There are two sets of people in the design world. The first who do design and the second who breathe design. In this episode of design talk, we have a person who belongs to the latter one.
His eyes sparkle and absolute passion can be felt in his voice when he talks about design.
This is the most comprehensive conversation I ever had with someone on Design and I am glad that it happened.
Saptarshi is an IIT Madras graduate in Electrical Engineering, currently working as a consumer design lead at Swiggy. He has previously worked at Zeta and Housing.
Also known for his blogs on Isometric designs and impeccable motion designs.
He is an amazing speaker and absolute delight to listen to.
That being said, Let’s dive into the interview and learn something new today:
Here we go:
1) Engineer to freelance graphic designer to product manager to product designer. Can you please tell us how this transition happened and what was your first introduction to design? And how you got to know that design is one thing that you want to do, the rest of your life.
[Sap]: The design thing for me started back when I was in 7th standard when my dad bought me the first desktop which had photoshop installed in it.
So, I started playing with that. I did not have any internet connectivity so, everything that I learned was trial and error.
Then I went ahead with IIT preparations and it was in IIT Madras, the shift happened because that is when I got access to the internet and saw that there are seniors and people around me who are into designing. And then I started designing for my hostel, college fests and all.
Eventually, I also headed those design teams and organized events in college fests. But back then it was more of a graphic design sort of thing.
Right after the college, I got into a management job where I was managing two teams but I realized that I was not using my full potential.
One day, one of my seniors called me and asked whether I would like to join Housing.com. Housing is the one that glorified the Indian startup sphere and was a complete design focused company in a true sense.
Back in 2015, it used to have a team of 40 designers and I was just a mediocre designer there who had to learn a lot and put in extra efforts. And that is where the upscaling of my design career truly happened.
2) There are so many terms that might overwhelm the person who is in pursuit to make his/her career in the user experience industry like graphic designer, interaction designer, product designer, and visual designer. What to go after and how to distinguish between these and choose the best vertical for the same.
[Sap]: So, these tags or designation differs from company to company. Like in companies like Google and Zeta, the core problem-solving domain is called Interaction design while some companies call it experience design.
In the three companies that I have worked, my work has been the same but the titles were different.
If you see, these terms are more of nomenclature and are very company specific.
I agree that these terms are vague and confusing for a beginner but one distinction that everyone needs to understand is that the umbrella term is User Experience.
The entirety is user experience and if you are just starting out, just try to get hands-on to every part of this user experience.
3) You are an advocate of motion design and I get that because it’s easier to get the attention of the user that way. There might be some rule that where should we use motion design or still design because doing that too much will also make the user experience cluttered.
[Sap]: So, the straightforward answer to this is that “Motion can be used at micro levels which helps in flowing the user in a directed way”.
It can act as a guiding light for the user.
Just like anything, too much of everything is bad. Knowing how much to use it works fine here.
4) How do you define design?
[Sap]: Design is all about problem-solving and that’s pretty much it.
5) In design focused MNC’s, there is a proper design process, teams, and infrastructure whereas in startups you have strict deadlines. And you have majorly worked with startups, how do you ensure that the design process and proper evaluation of the use case are not compromised?
[Sap]: See, a process is something that you do to ensure that you are not missing put on anything a process is something that you do to ensure that you are not missing put on anything . It’s like a rulebook.
For example, every morning you get up, you brush your teeth, have a bath, and have your breakfast. Or maybe you make a cup of coffee along with your breakfast. But you can’t call it a rule and do it every day. One day, you might want to skip your breakfast, one day you want to have tea instead of coffee.
One rule about rules is knowing when to break them because every problem is different, every work is different. And when you try to push a certain set of rules to every problem, chances are that you may not get the desired results.
Now, coming to the part of strict deadlines, then you need not follow the entire process. If you are building something from scratch, then you need to follow the usual design process which involves, ideation, research, prototyping, iteration, etc etc.
But you need not do this for every other thing. Like why do you want to research when you already know what’s happening and who are your persona’s, their usage data. Then you might want to skip that, right.
However, if you have to just deliver tomorrow, the best thing that you can do is to design it and maybe show it to your peers and ask, does it look intuitive, does it look fine.
In a nutshell, knowing all these rules and when to break it becomes utmost important in such scenarios.
Coming to the part where you said that MNC’s have segregated teams within their design team, we have that too but everyone is allowed to do everything.
See, I am not a researcher but I can go and do research out there. My designation is not a motion designer but I do motion design. So, no one is really bound to one particular designation or title.
6) Anything you would want to tell a beginner designer who aspires to join design-focused startup like Swiggy, housing, uber? While recruiting a designer, what things you majorly look upon?
[Sap]: I am actually writing a big post on this and that will go live on Swiggy design blog. I personally hire this way:
I play the person, I never play the role.
So, let’s suppose, I am interviewing Shubham and I have known him from a while or have seen his work, I now know exactly what to test. So, it’s very different from person to person.
Like in Swiggy also, the interview can be very different. Some people may have to go through 5-6 rounds, meeting different people, design tests and what not.
I was hired over a cup of coffee in the same place where we are sitting right now. (Third wave coffee, Koramangala, Bangalore). Of course, some other usual routine procedures were also followed after that.
So, everyone plays by the person and there are no rules as such. In general, it goes like this. In some places, it is more defined but more or less everyone is following the same approach.
6.1) What do you look in a beginner from a hiring perspective for an intern position?
Coming to the specific question from a newbie perspective for a position like an intern here is what I personally see:
Some of his/her work. If he/she doesn’t have any then we might give him some design tests if he is up for it. Then we see the kind of thinking or the thought process the person has put in.
We want to see how the problem was broken down because identification is more important than solving the problem itself in the first place.
The second most important thing is his/her attitude. Is he/she willing to be mentored or learn from someone? Does he/she acknowledge the fact that he/she is not better yet? Does he/she accept his/her mistakes?
Talking in terms of hiring a junior UX designer, most of the things remain the same as interns but the only thing that we expect is craftsmanship . You should be able to deliver screens If I put it this way.
6.2) How do you go about hiring an experienced UX designer?
[Sap]: So, let me answer this from Swiggy’s perspective.
For experience UX designers, like lead or architectural level positions, we usually identify the person first and then create the role. There is no design test for sure because he/she has already proved his/her mettle.
So, it’s more about the culture fit in.
See, it this way, when hiring such a person, we ask that will I be comfortable sitting next to him, will he be able to cope up with our jokes and stuff? How does he take feedback? So, it’s more about looking that whether the person can blend into the company culture or not and that’s it.
7) What books/blogs/designers have played a major role in your design journey so far?
[Sap]: The power of habits.
It is not a design book as such but it talks about how a habit is created?
What happens when a habit is created and we as designers, we all trying to make something your habit. So, as I work for Swiggy, I would like my users to get habituated to Swiggy.
Just like they get up and brush up their teeth. I might want that they take out their phone and order breakfast, lunch or dinner. That’s the ultimate thing that one would want to do with their product.
Hence, this book is very important. It has some very good instances and I absolutely recommend that.
In terms of UX, I recommend the design blog of Uber, Google, and Airbnb. These three are my favorites. So, they write about the different design decisions they take.
For instance, when Uber initiated their driver profiles feature, they have documented all the things like how they went about building that? What was the thought process? Why they even thought that this could be built? So, they document nearly everything.
And those are all interesting reads.
8) How do you foresee the future of UX Design in India? Is it coming in par with the UX industry abroad or still have a long way to go because designers out there get a lot of importance and a critical part of any product rolling out.
[Sap]: By far my experience in the Indian UX design industry has been good. I haven’t worked for the companies abroad, but have worked with a lot of foreign clients.
The company like housing was a design-driven company and was a little more biased towards designers. So, they can go an extra mile to develop something if the designer has implemented that.
But I have seen designers becoming just a pair of hands. They have hired designers because they couldn’t design themselves. Every work and decision making is done by someone else and the designers have to just design what he/she has been asked to.
I have been lucky enough that I have worked with companies that give you the full power to take your decisions and if you have got strong reasons this should have been done that way, come and discuss.
And I don’t think that it’s very different than the culture out there in the west.
Be a designer, don’t be a pair of hands.
9) Since AI and ML are making its way into design, what are your views regarding that?
[Sap]: I see a lot of things that are getting automated.
I was reading a post about which all professions would be non-existent in near future, and there was this interesting pattern that anything which involves (complex) human thinking, cannot be replaced.
Visual design, like, quickly make a website template for me, probably get automated. So, there won’t be work for anyone who does only that.
To put it in simple words, if you are into a profession that involves human thinking, your intuition cannot be replaced.
Ex: Pablo Stanely’s “Humaaans” project is an excellent example of this concern getting implemented.
10) As far as I can see, the voice is going to contribute a lot in input given to an interface. If ever, someone wants to pursue this field, how he/she should go about it?
[Sap]: I was asked this question in an AMA session.
I recently worked with a company and they were making a health device for elderly people which had a wearable device where you can give voice commands to that, say, “Call the doctor”, or order medicines.
That’s the only bit of experience that I had with voice where I did some readings and research around it.
The biggest challenge that I could see is that there is no history. Like I am talking to you, and you are writing it down, otherwise, there is no other documentation of that. But history is critically important when you are dealing with an app or a product.
Also, when I speak to you, I can see on your face that whether you understood or not. Based on that, I can add more information if need be. So, you see that I got feedback but that’s not the case with machines.
I cannot get that sort of feedback from the machine that, I didn’t understand what you said and that’s okay. But what if machine understood something wrong? That is one of the biggest challenges that I faced and I still don’t know how to solve it.
Maybe there is some way to solve but not the perfect one yet. Also, as you said, that this is the future for most of the things but it may not completely replace the kind of interfaces we have right now.
- As a designer, have your say. Stand by your design but for that have valid reasons also.
- You are not your designation. Work past that.
- Practice perfecting your deliverable. The more practice you do, the better it gets.
It was a wonderful having a conversation with Saptarshi. Thank you Saptarshi, for taking time out of your schedule and helping us create this wonderful resource for beginners.
You can visit Saptarshi’s profiles here:
If you learned something new or have any suggestions, do let us know through the comments section down below.
Also, share it with someone who might need this.
Thank you and goodbye until next design talk.