My design story

M1 • C3 • 13 MINS

How it all started

As many of you know, I'm from India. I grew up in a very conservative and middle-class family. I was always told that getting good marks and performing well in school was the only way to become successful in life. I had no idea about how the outside world worked and so I just believed what I was told.

When it was time for me to pick a career after 10th grade, I was given 4 options. I could become an Engineer, Lawyer, Chartered Accountant, or Doctor. I chose to do Chartered Accountancy because math was my favourite subject, and my Uncle was my inspiration. My Uncle is a very successful Chartered Accountant. He works in one of the largest MNCs in the world. He would travel a lot and lead a very luxurious life.

Of course, we all know that nothing comes without hard work. Working hard was a regular thing for me, given the environment in which I was brought up. Even today, I enjoy working hard.

The joy of accomplishing something huge after working very hard for it is priceless.
When I entered college and began to pursue Chartered Accountancy, I was exposed to the outside world. I was doing 100 things at a time. It was the busiest phase of my life. Attending coaching classes, studying for my exams, doing internships, learning Design on the side, making short films, and creating YouTube tutorials. But I was in my early 20s at that time. I had a lot of energy and was able to manage multiple things.

But even though I was exposed to the outside world much later, I was exposed to the world of Design somewhat earlier when I was still in school. Interestingly, I'm the only person in my entire family to work full-time in a creative field. Everyone else is a doctor, engineer, accountant, lawyer, or has a business.

I used to wonder why I was the only person fascinated by Tech and Design if no one in my family was. But today, I know I am pretty similar to most of them because their core job involved problem-solving and they loved doing what they did. In hindsight, we shared the same mindset.

My grandfather used to fix and improve the efficiency of helicopters. He was one of the smartest person at his time.

When I was still in school, I would go to my grand parent's house on the weekends to spend time with them. But most of my time would go into doing things on my grandfather's computer. At the time we had Windows XP. I loved playing games. I loved playing time management and tycoon games with a little bit of car racing now and then. I learned how to download pirated games, use torrents, and stuff.

My father never let me use the computer we had at home because he wanted me to sit in front of books all the time. And so I would always be excited to visit my grandparent's place every weekend. By the time I reached high school, I was a tech geek.

One fine day,

My school organised this career fair where my school alumni would come and talk about their professions and give career advice to our parents and us. Of all the people who came and delivered talks, the one that interested me the most was this VFX artist who worked at Disney. To me, this was insanely fascinating. He had done his master's in the US and had landed a job there. At that time, I thought that studying abroad was the only way to work in a creative field like animation. Today we all know that's not the case anymore.

Now I knew for a fact that my parents wouldn't let me go and study abroad, that too to learn animation and so, I decided to learn it as a hobby. I fell in love with this concept of creating things digitally.

I still remember today, every weekend when I would go to my grand parent's house, I would get up at 6 in the morning and sit in front of the computer till 10 at night. I would only get up from my seat to eat and have a bath. My grandmother would scold me every single time. She would always say,

'Which school kid gets up at 6 in the morning and uses the computer the whole day? Go sleep. Don't waste your time on all this. It will not help your future or career.'
But I was resilient. I would not care and would always be in front of the computer. I started learning Cinema 4D back in the day. I would watch YouTube tutorials and recreate things they taught in that tutorial. You can still see all my old motion design work on my YouTube Channel.

The spark

One day, things got very real. My friends and I were hanging out one night. We were watching a lot of funny YouTube videos. Out of nowhere, we decided to make short films and funny videos too

So we got a camera, whipped up a quick script, and shot a video. We knew nothing about video editing, film making, or sound editing. My friend had a computer at his place. We all sat down, edited the video using Windows Movie Maker, and shared it on each of our school’s Facebook groups. The videos became so popular in all our schools. Not because it was amazing. It was quite the opposite. But because we were the first ones in our schools to ever do anything like that at that time.

That just motivated us to make more and more. We decided that it was time to take things to the next level. We moved from short entertainment videos to short films. We started making movie trailers and movie posters for each movie. My friend and I would handle all the design work. I started learning After Effects and Photoshop. I just loved this creative side of me. However, I kept all of this a secret from my father, who I knew would not let me pursue that even as a hobby.

When I entered college, I became the head of the Design Team, leading a team of creatives who would handle video editing, photography, and making posters and banners for the college fest. The college allowed me to use the official college laptop since I did not own one.

I still remember the first time we played a promo video for the college fest that year. The crowd went nuts. They had never seen anything like it before. My whole mentoring journey actually started from there.

One thing I realised was that the more I taught, the better I became at what I did.
But I knew this would always remain a hobby, and I could never make it a full-time career.

And just like that, my life suddenly changed

Sometime in 2014-15 was the beginning of a new, wonderful chapter of my life. An organisation called the Young Artists Awards in the US reached out to me through a friend of mine. They were like the Oscars but for teenagers and kids. I know what you're thinking. No, I didn't get an award.

They had seen all the animations and short films, that I had posted on my YouTube Channel and they wanted me to make some videos for them. They wanted me to make 45 small videos announcing the nominations for each award category for that year's event.

I got on a Skype call with them and had a chat. This was my first time talking to someone as a freelance client from the US. At the end of the call, they asked me how much I would charge for 45 videos. Honestly, I had no idea how to give them a number. I was already grateful that they reached out to me and asked for help. I asked them to pay me as much ever they wanted. To my surprise, they said,

'Does $1,000 sound good to you?'.
I was speechless. I was a kid who was never given pocket money in school, and now someone wanted to give me $1,000. Back then, it was around 55,000Rs, which almost covered 1 year of my school fees. I agreed to it and was ready to start working.

But there was a huge problem. I didn't own a personal laptop at that time. My dad wouldn't let me use the computer at home. I didn't have time go to my grand parent's place as I was busy with classes and my internship.

How was I going to actually make these animations without a laptop? I had to figure out something because I was desperate for that $1000.

Fortunately, the company I was interning with had given me a laptop to use for my office work. I downloaded the pirated version of After Effects on it because getting an Adobe subscription was a dream back then. But, there was a tiny problem.

The problem was that the laptop wasn't powerful enough to render the complex animations I had made. It would take almost 6-7 hours to render one animation. So I now had to find a workaround.

I decided to utilise my travel time to make these animations. I would travel by cab often. I took help from 2 of my close friends who owned a good laptop. I told them that I would send the project files and all they had to do was render the animations. I had a month to pull this off.

I somehow made it happen and delivered the 45 videos. I finally had $1,000 in my bank account. It felt unreal.

The next day I bought my first-ever laptop. I went to the electronics store and asked them to give me the best laptop that was available in the market for Rs 55,000.
It was then I decided that it was time to start my YouTube journey. When my friends and I made those short films, we went by the name 'Devil Cube'. It was a random and ridiculous name we came up with. But we were just kids back then. I used the same name for my YouTube Channel and started uploading tutorials.

I started making tutorials on After Effects and Cinema 4D. At that time, my goal was to just hit 1000 subscribers. I was still attending classes and doing my internship at that time. As I said, I was doing 100 different things simultaneously.

But then, one fine day, my life changed again!

The opportunity that changed my life forever!

In 2017, Adobe came out with Adobe XD. By then, I had learnt how to use Illustrator, After Effects, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and even Audition. I wanted to add Adobe XD to that list. I researched and discovered something called UI/UX Design and understood that it had something to do with apps and websites. It was a time when only a few had heard of the term UI/UX Design, at least in India.

I spent a few weeks testing the tool and designing random screens. I was blindly doing something. When I became confident in using the tool, I decided to make the first-ever Adobe XD course on YouTube.

I was using Twitter a lot back then. I had built a decent following because I was doing freelance work and that's where I would get my clients from. Every time Adobe released a new feature, I would make a video on it and share it on Twitter. Adobe XD was still in Beta back then.

One day, Adobe XD caught wind of this and reached out to me and thanked me for making these tutorials. I became acquainted with the Senior VP of Product for Adobe XD. I got a chance to meet the product managers at the Adobe office in Bangalore. And one day, the VP of Product told me he was coming to Bangalore to attend a conference that Adobe had sponsored. It was the 2017 Design Up Conference.

They gave me a free ticket that gave me full access to the conference for 2 days. I had built such a good relationship with the Adobe XD team. I even had a private lunch with them. It was pretty cool. It was the first time in my life I was in a room with over 500 designers. The only question I had was,

‘Where the hell have all these people been hiding? Are they all designers who live and work in India? Do they all have formal education in design? How is this possible?’
It was like when Harry Potter ran into the wall at the train station to go to Hogwarts and discovered this new side of reality. It was that day that I decided I would become a Product Designer.

It was time to change my life

I no longer wanted to become a Chartered Accountant. But I was already close to finishing my bachelor's degree and CA course. I knew my parents would disapprove of my decision if I left CA in the middle without even trying to finish it.

I had decided that whether or not I cleared my CA Final exams, I would leave CA to become a Product Designer.
I spent almost 1 year learning about Product Design whenever I got time. My only free time was when traveling as I had mentioned before. Reading articles, connecting with designers, watching YouTube videos, attending meet-ups, and so many other things. I sacrificed my personal life for this. CA and Design were the only 2 things I ever cared about.

Fast forward to May 2018. CA Final Exams. One of the hardest exams in India. I had reduced the time I was spending on learning design so that I could study for my CA exams.

The CA board usually takes 2-3 months to give the results. I was expecting results in August 2018. I spent those few months catching up on everything I had missed. I also decided to return to YouTube.

The beginning of a new chapter in my life

I rebranded myself from Devil Cube to Design Pilot. A new logo, a new intro, a new brand identity. I still had 2 months of internship left to complete to get my internship certificate. And during the end of my internship, the CA results were announced.

Judgement Day was here!
I had worked my ass off for 4 years. Even though I had decided to leave CA, I wanted to clear my final exams. But unfortunately, I failed my exams.

I wasn't sure what to feel that day. Should I feel sad that I failed my exams and 4 years of slogging were just effort and time down the drain? Or should I feel happy that I can finally move on and start this brand new chapter of my life as a Product Designer?

In a way, I was sorta happy that I failed my exams. Almost felt like a message from god telling me to pursue my passion and so I decided that it was time to follow my dreams.

It's been a long time since I started my career, and it's been a great ride. A lot has happened over the past few years. Those following me for a long time know about me and my story. In fact, I even have a few interviews were I speak about my journey. Here is a link to one of the interviews.

Sometimes I wonder if it was luck or hard work that got me where I am today. The truth is that it was a combination of both. I was there in the right place and at the right time. More importantly, I had learned the right things at the right time and was prepared enough to grab and make complete use of every opportunity. Sometimes even I don't understand how everything happened.

The world needs more product designers. Actually, not product designers. It needs more industry-standard product designers, and I'm here to help you become that designer! But who defines the industry standard?