Design is all about observing the world around you and questioning why something is the way it is, and think of ways in which it can be made better !
Shiva Saket, our next pathbreaker, Designer at ECIU (European Consortium of Innovative Universities) in Italy, works alongside professors and researchers to develop games and interactive stories that help in a child’s social and cognitive development.
Shiva talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about design complementing the factual and analytical approach of science, through storytelling and communication skills.
For students, good design can initiate positive action in society through effective communication which can influence people to act in a positive way !
Shiva, Your background?
I was born in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, in a joint family which included my grandparents, uncle, aunties and my parents. My father worked as a mechanical engineer (now retired) and my mother is currently working as a school teacher in Odia literature.
Due to the nature of my father’s job and transfers,my childhood was spent in a lot of cities like Jharsuguda, Nagpur, Jamshedpur, Barbil and finally back to Bhubaneswar. Since we were shifting quite frequently,I never had friends that stayed with me for a long time.I was an introverted child who spent most of his time indoors reading comic books, story books or drawing. I used to spend a lot of time reading illustrated stories of Ramayana , Jungle Book,Tinkle and Chacha Chowdhary. I was mesmerized by the colorful visuals and stories that made me lose myself in their fictional worlds for hours. When I ask my mother about my childhood, she smiles and says to me that I wasn’t a very naughty kid though I was a fussy eater, and so the only way she could feed me was by reciting stories which I listened with awe and admiration. She would give me a large chart paper and crayons and I would sit for hours drawing characters from my comic books without being mischievous. I would create many stories on paper from my imagination and I felt this left an impression on me to express myself through art and creativity. Growing up ,I had filled the walls in my room with graffiti and illustrations much to the dismay of my mother. My father used to buy me encyclopedias and science books and I would spend my afternoons looking at pictures of fossils and the solar system, which sparked my curiosity and passion to learn about new things.
I was an above average student in my school and my favorite subjects were Science and English Literature though I was always scared of Mathematics. I remember when we used to get new books at school at the start of every new session, I would come home and read all the stories in my English literature book. I completed my 12th standard with distinction from Naidu Science College in Bhubaneswar. After my high school, I wanted to pursue a degree in Animation but my parents were skeptical about a secure future in this field, so I eventually got enrolled in Engineering
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I pursued my B.Tech in Electronics from the Institute of Technical Education and Research in the same city.
What were some of the drivers that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
During my engineering years we were encouraged by our professors to take part in various cultural and tech events. One such event was a tech fest organized in NIT Rourkela. I had taken part in a design contest organized by Google Business Groups where we had to come up with a website design for a grocery delivery startup. Even though I was acquainted with art & design, web design was still new for me. But we still managed to pull together a decent design and won the runners up prize. One of the judges, Mr. Anand Mishra (founder of Grozip.com) liked my knack and intuition for design and so he offered me a position of summer intern in his company.
During the summer, I worked as a design intern in Grozip where I designed graphics for the website, social media and created animated promo videos which got praise from the team and attracted a lot of customers to the website. I worked alongside the marketing & product teams and learnt a lot about the importance of good design in creating a successful product and brand value.
Another event that really pushed me into this field was a contest by a motion graphics studio (LycodonFX) to create a video about mankind’s impact on the environment. I didn’t want to take the conventional approach of editing together a bunch of nature clips and wanted my work to stand out. So, I decided to make a stop motion animation video for which I wrote a script, learnt stop motion software and editing tools. The studio really appreciated my unique idea and I won an invitation to visit their studio in Mumbai. It was really inspiring to meet so many creative professionals and see behind the scenes process of crafting amazing stories through videos and animation.
Up until this point in my life, I was only creating artwork for leisure and as a hobby. But both of these experiences gave me the opportunity to create meaningful work and share it with others. It made me realize that my passion for my design and my artistic skills could be actually put to use in the real world to influence people in a positive way and this was all the encouragement I needed to think of pursuing a career in this field.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?
During engineering, we were taught many programming languages and it was expected of us to land a software engineering role in the college campus placements which is what most of my peers did. Although I was intrigued by coding because it helps you to execute your ideas into reality, I always gravitate more towards design because I liked using the visual medium for storytelling and solving user problems.
I interviewed and landed a job as a visual design intern at Blinkin ; an augmented reality startup. My responsibility was to create product explainer videos that showed how the product works and the technology behind it in an easy-to-understand visual way.I worked with clients from Germany and Israel and this international exposure gave me the confidence and communication skills to work together in a team which is really essential since design is a collaborative process.
Then I worked as a lead designer in AAO TV,which was the first emerging video streaming platform in my state, i.e Odisha. Since I worked with the founding members from the beginning, I had experience of starting a company from scratch and it taught how to establish branding of a new product in an emerging market and tackle business challenges.
After spending a year there, I wanted to work in a different sector. This was during the initial days of Covid Era and I noticed a gap in people’s accessibility to good healthcare services. So I joined a digital health-tech company where my responsibility was to create a healthcare ecosystem to bridge this gap. A huge part of my job was to understand the users (people who will use the products), and so I interviewed not only patients but also healthcare professionals like doctors, nurses and pharmacy shop vendors to understand their problems. This gave me an opportunity to see different perspectives and opinions of the same problem.
How did you get your first break?
So after my graduation, I wanted to get my foot in the door as a designer and the best way was to secure a full time internship. I never had a formal education or a degree in design to prove my credentials, so the only way to demonstrate my skills was through a “portfolio”. A portfolio is a collection of work that showcases your abilities and thought process and is absolutely necessary for any creative career. Over my undergraduate years, I had done a few freelancing branding and promotional work for clients like Grozip ,Education New Zealand and some NGOs.I had also created an animated short film that got featured in few short film festivals.All of these projects created a body of work that I showed as a portfolio which impressed the recruiters and showed them a good example of my skills.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
One of the challenges that I faced when I was starting out is the lack of formal education in design. Since the field of design is really in-depth and diverse, just having artistic skills is not enough. I self taught myself from many online courses, software tutorials and videos. There were many times when I wanted to give up but when I looked at the work of other designers, it gave me the motivation to keep going.
Another challenge was the feeling of being not good enough to make a living out of this career. If a designer doesn’t share work, then he/she would not be able to get helpful criticism that’s necessary to improve. So I joined many online communities where I would post my work and get feedback from experienced professionals and industry veterans.
I also reached out to mentors on such platforms who told me which areas I needed to improve upon and the tools that I needed to learn. Sometimes we procrastinate on doing something because we want to do it perfectly and at the right time; the right time will never come, you just have to go out there and do it, allow yourself to make lots of mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
Where do you work now?
I currently work as a designer in the Department of Cognitive Science at ECIU (European Consortium of Innovative Universities) in Italy alongside professors and researchers to develop games and interactive stories that help in a child’s social and cognitive development. I received a merit based grant from the university and research department to carry out my work
What made you go to Italy?
I saw interesting research work done by a professor in the field of multimedia based learning interfaces in Italy. I was intrigued by this and wanted to work and learn under the tutelage of such professors and so I applied in this department. It was a long process but I finally got selected. Another reason I chose Italy, is because it is regarded as a worldwide trendsetter and leader in design. So I thought it was a great opportunity for me to work on new projects related to my interests.
What does a typical day in your work look like?
A typical day in my work life starts with a stand-up meeting in the morning where we talk about our progress from the previous day and define our goals for the day. Then we sketch our concepts or ideas through rough wire-frames and later go for a team meeting where we pitch these ideas and critique each other’s work. After a lunch break with my teammates, I start refining and polishing my designs to make final prototypes. Some days at work also include conducting interview sessions or testing our prototypes with people to get their feedback.
A good visual designer needs to have a strong foundation in design principles, colors and typography. But more than that, a designer must know how to creatively solve user problems .He/She needs to be empathetic and try to observe the world through the eyes of the user to understand their problems. This job also requires you to have good communication and storytelling skills to be able to articulate and present your design decisions to the rest of the team.
What I love the most about my job is that it encourages me to observe the world around me and question why something is the way it is and think of ways in which it can be made better. Everyday on my commute to my place of work, I observe things and people and how they interact with the world. This helps to become a better designer.
How does your work benefit society?
I think good design can initiate positive action in society. Design is another way of communication. Every time a designer or artist creates something, they are trying to communicate something to the world. In fact, design makes communication easier as it can convey the message in a simpler way for people to understand. While science can give us facts and statistics, design can be used to translate what is hard to understand to everyone else.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I recently worked on a project where I designed a game to teach kids about the concept of cyber-security and how to keep yourself safe while browsing the internet. In this game, we designed many 2D platformer challenges that were fun, engaging and at same time taught different concepts to kids. This project was close to me because I used to play lots of video games and watch animated films in my childhood and so it was always my dream to create my own game.
We tested this game with kids to see their reactions and it was really rewarding to see them having fun and completing the challenges.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
My advice to young people out there is to explore and try out different things to find something that you are passionate about. It’s very hard to do that when you grow up, when you have lots of responsibilities. So the best time is when you are in school. Try out different hobbies and find out something that you love doing. Then research and find out what are the possible careers in that path.
Use the internet to your advantage, it is a powerful tool that has a lot of resources and courses where you can learn about different things. Find out people who have the same interests as you, read about their success and failures, reach out to them and seek their advice to help you in your own career.
My last piece of advice would be to believe in yourself. Taking an untrodden path is difficult and there will be a lot of challenges in your way. But if you have faith in your abilities and you seek the right guidance, then it is possible. Always remember that your competition is with yourself and no one else, hence you should try to grow everyday and become a better version of yourself.
Since design is a constantly evolving field, I want to continue learning technologies and trends to keep growing as a designer . I dream of working in the field of environment and conservation to help simplify the complexities which underlie issues of sustainability through design and behavior change approaches.