Product Design is a balancing act that involves creating collaborative solutions with Engineering, Marketing and Sales while seeing things from a user perspective.
Pranav Kumar, our next pathbreaker, Senior Designer at the Global Design Studio, Whirlpool Corporation, India, looks after Global Cooking Projects and Refrigeration Projects from a User Experience and Research perspective.
Pranav talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the future of design which will be built on innovations in product, process and business models focused on a sustainable lifestyle.
For students, design thinking is a tool and an agent of change for an evolving future, through products that surpass their function and create an emotional connection with people.
Pranav, tell us about your background?
I was born in Himachal Pradesh and brought up in the hills. As my father was in the Indian Railways (Station Superintendent), we used to get transferred almost every fourth year as per Railway Policies☺. Many people do not know that there is “The Kangra Valley Railway ” (2 ft. 6 in) gauge railway that runs from Pathankot (Punjab) to Jogindernagar (Himachal Pradesh). It runs through the sub-Himalayan region. I spent most of my childhood in Kangra Valley.
I did my schooling from different schools, St. Paul’s School (Palampur), Modern Public School (Kangra) and then passed out of Higher Secondary in the science stream (PCM) from D.A.V. Kangra (H.P.).
In the initial days of my schooling, I was involved in sketching, making posters, drawing landscapes and water color paintings, collages, origami and other art and craft activities. I used to participate in many Interschool, District level/State Level competitions and win prizes. This used to give me a lot of enthusiasm as well as appreciation from teachers, friends and neighbors, which encouraged me to keep exploring this field. My mother is a homemaker. She influenced me in exploring my creative side. She has always had good skills in knitting/weaving/stitching and painting.
I still remember asking my grandparents at night to tell stories – how things are made? Who made the fan? How is a table made? Whatever things I saw around me, “Who made it” was my first query. And they used to give me answers in some sort of stories – around that product, and how it was made via machines by a carpenter or engineer etc. That curiosity-filled phase might have also influenced my design thinking and inclination towards this field.
During my schooling, I was not aware of the different Design fields, only some design Institutes like NIFT were in mind, more related to Fashion Design. At that time, going to a Fashion Design Institute was not considered a good career option. An engineering diploma or engineering degree had much better prospects. So after clearing my Engineering Entrance Exam, I took admission in the Electronics and Communication Branch at Punjab Tech. University. I passed out with a B.Tech in 2004.
Luckily, in the last semester of my B.Tech, I read a column on a Masters in Design degree being offered by IITs and IISc Bangalore. I cross checked the websites and appeared for the exams later. In the meantime, I was working in Chandigarh as a VSAT Engineer. I got Admission in IIT Delhi-Design (Batch 2006 to 2008)
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
For graduation, I did my B.Tech in Electronics and Communication. During the four year course I had a lot of exposure to different streams of subjects of Engineering and a holistic way to think and explain things. Also during this four year course I was active in the Fine Arts Club. New culture, new friends and different thoughts enriched the experience of social life during this academic journey. Here I came to know about the CEED and GATE exams in my last semester (IITs/IISc have different entrance exams in the field of design). I was not able to fill forms that year as the window was closed for applications, and so I decided to try next year. After B.Tech, I worked as VSAT Engineer in Chandigarh for more than a year and appeared for these exams in the meantime. I cleared the first round of the CEED exam and got calls from different Institutes. I joined IIT Delhi for my Post -Graduation in M.Des, a two year Masters Course.
What made you choose such an offbeat, uncommon and unique career?
“The passion to solve user problems and create a plan/solution/product around that” made me choose this career. Our life revolves around many products. I was always fascinated by how products are made and the joyful experience around the usage of products.
The two year M.Des degree gave me that exposure to think from a user perspective, to filter insights and use the problem solving skills for building solutions. I also developed hands-on skills on various design processes using 2D, 3D software. Also, knowledge of different material processes helped in better understanding the design process. These were some of the great skills I acquired at this time, and something that we still follow in the Industry for different projects.
In the Industrial Design course, we were taught about different streams of Design, Design Theories, Design Processes, Product Design, Color Finishes, Automobiles, Graphics, User Experience Design, Ergonomics etc. I was more inclined towards User Research and Product Design. I worked on many projects on Health Care under Prof. L.K. Das (Now Retired from IIT Delhi) He was my main mentor during the course and his guidance helped me think from a wider perspective. His approach was that user needs are a critical thing for a designer. He also used to give a lot of emphasis on employing empathic strategies for different dimensions of the user lifecycle. All this helped me in my design path.
During the execution of design projects, there were many turning points and memorable moments that helped me in studying different elements that come together to create an enjoyable user experience, based on insights from a social, emotional and cultural lens.
Tell us about your career path
I have been working in different fields of design in different Industries, each of which need a different skill set to accomplish the job, though all of them revolve around design.
After placement from IIT-Delhi, I worked as Industrial Designer for an American MNC in the Water Filtration Segment. Some of the products were for Local Markets and many others were for International Markets. The filtration products ranged from small to big Industrial products. I used to work with engineering teams to understand the full development process of a product. I gained knowledge of mass scale production techniques for Plastic Parts, Metal Parts, and Sheet Metal. I also learned many other concepts like Bill of Materials, Cost of Part, feasibility, and procurement channels etc. during this time. The main learnings were the time flow of projects and managing things as well as working with other team members.
After that, I worked for a Design Consultancy as Industrial Designer for different product categories- Juicer Mixer Grinders, Air conditioners, Water Filters, Hand held devices etc. I worked on user research, graphics, packaging, concept design and 3D modelling and renderings.
Later I also worked as a freelancer for the Electric Neighborhood Vehicles projects for a year. I designed the product, handled different clients/ vendors and coordinated the various projects activities. The project was associated with Electric Rickshaw which was ECO friendly in terms of the material used. It had the best ergonomics to help the Rickshaw puller with battery operated and manual Paddle modes. Bamboo plywood was used as base and seats. Flexible canopy over the passenger and driver side was also provided. DC motor was used in different power combinations from the rickshaw front tyre spoke. Also, we experimented with different rear axle Gears modes to get the desired speed, control and safety with good running average. It was a very interesting experience during the project to select every component and get them assembled and see the prototype trials on roads. This product was designed on sustainability and environment friendly aspects. The main aspirations were – “the last mile need of transportation from Metro/Bus station to home”
I also worked with Pentair for the Water purification Industry as Industrial Designer. I was involved in designing of RO Water filtration, UV Water filtration, Water softeners, and Garden water pumps from concept to 3D model, Renderings and Prototyping. I worked on many Touch panel interfaces during this time- for other electronic control boards used for water filtration and water softeners at home and industrial purpose for the USA market and India Market. I was lucky to get hands on experience for the packaging design for some of the products too.
Then, I Joined the Electronics Domain Industry and worked on Mobile Phones and Tablets. In this product design journey, a lot of emphasis was on small details such as buttons, color finishes and materials. We also worked on strategies with the marketing teams for new launches, which was a new task. On the technical side- it was an amazing experience to see how the software and hardware come together in a real product, as well as work with the product development team. Lots of interactions with Chinese vendors and visiting their manufacturing locations in China, gave me a different perspective of manufacturing and Global Infrastructure.
Then, I joined my current organization, Whirlpool. Currently I am working as the Sr. Product Experience Designer, taking care of Cooking and Refrigeration Appliances projects Local and Global market. My work includes – Ethnography research, User research, Competition benchmarking, Usability evaluation, Insights, Trends, HMI interactions specifications to software teams etc. Lots of interactions daily with global teams (Design/Engineering/Tech/Marketing) from all over the world as per project requirements- keep you busy all the day and the evenings too many times.
How did you get your first break?
My first break in the Design field was from Campus Placement.
I appeared for different interviews during last semester, showcasing my work/portfolio after which companies’ shortlist the candidates.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Every project comes with different challenges to work around, some challenges like, will the design work properly in the field?, will it be manufactured with the desired design Intent?, what are the materials and their specifications in order to get the exact desired design and to meet other safety regulations. All these need strong engineering methodologies to make the design successful in the market. So it is always a challenge to make a trade off with the Engineering, Marketing and Sales domains. As a designer you always need to see things from a user perspective and make decisions accordingly.
Where do you work now?
Currently I am working at Whirlpool, where I am a Sr. Designer in the Global Design Studio-Gurugram, looking after Global Cooking Projects and Refrigeration Projects from a User Experience and Researcher perspective. We need to understand our consumers’ needs, behaviors and abilities and be an advocate for them throughout the product development cycle. We give all those insights to teams for different projects locally and globally. We have six Global Design Studios in different locations globally (India, China, USA, Mexico, Brazil and Italy). We work for different Brands Projects under Whirlpool in different Countries.
A lot of the focus is on consumer needs, by gathering insights from Ethnographic studies, User Home Visits, Market Research etc. which is done regularly, as well as by collaborating with cross-functional global stakeholders to understand requirements and co-create thoughtful solutions in a meaningful way, so that these solutions can be implemented from the global level to regional level. Developing and conducting in-home research to gather insights by observing the user in their home environment in different countries is a very interesting part. All those insights are incorporated on small or large design projects from concept to implementation. Lots of innovation work also happens with cross functional teams via workshops and hackathons. Interaction with global teams from various regions in design/ engineering/ Tech/ Marketing at different time zones from all over the world is a little challenging but manageable in a global work atmosphere.
How does your work benefit society?
I think that design thinking is a tool and an agent of change for an evolving future. Designers have the ability to create products that surpass their function and create emotional connection with people.
A designer’s strong passion for creating new experiences for users always helps society in many ways. Every innovative solution in the field of products or sustainable products, eco system design or any other domain of design, revolves around users.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Almost all projects are special and have given me different learnings and experiences while working on them. Many projects that involved ethnographic research to get insights were very interesting. You get to know the real scenarios of product usage in different cultures / peoples /locations in India. Observing all those actions in a home environment gives us many clues for many things we need to refine and redefine as designers.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
You should have the passion for observing users for designing anything. Being empathetic, observant of things around you and detail-oriented helps in being a good designer.
To work in the field of Research, Design and Strategy for Sustainable Products of the Future. Helping the users for a sustainable lifestyle. I like to explore the methods which uses-Insight to Innovation projects especially from the Indian User Segment Context. Low cost Innovations and IOT of things would be my focus in the coming years. As every industry need innovation to be competitive. Prioritizing the innovation today is the key to unlock the future growth. The pandemic has already spur new ways of doing innovations in Product, Process and Business Models.