We seldom realize that the products (furniture and fixtures) surrounding us every moment of our lives have the capability to make or break our day !

Nupur Haridas, our next pathbreaker, Industrial Designer at TUUCI (Miami, Florida), an outdoor lifestyle  solutions company, designs outdoor shade structures,  cabanas, parasols, hammocks, and accessories, among other projects.

Nupur talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about designing her first lounge chair during her masters at the Art Center College of Design which went on to win her multiple awards and recognition globally.  

For students, every career path would require hard work and perseverance. It is only about determining the field in which the hard work inspires you to outdo yourself !

Nupur, can you tell us about your growing up years?  

Hi, I am the younger child in my family. My parents and elder sister are engineers. My father had a transferable job. It meant that we had to move every 3 to 4 years. I grew up in Nagpur, Agartala, Ankleshwar and Vadodara. I ended up attending 5 different schools. This gave me a lot of exposure to  different cultures, languages and geographies.  

Art, vocal music and dance were some of my permanent interests. I was a participant in every art, music or dance competition and performance that was taking place around me. From a very young age, I was making customized gifts for birthdays and other celebrations. I was always a hands on person and loved all kinds of craft and projects. Over the years I realized that making new things gave me real joy and satisfaction.  

I was surrounded by engineers in my immediate and extended family. I always knew that was not the career for me. I wanted to work in a field that would allow me creative freedom. This led me to the search for such a field. I realized that the fields of Industrial Design or Architecture would require a good knowledge of Science and Maths. Therefore, I opted for science stream with Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Economics as my subjects for +2 studies.  

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?  

I graduated from Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune with a Bachelor of Design degree in Industrial Design in 2016. After graduation, I worked in  Mumbai for a few months.  

In 2017, I secured admission in my dream college, Art Center College of Design, California. I went on to complete my Masters of Science in Environmental  Design (Furniture & Fixtures Track) in 2019.  

This degree offers deep insights into the relationships among objects, spaces, places, body, function and the application of furniture and fixtures design with an emphasis on innovation, industry standards and the manufacturing process. It demands deep research into new materials and technologies to  elevate our abilities to design elements that improve lives. Design from a  human-centric perspective is encouraged. 

I would like to go in a bit detail about my thought process for selecting my college and post graduate degree. I applied only to select schools globally ranked under top10. A degree from a top institution paves the way for jump-starting your career. I wanted to earn a MS degree and not any MA or diploma.  This was to get STEM visa extension benefit of 3 years work experience without requirement of any sponsorship for other work visa.  

Symbiosis had prepared me for a rigorous schedule to be followed all through the year. In spite of it, Art Center completely redefined the meaning of ‘hectic’ and ‘hard work’. The classes were held from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, most days of the week. After getting back, I had to cook, clean up and work on the next day’s submission. I would find myself at school even on the weekends. Though I sometimes felt remorseful, but now when I am a professional myself, I am proud of my alma mater. 

There are so many positives about the Art Center. The faculty members work with the industry and some of them have their own studios. Thus they have detailed  knowledge of new technologies, trends and market demands. Some of the jury members for presentations usually are industry personalities from concerned fields. There are many field visits, industry sponsored projects, international competitions and exhibitions for students. These raise awareness, offer huge exposure to industry and a chance to form professional connections.  

Participation in these events also helps students to have names of big brands in their resume. The internship further helps in getting you industry ready.  Apart from some compulsory subjects, one can opt for classes that align with the direction of their career. One can also take extra credits to learn new skills.  Students are encouraged to opt for inter-disciplinary classes that makes their design thinking holistic. I got an opportunity to be a Teaching Assistant, which further enhanced my research and communication competency. 

What were the key influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?  

In my search for creative fields, I came across Architecture, Industrial Design, UX Design, etc. Architecture was the most familiar field amongst all of these. I started preparing for the NATA entrance exam right after my 10th board exams.  

During my 12th grade pre-board examination, I was discussing my career options with one of my relatives. He is an architect by profession and has decades of experience as a professor too. He introduced me to the intricacies of Industrial Design as he believed that it matched perfectly with my future goals. Neither I nor my parents knew any Industrial Designers. So I completely relied on the internet for all the information. I started researching the colleges offering this course and their entrance examinations. After clearing the written test for Symbiosis, I was invited for the studio test and personal interview. The entire experience confirmed that this was the right  field for me.  

My internship at Pan Kitchen further increased my interest in furniture design.  

I wanted to study this subject in detail in one of the top institutes globally. I had been following Art Center College of Design since my early undergrad  days. I was highly impressed by the kind of work done by the students there. So I immediately applied for the Master’s course after completing my  Bachelor’s.  

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?  

I always wanted to pursue masters to study furniture design in detail. I had  been following Art Center college of Design since my early undergraduate days. I applied for an MS (Environmental Design, Furniture & Fixtures Track) and was accepted with a scholarship. This was a big moral booster. I worked  hard and my scholarship kept increasing each term. 

Usually in India, colleges have a certain process of executing a project. This usually is quite different from how the industry works. Art Center is different in the way that they teach students to approach every project like a professional designer. My first term project, a lounge seating, went on to win multiple  awards and recognition.  

One of the wins was at ICFF studio, NY. ICFF selects 10 applicants as winners. These 10 winners get their own booth at the 3 day show to display their winning product and present it to the distinguished designers, architects,  media, etc.  

This helped me secure a summer internship with Gulla Jonsdottir Design, Los  Angeles in summer of 2018. This is an architecture and product design studio. I worked on developing a new line of hospitality furniture. The collection consisted of a variety of products, including lounge chairs, coffee tables, and  even furnishings such as wall mirrors.  

The studio mainly worked with marble, brass, and leather, combining them in innovative ways. I had to continue working with this thought process and style.  Gulla gave me complete freedom to explore and express myself. She used to throw little design challenges my way which made work interesting. For  example, once she asked me to design a piece of furniture inspired by her ring. This ring had an irregular organic form, with a melted appearance and a lustrous copper finish. She was happy with the result.  

I also got to design a line of rugs in collaboration with Ariana Rugs. It was a great learning experience handling the process from start to finish, from the  concept, to drafting in AutoCAD, to coordinating with to selecting poms,  colors, and knitting patterns, and even working with Gulla to determine sizing.  This was a 3 month internship that gave insight into the workings of a US design firm.  

In August 2018, I won Merit Awards for two products at the IWF Design Emphasis, a 3 day woodworking design show.  

In September 2018, I was one of the selected students for the Haworth Sponsored Project at the Art Center. Haworth is a leading commercial office furniture and workspace systems manufacturer. This was a 3 month project from ideation to prototyping. I was shortlisted to present my design to the  president, CEO and the entire design team at the company headquarters, Michigan.  

At the same time, Knoll X La La Magazine conducted a silent auction at the  West Edge Design Showcase, Los Angeles. 10 design studios were selected across the USA to redesign the famous Harry Bertoia shell chair which was to  be auctioned. Out of these 10 studios, one was a college – Art Center. I was selected by the department chair to represent my college. My design was successfully sold at the auction.  

All these achievements went on to strengthen my resume and land me my first job at Unisource Solutions. Here, I worked with the team to design workspace solutions for clients like Google, AirBnb, Hulu, Paramount  Pictures, Fox Entertainment, Peet’s Coffee, etc.  

My next job was at Beyond Seating, a furniture manufacturer for many big names in the design industry. I worked on residential and hospitality furniture with them.  

I came across an opening for an industrial designer at Tuuci on LinkedIn. I always appreciated the company and their designs. I immediately applied and after several rounds of interviews got selected. I had to move all the way from LA to Miami. I have been working here for the last 1 year and am really enjoying my work. I am fortunate to have wonderful colleagues.  

How did you get your first break?  

I was looking for openings on job portals. The Industrial Designer opening at  Essel Marketing (now known as Pramara) was the one I accepted.  

After finishing my Master’s studies, I started applying for jobs, mostly for openings posted on LinkedIn. One of them was by Unisource. I applied  and was called in for an in-person interview. I walked them through all my work done till date. I explained the story behind each product. I was asked some manufacturing related question. A designer should have a good  understanding of manufacturing process to successfully produce it.  

After 2 days I was informed of my selection. Working at Unisource was a great experience and helped me evolve as a designer.  

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

Challenge 1:  

The first challenge that I faced was to convince my family about my career choice. As they were all engineers, it was an unsaid expectation that I would  also choose engineering as my path. At that point of time in India it was assumed to be the most safe career option. Also, the unfamiliarity with this field made them skeptical. Even then they supported my decision and stood  by me. I realized that the only way to instill confidence in my family was to perform well.  

Challenge 2:  

The next challenge that I faced was after graduation. Industrial Design in India is in its nascent stage. There were very few good design studios around. Therefore, job openings were scarce. Many of my classmates chose to move to UX design as it offered more openings. I really liked my field and decided  not to switch. I started looking for jobs on different portals and sending my resumes to my connections on LinkedIn. Finally I landed my first break.  

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve? 

I currently work at Tuuci in Miami, Florida. TUCCI is an outdoor lifestyle solutions company working to enhance outdoor residential, commercial, and hospitality environments. We primarily design outdoor shade structures, cabanas, parasols, hammocks, and accessories, among other projects.  

My responsibilities include developing new products to enhance the company portfolio. I am currently leading a project regarding placemaking systems. This  is an entirely new category for Tuuci. Simultaneously I am working on other ongoing projects at the company.  

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the  skills?  

Any design process starts with ideation which is nothing but making several sketches. Thus good sketching skills are useful in conveying your ideas to the team. My job role requires proficiency in software like  Solidworks, Keyshot etc. Solidworks is used for 3D modeling in most  product manufacturing industries. Though these are taught in design  schools, one must practice and enhance their skills. There are multiple videos online to help one out. Another option is to join a CAD coaching  center.  

What’s a typical day like? 

A typical day starts with a quick sketch of an idea. Then the ideas have to be developed through 3D models and product renderings. Next comes making  mockups and prototypes (physical or 3D printed). There are technical drawings to be made for vendors to get quotes for production. I also collaborate with the engineering team for development. My job requires me to experiment and select colors, materials and finishes. I regularly have to communicate with vendors to procure material samples. I also have to work with the quality control team to conduct tests on new parts received.  

What is it you love about this job?  

Every day brings new challenges and the need for innovation. I have a  lot of creative freedom where I am allowed to experiment and bring out the best design possible. I am at a happy place in my career.  

How does your work benefit society?  

From the minute we wake up to the minute we go off to sleep at night, we are surrounded by furniture and fixtures. We do not realize these products around us have the capability to make or break our day. An ill-designed bed makes one sleep deprived whereas a well designed office chair not only increases  productivity but also reduces stress and fatigue. The primary objective of  design is to make one’s life easier. Therefore, any product, however small or  large, makes a big positive impact on the end user.  

There is no bigger joy than seeing your creation improve the quality of life. 

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

My most memorable work is Snug. It was the first lounge chair I designed after coming to the States. It was my first term project at Art Center College of Design. The design brief that I received was ‘What is comfort to you?’. It  had just been 2 weeks since my move from India and my family when I got  this design brief. In this far away land, I was really missing home. At that point of time, for me, comfort meant a hug from a loved one.  

This resulted in the creation of an upholstered lounge chair to encourage the feelings of peace, calm and warmth. The curved surface of the back  embodied a hard shell which protects the one inside. The backrest created an  illusion of a virtual hug. As one actually sat in the chair, the soft loving blissful touch of cushions emulated a real hug. It ushered in the feeling of cuddling into total acceptance. Snug had no visible legs which gave it a floating effect. 

It was a 14 weeks process from ideation to presenting the final 1:1 prototype. It was widely appreciated and earned me many accolades and awards globally. I got an opportunity to present it at the ICFF, NY and IWF Design  Emphasis, Atlanta in 2018. This greatly enhanced my resume and gave me  an opportunity to interact with some of the best designers today. Even after so many years, it still remains very close to my heart.  

Your advice to students based on your experience?  

My advice to the young generation would be to explore and work to find out their passion. School days are the best as you get innumerable opportunities to try different activities and learn new skills. Every career path would require hard work and perseverance. It is only about finding out the field where the hard work doesn’t feel burdensome. I completely believe in converting our  passion into our profession.  

Future Plans?  

I want to have about a decade of learning and experience before opening my own studio. It is my long cherished dream. This studio will focus on design and manufacturing of residential and hospitality furniture collections.