This is Part 2 of the podcast. Find Part 1 here.

Intro music
‣ 3005 by Childish Gambino

Ratik

Welcome back to Unbox, and you’re listening to part 2 of episode 4, my interview with Gyan. If you’re here without listening to part 1, then why the hell are you here? Go back and listen to part 1. It should just be below this episode on whatever app you’re listening to the show on. And if you’re somebody who’s heard part one then I will not waste a lot of your time. Let’s just quickly get back into the conversation. Enjoy!

Ratik

So you decided to finish college, and when college was ending what was going on in your head? Did you want to get into a job after college or were you looking at other options? What was going on back then?

Gyan

So I was just really glad that college was getting over, firstly. It was the happiest time of my life.

Ratik

Yeah, yeah. Can relate to that, yes.

Gyan

So, around the time I was about to graduate someone at Flipkart saw my profile. I think they found me through Twitter. They saw my work and they liked what I’d been doing and they flew me out for an interview to their office in Bangalore, and I interviewed with them and I got the job.

Ratik

So this was more like you got called, so you were like let’s just go try it out.

Gyan

That sort of thing, yeah, I mean honestly my goals back then were to be a designer at one of the big Big 5 tech companies. At the time I was very keen to work at Google or Facebook or Apple, but I think Google and Facebook were my favorites back then because those were the companies making the software that I was using on a day to day basis.

Ratik

Right, yeah.

Gyan

But Flipkart happened and I wasn’t really thinking about jobs at the time, I was thinking I will continue freelancing. But because they made that offer, I just felt like it was a the good place to learn, and Flipkart was doing some very interesting work with their progressive web app at the time. So I remember thinking that this was…

Ratik

An interesting project.

Gyan

…an interesting project to be working on.

Ratik

So also what’s interesting is they reached out to you. So do you want to talk about how online presence is like important and because you had Twitter and you even mentioned your personal website? I feel like those things and having a brand are often like overlooked by people?

Gyan

So I’m @gyanl on the Internet everywhere to a point some people call me gyanl in real life.

Ratik

(laughs) Yeah, I do that.

Gyan

But so I feel like it’s important to have your work online somewhere, and if you can blog, if you get used to writing about your experiences and what you think, that’s usually very valuable because other people can come across it and learn from it. And there’s a lot… in order to write about something, you have to really understand it well. So there is a lot of value to writing about your work and explaining your design decisions because when you’re interviewed for a design position, they largely want to see how you think, how you work and what is the process that you follow.

So writing about your work is a very good habit to have and posting about it online kind of ensures that other people see what you’re up to and sometimes opportunities can just come to you—at this point, even though I stopped freelancing as much, most of my work comes from clients who get in touch with me, instead of me reaching out to clients.

Ratik

Yeah, I think it feels like you’re putting out your work in the void, but there are people looking for things, especially on places like Dribbble and Behance… like recruiters and people who just want freelancers do end up looking in these places so I think there is a lot of value in having such an online portfolio and your experience sort of confirms that, yeah?

Gyan

So, strangely enough, I’ve not had such a great experience with LinkedIn…

Ratik

Oh dude, yes.

Gyan

…or Dribbble or Behance in order for generating work. I’ve found more success through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter somehow.

Ratik

Oh?

Gyan

So these are not channels that you’re typically told about when you’re trying to do business on the Internet, but these are where people might be more open to having a conversation, and so sometimes I’ve just sort of given feedback to people about some project they were working on and then suggested that if they wanted me to work on it further, I could do it as a paid consultant.

Ratik

So when you went to Flipkart and you interviewed and was after that, what happened?

Gyan

So I’d interviewed there without any real expectations of what would happen, but they made an offer and it was a lot better than what most of my peers were getting after graduating for engineering roles.

Ratik

Yeah

Gyan

But I mean at the time I was still feeling like there were a lot of gaps in my knowledge and how I approach design. I felt like I didn’t really have a great process for approaching design problems, and I felt that I could grow at Flipkart, but I’d also applied for masters programs because I felt that I could do with some formal education in design and learn the theory and maybe a better way of going about solving design problems.

Ratik

I’d imagine… was there a lot of impostor syndrome here?

Gyan

Yeah, maybe I mean honestly, at the time I feel… (laughs) If you look at the Dunning-Kruger curve, I was feeling that I knew a decent bit at the time, whereas I didn’t know anything at all. Now I know more, but I feel like I know nothing at all. So I’ve actually hit rock bottom now while doing my masters because I’ve learned how much I don’t know.

Ratik

Great. So yeah, the more you know the more you realize that you don’t know anything. Basically.

Gyan

Yeah, that’s true.

Ratik

Yeah, it’s slightly strange.

Ratik

So you you were on the side applying for masters programs because you wanted to fill gaps in your education. So where were you applying and where did you even find these masters programs for design?

Gyan

I decided to only apply for Interaction Design at NID Bangalore. But when I was applying, I talked to a few people about how the courses were and a few people suggested that I apply to IDC’s Interaction Design program as well, because that was considered as a good program.

So the only two places I applied to were NID Bangalore for Interaction Design and Information Design and IDC at IIT Bombay for Interaction Design.

Ratik

OK, so you ended up going to IDC and what has that been like? You wanted to fill these gaps like you said, and how has that experience been and how has that affected you as a designer? How are you different now than what you were before the Masters program?

Gyan

Back then, my plan was to start working at Flipkart and suddenly I get an email saying that I got through at NID, and I remember just being really, really happy because I’d gotten through college, but I didn’t top or anything, and in general academics had been (laughs)

Ratik

Yeah, I can imagine this was like a… You got into a course based on your merit that you had self taught yourself in a way?

Gyan

Yeah, that was a very proud moment for myself and I ended up clearing NID and I just really wanted to go there and then about 2-3 days later I got the email for IDC as well—I got in for the Interaction Design program at both places I guess because I had enough work to show an interest in the field. Eventually I decided to go with the IDC because I talked to some people and they felt that specifically for interaction design, the IDC faculty had an edge and was a better place to study.

I think I’ve been very happy with the decision, IDC’s Interaction Design program has 12 people in my batch and nine of them are engineers, two of them did design in their undergrad and one person did urban planning so it so it has a fairly high ratio of people who did not start out as designers and so there are a lot of introductory courses that I I found very interesting.

Like there was a one week introduction to photography course, there was an introduction to 3D forms course. There’s an introduction to filmmaking course—a ten day course where we had to write a script, shoot a film, edit it, present it at the end of the course… so the course has been designed for someone who has not studied design before, and I found that to be a big advantage because it allowed me the space to explore some of these tangentially related things that people might not consider core interaction design.

Ratik

So through your experience at IDC, how you’ve grown as a designer from when you were finishing your engineering to maybe like one year now since you’ve been at Masters for one year.

Gyan

So I was calling myself a UI/UX Designer without having any kind of degree and that was working because I think there is not such a great understanding of what designers do after all and in terms of the outputs, I was able to show my client screens and they looked well designed and I had a reasonable common sense understanding of best practices, so I just went through those and I was just kind of doing whatever… I was doing my best, but clearly there was there was some theory lacking in what I was doing.

So at IDC, what I’ve really learned is how important user research is and how important it is to properly identify and understand a problem before starting work on it, and so often just the research phase of a problem can go on for weeks, months before you start working on it and my process tended to be look at the problem, read maybe 2-3 articles about it online and within a day start working directly on high fidelity screens.

Which is a bad process to follow… there is a lot of value to prototyping in lower fidelity and then kind of discarding bad ideas. Which is something I kind of knew in my head, but I kind of ignored, but I’ve learned to follow the process at IDC. There are certain skills that I’ve gained, I know how to interview people, and I’ve learned certain data analysis techniques, I learned brainstorming techniques and so I have more of a process for approaching problems now.

I’ve learned that design decisions can be rational, even say decisions that you have to make about visual design can be thought of from a very rational lens. Sometimes you feel like it’s a creative field, so some of it is just this inner sense that you have… but most design decisions can be thought of rationally.

Ratik

So would you say that going to IDC and formally studying design has given you a way to structure the way you work?

Gyan

Yeah, it’s really opened up a lot of avenues for me because there were a lot of introductory courses to different things, and I learned a lot about different branches of design and I had a chance to kind of figure out what I didn’t know and a personal take away from me has been the idea of technological solutionism—that better technology will solve any problem.

I started out just designing mobile apps and websites. And so you’d give me any problem and I would design an app to solve it, but something I’ve learned over time is…

Ratik

That doesn’t always work.

Gyan

… an app is, yeah, an app is not always the solution to every problem.

Ratik

Yeah, definitely yeah, that’s great man. Like going here… I’m glad that you’re gaining a lot from this experience

So now we’re in the last segment where essentially I want to ask you if you have any advice for people who want to get into design as a career. Also, do you recommend going to design school, formally studying it… what are your thoughts on this?

Gyan

So I believe that there are skills and there are tools… so tools you can kind of learn fairly easily off the Internet. So if you’re a UI designer then Figma and Invision Studio are two UI design tools that you can get started with on any platform and Sketch is my favorite UI design tool, but it’s Mac only. You can look up tutorials on the Internet, you can learn the tools of the trade essentially fairly easy.

And then you can read about design, but I feel it’s a fairly interdisciplinary field, so you can read about design, but also about behavioral economics or cognitive psychology or even business comes in handy when you’re a designer. I feel like you can learn a lot of things on your own… so it’s not strictly necessary. A lot of people get into design after either doing engineering or psychology or…

Ratik

Business or economics also.

Gyan

… or business or economics also. And I know people who’ve done that, so it’s not strictly necessary—but I found a lot of value in studying design formally.

Certain things are easier to learn in a classroom environment. Like say, how to do brainstorming is a lot easier when you’re working with a team of people. And getting immediate feedback from the really smart people who who have really spent years thinking about design has a lot of value.

Ratik

I feel like also going to a design institute gives you access to people and you can inherently build a network. Because you graduated with a bunch of people and you know them. So I think that is something that’s very hard to replace when you don’t go to such an institution, right?

Gyan

I’ve had a great time at college because I’m surrounded by like-minded people who are interested in similar things, and also the faculty at IDC are some of the smartest, most passionate people I’ve met and I’ve been very heavily influenced by the things they talk about and how they think. So I mean… I’ve found a lot of value in that.

Ratik

I think it’s a pretty good time to get into design… I mean, colleges are getting better here and there’s a lot of opportunity, there are definitely people who want design work to be done and you can get into a program and keep freelancing on the side.

So I think it’s a pretty cool space to get into, right?

Gyan

Yeah, design is a fairly nascent field right now and there’s a lot of demand because there are a lot of startups and there are a lot of existing companies that want to do things online and a lot of companies want to move their products online. Everything is digital now and you need people to be doing that right now.

Even though that’s not all there is to design, but UI/UX for mobile apps & websites is definitely where the demand is right now.

Ratik

Finally, we’re at our recurring segment, which is recommendations. So Gyan, have you read any books recently or in the past that have influenced you in any particular way? And yeah, just tell us about them.

Gyan

So I kind of came prepared with the books that I feel people who are who are interested in design should read. First one is the Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.

Ratik

Yeah dude, that’s been on my list for a long time now. Tell me about it, I’ll probably get to it more quickly that way.

Gyan

Have you ever walked up to a door and then pushed and then realized you actually had to pull or pulled and then realize you had to push?

Ratik

Yeah, like so many times.

Gyan

When someone can’t figure out how to use a piece of technology, or even something apparently simple like a door, it’s not because they’re stupid, but it’s because it hasn’t been properly designed.

Ratik

That’s comforting, yeah, tell me more.

Gyan

And the design of everyday things talks about this concept of affordances, which are the properties of an object that show the possible ways you could interact with it.

So for example, adding a particular kind of handle to adore can sometimes give people a hint about whether it’s a push door or a pull door, and without one of these cues you might not be able to figure it.

Interestingly, doors where the user can’t tell whether to push or pull are now called Norman doors, they’re named after Don Norman who wrote this book.

Ratik

Oh man, that’s super interesting. I’m definitely going to get to this soon.

Ratik

What about the second book?

Gyan

The second book is called Change by Design by Tim Brown, who’s the CEO of Ideo, which is a creative agency. It’s a book that talks about how design thinking can be used in organizations to solve business problems that different organizations have, and it talks about the importance of building quick and dirty prototypes to test your ideas really quickly and see if they’re good and it also has some really great examples of design thinking being applied to solve real problems that different companies had.

Ratik

OK, that’s pretty cool. Great, I’ll link those in the description for anybody who wants to add them to Goodreads or whatever.

Ratik

What about… do you listen to podcasts? Do you have any recommendations for podcasts?

Gyan

Yeah yeah, I mean Unbox, I hear Unbox is pretty good.

Ratik

Oh you’re too kind, Gyan. (laughs)

Gyan

I don’t listen to that many podcasts, but I do really like The Vergecast. It’s (laughs) the flagship podcast of the Vox media network.

Ratik

Oh yeah, they’re they’re super interesting and I think what I like about the Vergecast is…

Gyan

Promo code.

Ratik

And just their personalities, all of them, just like they’re lovable idiots, all of them, who love technology.

Gyan

Yeah, so it’s like my friends who talk about technology.

Ratik

Yeah, exactly so it’s it’s got a pretty good vibe going. And if you’re into tech then that’s why I think a really cool recommendation.

Ratik

What about any other podcast? Do you listen to any?

Gyan

So a few friends of mine at IDC worked on a podcast called Styrofoam, which guides you through the process of applying for design courses in India.

Ratik

Oh wow.

Gyan

So if you’re if you’re looking to apply for NID or if you’re looking to give CEED, then I think it would be interesting to check that out.

Ratik

Oh dude, that’s so that’s such a cool idea because so many people are confused about this. And like I personally get asked so many times because I’m working in tech so I know designers so a lot of people end up asking me. I’m definitely going to link them to this whenever they do now.

So yeah, this is podcast-ception ‘cause you’re on the show to talk about design and you’re recommending a podcast about design. So yeah, good stuff.

Gyan

I heard you like design podcast.

Ratik

What about YouTube? Do you watch a lot of YouTube?

Gyan

I do watch a lot of YouTube and…

Ratik

You have any top two recommendations?

Gyan

So I watch a lot of food shows on YouTube? I think I just find them ready relaxing, just watching food, being made and food being eaten.

Ratik

Yeah, that’s true.

Gyan

So I think with my top two are Binging with Babish and also BuzzFeed’s Worth it series.

Ratik

Oh, I haven’t watched BuzzFeed but Babish is somebody… Binging with Babish is something I do watch.

But yeah, I’ll make sure that I’ll add the links to these channels. Also in the description.

But do you have any design channels? That you follow on YouTube?

Gyan

So I don’t have any design channels per se, but I remember looking at a lot of Aaron Draplin’s videos on YouTube and if you’re looking to get into visual design or graphic design, then he has some really great process videos for how he goes about creating a logo or branding.

Ratik

Oh wow.

Gyan

And generally I think Aaron trapping is a very interesting designer and I was very influenced by him early on in my design career.

Ratik

Oh great, this is something I’m gonna check out too ‘cause yeah, love design.

Ratik

Cool that was that was great. Um, finally, if if anybody wants to reach out to you on the socials…

Gyan

I’m @gyanl everywhere.

Ratik

Really, you you have that SEO locked down? You’re genuinely @gyanl everywhere?

Gyan

I think I’m gyanlakhwani on LinkedIn.

Ratik

Nobody cares about LinkedIn.

Gyan

Yep, then I’m @gyanl everywhere.

Ratik

Awesome, then my job is super easy. gyanl everywhere folks.

Gyan

#gyanleverywhere

Ratik

Great cool man. This is this was this was a lovely hour of conversation.

Thank you so much for being on the show and talking about your journey in design and yeah hopefully we end up, I don’t know, inspiring people in the process.

Cool, anybody who wants to reach out to Gyan you you already know how to do that, so yeah thank you.

Outro music
‣ 3005 by Childish Gambino