In the fast moving and ever-changing world that we live in, Industrial Design is all about addressing emerging opportunities based on problems that users or customers are facing !

Neha Srivastava, our next pathbreaker, Deputy Manager R&D at Franke Faber India Pvt Ltd., designs concepts and develops new designs for Home & Kitchen Appliances.

Neha talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the growing role of Industrial Design in Biomedical Products and Home Appliances which have the potential to impact people’s lives in a big way.

For students, very few careers give you the opportunity and scope to work on a diverse range of products, from telescopes to biomedical products to home appliances with design being the common element among them !

Neha, What were your initial years like?

I was born and grew up in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. My father and mother used to work in Government Services. I come from a big family with five siblings, all well-educated, with a simple and modest upbringing. I grew up in an environment where we felt empathy towards animals, plants, and people. My parents worked full time while raising me & my siblings, and taking care of all our educational and day-to-day needs. As a family where my siblings were engineers and doctors, I was free to pursue any area that I wanted to move forward in my career. 

I studied mostly in private schools and was always interested in extracurricular activities like stage performances, dancing, singing, arts and craft. I also participated in several events throughout my educational journey from school to college, events like spreading awareness on different topics, drawing, writing, debates, dance competitions etc. From my early childhood, I was an outgoing and sports lover (Cricket). I always enjoyed art and craft and used to watch a lot of shows related to it and then getting my hands dirty and doing practical work for the same. I have been very curious since childhood. I needed to know everything possible, which helped me observe and understand better. There was never one specific thing that interested me. I have been creative and have always tried to achieve perfection in anything I do, be it cleaning, cooking or any other job. I used to watch news channels and was interested in journalism and cooking shows. All the interests I had since childhood required a great sense of observation, research and creativity. I used to make sweets from garden mud and decorate them with leaves and flowers, then end up reporting that on fake news channels as news reporting, this was my favorite activity which tackled all my three interests.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I have done my Bachelors in Product Design from Symbiosis Institute of Design, which is a four year degree program. The 1st year is the foundation year, the second year covers the basics of industrial design, sketching, simple product design, material handling and learning software. From the third and fourth years it’s more like designing products and research.

After my degree, I wanted to learn about protecting design to avoid any infringements of design copyrights, which led me to do a Postgraduate Diploma in Intellectual Property Law Rights from National Law School of India University, Bangalore Karnataka. 

Right now, I am enrolled in a Google UX UI certification course which is due to complete by October 2022. 

What were some of the influences that prompted you to pursue such an offbeat, unconventional, and unique career?

I have been creative since my early years in school. Though I used to get lower grades and slaps for some of my subjects, I have always been applauded for my creative projects and pursuits. That’s when I knew I needed to pursue a creative field. First, I enrolled in Fashion Design, but later when I came across Product Design (Industrial Design), that interested me. Also, I did not have to draw a human figure in Product Design, which was a huge factor that prompted me to switch fields as I never liked to draw human figures.

During my foundation year in college, we had to take electives and I chose workshop work from metal, wood, and different types of materials. I made several products out of that, and I think that was a really good experience and influenced me.

Though I did not talk to anyone professionally about making a switch to industrial design, my father did think that this would help me grow more. So, I took his advice into account while shifting from fashion to industrial design.

The major turning point in my career was in my second job at a small design firm.That’s when I was very clear about what and why I was designing. Here, I worked on a lot of biomedical, industrial and social products and won national and international awards and recognition for the same. That’s when I knew I was on the right path and needed to keep moving forward.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I did my degree project at Onida (Mumbai), an opportunity that I got by sharing my college portfolio. I worked on the Induction Cooker which used to come from China and had a lot of cooking specific features like stir fry, frying, boiling etc., but at 2000 watts which was not good for Indian cooking. Through research, experimentation, and re-design based on Indian cooking, we provided lesser amps for cooking, added silicon matt to reduce slipperiness, included a retractable wire and designed an induction cooker fitted pan for portability and useful execution. I also ended up winning the “Most Innovative Product” Award for the same.

I did not plan my first job; it was more like you take what you get just to get placed. But within six months of my job as product designer, where I worked mostly on furniture, I did not find it enjoyable because it was nothing to do with research or problem solving. We were working for an Italian furniture company which customizes interior design. After that, I waited for six months for a better opportunity while doing some freelance work as a Social Media organizer and Graphic Designer.

After that, I got a good opportunity to work as an Industrial Designer in a small design firm in Gujarat (Universal Designovation Lab LLP), where I worked for almost 5 years on an endless and diverse range of products. I was involved in design research ( research of more than 20 manufacturing companies come under GIDC), for biomedical products (Phototherapy unit), industrial products (Fine Dust sampler , Induction Furnace, Wax Injection molding machine etc. ), visual communication and graphic design ( logo design and branding).

After quitting Universal Designovation Lab, I worked at Criador Design Labs as Co-founder and Chief Designer on an equity and set salary basis, where I was involved in industrial and graphic projects. One of my other areas of work was in developing business strategies and to find more opportunities for new design projects. I worked on multiple projects ( finding opportunities and designing) like smart water bottles, smart locks, air purifiers etc. 

Design Trippin is my own baby that I started after quitting Criador Labs. Here, I worked as a freelancer designer. I worked with international clients and worked on biomedical, fashion and accessories product design.

Having been an entrepreneur for 6 months, I decided to join Skyris Technologies as Design Head where I worked mainly on projects related to astronomy. I worked on a new product development of the Newtonian telescope (styling of of old telescope design). I was also involved in strategy planning focusing on events, business development, visual design and spreading awareness on telescopes in India. Working as a freelancer in the domain of astronomy clarified my understanding of the design process and users.  There is so much opportunity for designers to create an impact in a larger way in India where astronomy is not a very well known subject. There is so much more that can be done to make astronomy mainstream and make people more aware about it. It was really good experience for me as designer and learner. 

At the end, I can say all the choices I made have impacted me as a designer and a human being in a good way. All the experiences have been worth the time and energy.

How did you get your first break?

I got placed through my college placement. It was in a furniture firm, and I soon realized that I did not have interest in Furniture design, and so I quit my job for a new opportunity.

I have never applied for any job through contacts; it was all through self-research and by reaching out to the company’s website. Nowadays, there are online portals for job postings.

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

Since this course (design) was very new when I graduated, there were very few companies and firms that I could apply to.

I had to make a portfolio, because as a  student we don’t work on industry relevant products, so that was one more challenge. 

Since we did not typically do summer internships, showcasing our work to get a job in the design industry was a little hard. 

Where do you work now? 

I work at Franke Faber India Pvt Ltd. 

Franke Faber India is a manufacturing company, they have their own manufacturing plant for chimnies and hobs. They also sell consumer electronics, kitchen and home appliances like cooktop, OTG , mixer grinder etc. We have inhouse and design consulting departments as well.

What problems do you solve?

Though I work in R&D, I work with multiple teams, R&D, Marketing, Trading Business. I usually get the project or design brief from the marketing team or from the R & D/ research team. I try to solve problems for users by designing concepts and developing new designs that exploit an opportunity in the marketplace. Since I work as an in-house designer, I need to design new products while focusing on existing and emerging strategies that are both efficient and cost-effective.

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

For an Industrial designer role, one needs to do a lot of research and must have software skills. It’s a blend of on-field and off-field work. One also needs a greater understanding of product manufacturing. Since Product Design covers all the areas like Market, Ergonomics, Aesthetics, Manufacturability, Cost, it is very essential to explain the product concept while touching all the above areas while coming up with a product proposal. The product evaluation matrix is very important while making decisions in order to determine which product to move forward with. Also, we need to be really open to suggestions, new opportunities and listen to people. Observation and listening ability is a must for a better understanding of the problem areas. The better understanding one has of the problem, the better the final product will be. So, one must always focus on identifying problems that users or customers are facing.

My thought process is very simple: observe and listen to your users, clients, and manufacturer, which gives a great understanding of the product, environment, and people. Show empathy and don’t be biased while designing any product, always take into account the end users’ opinion and rely on your research rather than your thoughts.

In the fast moving and ever-changing world, design has become more interdisciplinary and one is expected to not only have a lot of basic knowledge but also have exposure to many things related to design. So I continue upgrading my skills through certifications (LinkedIn and others) which I think will add to my knowledge or will be good for the future.

What’s a typical day like?

My day starts with reading mails and doing design work. I typically have two or three projects at the same time: graphics, product, or some random chores. 

What is it you love about this job? 

Most of the time, I have the freedom to express my opinion, and as a creative individual and designer that is very important. Ofcourse, that does not mean I don’t consider the restrictions and manufacturability. But at the time of ideation, I like to think without any restrictions, and that’s what is good.

How does your work benefit society? 

As an Industrial Designer I tend to focus on innovative problem-solving solutions. I work on user centered design methodologies. So, whatever we design is for the user, they are the focus and we aim to solve their problem via our designs. Problems can be big or small, but in the long run, any problem is solved for the benefit of the customer or user.

I also promote metal products over plastic products, and most of my work is done in metal which is better for health and the environment. Also, I aspire to work on medical products which are good for humans. 

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

I think, as a designer, whatever I have designed is very close to my heart and has been a great learning experience as I tend to put a lot of effort into it. But, if I must choose one work, it will be my first ever biomedical product, the Phototherapy Unit, which is used to cure Jaundice in infants. Being on the field doing research, interacting with different users like mothers, doctors, nurses, hospital staff gave me a perspective on research. It was also my first commercial product. I gave my blood and sweat to work on this from scratch, all the way from the brief till the prototyping. I learned a lot from this project and it also set the benchmark for future projects and products regarding what and how I want to design. I would also like to mention my degree project because at the pre-jury stage, I was told I can never be a product designer and I ended up bagging the “Most Innovative Product” Award for the same. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Don’t be afraid of what you want to do, have confidence and faith. Don’t rush through things, learning takes time, becoming a pro will take more time, give that time to yourself. Always try to learn and appreciate knowledge. Keep doing research and updating your skills which is a big game changer. Give priority to your health, family and have fun in the process of becoming what you want to become.

Future Plans?

In future I just want to continue working on a diverse range of products, systems, mainly in the field of biomedical and home appliances as I believe these two sectors impact people’s lives in a larger way. I would also like to start my entrepreneurial journey and keep learning, being curious and moving forward.