, But as an overview, It’s a highly creative, immersive and consumer oriented process and requires one to wear different hats at different stages of the process. It’s a great field of work as a designer, especially If someone likes to think at a system level, more macro than micro level thinking. 

It’s this Innovation experience that really gave me the much needed exposure to CEO level thought processes and top management level strategies and requirements when it comes to new product development. It also gave me the experience of making strategic presentations and pitching a concept to the decision makers. 

I realized  that I could take these experiences to add value to startups through consulting as well as my own startup. 

Hence, in 2020, I started a small quirky Cloud Kitchen Brand Twidli, where we experimented (innovated) with Idlis (one of the most popular breakfasts). We created Eggli – Idli with Egg fused in it with the yolk being visible –Imagine a sunny side up but the white  portion is the Idly. It was a quirky experiment and we got it tasted by health enthusiasts for their feedback and got a positive response. 

We approached Gold’s Gym in Gurgaon and presented Eggli to the owner and he liked it. We started supplying to the cafeteria of Gold’s Gym in Gurgaon at two locations.

That gave me confidence to experiment with an idea, and execute a step by step plan to grow it. We supplied it through feb and march and then BOOM – lockdown happened…Haha… and our Eggli hit a roadblock as gyms shut their doors along with everything else.

We paused for a month and meanwhile got our registration done on Zomato and listed it on the platform. But it didn’t pick up then as no one was ordering during the few initial months of lockdown. So we completely halted the kitchen in May 2020.

As I had some free time and I love reading (I have read quite a few good books in the past 3-4 years), I decided to experiment with making youtube videos. 

I made my channel ‘Being Suso’ and started talking about some of the books that I have read and shared my learnings and takeaways through the videos. I got very good feedback from friends and family, colleagues and connections, for the video content and presentation.

And while making these videos, I got connected to some people who wanted insights into content creation, to start their own channel, and so on. Video making, I feel, is one of the best ways in today’s time to get visibility for your skills and knowledge and to attract the right connections and discussions for your career.

And while making these videos, I got a call from a person via my connections. He was working on an online platform to create a community based home delivery of Alcoholic Beverages. Since wine shops had shut down during the lockdown, while discussing, we felt there is a huge potential for a home grown company to create a tech based solution for beverage sales and delivery, as India is a very unique market when it comes to alcohol beverages.

I had an option to come onboard as a Co-founder and help with the product concept, build a consumer led engagement platform and to help with the overall user experience and design of the App. And that started my Booozie Journey.

We created the complete platform during lock down, working remotely from different cities, and co-ordinating the development remotely. We designed, developed and tested the platform along with cataloging almost all the brands and labels that are sold in India in around 5 months time, and launched the first version of Booozie in September 2020.

Since alcohol delivery is way more complex and is driven by state govt departments, we could not start the deliveries in 2020, but we kickstarted the engagement and community aspect of the platform in 2020.

We have already initiated pilot operations in a couple of states, and will be announcing other operations in the coming weeks. So 2021 will be the start of Booozie Delivery, although state wise. 

Also, we are launching various other unique ways of enjoying alcohol through our platform, along with home delivery in select states.

So, currently I am engaged with Booozie and also supporting my wife’s startup (she has started a home décor and furnishing platform recently), with strategic directions for platform features, marketing and customer connect.

Also, working through 2020 in various directions and fields. I have started actively working with design schools as guest faculty and mentor to share my experience and skill sets with the design students, as in today’s world, there is a whole variety of work that a designer can do especially in the startup world.

Also, today, many students have a lot of skills, however, connecting the dots and marketing those skillsets is a challenge as it is very noisy out there. Hence, I like to share based on my experience, specific strategies that students can apply to their own career to market themselves well. Also, students need to taste the kind of intensity and dedication required to improve themselves consistently, early on in their academics. And this can only be brought to them through practicing designers and professionals from outside academics as they are living and working through the changing requirements of industries.

How did you get your first break?

Internship with Honda R&D was kind of my first break into the automotive industry in Design, and after that Maruti Suzuki was my first job as a Car Designer. Both were through campus interactions/placements.

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

Some of the Key Challenges were around learning the Design and Development Process in the industry as every industry has its own org structure and processes in place. 

Also, the main learning one gets in the industry is what happens after your design sketches are finalized and taken ahead for further development phases. Because, in design schools, students usually stop at the final sketches/renders or handmade prototypes. 

However, the journey beyond that stage is where the maturity of the designer and his/her capability to understand design beyond sketches and renders is tested.

Another challenge, as a new designer, is to understand that you are not always working with designers. A designer needs to understand the mindset and requirement from various perspectives like marketing, engineering, product planning, manufacturing, and so on. 

Hence, collaboration and co-working is a critical aspect of the design process. One needs to understand that none of your design is ‘only your’ design. It’s a team effort, even if your sketches become the base.

Also, any creative career is a continuous learning and self development process. You can never stop being a learner as a design professional. 

Where do you work now?  Tell us what you do

Since last year, I have been exploring and diversifying my work areas and trying to add value at scale. Hence I work with small businesses and startups as a design and innovation consultant. 

Since I take care of all the creative work at Booozie – be it for the platform, or for investor pitching, social media marketing, I keep exploring with design, communication and content creation.

Also, as I have always been engaged with design education as a hobby apart from my corporate job, I have started to take up more active engagements (since last year) with various design institutes in India. I conduct various design workshops, participate as a jury member and for mentor students from various design colleges regularly. And I look forward to taking up more of such engagements, as education gives me a sense of satisfaction and also keeps me fresh and creative as it opens up a platform to interact with young learners at UG and PG level.

I like to keep my routine flexible and dynamic with enough time to follow my hobbies and passion as that keeps me rejuvenated and fresh for handling hectic schedules while working on projects.

The best thing I love about my work is that it is not repetitive, and I can choose to explore various domains and industries, as good innovation needs someone with an outsider’s perspective and not just an expert of the same industry. Hence,  I get to work with various types of projects and keep myself diverse and fresh.

How does your work benefit society?

Working as a designer/innovator gives you the opportunity to understand the users, their needs and aspirations, and to creatively solve problems that directly impact consumer behavior and lifestyle. That gives you a chance to make an impact with your projects and to keep exploring newer ways to create customer benefits.

I think being able to influence businesses and top management from a consumer benefit standpoint and to help develop meaningful innovations is a good ROI of a design and innovation career.

Also, if you are good at design thinking, understanding and applying the innovation process to diverse problems, you can easily explore startup opportunities for yourself.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Be open to explore your creativity. Always question the norms, always think WHY WHY & WHY before concluding. Do not fear to explore diverse skill sets outside your curriculum as that will help to open up your horizon and also equip you with a self learning attitude which is most important in today’s scenario.

Do not stick to just what is told to you. Try and do one step more than what is expected from you.

Future Plans?

I don’t plan much, as no one really knows what the future holds. So I wish to just keep experimenting and exploring various things that interest me, and try to adapt those into my career.

I will try to grow my startup and also to mentor more and more students, small businesses, startups so that I can share my knowledge and help them take advantage of it in their own journeys.

Maybe I will give writing a book a shot sometime in near future, who knows..haha..