Engineered Wooden floors are a perfect blend of old world charm and new age technologies that are constantly pushing the boundaries in terms of aesthetics, durability and performance.
Bharat Chaudhary, our next pathbreaker, Product Designer at Ted Todd (London), a British luxury wooden flooring brand, designs new upcoming collections for their premium sub-brand called Woodworks.
Bharat talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his international experiences in contemporary architecture and construction that ignited the spark in him for product design from an architectural context.
For students, design is everywhere. Experiencing different cultures, languages, architecture, design gives you a wider range of thought which eventually enriches your design process as a creative individual.
Bharat, what were your initial years like?
I grew up in Chandigarh which happens to be one of the very first designed cities in India. I am the youngest out of the five siblings and the only son in the family. My father had a humble government job and my mother has been a housewife for the most part of her life. Ever since my childhood, I have always been passionate about creative arts & crafts. During my early years in school, I won several inter school competitions in drawing, painting and creative crafts. When I was in primary school, my mother opened her textile boutique for lifestyle products wherein she employed a few full time tailors to handle major orders. These tailors became like an extended family to us and they stayed in an extra rooftop room from where they used to work. Being an enthusiast for creative crafts, I remember spending most of my time upstairs in the tailor’s rooms just gathering the leftover fabrics and material. I used to create all sorts of products like doll garments, friendship bands and unique accessories/gifts for my elder sisters. I also used to showcase some of these craft products in my school art shows where I received immense recognition for my creativity.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I completed my bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Vastu Kala Academy (IGNOU), New Delhi (2010-2015). After this I went to study my master’s in Industrial Design from one of the six colleges of University of the Arts London (UAL) called Central Saint Martins(CSM). (2017-2019)
I was also selected to study my master’s at Royal College of Arts (RCA), London which is ranked no. 1 in the list of post-graduate art & design universities in the world. But for financial reasons, I chose to accept my seat at UAL, which happens to have rank 2 in the world right after RCA, based on QS World University Rankings.
What were the influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career ?
My parents were very supportive and never forced me to take up any of the mainstream career paths like engineering or medicine. Moreover, having received numerous awards and recognitions as a creative child in school gave me enough drive to pursue a career in arts & design. I was introduced to the profession called “Product Design” at an art class that I used to attend as a hobby in my hometown. Moreover, my elder sister, being a student of architecture, told me about the prestigious design school in India called NID which I found extremely fascinating. This exposure gave my dreams a sense of belonging. I decided that I wanted to study product design after school, for which I applied to NID (National Institute of Design), alongside giving a national entrance exam for architecture which was my plan B.
I cleared my DAT (Design Aptitude Test) for NID but unfortunately could not succeed in my interview. I had prepared for days and months, compiling my portfolio including all my raw art, sketches, physical artifacts and photography and a lot more. This rejection was disappointing, and so I accepted the seat in architecture to follow the footsteps of my elder sister who was studying her master’s in sustainable architecture from AA(Architecture Association) in London at that time.
However, this rejection did not stop me from applying to NID again, whilst studying the 1st year of my architecture degree. This time I was more determined than ever and took some DAT tuition classes for the NID entrance exam. Just like the last time, I did clear my DAT but could not clear the interview again. Hence, I gave up my dream of studying product design at NID and put my heart and soul into studying my architecture degree that I was already enrolled in.
However, I believe that if one is passionate about a dream, the universe makes way for the dream to manifest itself, as long as there is consistent effort and determination. Thoughts become things, but in order for that to happen, action is the key.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition? Tell us about your career path.
As a part of my 5 year architecture curriculum, I was supposed to do a 9 month architectural internship in my 4th year. Inspired by the lifestyle of my elder sister in London who was doing her master’s in sustainable architecture from Architecture Association (AA), I was keen on doing my internship abroad.
Initially I joined Pitamber Sahni Design Studio in New Delhi as an architectural intern. Whilst working here I kept applying for internships abroad until I landed a few opportunities. I sent out more than 500 applications in around 10 chosen countries and received an offer for internship from America, Germany, Spain and France. I chose to do a 7 month architectural internship in Germany which gave me exposure to European design, culture and lifestyle. This insightful experience abroad strengthened my dreams to pursue a professional life abroad.
The reason I chose to do my internship in Germany was that it was a paid internship with accommodation provided by the office for the duration of the internship, whereas the other offers from America, Spain and France had only accommodation and no stipend as a part of the internship contract.
During this internship I had the opportunity to work directly with the principal architect of the firm, Oliver Keuper in Essen. He was determined to teach the younger generations and I learnt so much from him regarding contemporary architecture and construction. I was given the opportunity to design the residential projects in Germany with Oliver himself whilst having 3 days a week dedicated to site visits. Working with wood onsite was one of the most exciting parts of this project. As a team of 2 – the principal architect and I, we made the distinctive wooden flooring for the terrace, penthouse balconies and the outdoor garden space all by ourselves. This added a little personalized touch to this project that we were so heartfully involved with.
The details of this project can be found on my website link as follows :
I came back to India from my internship in Germany, finished my degree in architecture and landed my first job as a product designer in an architectural studio in New Delhi. I thoroughly enjoyed this work profile wherein I had to design furniture for turnkey projects for bedrooms, lounges, study and a lot more spaces. This job re-ignited the spark for product design in me and I chose to apply for a master’s programme in Industrial Design in London.
I started compiling my portfolio for my master’s application and was almost ready to apply when there was a theft at my accommodation in New Delhi wherein I lost my laptop and all my digital portfolio work along with it. This was a tragic time for me, but I somehow gathered all my work from shared emails, internship applications, university submissions and friend’s laptops.
I applied to 5 universities for my masters in product & industrial design. Having my sister settled in London and receiving an acceptance letter from RCA & CSM made it easier for me to choose the country for my master’s programme. I was ecstatic because the world university ranking for my chosen college (CSM -2nd) was way above that of NID (27th). This acceptance letter was a successful validation for my determination and consistent belief in myself to study product design. This is how the universe played a role in manifesting my dreams and I ended up being a part of the product design world eventually.
How did you get your first break?
1st Job after bachelor’s
For job hunting after my bachelor’s degree, I was living in a rented accommodation in New Delhi along with a few friends. One of my friends worked at an architectural firm that had open vacancies. I applied in his office using my portfolio of academic projects and some projects from my international internship in Germany. I had the interview with the company owner and I was told that they are looking for a candidate with an architectural background and someone who had a willingness to be a part of the furniture design department. This was an exciting opportunity for me as I graduated in architecture but had an opportunity to work as a product designer. I thoroughly enjoyed this work profile wherein I had to design furniture for turnkey projects for bedrooms, lounges, study rooms and a lot more spaces. This job re-ignited the spark for product design in me and I chose to apply for a master’s programme in Industrial Design in London.
1st Job after Master’s
After finishing my master’s in Industrial Design from CSM, I got my first job opportunity through LinkedIn. I was approached by the CEO of a British luxury Wooden Flooring brand called Ted Todd. I was told that they were looking for a product designer to design new floors for them. I had a 30 min phone interview after which I had to submit a test design presentation within 2 weeks. I submitted the design presentation on the given topic within 1 week, as well as added some bonus slides wherein I analyzed their business model from the perspective of various industrial design professional practices. I had to present this design to a group of directors in the company. I believe the academic knowledge I received from my masters played a key role in helping me curate this design presentation and impress the interviewers.
Coming to London and studying product & industrial design at CSM was one the best decisions of my life. The international educational experience not only sharpened my skills in academic writing but also gave me a much wider exposure of the professional industry of product & industrial design.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
One of the most difficult career challenges I faced was job hunting in London after my masters. Even after graduating with distinction (A grade), I was unprepared for the essentials of job hunting in the real world of product design. I did not have a portfolio website due to which I was unable to apply for the jobs in some of the companies of my choice. Most of the companies these days expect designers to have a web based portfolio, whether you own a website or have your portfolio hosted by some other platform. To tackle this problem, I utilized the time I had during the pandemic, when the job market was slow, to develop my portfolio website from scratch and update my LinkedIn in the most professional and credible format.
Upskilling is another challenge designers face because we’re in the era of technology. I had to familiarize myself with new upcoming software and technologies that were being used in my industry. As much as it can be intimidating to learn new tech, what I usually do is to update my portfolio using these latest design software in one way or the other. If I am learning a video/animation software I’d go ahead and create an introduction video for my already existing projects. If it’s new adobe or editing software I’d go ahead and try new formats for my project storyboards etc. In today’s world we can potentially find use for any new software to add a spark to our existing projects. Mentioning these skills in one’s resume makes it even more worthwhile, for oneself and the employers who look at your work & CV.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your work in Product Design
I work as a product designer in London at Ted Todd which is a British luxury wooden flooring brand. Currently, I am designing inspirational customer experiences and new upcoming collections for their premium sub-brand called Woodworks.
The most important skill required for this job is to understand wood as a raw material and its applications in the contemporary architectural context. It is also necessary to be aware of the existing industry trends in relative industries like interiors and architecture and be able to respond to that with new floor designs in terms of tones, textures and finishes. Some technical skills required for this job include usage of architectural CAD software which helps me design floors with precise dimensions on a bigger scale or in any particular floor plan. Apart from making digital drawings for the clients and manufacturing departments, I design new floors as well. For this, I am equipped with my technical knowledge of using adobe creative suite to ideate, visualize and present the new prototype ideas to the team.
Everyday at work is different and exciting. Some days I am busy doing technical CAD drawings while other days are spent sketching and designing new patterns and ideas for the new collections. For design research I physically visit industry leading design stores in architecture, interiors and materials to get inspiration from and understand the existing market trends.
I love the freedom of creativity in this job as I am the lead designer for the upcoming new collections. I get the opportunity to make executive level decisions in the design process and present my vision to the team for execution.
How does your work benefit society?
As a human-centered product designer, I use design as a critical tool to cultivate empathy, empowerment, disruption and discourse. Whilst gathering work experience from India, Germany and the UK, I have explored design through a diverse socio-cultural lens which has vastly informed my professional and interpersonal skills. I am a people’s person by personality and It gives me immense satisfaction to support the needs of people around me. The profession of product design allows me to do just that by making the best use of my people skills and design knowledge as a creative professional.
Product design to me is a way to simplify and beautify a physical/digital product or a service in order to eliminate any confusions for the end user in regard to the product’s purpose & need. It is a way to dive into the user’s mindset and desires to identify what’s best for them functionally and aesthetically.
If one really finds joy in the happiness of others and helping solve their problems through the power of art & design, no matter if the solution/product is digital, physical or even a service, this profession is perhaps best suited to you!
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I have learnt how to effectively apply qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to inform the decision making of any design project. I acquired these skills through my self-directed MA Industrial design thesis (awarded – distinction) that included intensive ethnographic research with 35 participants (including some with mental health issues) and 3 practicing psychologists. I organized ideation workshops and in-person interviews with meticulous attention to sensitive language for the questionnaire design.
This project was awarded a distinction by The University of The Arts London towards the completion of my MA Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins in June 2019. This project was exhibited at the Show Two : Design organized by Central Saint Martins in June 2019. This exhibition was open to the public and lasted for one week.
Project Link – https://designbybharat.com/industrial-design/3
Project Category : Mental Health & Self Identity
Project Title : Domesticating Thy Daimonic
Project Aim : How can we identify destructive behaviors as a constructive conduct towards psychological personality development?
Project Context : The poetic objects are designed to be used for therapy & self-realization in the context of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. They create a scope for coming to peace with one’s own dark side.
Whilst interacting with these objects, the unusual feelings that are generated within one’s mind lead to a better understanding of one’s unconscious desires. These objects are personifications of the repressed emotions & hidden identities like narcissism, machiavellianism and psychopathy. Ethnographic research and agile design forms the foundation of this project whilst the narrative was obtained through studying the following works :
Carl Jung’s – Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.
Sigmund Freud’s – The Interpretation of Dreams
Matt Malpass’s – Contextualizing Critical Design Practice
Project Research : The narrative of the project is based on the works of Carl Jung in analytical psychology. Jung elaborates on the human psyche in two sections- Persona and the Shadow. All those qualities that a person is ashamed of, are accommodated by repression, which form the Shadow. As per Jung, the Shadow encompasses all the characteristics of one’s dark side. Through this project I aimed at finding a way to acknowledge the hidden potential of one’s dark side to help achieve individuation. Individuation is a process of transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness (e.g., by means of dreams, active imagination, or free association) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process that has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally and physically.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
I have the following pointers that I have learnt along the educational and professional curve that might benefit some of you –
- Save all your work, projects, academic or professional documents digitally on the cloud. You do not want to lose your hard disk or a laptop one day and be left with no credible substance to show your next employer.
- Make sure to have your own website that not only shows your work but also your personality at large. People like people! Show your human side on that website! Fill up that about me section – write articles or just add a calendar to book appointments with you for a quick design chat! Be proactive and available to the wider community.
- Never compare yourself with anyone else, everyone has different talents, life experiences and resources. The only one you should compare yourself with is the past version of yourself. Always strive to be a better version of yourself academically, professionally or personally.
- Don’t be shy to ask for help! Keep that ego aside and harness the power of networking. If you are social – very well, if you are not – use your work to socialize, volunteer, collaborate or connect digitally. You’ll be surprised how many people get jobs in the real world just by word of mouth.
- Update your LinkedIn! Absolutely necessary if you wish for the jobs to come to you. Read the profiles of your mentors, idols or seniors and try to replicate a similar level of competency in your own profile. Missing some course – take a short course online and add it. Missing a skill – try linkedin skill badges. Showcase digital links to your projects on your profile, add your awards, add volunteerships, showcase everything that makes you more employable than other candidates.
- Travel as much as you can! Observe everything and everyone you see. Design is everywhere. Experiencing different cultures, languages, architecture, design gives you a wider range of thought which eventually enriches your design process as a creative individual. Can’t afford to travel? Then go collaborate digitally on that new project with someone from another country. You can learn so much from your peers and other people, it’s unimaginable!
Design is a journey of discovery! I believe there’s still so much more out there for me to explore in terms of design and destinations that the canvas is vast. Yet there is one thing I am certain of – With my empathetic interpersonal skills and strategy led approach to design, I am driven to take on professional roles where I can support the needs of people who are most impacted by ineffective design experiences, services and policies. Hence, product design as a career path allows me to combine my people skills together with my technical design knowledge to support the needs of the people and community at large.
If I wasn’t a designer, I would have been a psychologist. As a social empath with excellent communication, I have a strong drive to support and motivate people around me in the best possible way. Call me super social! but I love being around people. They inspire me with their authentic and individual life experiences.