On Becoming a Designer

An Interview by Priyanka Ranu, a student from Temple University, USA

1. Why did you want to become a graphic designer?

When I was studying Computer Science as an undergrad in Seattle, I was diagnosed with a cyst on my Pituitary Gland, which affected my vision drastically. In fact, I had lost most of my eyesight by the time they diagnosed it. The subsequent brain surgery was a traumatic experience and regaining most of my vision back, made me think more about the visual world than ever before.

After considering photography, animation and graphic design I chose to pursue the latter because I found it to have more depth due to the combination of image and text.

2. How was your experience studying in New York and India and what were the similarities and differences?
In India, I only studied till the 12th grade in high school while in the US I did my BS and MFA. Since one is a school education and the other a college education its very hard to compare the two. But overall, one is exposed to more variety of fields in the US, especially during my Liberal Arts education in Seattle, than in India. I think there is a greater emphasis on questioning and critiquing in the US than in India.

3. How did you think of Ishan Khosla Firm?
I decided to start my own company, because I believed it was the only way to not limit myself and pursue the kind of work I like to do and that I find challenging. I also like to have fun at work and be able to create art or do nothing and I can only do that at my own firm.

4. What is your day like, as a graphic designer?
A very difficult question since my days vary quite a bit. I typically start the day by checking emails and returning calls. Then I assign tasks to my team members and make sure work is running on track. After that I begin working on my own design work. which is often interspersed by meetings, and work with other team members. We try to eat lunch together to share our experiences in the world outside the office.

5. What advice would you like to give to students who are pursuing Graphic design?
Be humble and always be a “student” even when you are a working professional. We can all learn from each other. Be open and share your ideas and collaborate with people with different backgrounds. Don’t find differences but similarities with other people. Contribute to the profession by enhancing its growth (and yours) in a country or place where its not understood or appreciated enough. Live design, but try to have a life outside it as well.

6. What made you move back to India and open a firm?
After working in the US for a few years, I realized that I had many disparate interests that I could only satisfy by starting my own design firm. I also like to do things by hand and experiment with materials and processes, which is easier to do if you have your own company. I decided on India because I realized that the field of graphic design in India is very nascent and that I needed to be part of the growing field and also because I sensed that India could offer me more opportunities at that stage of my life than the US, where visas and red tape were holding me back.

7. Who inspires you to design?
Nature is my biggest inspiration. I am also inspired by both “high design” and “low design”. High design for the quality and concept and low design for its simplicity and ingenuity. By high design, I mean design done by the leaders of the profession, who really have design flowing in their veins and know how to use materials and concept to create something totally new and useful. By low design, I mean people who are not trained as designers and who may not even know what design is, but with their limited means, they create something useful and yet by using few resources or reusing existing materials, produce an object that does what they exactly intended it to do.

8. Who are the other members of Ishan Khosla firm? Can you name them and how do they contribute to the designs?
We are a small company of 4 people. My team consists of Pooja, Rajeev and Suresh and me. Pooja and Rajeev are both designers. Pooja’s interests lie in type design, editorial and book design. Rajeev has a background in product design and his interests include logo design, designing shapes and symbols as well as web design. Suresh is our office manager with many skills — he can find anything for us in Delhi and understands studio lighting and photography. My role is to handle new business, client co-ordination, manage our projects and work on design. My interests lie in type appreciation; book, identity, website design and photography, and increasingly in product design.

9. Where did you live in New York and how was it moving back to New Delhi, India? Did you face any difficulties and what were the steps you took to open your firm?
I lived in many places in NYC since I was there for 5 years. I lived in Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. Although I grew up in India, I have never really worked here until I moved back. The toughest part were the initial days where I had to seek new clients and work as well as to understand how differently people do business in India than in the US. In India, relationships between clients and designers seem to be more deeper and important than in the US where the relationship is usually purely business. In India clients typically prefer face to face meetings while in the US many meetings are done over the internet or conference calls.

10.  Ishan, you are a graphic designer and a photographer. What interests you the most, graphic design or photography?
I would say I am not just a graphic designer, but a designer since I also like to design other things like products. Design is definitely what I am most passionate about and it is what makes life interesting for me. I see photography as a tool in my design work. It helps me capture ideas and share them with the world.

11.  Lastly, what are your future plans? What do you intend to do through Graphic design?
I live on a day to day, month to month basis so no real future plans apart from getting married to my beautiful girlfriend. I would like to keep my company small and focused on producing great work for interesting clients.

I hope to improve the condition of design education in India so that future designers in India can benefit from that and really fulfill their true potential, which sadly, many young designers in India aren’t able to achieve. I am also interested in getting our society more interested in design and its potential to improve lives. I am also a critic of design and I feel often times designers make things that have no real benefit and yet use up the precious resources of the planet and I would like to do my part in exposing this side of design to promote greater design responsibility.


4 thoughts on “On Becoming a Designer

Add yours

  1. Hi Ishan, I so happened to stumbled upon your blog while I trying to find articles, thesis papers, and research on design education. I find that you are doing a lot of what I have a desire to do in Uganda. This was an intriguing interview because it not only made you more personable but gave us, the readers an insight into your journey with design and move from India to the U.S and back to India. I admire your tenacious spirit in taking what you have studied and acquired abroad and being part of the young development and advancement of design in India. I want to do the same in Uganda as it’s my passion and glad to see that someone else was able to have similar aspirations and is living them out. Keep up the good work!

    1. Dear Peni, many thanks for your insight and comment. I think this is something that is universal and can be applied to various contexts. Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss this further. Good luck to you too!

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