Some careers just grow on you through childhood experiences, and show you the path to transform those experiences into reality !

Puneet Nagi, our next pathbreaker, Founder & Industrial Designer at Opacity & Co,  an eclectic industrial design consultancy, works on addressing challenges related to transportation design with a focus on electric vehicles.

Puneet talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his first hand experience of restoring a Maruti Gypsy which reinstated his childhood fascination for vehicles.

For students, life experiences teach you a lot more than what education can. Be open to exploring different things, be rational in your approach and have the discipline to complete what you started !

Puneet, a little bit about your background?

I’m Puneet, I come from a very small town Banswara which is near Udaipur, Rajasthan. Although, I was born in Nizamabad, Andhra pradesh. I came to Banswara when I was 5 and started my schooling at St Paul’s School (CBSE Board Rajasthan). My father was a chief engineer in a textile company(now retired), he worked there for 40 years and my mother a housewife with a degree in biology. Though I was an average student, I was quite active in sports and cultural events. I was a part of the school’s basketball and handball teams, played at district and state level several times. I was publicly shy at first but as years went on I overcame my fears, started public speaking, and also took part in debates eventually. I was a science student not just because I like science but also because I wanted to keep my options open if I decided to pursue engineering. My school did not have arts in the curriculum. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?  

After finishing my 12th in science and entrepreneurship as my major, I took a gap year and worked on the Maruti Gypsy project. We restored it, I did this out of passion and for experience. While I worked on the restoration project, I gave several entrance exams like IIT, AIEEE to keep engineering as a backup field. I now have a masters in transportation design / industrial design degree from ISD RUBIKA, Pune. In short, I pursued design after my 10+2.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

When I was 9, my father bought a third hand Maruti Omni that he customised himself. He chose the interior seats, colour, trim, did the fabrication and most importantly, he hand drew the ideas. I loved every bit of seeing him make these changes to his car, the excitement we had, which brought a lot of joy, and it was all creative. I loved the idea of being creative with cars and from then onwards I was interested in vehicles. I started observing vehicles on the road everyday. My passion in design was not so clear, but it grew on me with time. I did not know the term for such a field of study. Every friend/student wanted to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer, cricketer etc . Nobody knew anything about this field nor did the teachers in my school. Seeing my interest in cars, my father got me these Japanese car magazines in English which was great. I would flip through the pages looking at all the cars and read somewhere about design and the ‘car designer’. I loved it all. That gave me clarity that such a field exists and I knew it right then that I wanted to pursue it. I wanted to be a car designer. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?  Tell us about your career path

When you live in a small town like I did, there is zero awareness of creative fields. The only way I could learn about creative fields was to search on the internet. I would often visit cyber cafes, we only had one of them in our town, and do my research on automotive design.

Then I found out about the International School of Design, RUBIKA (Pune) in some student magazine. I immediately looked it up online and read about it. 

I started preparing for the entrance exam for ISD which I cleared in the 2nd attempt. The Transportation Design course at ISD Rubika was for 5 years (2012-2017).

During the course of our design education it was mandatory to secure internships in the industry. Design students should be able to look for jobs themselves and must have the ability to sell their work. 

Mahindra and Mahindra, Mumbai (2015)

This was a 5 month internship. My role was as a concept design intern. I focused on vehicle architecture, product scenarios, 2d sketching, rendering, surface study, component design. I learned about context in design, as well as understood automotive surface and vehicle proportions. Later, I presented my final work to other designers and the head of design at Mahindra. 

Forvia/ Faurecia interior mobility (2017)

This was a 6 month internship. My role was as an interior designer. I was encouraged to be a design manager in overall design projects, with a focus on innovation and strategies for brand marketing. The projects I worked on included product conceptualization, creating user scenarios, animation scripts, development of ideas/concepts to suit Forvia’s interests. I collaborated with multidisciplinary teams and presented ideas to higher management. 

How did you get your first break?

My first break was my internship at Mahindra during 3rd year at college. I built an impressive portfolio, a collection of my best design work with my CV and applied to multiple companies looking for paid internship opportunities. I received an email from a senior designer at Mahindra, Mumbai calling me for an interview. Shortly after my in-person interview I got selected. 

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

Challenge 1: Doing the right research; I was always surrounded with guys who weren’t aware of any creative fields. Challenge for me was to find out where to go, how to go and how to implement that knowledge into a fruitful career. Having clarity on actions.

Challenge 2: Understanding art & creativity; Once I was in design school, I slowly observed that creativity in itself is a vast universe of our mind, and one can only create their own perception. There is no rule book on creativity, however, emphasising on my self awareness and consciousness I could dictate some valid answer which again is a personal truth. I will forever be a student.

Challenge 3: Validating my work; It was challenging for me to differentiate between creating something useful vs creating something aesthetically impressive. When I initially started working for big brands, I would only think about impressing the design manager with my rendering skills, for example, which isn’t the honest approach as a designer. A mature approach is to focus on the problem first, work towards finding the most feasible solution and eventually participate in making it aesthetically sound. As designers we often get carried away to design cool looking objects, however context shouldnt be forgotten.

Where do you work now?

I work as a transportation/industrial design consultant for several brands under the label of studio Opacity & Co, an eclectic cloud based design agency which integrates itself with technology, art and design. I founded Opacity in 2019.

I create promising projects to attract potential clients and aim at building long lasting relationships with clients and product reach. I do automotive design, product design, last mile transport, art direction, CAD development and visualization. 

What problems do you solve?

Since I’m primarily an industrial designer, there are a vast range of challenges to solve. So far I’ve worked on issues over vehicle identity, vehicle architecture, developing last mile transportation products to help people commute short distances efficiently, solving issues over battery swapping in a vehicle in India and Europe. Since all my clients are EV pro individuals, many of these products/problems revolve around that. Other than this, I also tend to work on interpersonal relationship issues if any. 

What skills are needed for a job? How did you acquire the skills?

Other than software skills which can be excelled at by putting in hours of hard work, I would say more important are competency skills like-

-Ability to take criticism in a positive way.

-Ability to learn something new anytime.

-Effective communication.

-Emotional intelligence.

-Self-awareness.

-Perseverance.

-Empathy.

What’s a typical day like?

Majority of my day is spent on working with clients. I sit with them and focus on solving their product pain points. I make sure I take time out to do workouts /yoga / meditation after which I do quality work on personal projects. Other than this, I have some days where I am just learning something new, like developing software skills or working on improving my Draftmanship abilities.

What is it you love about this job?

I love the process of design. I feel it’s an exceptional gift, the ability to generate ideas by drafting it on a blank paper, using several tools to conceptualise, and then using materials & processes to actually build the physical product. It’s a pretty satisfying job.

I admire all these challenges. It helps me grow not just as a designer but also as an individual, a wholesome learning experience. 

How does your work benefit society? 

I would say it seamlessly brings quality in people’s lives. Again, it depends on the product. 

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

From 2021-2022 I worked with Redwing Aerospace company on developing a VTOL Drone(Vertical Takeoff and Landing Drone), an autonomous drone logistics system to transform last-mile healthcare supply chains in India. The aim is to deliver medicines to places in rural/urban areas, especially where vehicles might not be able to reach these places on time. This drone is unmanned and is the next generation smart tech that’s being built in India with government authorization, which helps solve challenges related to the last mile delivery of healthcare services/products during emergencies. I did the overall industrial design for this drone. This project, I feel, is close to me and one of my most valuable contributions as a designer. The drone is currently being developed and tested.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I would say try different things at first, and see what fits your interests, observe if you are absolutely obsessed with your interest/subject and are already working towards it without any mental effort. More than that, see if you can accommodate your interests in your lifestyle. 

Be rational with your approach; when you think of your interests, think practically foreseeing your current situation. Take into account, if you can afford the equipment required, can you effectively acquire the knowledge and then implement it, do you have the ability to be consistent with your goals, if not what’s your plan. Life is a lot better when you have discipline, so do your research on building a disciplined lifestyle. Build a daily routine that brings in calmness, positivity and productivity. Lastly, whatever you do, give it your 1000% and enjoy life. 

Future Plans?

I plan to constantly improve/upgrade my skills and add more value as a designer/entrepreneur/human. Change is the only constant, I plan to move with it and try to be an honest designer wherever I go.

Some of my work :