Your piece of cake – Design education for a girl from Jabalpur
On 07, Jul 2014 | In Internal wisdom | By adminrezonant
Shivanee Harshey / Visual Thinker / Intern 2014 / MIT Pune
Well, why should we talk about where I come from? Let’s begin right now.
If you’re a 20 something reading this article on a design website, clap for yourself, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’re exposed to this. Because I wasn’t. This is a story of my design journey so far.
Chapter 1: Small town girl and design
Jabalpur, my hometown on the banks of Narmada, is a tier 3 city. It has been the home for the biggest arms and ammunition factory, for Osho and a platform for maestros like Lt. Pt. Ravishankar. Despite the history, the children study Math-Science/Commerce and they go on to become engineers, doctors (we have a lot of those), economics grads, teachers, businessmen and the likes. You see I, like everyone else who was from so called ‘informed families’ I went to a CBSE school, Christ Church. It’s the best schooling you can get in Jabalpur, and it is the best, but we’ll come to why later.. My real introduction to the concept of innovation/creativity happened at the breakfast table. My father had gifted my mother an IKEA fruit borer. At that time I had no idea what IKEA even was and this was in 7th grade. I felt curiously baffled by a kitchen tool for the first time. “Who made that thing?”, I wondered aloud. “A designer of course, isn’t it brilliant?”, my father beamed. I nodded meekly. That was it. My perspective of creativity (which was all about getting an ‘A’ in art and craft) had gravitated elsewhere, and that’s when the next big thing happened.
Chapter 2: Decisions Decisions
So I continued school, and things were changing in my mind fundamentally as I whizzed through middle school. Suddenly I was done with 10th boards, in which I scored above 90% by the way, contrary to popular belief that creative and sporty people generally mess up their grades. Like a boss I chose to take up Bio-psychology for plus two, despite everyone including my family guessing that I would be taking Commerce/Arts, since you know… I was good at drawing and stuff. “Who knows, maybe she’ll become an artist,” they said. Lots of drama went through that decision of taking up science, and it was hard for everyone to believe that I was just challenging myself even after I had made up my mind about learning design. Let’s skip to September of 2010, when every one usually needed to know what they wanted to make of their lives…
Chapter 3: Doing my homework
While all of my friends were busy going to Akash’s and Momentum’s (the famous IIT/PMT coaching classes), what was I doing? The whole of 2010 summer, I did only two things; I went to drawing class, and to Phy-Chem class. The former because hey, what’s the point of having an idea if you can’t show it as is, to others. And the latter because…well, I would have failed otherwise. I did one more thing; I read and re-read everything there was to know about design as a career, in India and abroad. All by myself, for a couple of hours everyday, that is what I did. I kept getting lost in all the information and I kept finding my way back. Was I sure design was what I wanted to study, its authenticity as a career and a future etc.? No.
Chapter 4: Leap of faith
You can be all savvy and smart but if you don’t want to give things a second thought, you would be really stupid. Therefore, I took some shortlisting advice from my cousin (having discovered recently) who is a graduate from NID. She steered me towards the right direction. So, there I was all set to take the leap with my skeptical but supportive parents.
Chapter 5: Aptitude test
I learned this from my basketball coach, back in school. Being competitive and knowing where you stand is important. There is no ranking system in design so I took to Plan B, I applied to a bunch of Ivy League schools in the U.S. for Psychology, two of which I got shortlisted for too. Note: I had no confidence I’d get through, or any intent of really going. Anyway, Jabalpur to Amreeka for design? It was too big a leap to be able to land safely on my feet. But now I was fully prepared for design in India, therefore; NIFT, MIT, Srishti, and waitlisted at NID – not bad eh? All because I did my homework!
Chapter 6: MIT Institute Of Design
Have you ever experienced a culture shock? That was an understatement for what I saw. From the clothes people wore, how they spoke to each other, to the assignments in the classroom- it was too unprecedented! I was clueless about what to do, and this is the time I come back to why Christ Church was the best schooling. You know education begins at home, but school is where you’re tested for virtues like confidence, motivation, persistence and honesty. It was all there in the debates, elocution, the sports day even the damned chemistry practicals! Design didn’t get me to being a known person, a fest head or an inspiring senior…it was school. I could have skulked around ‘going with the flow’ but I chose to experience design head on, because by the time I reached second year I had facilitated myself to be able to harness all skills that design education had to offer.
Chapter 7: There by design
There was a bunch of 60 faculty mentors (most of who knew me and were keen to guide me), a space age technology called the internet (my one true friend), a library, the little o me and well, a metropolitan band of baboons as loving friends! Imagine your college life when you’re asked to draw straight lines, without tools for one month; vertical-diagonal-horizontal. When one person can completely love your idea and the other can discard it altogether, because it’s crap. Design isn’t easy, and your aptitude for it cannot be tested by a written exam you could take by studying books written by other people. Design is challenging, because everything you do is subjective. People are going to see it everyday. You’ll stand in a jury instead of a final exam, where you have to justify 6 months of design work to a random combination of people. You are entitled to be not just better, but different. A seemingly unfair challenge, isn’t it? I realized then, that a designer’s ability is not just to earn money by being different, but to be able to make a difference. Charles Eames said : “Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.”, and I believe that is the crux of design.
Chapter 8: Re-designing my design life
The hard reality is that tomorrow if I try explaining to my friend’s parents living in Jabalpur what I did for a living (and I have tried), I will have to endure them asking me if I’m a ‘shaadi card designer’ or a ‘fashion designer’, before it even gets remotely close to what design is, does. But honestly, how much did I know either, in the beginning? Therefore, I decided to sacrifice my summer breaks to go get a taste of what it’s really like to be a part of the design community. I went to Bangalore (popularly known as the Silicon Valley of India) and interned at various firms for 3 consecutive years (this being my 3rd). I consistently experienced completely different genres of design work; branding solutions, user-experience design, illustrations and way finding etc. and now I’m writing an article! More than those things I got educated about life skills like observation and process of work, ethics of design, team work, fitting yourself in an environment, adhering to deadlines, and what not. None of this was a part of my design schooling. Note: It’s important to know that you’re behind, to be able to convince yourself to make sacrifices that get you ahead.
Chapter 9: Muhammad must go to the mountain
This is an overused saying but it is the most essential part of design education; seeking problems, taking the first step knowing that it is the hardest. Design school will teach you how to solve, it will not teach you what to solve, and making that effort to keep searching for the right opportunities is the endless struggle in design. So, all this to say… Be different, be daring, be innovative, be a designer! Because you can and because design will change your life? The answer is no. You will never know which part of education influences your life the most and at what point, maybe it was a good thing, being lost and judged and to be from Jabalpur, and maybe that’s why it was more important for me to choose the ‘road not taken’.
Chapter 10: My piece of cake
I feel lucky I educated myself further through design, I feel empowered. I have found what I love and this is probably the best way I can put the contribution design has made so far to my life, factually and philosophically; It’s our choices, that truly show what we are capable of… Far more than our abilities. P.S. – Find what you love, and let it kill you. – Bukowski