The Timeless Tale of Design Fundamentals with Tanisha Arora
Our fourth episode of "designwise" is an honest, raw, and real conversation with Tanisha Arora. She is a Senior Creative Strategist at "Purpose, a creative agency, and a social movement incubator". Tanisha designs strategies for under-represented voices and speaks with us about the emerging dynamic of design campaigns and their social and cultural impact. Tune in to hear the untold story of reassessing purpose and the timeless tale of adaptations in her career keeping the fundamentals of design intact. Let's Listen!
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Even during all these transitions in my career, I always kept my fundamentals in a place like there were some things that I would never change. I would never change my approach to working. My output would change. So I would probably be designing a jewelry store, you know, I would be designing a retail store, a window display to eventually designing experiential events, all of it. The output was different, but my approach always remained the same.
— Tanisha Arora
Designers have the natural ability to flip the perspective around problems from obstacles to opportunities, which makes challenges more exciting and proves to be a motivation to improve and grow. Still, career transition is a risk that very few designers make. In "The Timeless Tale of Design Fundamentals" Tanisha tells us about the risks involved when designers choose to change their area of specialization and how that change helps to grow as a designer while also contributing to our personal growth. She also adds that tools can be learned "don't wait" adopt new ideas and new ways to challenge the creative in you and go be that change. Try, process, and believe in yourself while keeping the same fundamentals of design in place.
Priyanka: Welcome to QED42's podcast Designwise. I'm your host Priyanka Jeph and I am a design writer at QED42. This is the fourth episode of the podcast and our guest today Tanisha Arora is a Senior Creative strategist at Purpose. Tanisha started her career as a Jewellery Designer with Farah Khan and moved on to do installation art, window displays, and visual merchandising. She has also done art direction, devised Creative strategies for businesses, Experiential marketing, Researched customer journies, and designed for User experience. This episode is focused on Tanisha's very inspirational career journey including a very interesting trip to Antarctica. Let's hear what she has to say to us about the risks involved when designers choose to change their area of specialization and how that change helps to grow as a designer while also contributing to our personal growth. Hi, Tanisha Welcome to the podcast. How are you?
Tanisha: Hi. I'm doing well. How are you?
Priyanka: I am good. You have had a very fascinating career journey and no journey like this is complete without struggle and inspiration along the way. So, What is your story? The story of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them at each phase of change?
Tanisha: Thank you so much for this lovely introduction. But yes, I would love to share the story of my career transitions that have happened over the years. As you know, when we were in college together in NIFT, I was specializing in jewelry design and that's what I did for the four years when I was there, and post that I basically got an internship with Farah khan, fine jewelry. And I continued to pursue this journey and this profession for another two and a half years while I was with Farah, but yeah, you know, I think throughout college as well as during my time at Farah khan, I, I think I kept questioning whether this is the right thing for me because I don't think my job ever fully made me happy. I just felt like there was probably something else for me. Maybe I'm at the wrong place. And I did continue for two and a half years with Farah khan did that, but then kept questioning. And then that's what I did. At that point. I started, you know, maybe it's time to start exploring different occupations. And I started applying to different companies and different colleges because I was like, maybe education could give me some more direction. So that's what I did. I started applying for colleges. And at some point, I think I realized that even though I have dedicated six years of my life to jewelry, I have to at this point cut off and explore what I actually want to do. And I think, like me, a lot of people felt that at different phases of their careers that maybe this is not it and they should explore something else. So at that point, I was I was working still with Farah and I was doing window displays for a store. And I realized, though, that I absolutely love doing retail spaces and and I love doing art installation. So that's something that made me realize that maybe that's something that I should explore in the future. But while I was doing that as well, I was applying to different colleges. I had been applying for almost a year while still working, and I managed to get admission to a called college. London College of Fashion. It's under the umbrella of the University of Arts. And for me, it was always like a dream to study and do my master's in another country. And that was a dream only because it's the most expensive thing to do. And I personally did not have the funds to fund my education and do my master's. So what I did was that I constantly applied for scholarships or at least in different colleges and different places. But I finally landed getting Tara Nirula Scholarship. It's something that is given to one girl in India to go and pursue their master's degree. And I was just absolutely fortunate and I guess lucky to get that scholarship. And that sort of allowed me to travel to London to finish my master's degree there. And it was an interesting experience that was a different phase of my life because I had left behind jewelry and I was doing my master's in the Fashion business and understanding strategy, understanding business. It's a completely new facet and experience because it it's very different from design, right. Because you're specializing in the thing that's so different from what you're usually used to doing. And I feel like all designers should understand that side of things, too. Like how does the business work and how does the strategy work? Because it's just sometimes not enough to know design. And that that opportunity almost gave me, you know, opened up this avenue when I was studying there. I was also exploring the streets of London, which are so rich in beautiful window displays you have Selfridges there, you have all the inspiration under one roof for a retail space designer. And it sort of solidified my belief then I was in London that maybe I should pursue retail design. Maybe that's something I would love. And I kept doing that. I did like a side project in London where I did a window display on Oxford Street and alongside. I also took up a side job because London is the most expensive city in the world. And to survive in London, you need to get a job, essentially. And so I worked as a bartender alongside. I went to college, I did projects, but I also worked as a bartender and, you know, just surviving the London poverty that they say. So that was my place in London. Soon after that, I came back to India. It was pretty clear that this is this is what I want to do. And I started applying. I got a job in Bangalore and I moved to Bangalore that where I worked with restore design. I worked for almost four years. They're just designing retail space strategies to visual merchandising, to storytelling, to art installations, everything that was. I thought that that's what I would love to do. I got the opportunity to learn that. But most importantly, those four years in Bangalore, it really, really taught me how to work with vendors and how to work with clients. And it's a whole new skill set in itself, right? Like just people management and working with different types of people in the industry. So that was exciting and that was an incredible experience in my life. So that was that was Bangalore for me. I did that for four years. I later moved back to Bombay and instead of doing retail design, I started exploring event design, a very similar profile. But I was just doing more experience design for brands rather than retail stores. And yeah, I mean, it was it was a great job. I was working with a company called seventy EMG where I was designing for the biggest brands such as BMW, Facebook, Nissan, like all the automobile brands, to you know the best brands that you can. And that's what I did, that that was the last job before I moved to Purpose. And I talk about that a little later. But that's been my transformative journey over the last few years.
Priyanka: This is incredible and What i love the most about what you told us is the transition you endured. It's not easy, it's hard right. So, What kept you going during these transitions and do the fundamentals of design change with each transition?
Tanisha: I think I think the hardest one was when I had to move from Farah khan to basically change from jewelry to any other industry because that's the first time you're doing it. And I don't think when you're doing it for the first time, it's not like you're questioning everything. Oh, my God, I've invested six years of my life in jewelry. Will I ever be able to get that amount of experience in any other industry and how hard it would be? So it's really like scary the first time. But when I did it the first time and I realized that I can adapt or into another profile profession and just keep my fundamentals in place, it works beautifully because it is definitely uncomfortable, because you're new to a lot of things that you don't know. So you have to learn a lot. You have to skill up a lot. And but besides that, I that was the first time I realized that it's OK to make that transition. And if your fundamentals are in place, you can mold yourself into a new environment. So for me, I think if I can explain five things, even during all these transitions in my career, I always kept my fundamentals in a place like there were some things that I would never change. I would never change my approach to working. My output would change. So I would probably be designing a jewelry Piece to, you know, I would be designing a retail store, a window display to eventually designing experiential events, all of it. The output was different, but my approach always remained the same. And I mean, if I have to explain what my approach is, I would probably break it down into five pieces. I think the first thing would be that I always, always push myself to think out of the box and think of the craziest ideas as possible. And then you can basically apply that anywhere, whether it's jewelry or space design or like experiences. Just if you can think out of the box, you can apply that anywhere. So it's really important to be bold and brave and not stop yourself there. The other thing would be over the years that I developed was the art of storytelling. I think it's the most powerful tool for telling your stories, telling your audience stories, and making it very relatable to the audience. Right. Tools such as like, you know or you don't illustrator or you don't know the software. That doesn't matter. You can learn that. You can skill up. But these are skills. This is the most beautiful skill. I think if you can learn how to do stories, you can grow in so many different ways in any design industry that you're in. And yeah, another thing would be like I always made sure that I would learn to put myself in the viewer's shoes. So if I make a piece of work, I always want to think about how is the audience perceiving this or how is the audience interpreting it or experiencing it? So these are very important things because you may have a lot of context as a designer when you're making a piece, but the audience may not have that much context. So it's very, very important to always have that filter at the end where you explore that, OK, is it coming across as strongly as you believe it does? So, yeah, that's very, very important. I think the last two points for me are one is that I always, always keep your voice up. Voice your thoughts. I've seen a lot of designers who shy away from saying what they need to do, and that's necessarily not a great way or because it's very, very important to speak up, so to speak out your thoughts, your opinions on design in general and I think the last one would be drawing boundaries, I think over the last ten years I've realized one thing is to learn to maintain your work-life balance. you know As designers, it's extremely hard to cut off from you know your piece of work that you're so, like in love with and you're making it. But it's also important to learn to cut off and like do something else by the end of your day, go for a run, go ride go do something. But like, learn to maintain that point of cut off even when you're working, no matter what job you're working, whether you hate it or love it, just learn to cut off and maintain a good work-life balance. So these are the couple of fundamentals that I keep and that never changes. But my output may change depending on where I am, which company I'm working for. Sorry, that's a very long answer. So that
Priyanka: That was brilliant and this certainly will reach out to a wider audience because what you said was not confined to one particular design specialization it covered to process for most and will inspire and speak to most designers. This also says that risks are there but if you want to move from one specialization to another "DO IT" don't let the tools and other challenges scare you because if your fundamentals are in place and your design process has clarity "you got this". So right now you are working with "Purpose" which is a global social impact organization" as their creative strategist what are your roles and responsibilities.
Tanisha: Yeah. So just a brief introduction to Purpose before I get into what I exactly do. So we are a global social impact organization. We have been in India for since 2015 and we work on various issues from air pollution to mobility, renewable energy to gender, as well as sexual and reproductive rights issues across the country. And what truly makes us different from other design agencies or other organizations is that we truly focus on social impact projects. So we're working with you know different NGOs, foundations, different brands, but we are only working with people who truly want to make a change and create an impact because that's one of our really, really important filters in terms of the kind of people we work with. And yeah, so we are just like a bunch of these incredibly amazing campaigners, strategists, creators, idealists all from all corners of the globe who are just working towards this one mission to make the world a more open, just habitable place. Right. So that's that's truly what we are all working towards. So this is what purpose is all about. What I do at purpose is that I work as a senior creative strategist and essentially I creatively lead on different projects. And like I mentioned about my past, where I've transitioned from many different professions, it's been like in phases of my life. but at purpose, I feel like I'm transitioning my profession every few hours, literally. I mean, it's literally funny because I almost work on three or four different projects at the time. And on one project I'll be probably designing the user journey and interface design of a website. And on the other project, I'll be conceptualizing and curating an activity such as street art or installation art. And I will be like figuring out, OK, who are the right kind of artists to bring on board? What is the bigger vision that we need to achieve, guiding them, working with them to make it happen? At the same time, there are projects where I'm simply making like graphics for social media posts, so there is no small job or big job. Your everything is so important and everything is everything has a purpose to it. It may be a drop in the ocean, but it's it's always contributing towards making an impact. So, yeah, that's what I do. I like doing different roles every few hours and I'm transitioning every day. So it's a very multidisciplinary kind of profile that I have here.
Priyanka: Well, You have invested your time in learning so many new things that handling multiple responsibilities at one time is definitely one of your many strengths. So, moving on How does design or the process of design contribute to a social cause?
Tanisha: And it's really important, right today, you know, you have this whole social sector who is working towards creating change, but now they are realizing how design can make that communication stronger, how it can make the story stronger. So there's this whole realization of how important design can be to make an impact happen. So keeping that in mind, that's what we do. So, for example, giving you one quick example of a project that I'm doing in Bangalore, it's called Bangalore Moving, where we are trying to make or reduce you know pollution and traffic congestion. And we are doing that by making cycling and walking more popular and a more preferred means of transportation and how we are doing that. Is that a very simple example? I can give you that we're working with a bunch of 15 artists, street artists who are doing graffitis across the wall. And and with that, they used art as a medium to uplift the streets of Bangalore. And when you do that, like when you're using art as a medium to uplift streets, you're naturally making it more pedestrian-friendly and cycling-friendly and more approachable and more safe. So that's how we're using art and design to sort of inform our work in the social sector. That's one example of how we do it. But as a as a creative strategy here, I am working with a different type of people and working with artists, musicians, designers, filmmakers, whatever it takes to package the messaging in the most powerful way. So design essentially helps you to do that. It makes it more powerful.
Priyanka: That's Interesting and what are other projects that you have handled at the purpose and how does it feel when you see people experiencing the impact of your designs?
Tanisha: I feel like especially this Bangalore project has been so beautiful because even when it's it's ongoing and it's going to be ending on 15th April, but it's an ongoing activity on the ground. And it's not just impacted in digital numbers that we can capture, but the impact on the ground is beautiful because, you know, you're seeing a lot of the community welcoming these artists and they like, you know, welcoming them home, feeding them. It's like beautiful to see how the communities are realizing the importance of art and design to uplift spaces and how that can sort of make it more or, you know, or walkable and pedestrian-friendly. And we are we're basically this is one example. And another example would be that we recently did an art installation in Bombay, which was which is called a glass station, Mumbai 2.0. It's it's this beautiful piece that's been made by one of our artists. Tyrel And that that art installation essentially captures how, you know, flooding how like, you know, cutting down trees and all these things are just going to add to the flooding and the problem of flooding in Bombay. If you think about it, Bombay is one place which where flooding has happened constantly, like it's been happening year over year. And there needs to be more action that has to take place by the citizens, by the government, by everybody together, collectively, where we need to take action to stop that from happening and we used design. We use art installation. We use different ways to make people realize that, you know, so we created an art installation in collaboration with the "Kala Ghoda" Festival. That's one of the biggest festivals in India, in fact, in terms of art and culture. And we worked with them to curate this piece and the smallest little things, you know, you the other day we saw that a mother and her children were actually standing next to that art installation and she was educating her kids about how you need to plant trees to avoid flooding and how the city needs to be protected. And that in itself is like an achievement. Try to put a piece of art out in the public and it's being acknowledged by the public and it's being like, you know, a constant reminder of what needs to be done and the global action that we need to take.
Priyanka: I am glad that you could share more about your work with us. Work that Involves diverse participants and stimulates change while also collaborating with various communities. So, as we end with a very intriguing conversation I have one final question for you. You probably have a lot of stories to tell from your career journey, which one would you deem as the most special, inspirational, and close to you?
Tanisha: Ya So here is the thing like I, I found out about. Sir Robert Swan, he's he's the person who leads this expedition. I saw his ted talk. It's one of the most inspiring ted talks I've seen in my life. It's highly incredible. And everyone must go watch that ted talk because it's really good. And I saw that I think in 2011, maybe like back in the day when it was launched. And I was so inspired by him and I knew someone who was planning to go for the expedition and they were working in that sector. So that person was working with the renewable energy sector. So it just like it made sense. But like as a designer, I would always say that, oh, why would they take me? I am not the right fit for this. So like five years went by and I kept thinking that, oh, no, they will never take me because I'm a designer. Right. But what I did is this one year I decided, OK, you know what? I'm just going to try it, because the fact that I got my scholarship to study in London sort of made me change my approach to life. I started thinking that if I try, then it's at least I gave it my hundred percent. I may not get it. It's all right. But I always wanted to try. So I ended up applying for it and I actually got accepted to be on the ship. And I was just amazed. And I was I was supposed to be the only designer on board at that point. And this was 2017 when. It was it was very interesting because I got accepted for the expedition in November 2017. And and I think by December 2017, we had like the demonetization and everybody was like nobody wanted to part with their money. Like everybody was so possessive. I like um the biggest point there was that I had to raise funds, i had to raise funds, I had to raise ten lacs rupees to make it happen and go on this expedition. And that was the part that was the most challenging. Right. So the demonetization happened and it was the hardest time to actually ever raise funds for anything. And I basically put up a fundraiser website. I approached 60 brands from my network. I got rejected by most of them. But then I got Farah Khan Fine Jewelry, as well as Pepe jeans London, who agreed to sponsor me three lacs each. And yeah, so they they agreed to fund me. And in a time where India was in a difficult time. Right. It was demonetization. And so they actually backed me, believed in me, supported me. And after that, I could raise some funds from crowdfunding. I broke some of my own savings and and that more than Antarctica. I think it was that whole experience of getting there, like raising funds, believing in myself, and actually trying and applying for that expedition. So that was the biggest learning part. But I think Antarctica in itself is beautiful. It was the best experience of my life. And it was also a transition point for me because after I came back from Antarctica, I realized that I had started questioning what I was doing in design as well, because I kept thinking, OK, I am designing for brands, but I'm feeding into consumerism. And is this it, can I do something better with my skill set of design, and that's how this whole expedition actually was a turning point for me, but I started questioning. I didn't transition immediately, but eventually, I found this job at purpose, which lets me do that like it lets me do meaningful, impactful work with design as a skill set. So yeah!
Priyanka: There hasn't been a part of this conversation where I haven't said to myself "Wow" there is a lot to learn in here and the Antarctica experience inspired through ted talk by Robert Swan is like a powerful message to believe in yourself and try! Thank you, Tanisha, We are really glad that you agreed to record with us on "Designwise"
Tanisha: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me on and good luck with your podcast.
Priyanka: So, that was the conversation with Tanisha Arora Opening up to us about the basic fundamentals of the design process and her experiences of a very bright and true-to-life kind of a career journey. Thank you for listening to us this is Priyanka jeph in designwise from QED42.