Another Sunday and I am proud to present another Inquisitive Interview for this week. Usually though I try to get the interview on a single person. This week however we have 2 brothers at the interview together. I did think of splitting it, but somehow reading it over and over I thought I enjoyed it as being read together. Both are friends I have made in Dubai and I should tell you that I am more than happy to have got in touch with them for the interview. Right through to the end of the interview there are links to their blogs and personal and professional websites which do carry some really interesting posts in them, they are definitely worth a read as well. Witty, creative and awesomely interesting with the conversations, this is a must read even if you have been skipping on the previous interviews.
For the uninitiated, Inquisitive Interviews, the feature was born out of the requests by some of the students who read this blog, requesting information regarding careers. And with a view to help them make a better choice, I have started to feature various careers from different people, starting with people I know and hoping to slowly reach many different people. The Inquisitive Interviews feature would not only help the students reading the interview but also the interviewees providing them with some Online PR of sorts, the benefits of which I mentioned in another post earlier.
[Q] Tell Us something about yourself (Things like Name, how many years you have been working and anything else you would like to add.)
Vishal: I’m Vishal Bharadwaj, but not that famous guy who makes those movies. I’ve been working since 2003 when I finally wrenched myself away from the clutches of Academia with most of my vital organs intact.
Samir: I’m Samir Bharadwaj, and I’m Vishal Bharadawaj’s brother. No, not the famous guy, the lesser know Academia wrestler. It’s sometimes difficult to make the distinction between when I wasn’t working and when I was, but I’d say since 1998 or so in various freelance capacities.
[Q] What do you Do for a living and Where ?
Vishal: I’m a graphic designer, mostly web & identity design, with a healthy side of illustration. I work from home, which means that, yes, I do not have to dress up and go to work. Pants, in fact, are optional.
Samir: Graphic Design is the official version of what I do, but it does vary from web design to more traditional print design, to illustration and even writing when the need arises. Generally, design covers all of it. I also wear pants, most of the time. I leave the well ventilated artistry to my esteemed colleague.
[Q] Is the job what you had expected it to be ?
Vishal: This is a hard question to answer since I rarely think of it as a job, more a craft that I sometimes use to make me money. I could say yes, because the kind of actual work I do and the skillset I bring to it is entirely what I envisioned using my brain & hands for. I could say no, because (at least initially) I thought I’d be doing the majority of my creative work for other people in a strict client-designer setup, rather than today, where most of the truly creative work I do is for myself, and the client work is just what pays the bills.
Samir: There’s an initial idealism which comes with getting into any field of work, especially in creative fields, when you imagine you will have the complete freedom to do what you want and produce the best work. You imagine you will not need to compromise with clients and other human creatures who don’t always know better but still have a say. Thankfully, I didn’t really have that phase of idealism, because I had my first client experience almost before I was doing any major projects for learning. It’s a useful lesson to learn. However, I’ve gained my idealism at a later date to make up, and am now more selective about what and who I will work with. It’s a choice to be made, to either do what you imagine doing or do what is required. What is required is always far from ideal, but it is easier.
[Q] Is the salary what you had expected it to be ?
Vishal: There’s a SALARY? Samir, you never told me!
Samir: I neither confirm nor deny the existence of a salary! Unless I’m asked by the authorities, in which case I’m paying myself handsomely and have a wonderful boss. Vishal is a CEO, you know? This is why he makes the big sacrifices. I get to pretend to have a bigger salary than he does, so that I feel wanted and nurtured by our design studio, Primordial Soop.
On a more serious note, being your own boss and being in a creative field without a “steady salary” is not for the light-hearted, or for the smart-phone-laden. Freedom comes at a price, especially as you try to build things up from scratch, and that price is often in the form of living a monkish existence. You sometimes even come to prefer it in some ways.
[Q] What is your average day like ?
Vishal: This is the part that sounds enviable; I wake up pretty-much whenever I want (unless I need to be somewhere, say a client meeting), and spend the better part of an hour sitting in front of a computer screen slowly caffeinating myself, and revving up my brain with idle tasks like twitter & checking mail. Then it’s onto the tasks at hand, be it client work or personal projects. Somewhere between then and 4am the next day some actual work may be done, as well as the rest of daily life. The downside of working for yourself is you often do not know when to quit, and concepts like ‘weekends’ and ‘quitting time’ become far-forgotten things. Honestly, if you asked me what day it is today, I’d have to look it up.
Samir: I concur with Vishal on all the above. Except for the caffeinating myself thing. I prefer using a slideshow of kitten images. When I can’t take it anymore, I force myself to work. Sometimes it works. Sometimes the kittens win.
Working for yourself can often mean doing everything for yourself, and this can be a huge variety of tasks from administrative paper work to making invoices, communicating with clients and doing the actual work you get paid for. All of these things are very different and require different schedules and mental disciples, so the days vary depending on the tasks at hand. But invariably, design today involves a lot of computer time, and pacing while you try to figure out an idea.
[Q] What’s the most interesting part of your job ?
Vishal: The design itself, and certainly in the broad ways we define it there’s enough to keep our interest. In a regular job the term ‘graphic design’ means something very narrow and is increasingly fragmented (identity, UX, UI, etc etc), but since it’s just me & Samir — and we like to work on everything — our job involves thinking of everything from aesthetics to technical aspects of, say, putting a website up, mucking about with HTML & CSS, choosing a proper light source when doing an ink drawing, user experience, getting a magazine to offset print correctly, making music for an animation, and so on. It’s the variety that truly keeps me going: in a single day, on a single project, I can and must bring several skills into play.
Samir: Yes, I agree, the variety is the most interesting part. Having said that, there is also a certain sharp focus that happens when you work for long on one aspect of a project, especially things like HTML/CSS coding or a series of illustrations, when you really get into the flow and issues get tackled with a natural comfort. Those are good moments too.
[Q] What’s the most challenging part of your job ?
Vishal: Deciding on what to do next. It isn’t so much a matter of ‘time management’ as seeing the big picture with regards to both the projects at hand & other projects down the road, and what you need to do now to make your life easier then. It takes a month to make a website from scratch, more if that site is for yourself and you need to create content too. Motion graphics take a lot of planning. And then there’s keeping your skills up, educating yourself in new techniques & technologies, and honing your skills with things like illustration — practice, practice, practice. It’s easy to neglect one or more aspects of your life and discover to your horror that you haven’t drawn anything for six months.
Samir: The balance between doing, dreaming and planning. These are all essential to our kind of work and to most visual and creative fields. Cutting out any one of the three will hamper your success, but the entangled nature of the three aspects of the work mean that it’s very difficult to consider them all and never get anything done. Keeping on track and on time is always challenging when there isn’t someone telling you exactly what to do every single hour of every single day. Add to that the fact that things can never be perfectly predicted, with each project being unique, and you have a lot of uncertainty that requires plenty of thinking on your toes.
[Q] What’s the part of the job that you don’t like ?
Vishal: Education. I don’t mean school or college, but the inherent gap — especially in this market — between what you’re offering a client and what they think they’re getting. It’s fair to say that most clients we’ve encountered don’t have a proper understanding of how graphic design or the internet works, how they can use it as a business tool, and ultimately how much they’re willing to pay for it. Let’s put it this way: if you think you want a website for your business ‘just because everyone has one’ that is the worst reason, and chances are the price we ask for the project is going to make you scream. We’re expensive, but not if you know what you’re getting and how to use it to make your business money.
Samir: As Vishal mentions, getting people to understand what they are getting is a big stumbling block. And there is also the issue of clients behaving as if they are buying a commodity. A service is not a product that can be bought per-kilo, or based on how many pieces there are. Designers charge based on time, effort, and often simply based on what the service is worth to the end-user. We’re constantly getting clients who want to get a break-up of what we are charging for each part of our service, and frankly that is usually a dead-end mode of thinking as far as we are concerned. You don’t buy a car based on how many kilos of steel there are in it, and we can’t really make a logo for you based on that measure either.
[Q] Do you get bored at your workplace at all ?
Vishal: Frequently. Not the actual physical desk, but certainly Dubai. All creative jobs require constant stimulation — it’s the fuel that runs your idea engine — and all the tall buildings and malls, or even browsing every design website in the world, is not a substitute for being plunged into someplace that keeps your interest.
Samir: Ditto. Garbage in, garbage out.
[Q] Do you report to someone ? How much of an impact the person you report to has on your job ?
Vishal: I report to Samir, and Samir reports to me. We’re constantly communicating on the work we’re doing, be it client or personal. We either work together on a project or apart, and it’s pretty fluid as to how much we look to each other. In the initial stages of a design we tend to work alone on ideas each may have, and consult each other when there’s a first draft. By the end of a project we may be working together at the same station squashing bugs and fixing graphics, working through a checklist. It’s good to have someone right across the room I can call over for an opinion, a set of fresh eyes.
Samir: Nothing much to add to that, except that my boss is always drinking at work, coffee that is. Also, I don’t see why he gets to have the larger imaginary car.
[Q] Do you use all the skills that you learnt in school / college ? or where did you pick up the skills ?
Vishal: My course was focused more on software than design theory, and in the initial few years it certainly helped just to get things done. Were I looking for a regular job, the skills may have gotten me in the door. But software goes out of date, design trends change, new technologies are introduced. The way we make a website today is almost completely different to the way I was taught, and this has been a gradual change over the years as new tech is introduced & assimilated into my workflow. My aesthetic sense has been honed by thousands of hours of looking at better work, seeing what I like, trying to emulate it, failing, trying again, failing better, and eventually making some leaps that lead to good, creative work.
Samir: Education can help but only to a point. I found that almost everything I actually use I learnt by reading and exploring things myself. I had no training in web design or HTML, but I taught myself as I was working on freelance web design projects. Ultimately, doing something for actual use is the best teacher. No amount of dummy projects and practice sessions can help. If you want to learn how to do something, do it. Where education can help is in putting you in touch with a variety of people (hopefully), with varying thoughts on the subject. The rest is up to you.
[Q] Whats your Alumni ? Where did you study ??
Vishal: Indian School Muscat, mostly. I spent a few months in Our Own English High School Dubai. I got my O-Levels from Grammar School Dubai.
Samir: Indian School Muscat was my school for almost all my schooling years.
Pre University College
Vishal: I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree. I got a diploma in graphic design from a college in England (I did the course in Dubai) that I literally do not remember the name of off the top of my head. It was a piece of paper. I think it has my name on it. I hope. (See what I mean about wrenching myself away from the clutches of Academia?)
Samir: I did a year long technical course in general IT, databases and such which certainly gave me a good grounding in the technical aspects of computers. Again, I can’t say what I learnt there was of any specific use, especially since Windows 95 was a revolutionary new thing when I was there, but it helped me know what to learn and what to read up on when I need to.
Samir: I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. I’ve been a fine bachelor ever since … What do you mean that’s not what it’s meant for?
Vishal: That is indeed what it’s meant for. I should add that you passed with distinction, which makes you a distinguished fine bachelor.
Samir: Study more? In a classroom? I don’t know if I’m ever going to be that bored.
Vishal: I’d rather invest the money in Victoria’s Secret futures.
[Q] Would you advice younger people to join in your industry ?
Vishal: Definitely. Even if all you’re interested in being a low-end art monkey in some ad agency, it sure beats digging coal for a living. I can complain about bad & lazy designers all I want, but the truth is it’s fun if you’ve got some creativity in your bones.
Samir: The levels you can work on vary wildly, and most people in the design field will always be doing low-end grunt work, but if you are the regular job kind of person and you can’t stand digging though spread sheets instead (I can’t promise you’ll be saved from Power Point, in fact I can guarantee you won’t), then there are a lot worse things to be doing that making layouts and editing photos and making websites. If you enjoy this sort of work, it can be extremely satisfying.
[Q] What advice would you give to someone trying to get into the industry ?
Vishal: The internet is a vast resource that rewards deep research, but is also a death trap of productivity. Stay off it & a computer as much as possible, and never give up on a piece of paper & a pencil — it’s where the best designs will be born. As long as you keep picking up new techniques/software one at a time and discarding any that are outmoded, you’ll do okay — but ultimately what software you know is secondary to your aesthetic sense & ability to put out work of a high technical proficiency.
Samir: Read a lot, look at a lot of art and movies, try to find patterns. Try to experience as much nature as you can, because if there is a design idea, whether visual or otherwise, it’s a good bet nature already thought of it before you. Feel free to steal. Always go around with a small notebook and pen (or equivalent high-tech device if you absolutely must), and write down ideas and questions that come to you. Sketch things you see. You can’t imagine what a treasure trove your notebooks can be. Always be curious. Make things.
[Q] Anything else you want to tell the readers ?
Vishal: Working for yourself is not glamorous. Graphic design only sounds cool from the outside, to other people. Like everything else, it is a serious profession and 99% of the time you’re doing dull, tedious work. The good news is you can step back once the work is done and you might have made something truly good. And if you didn’t, learn and move on. The next great idea is always around the corner.
Samir: Not only is graphic design not glamorous, but it is a lot of hard work. Even in regular jobs, office hours can often be disregarded in this profession, so beware of that. The only way to improve you experience of it is to do better work and hence get into better positions based on your talent. When in doubt, ask someone whose work you admire for advice or pointers, but be polite and understanding about their time. Beyond their mad schedules, people are usually willing to share insights or provide guidance. Listen to what they all have to say, then do only what seems exactly right for you. Experiment, experiment, experiment.
[Q] Any online resources you recommend for people taking up this profession ?
Vishal: There’s a million design resources out there, but specifically for freelancing, http://freelanceswitch.com/ is a nice portal.
Samir: This is a great talk on graphic design by a well experienced designer. It’s worth a listen: http://www.ted.com/talks/paula_scher_gets_serious.html
You can check out their Facebook profiles and other contact information below where you can get in touch with them.
Any Other Profiles?
I am sure that you guys enjoyed the Interview as much as I did when reading it, it has been an absolute pleasure working with both of you for this interview, am sure the readers really liked it. That’s it guys from the Inquisitive Interviews desk for this week, more interesting interviews coming soon, until then Be Inquisitive.