The field of mobility design is teeming with innovations not just due to the rising affordability of diverse modes of transportation (land, sea, air) but also due to the delicate balance between function and aesthetics.

Roshan Kumar Sahu, our next pathbreaker, Industrial Designer at TAFE-Massey Ferguson, designs, sketches and works on concepts for new tractors.

Roshan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about working on a variety of design projects from houseboats, drones, to inclusive designs for persons with special needs, which drew his interest in mobility design and problem solving.

For students, your uniqueness is your strength. Bring that into your designs and make your distinctiveness stand out !

Roshan, Your background? 

I grew up in Bhilai , a small city in Chhattisgarh. Academically I was not excellent but I managed pretty well. My sole interest was to create something and understand physics through practical applications. My father helped a lot in this, which led to a strong inclination for creating models, especially working models. I had a special interest in automobiles and was very much interested in understanding automobiles. That became a passion for me in my early days. I decided to become an automotive engineer when I was 10 years old. 

Hence, I took up science and landed in SRM university Chennai after opting for automotive engineering. This was the second step towards my passion. In my first year I got into a team that built Formula Student electric cars for FSAE events. I worked as Chief Mechanical Officer at 4ZE racing SRM university, My role was to guide the mechanical team to  design and manufacture the car. In the team we developed an electric formula student vehicle to participate in events held at many places in different countries, we targeted FSAE Italy and FSAE India. To be honest I did learn and practice all the basics of automotive while I was in the team and over the period I realised my interest towards design and problem solving. That was the turning point and I learnt a lot by being in the team. Over a period of time, I got to understand that I was not a good fit for engineering in general as my thought process was more creative than logical. After finishing my graduation I got a few job opportunities. I decided to do a masters of design in automotive design.That was the first time I got to know about this creative field. Being from Bhilai, a small city from Chhattisgarh, I was never exposed to such a creative field, there were only two options for us: medical or engineering. After finishing my graduation I started preparing for CEED and NID DAT. My aim was to get into either NID or IDC IITB. My preparation went well and I got an offer from IDC IITB in Mobility and Vehicle Design as well as from IITD for masters in Design. I chose IDC IITB and started my design learning there. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation? 

I did my bachelors in Automotive Engineering from SRM university, Chennai and then did my post graduation from IDC IITB in Mobility and Vehicle Design. That was in the year 2017-2019.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career? 

In the last year of my graduation, I got to know about the field of automotive design. I was not aware about such streams in general . The fun fact is, I used to believe engineers used to design automobiles. That is fact but not the full fact. Though engineers are responsible for making a car work, the thought process for design and aspiration comes from an industrial designer. An automotive designer gives the shape and form to the vehicle. This information was new to me, and from there onwards, I started my journey as an industrial designer. 

Tell us about your career path

During my post graduation, I was blessed to be involved in a variety of projects. Mobility Design is not just limited to cars, buses, bikes etc, but includes all sorts of mobility design. Basically any design which is in motion, carrying humans or objects comes under the umbrella of mobility design. As part of my internship program I learnt about designing a house boat for Varanasi Ghat. Boats can be modern looking as well as traditional. They are meant to be not just a good looking vehicle but also a thoughtfully designed vehicle which represents something and convey a certain emotion to the users. At IDC IIT Bombay, i worked on inclusive design with an experienced professor to develop a mobility solution for paraplegic persons. That project was a challenging task for me, where I had to take everything into account like usability, aesthetics and  affordability to create the best solution for a paraplegic person. At my first job, IdeaForge Technology Private Limited, my role was to design new and good looking drones and their payload and their packaging as well. The challenge and learning there was different as there would have to be a huge trade off between functionality and aesthetics of the drone and its system. Design is not just a good looking device but a product which has well balanced functionality and aesthetics.

How did you get your first break? 

I got my first break at IdeaForge technology private limited, Navi Mumbai as Industrial Designer. There I was responsible for designing the drone and payload and its packaging. 

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

Challenge 1: I am an introvert, so actually networking with people on LinkedIn or in events felt strange to me. But I let go of my anxiety and began socializing a lot more than what I am comfortable with. I think networking in this industry is most important, not just to land a job but also to know the trends and know where the opportunities are. Nothing wrong in trying and socializing with people around you. 

Challenge 2: The opportunities in the Industrial design space are only a handful. So, it’s important you are in the right place at the right time. Finding a position and getting opportunities to display your work to the world is really less. I wish we had more opportunities in India.

Challenge 3: You are likely to get an opportunity if you have a good portfolio and belong to a good college. 

Tell us about your current role as designer

Currently I work for TAFE-Massey Ferguson, the second largest tractor manufacturer of India. I work there as an Industrial Designer in the Styling studio. I love to design good looking Tractors. Though a tractor is a functional machine, it is also a prestige for farmers who own a tractor. Any vehicle, whether it is a luxury sports car or a tractor, the requirement of aesthetics is very important. Talking about tractors, attention to detail plays an important role. In some parts of  India, tractors are fully customized by the owner. Export market tractors have lots of design and aesthetic elements to make them look good and premium. There is a lot of scope and experimentation that is possible in tractor design.  

How does your work benefit society? 

To be in research and development in the tractor industry, you have to be passionate about it, otherwise, it can get boring. Research and development of new tractors is very exciting to me personally because we are constantly uncovering insights about users and taking the feedback back into the design of new tractors.

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

A work that’s close to me is my master’s research project because it was on a topic that’s close to my heart. My thesis was on making a foldable electric bike. To be honest, though the idea might not be unique in nature, the inspiration was true. As college students, we used to have a bicycle to move within the campus and we had to leave behind our cycle when we graduated, one major reason being the transportation cost. That’s how the idea came into life and I made a working prototype for the same project. Another project of my masters was an eye opening topic for me. The idea was to make a vehicle for paraplegic persons, give him/her a medium of transport so that he/she can move from A to B with minimal human support. 

Your advice to students based on your experience? 

Think, create and don’t stop. Students are so lucky these days to have so many resources available to them over the internet. Also please build your portfolio, even if you do not have design work to show. Know the skills that people in the industry look for, and focus on highlighting those skills in the portfolio. Be a unique and outstanding designer. 

Future Plans? 

Keep learning every single day, collaborate and co-create with people around me, and make a solid difference through design.