Immersive Media Design is a beautiful blend of Design and Technology, through which brands create marketing experiences where their products interact with customers through rich media.
Ruchita Samel, our next pathbreaker, Immersive Media Designer at Dassault Systèmes 3Dexcite, designs impactful and usable experiences for global clients, to evolve their marketing beyond messaging.
Ruchita talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about how digital technologies such as AR/VR/3D are complementing design to elevate the customer experience.
For students, bringing different elements of design such as storytelling, content and visualization together to create a single cohesive experience is what Immersive Media Design is all about !
Ruchita, can you tell us about your background?
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. My family consists of my father, currently retired, working in Textile Chemistry and Marketing roles, my mother who works for Nationalized Bank, and a younger sibling working in Merchant Navy. Growing up, my parents ensured that they made me try all different kinds of skills/sports and figure out where my interests lie and what I am naturally good at. My natural inclination even as a toddler was towards art. I would enjoy scribbling on the walls of our house. Eventually, my parents could recognize this inclination in me and enabled me to enroll in several drawing classes as a kid. Never did my parents try to establish in any way that academics were the main focus/ any particular skill or a sport is superior to the other. I am so grateful to be brought up in a house where this kind of freedom and exploration was encouraged. I do not have regrets that I didn’t try this or that. I know I tried all the possible options and then discovered what I enjoyed the most, and what I could be good at.
Nearing the end of school, I had developed an inclination towards Fashion Design; I would sketch fashion design sketches on the back of my notebooks intuitively without any reference or source. I gave aptitude tests and also along with my parents, tried to zero down on what line I should take which would be suitable towards my career path. At this point of time, I had enrolled myself for Design Entrance Test coaching. Although I didn’t know which exact course I should take up, I prepped for all the possible individual Design schools such as NID, NIFT, MIT Institute of Design, Symbiosis, etc.
What did you do for graduation/ post-graduation?
In spite of being one step ahead by preparing for entrance tests well in advance, somehow I could not succeed in securing a seat in any of the Design schools. Design Education in India is still not very widely known. Due to the limited number of design schools at that time coupled with limited seats available (as low as 10-15 per school), with their own multiple entrance test rounds, I failed to get admission to pursue Bachelor’s in Design.
There’s no denying that at that moment I did panic. I appeared for the Architecture entrance test as a secondary choice after this, along with attempts at Arts, Fine Arts, etc. That’s how I ended up doing a Bachelor’s in Architecture.
While Architecture is also a Design medium, I still had my eyes set on a Design school. Eventually after finishing an enduring course of five long years in B. Arch, I got to achieve my dream of getting into a Design school. I pursued a Master’s in Immersive Media Design from MIT Institute of Design.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
In the middle of applying, appearing for entrance tests, interviewing with multiple design schools and selecting the stream in each different school (most of the schools give you one or at the best two streams to apply to at a time), I was informed that a new course had been introduced at the MIT Institute of Design, one of the three schools I was aiming for. The course was Immersive Media Design. With merely a short brief about the course, which seemed to align with my inclination (at the time) to choose UX Design and then something even more innovative and futuristic, my parents, yet again encouraged me to just give it a shot and apply for the course. My Dad encouraged me strongly that a new course would be an amazing opportunity for me to shine and make a mark in this industry. While I was in a lot of dilemma, both my parents were supportive enough to accept whatever choice I would make, be it UX Design which at that time and still is the most preferred design stream amongst others or the new, unknown territory of Immersive Media Design. Ultimately, after analyzing the pros and cons, and doing research and analysis on the future scope, my gut feeling went for the new and unknown course, Immersive Media Design. This choice also had a lot to do with my own personality of wanting to challenge myself rather than go the mainstream way. Since that moment of choosing to pursue Post Graduation in Immersive Media Design till date, my career has always been a duality of risk and reward. This career keeps me on my toes and requires sound knowledge of how the industry and technology would influence consumer trends, which is something that is always uncertain. This career and the path that I have chosen have taught me to be very flexible and to never stop learning!
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
As mentioned earlier, I studied and completed Bachelor’s in Architecture. While I completely enjoyed the entire journey of studying Architecture as a student and did pretty well, I knew this was not the career that I wanted to pursue. Architecture is definitely one of the most challenging careers out there. Of the five year course, in your fourth year you are required to undergo professional experience the whole semester, typically in the form of an internship at an architectural firm. The internship gave me a clear picture of the life of an Architect and the work involved in the actual profession. I completed my final year and graduated as an Architect. At that point of time, I knew I wanted to pursue my dream of studying ‘Design’. I discussed my desire to pursue post-graduation with my parents. While they supported me whole-heartedly, they also made me undertake the whole responsibility to do what it takes to secure admission into the design school of my choice. That meant, I had to do my own research, and plan how I could achieve that. I enrolled myself in a design entrance coaching class. Meanwhile, I also applied and interviewed for jobs as an Architect. Eventually I started working at a small architectural firm while I prepared for the entrance tests on weekends. And this time, I did succeed in securing admission to a design school. To be really honest, I didn’t exactly ‘plan’ that I would end up doing Immersive Media Design.
Immersive Media Design at MIT Institute of Design is a 2 year post graduation course. The curriculum starts with core fundamentals in design thinking, the concepts of storytelling and understanding human emotions a little better, as well as what it really means to be immersive. Then, we have more practical courses that revolve around knowing how to work with 3D content and a little introduction to coding. We learned how to create workable prototypes for AR/VR mediums. There were some interesting courses like Tangible computing, User Research, Strategic Thinking, etc. Overall, in the relatively short duration of this course, we were exposed to the important fundamentals in design and introduced to newer concepts of technology. The focus was more on the art of storytelling through the digital medium and these new digital experiences.
But the general idea is, when the opportunity presents itself, you should be equipped, you should be ready to seize the opportunity. My advice would be to always keep an open mind and not be afraid of going with your gut feeling, or something that you feel resonates with you.
How did you get your first break?
MIT Institute of Design, where I pursued my Master’s, has a dedicated placement department. However, being in the first batch of a course so unique, the roles that we sought in the industry were very niche. Technologies like AR/VR were not that commonly heard of. But now with the advent of Metaverse by Facebook, these technologies are becoming better known. Back then, companies and industries working in Immersive Tech were also not well established nor were they popular or in demand. We had to carve out a space for ourselves and demonstrate what value we offered. Our small batch of six students, approached this company for an internship opportunity. After appearing for the interviews, I managed to get selected for the internship opportunity. Cut to three years later, I am working at the same company as an Immersive Media Designer. However before landing this opportunity, we went through 1000s of application emails, multiple interviews and rejections. From what I have learned so far, networking is one of the most important skills to have. Merely applying for jobs is unfortunately not enough at times. Getting out of the comfort zone and networking is really important in these competitive times. But thankfully, platforms like LinkedIn and events/conferences bring professionals under one roof and are great places to network with the professional community as a student.
The internship was a part of the academic requirement. Therefore, it was required for the internship projects to be aligned with the course. From the college, the requirement was to ideally have at least one industry project under an industry mentor, in coordination with the academic mentor. I had the opportunity to work on multiple projects. These projects revolved around creating AR/Screen based applications, video, etc. I got to work on them from the storyboarding stage to working with complex data to the final execution.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Trying to find opportunities and job roles that would align with my education of Immersive Media Design was quite difficult.
Challenge 1: The first challenge was to find companies that worked in Immersive Technologies, which is a niche industry. With very few large companies and mostly start-ups working in this field, we also had to filter down to the kind of work the company did. A multitude of startups working in Immersive Tech were also catering to a specific set of industries, for example, Automotive, Medical, Industrial Equipment, Entertainment industry, etc. to name a few. It was important to select the right kind of place with the right role and the kind of work that I wanted to do. It is important not to just find an internship or a job opportunity, but the right role at the right place.
Challenge 2: After graduating in 2020, which we all know was when we were struck with a global pandemic, almost all the major companies had stopped their hiring process indefinitely. In that situation, graduating with a very niche career profile was not at all easy. But nevertheless, I did not stop applying to jobs, and ended up with a few opportunities to work as a freelancer. The pay wasn’t much but it was a good opportunity to gain practical experience and build a portfolio.
I also worked on projects as a freelancer, mostly on Automobile VR Experiences. Here too, I got to closely work with the 3D content as well as with developers and build an innovative experience for a new launch of the vehicle. You can find one such project in my portfolio here:
Challenge 3: Sometimes, even demonstrating your skills and working at a place for a while, is not enough for that company to realize your potential. At that point you need to quit and find a place where you will be valued and appreciated much more for the same work.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your current Role.
I have been working at Dassault Systèmes 3Dexcite in the capacity of Immersive Media Designer. Dassault Systèmes is a European based global company under which there are several brands with their own specific software/service. 3DExcite is one such brand under the company. As a Designer at 3Dexcite, my job revolves around creating impactful and usable experiences for our global clients. Our solutions enable people to make better purchasing decisions.
The Dassault Systémes Marketing and Sales brand 3DEXCITE provides comprehensive solutions for collaboration and 3D product content creation directly from a secure cloud network, the 3DEXPERIENCE® platform. Global brands leverage 3DEXCITE for services and software to evolve their marketing beyond messaging.
3DEXCITE helps them to create marketing experiences where the products interact with people through rich media to build brands. Digital content is the key to unlock the new business landscape. Clients launch products to market faster, with more relevance, on every channel, boosting sales to increase top-line growth.
3DEXCITE relies on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to elevate customers from product manufacturers to experience companies.
What problems do you solve?
On a broader scale, at 3DExcite, we deliver solutions for brands and clients with highly individualized, channel independent marketing materials that would best suit their requirements. Marketing solutions are usually in the form of 2D/3D Configurators, AR/VR/Web based interactive experiences, Cinematic/Commercial Content Production, etc. In short, catering to the whole customer journey for the brands that we work with. This involves storytelling, visualization, experience design and coding to build such applications.
What are the skills required for your role? How did you acquire them?
In terms of acquiring the relevant skills, first comes a strong inclination for problem solving. Then comes the visualization skills, which can be developed with practice and learning. By visualizations skills I mean ability to work with 3D models, either creating them or making them look realistic by using relevant software and tools. Even though I am a designer, my work involves coding to a great extent, because experience building is a combination of design and technology. And when technology is in the picture, it all boils down to coding. Having said that, I do coding in my job, I however did not have any knowledge/background in coding whatsoever. It is a skill I acquired and learned pretty much on the job. So what I am trying to say is, skills can be learnt as long as you have a goal in mind or you’re enjoying the challenge. And this is what I love the most about my job. It is never a stagnant task. Each day I can expect a new surprise, a new challenge to work on. The world of technology moves at a massively rapid pace, and it pretty much impacts what my work revolves around. I have to be open to learning new things every single day.
How does your work benefit society?
My work definitely reaches the end customer who is a human. My design skills and the content I build directly impacts their experience. It becomes my responsibility to make sure the experience serves its purpose to both the client and the end user and also make it a pleasurable experience. The work that we do is not just visually aesthetic, but also backed by manufacturing data, logistics and analysis. I believe the work I do as an Immersive Media Designer is a beautiful blend of Design and Technology. We strive to create more and more value for our users. And I think that is the quality which drives me and makes me enjoy my work.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
After I started working as an employee at my company in 2021, the year of the pandemic, the first project that I worked on was for nearly eight months straight and that too completely working from home using a laptop, this is something that baffles me now when I look back at that time. This project that I worked on will always remain close to my heart. It was the first time that I was entrusted with a big responsibility. The project was nonetheless challenging with tight deadlines, but I tried to give it even more value by pushing myself to see where I could reach. I had to wear many hats, one of a visualization artist, a researcher, a technical expert, a developer, an Experience Designer, etc. to name a few. The project received a lot of accolades later on and my hard work had really paid off. It was a wholesome experience and I grew a lot in a professional sense for the duration of the project. After this project got over, eventually we started working from the office with the proper machines and large screens and comfortable setup. And now, when I look back at that time, I am amazed and proud of how I pulled it off!
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Summing up my learnings and experiences, my advice to students would be:
- Never be afraid to try what you really want to. If you fail, or if you don’t enjoy it after trying, so be it. You can try something else. But at least later in life you will never regret this time.
- You can make a logical analysis of everything related to your career choices but remember that it’s not just you that’s growing up and changing, everything else is changing too. Newer things can pop into the picture; things that you may not be able to justify firmly at that point. So you must not remain fixated on something very specific and must always have a more broader goal.
- Learn networking early, learn how to network and keep improving your communication skills, regardless of whatever profession you choose. How much ever we advance in technology, how much ever skilled you may be, you need to be able to communicate it to the other person well.
- Your process is more valuable than your end result, especially in the field of Design. The decisions you take as a designer are justified by how you arrived at those decisions. That’s what the design process is all about. Your design portfolio should reflect that.
- Opportunities will find you at places you didn’t expect to. Try not to dismiss something based on what you perceive it as. Sometimes, trying something new can open doors you didn’t know exist.
- In the early years of your career, a good mentor or a good manager/supervisor is more valuable than the salary. That being said, you should know what value you offer and have a non-negotiable number below which you will not accept an offer. Also, internships should not be unpaid!
- Don’t worry about the gaps in your resume, if you have worked sincerely and given your best, you will find the right place where you are valued. Just persevere until then.
I look forward to making a substantial contribution to the crafting of human digital experiences and learning all the relevant skills that come along the way. I would love to learn more on the art of storytelling and become better at strategic design thinking.
Apart from this, I would like to be a major contributor to flourishing Design Education in India and also advocate the value designers bring to the society, because as much as the situation is improving day by day, I still feel designers or even architects are not valued as much as they deserve to be, especially in India. I would definitely like to work towards changing that. I would also like to encourage girls to take up roles that break stereotypes. The industry that I work in is a largely male-dominated one, and I look forward to that changing.
Somewhere I also feel that in the fast pace of things, I have left certain hobbies behind. I would like to reconnect with them. In this overly competitive world, the concept of being ‘productive’ every minute of the day is being propagated too much. Even apart from your main job, side hustles are being encouraged too much. While it is each person’s discretion, one should also find time for things that bring one joy and it doesn’t necessarily have to be monetized.