You don’t need a workshop to unleash your imagination ! An empty piece of paper, pencil and a creative mind is an automotive sketch artist’s workshop !
Arjun Bavalia, our next pathbreaker, Automotive/ Industrial designer/ Artist/ Engineer, works in the water contamination/ treatment industry, responsible for plant design and material procurement.
Arjun talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about transforming his hobby of sketching and his love for vehicles into professional skills in automotive design by pursuing an M.S in Transportation design from IAAD Turin, Italy.
For students, stop making excuses and give shape and form to your observational skills because that’s what is going to make you stand out from the crowd !
Check out Arjun’s amazing portfolio at Arjun Bavalia
Arjun, your background?
I come from an Indian Army background. I was born and brought up in a middle class family based in Gujarat. Since vehicles were a common interest across our family, vehicles have always inspired me and raised my curiosity since my childhood. I was more curious about vehicles than any other thing in the world. I did my schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan. During my schooling, I always participated in drawing competitions and always won them. If I talk about my initial interests, I was not just interested in the skin of the vehicle but also under the skin like what drives it, how the mechanism works, and how they get manufactured. My father used to in the EME corps of the Indian Army and this corps is an essential engineering corps of the Indian Army wing which played a vital role in shaping my interest through exposure to different army vehicles, not just utility but infantry vehicles as well. My mom is a housewife and always supported my interests irrespective of whether I was drawing a vehicle in my drawing book, or participating in a competition or wanting to buy a toy vehicle. I have had some funny as well as scary moments when I used to get a toy vehicle and wanted to dismantle and check how the machine in the toy worked. Even during my childhood I always liked to ride in trucks. Usually when we were in a village, we sometimes went by truck to another village and it was one of my favorite rides. I was always interested in observing the driver when he shifted gears and operated the pedal. For me, the sound of a running truck or bus engine was mesmerizing. These are some anecdotes I am sharing since time is short, though there are a lot of treasured memories to discuss. Last but not the least, I used to sit near the National highway, watching trucks, long haulers (my favorite), trailers, tankers, buses etc., running on the road and coming back home and drawing their sketches in the sketchbook or last page of the subject notebooks. Sometimes my teachers found those sketches while checking my notebooks, as grown up teachers were more interested in checking the last page rather than checking the homework..
These were the few interesting things which shaped my career towards transportation design.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
After my schooling, I pursued B.E. in Mechanical Engineering from Gujarat University. Mechanical is a vast field and has its footprints in a wide range of sectors. I opted for Automotive related subjects in my final semester.
But I went through a bit of a career transition after graduation. Since we come from a middle class family, we always give priority to job security and a stable career without experimenting. Like other candidates, I followed the herd by joining a PSU. But I continued my hobby and love for vehicles. At a later stage, I opted for M.Des from IIT and went for M.S in Transportation design to Italy.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
My parents have always supported my choices in life. During my professional career I met many people, especially in design school. My will power became very strong under the mentorship of various teachers during my post graduation. I always had friends who supported me in my ups and downs because pursuing a career in design is not as easy as it looks from outside, especially the glamour. It is as hard as medical or any other field. This field requires patience, passion and efforts to develop skills. Luck is also very important.
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
When I was working in the Energy sector as an executive engineer, apart from my job, I never lost interest in machines, especially two and four wheelers. I always had a pencil, paper and a drawing book with me in order to sketch whenever I had free time from my busy schedule. I was in a government job with a 4 year bond. After my 4th year I decided to switch to a career in design.
I appeared for CEED 2014 and TAD 2014. I never knew that I would be able to crack these exams. Well, I cracked both exams and simultaneously appeared in various rounds of tests and interviews in both the institutes. This rigorous effort built confidence in me to switch my career from engineering to design
During M.Des I used to get a monthly stipend which was a handsome amount for a student.
In IIT, the M.Des program was more focused on creative ideas, sustainability and overall skill development. As a designer, skills are very important. I always loved artistic ways of defining ideas or concepts.
We all know IIT as a technology focused institute, something that even I assumed before applying for CEED. However, during my course in IIT I found myself evolving breadthwise as well as depthwise during the two years of my masters program. It was not easy to change my mindset initially from a technical to creative approach. I realised that it does take time to transform yourself to a completely different avatar, especially when you are coming from a different background and I was coming from an engineering background with experience in industry. I had to become a student again which was pretty difficult in the initial stages. I was learning a new culture which helped me evolve into a confident person no matter where I went in the future. The Art /Design school at IIT is not as much evolved in comparison to other renowned design institutes like RCA, Art Centre in Pasadena, CA. or Coventry. It will take time because we need a skill based program, especially for automotive design. We have ideas, but still lacks the skills to execute and I feel skills are more important than ideas.
During my program at IIT, we had several projects like P1/ P2/ P3 .
P1 (like a summer internship) : I did an internship on a product design initiative for CTARA (Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas ), IIT Bombay. It was a rice weed remover machine for an agricultural project. It was a good project where I got an exposure in a different field other than transportation design. It was a combination of technology, agriculture, and industrial design.
P2 : It was major project, where I did a commercial vehicle truck project which was a self initiated project and i was mentored by our transportation design coordinator. We exhibited that project in Auto expo 2015, New Delhi.
P3 (final major project) : An internship project which was done in Ashok Leyland. This project was an initial phase of a live project where they wanted us to make a bus for Dubai city. It was a 3 month internship program at Ashok Leyland and my first automotive design studio experience.
I always wanted to hone my skills, especially my sketching skills related to Automotives. So i decided to do another masters in Transportation Design at IAAD Turin, Italy. I wanted to travel to the auto hub Italy. Hence I chose MS in transportation design in Italy. Well, the funny thing is, I went for another degree just to learn the skills. Skills are not learnt in class only. Everything including the entire environment, architecture, people, mentors, institution motivates you. Design is not about just degree, it is about your creativity and skills. An M.Des or MS does not matter. Degree just matters for HR only.
My 2nd masters was self funded.
My experiences there were not only limited to the university but were also shaped by the place, environment, people, architecture which influenced my abilities in a big way. And of course the mentors in the institute from various pioneering auto companies enhanced my abilities and confidence level in the field of design.
How did you get your first break?
I got my first break in Nov 2020, in a startup company involved in the manufacturing of Electric Scooters. It was a LinkedIn communication with the CEO of the company. He interviewed me and gave me a small assignment which was basically to check my understanding of two wheelers, their proportions, and assess my creativity and skills.
I was hired for the role of creative designer and responsible for entire design of product since I was the only designer first hired by DAWG motors.
My responsibilities were to do market trend research, product benchmarking, and brand design. I also worked on the DNA philosophy, Concept design and development.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Design is a kind of career full of challenges. When you sit idle in a studio or anywhere and do not have anything in your head, what are the different things to do with a blank paper in front of you although you are holding a pen in your hand, I feel that’s a big challenge.
Design is an everyday challenge from the time you have chosen this career till you exist on the earth. And you have to be very flexible, welcoming, and adaptive.
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
Currently, I am working in the engineering domain. Yes!, you could ask, why this sudden change in domain from design to engineering. For me, every opportunity is equal. No two businesses or types of work are different.
I am working as a deputy manager in the mechanical department, and am responsible for plant design and material procurement.
My previous work experience helped me get this job
This job is temporary till I get back into design.
For me, everyday is charming and different, since if you are a designer, you are not just an industrial designer but also a designer for life. Depending on how you think your life becomes like that.
Though I love any kind of work, my choice is design which I love the most. For example, I love to connect with different people during material or service requirement discussions. This helps connect with different companies, so other people or companies know you. It also makes you confident in developing business relations while negotiating any deal. So I feel it is good at some point that you are not just sitting in a box cabin. You are working with different kinds of people as well as people in the industry.
How does your work benefit society?
Currently the industry I am working for is a renowned industry which is involved in developing solutions for water contamination/ treatment issues. I feel we are doing a good job to treat water and save the environment.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
During my industrial career in the Energy sector, my boss asked me to lead a project from the initial idea to the practical project implementation on the field. Also given the duration for the project, It was the first time that I got a responsibility in my career and had to finish the project on time. I had to handle various jobs like system design, vendor negotiation, spares procurement, contract assignments for project execution, timely erection and commissioning of the plant.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Do whatever you want…..never be afraid of the ups and down, don’t be attached to your comfort zone, always be flexible
Well currently I do not want to comment because I am not yet stable. There are a lot of opportunities yet to come. Today, whatever you decide is not certain, especially in this pandemic period.
How do you keep in touch with your design skills?
Blank paper and my curiosity about new surface exploration and observations motivates me to put lines on paper.
For more you can follow me on:
LinkedIn: Arjun Bavalia