Episode 5: Design Schooled!

In this episode we talk to Information Design student, Sanika Palsikar. We discuss how her projects, interactions and challenges have shaped her over the past four years.

Listen in:



Sanika is on Instagram as shaniqua0208

She had a exciting internship at Studio Kohl

Check out these fresh Indian designers that Sanika looks up to:

Dev Valladares 

Kritika Trehan

Shreya Vyas

Kalp Sanghvi and Vishnu Nair

International illustrators and designers who have influenced her:

Illustrators: Tom Haugomat and Marly Gallardo

Graphic Designer: Michael Bierut 

Sanika tells us to check out Chris Ware who’s got brilliant comics.

Episode Transcript

Angie: Hi, this is DesignLota, the podcast where we talk about life as Indian Designers! I’m Angie.

Sushi: And I’m Sushi.

Angie: Last week, we talked about a fun way to get out of our comfort zone, which is travelling and also all the ways travelling can make us better designers.

Sushi: This week, we’re going back to design school – which has its own way of getting us out of our comfort zones.

Angie: Yes, there’s so much opportunity to learn new things and room to experiment and make mistakes when you’re a student in design school. I always find it refreshing to talk to students of any kinds. Sushi, so who did you speak to?

Sushi: I spoke to Sanika Palsikar, a fourth year design student at Srishti, who has a passion for information arts.

Angie: That’s an interesting intersection of art, science and technology. I’d love to know how she found herself doing such projects.

Sushi: Let’s listen in, and you might get a clue!

Interview with Sanika

Sushi: Hello Sanika and welcome to the show! So can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sanika: I never know how to answer this question. Haha.

Sushi: So here is what we know about you…you are a fourth year Information Arts student and you study in Srishti Institute of Art Design and Technology…is there any other crucial piece of information? 🙂

Sanika: I’m not as bad as I look? The general designer things…I draw, I listen to weird music, I have a terrible sense of humour.

Sushi: Now here’s a question you cannot escape. And I’m sure all your friends, aunties and uncles ask you this all the time! How did you decide to pursue a career in Design?

Sanika: I always knew that I wasn’t made for equations and spreadsheets. I had issues with a lot of things around social, political and educational sectors and what better do designers do that find problems and resolve them creatively (if they can). So, I gave myself two options after 12th Humanities, either get into a design school or my backup is to join politics. I have always always wanted to make a change and when the field of design came up as a topic, I said, why not? Designer by the day and a politician as a moonlighter – if that were ever possible to do. But that’s the dream!

Sushi: That’s great! I don’t really know any politicians in design, do you? Writers, Actors, they all get into politics…it’s high time designers had a rep, right?  Also you mentioned that you wanted to make a change…I think as a politician, you’d certainly be in a position to exercise some power.

Sushi: By the way, how did you know that you wanted to specialise in Information Design?

Sanika: I was extremely interested – I still am- in fashion communication. If you asked me 3 years ago what I wanted to become I’d have probably said  “The editor of Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue, or any big fashion magazine”. But things changed after I came to Srishti.  

Sushi: Srishti sucked the glam out of you?

Sanika: Haha. Not really. I came to Srishti, thinking I was gonna study Visual Communication (known as VC). But the way it works here is that VC has been given the technical and formal graphic design subjects like typography, layouts, image making and so on and so forth. It also works with branding and advertising and all these things that are commercially charged. Information arts is a newer application of graphic design. It is more socially rooted and sensitive to issues. I am extremely interested in education design since it really needs reform in our country. This led me to choosing Information Arts over VC although I was a hardcore VC student till second year.

Sushi: I think every designer tends to want their work to be viewed as “less commercial” and this is an important mindset to have when you really want to do some honest work…in your case, does this mean you plan to work largely with Social enterprises?

Yes. I do want to work with issues that are in the social realm but I feel the audience that really needs it never gets the message. I am still working on moving beyond my prejudices and privileged line of thought and trying to see how I can make something worthwhile, because let’s face it, we are in a consumerist economy, and if you have to feed people, you might as well feed them something worthwhile.

Sushi: So what are you currently working on?

Sanika: My current project is about the beauty in the urban landscape. There is a great amount of gap in the definition of nature and our perception of nature and our perception of it. Honestly, if you had to imagine a natural landscape, would you move beyond two mountains, a river and a sunset? It’s a very typical representation. We are still distant to nature because we treat it as an exotic entity that is not accessible to all and has to be kept in pristine conditions and the only way we have come “closer” to it is through mimicking it in our urban environments- we plant trees but we don’t know what they are, we have public parks but children aren’t allowed to trample the lawn. So I’m exploring if we can move beyond this engagement with the landscape.

Sushi: Like how its kinda turning into a trend now to fill your house with plants…

Sanika: Exactly! Ornamentation is one of the factors I’ll be looking at. People like to have something picturesque within an instagram frame, but that’s about it.

Sushi: Where do you like to see your work applied?

Sanika: I strongly believe in fitting my work in systems and not just apart from it such that it remains “some stuff”. I’d like to see my work applied in educational realms, print media, games, stationery and archiving.

Sushi: And what’s currently in your Design toolbox?

Sanika: I keep having phases with my tools, and find it difficult to commit to a single one. I currently am using a lot of brush pens, pencils, pen…

Sushi: Does it come naturally to you? To be confident with drawing?

Sanika: That’s what led me to start using pens in the first place. My biggest challenge is to have confident lines. It really shows on paper what you feel when you draw. And it doesn’t come easily…it needs practice and discipline.

Sushi: How about software? Do you like software?

Sanika: I actually started out using software in college before I switched back to drawing on paper. I keep switching between Illustrator, Photoshop and Indesign. I think my biggest challenge is learning After Effects. It enables you to make really seamless GIFS. I love that software with whatever knowledge I have of it but somehow animation doesn’t come to me so easily so I tend to get confused.

Sushi: I too experience that with software, and I can totally relate!

You must have done an internship last year, right? Would you like to tell us about it?

Sanika: It was one of the best experiences ever. I learned so much from my boss. It’s rare to find studios that really resonate with my work. As I mentioned earlier, I’m really interested in social issues, and so is Studio Kohl, where I interned. When I left that place, I left as a changed person. I learned to do the most basic things like organisation of files, and to fix the tiny mistakes in my artwork and layouts. Everything just got really polished. I had a lot of encouragement and guidance that has definitely influenced my design thinking.
Sushi: What is something you like to do when you are not buried in design projects? You mentioned you like to collect bus tickets and match boxes…

Sanika: Yes. I read a lot of books and articles, in addition to the project requirements. I like reading comics and looking at cat videos. I’m a major hoarder. I love collecting things that have value or a story to tell, like matchboxes, bus tickets and fake currency. I have collected bus tickets from my internship that have documented my journeys to and fro. I’ve even had exchange students give me train tickets that are not from India. It’s fun and I feel that collecting these things do have an effect on my personal practise.  

Sushi: I’m sure it’ll all build up to something grander.

Sanika: Hopefully! That’s the plan…
Sushi: As a design student, going to a design college, you are surrounded by people who breathe, sleep, probably even eat design. Who have been some design gurus who really shaped you in terms of personal style or work ethic?

Sanika: I feel like most of my learning comes from my peers. They are a varied bunch of people. It’s really great to surround yourself with people who have similarities to you but the differences influence you in a positive way.  Apart from that, my college seniors- Dev Valladares, Kritika Trehan, Shreya Vyas – these are the people who according to me are extremely prolific in their work.

Mira Malhotra – my boss at Studio Kohl – She is so versatile in her work that it’s hard to imagine how one person can be good at so many things.

I also follow some Indian illustrators and animators like Kalp Sanghvi and Vishnu Nair.

Internationally, Tom Haugomat, Marly Gallardo (illustrators), Michael Beirut (graphic designer) and Chris Ware (comic artist) are people who I look up to.
Sushi: Do you believe you have found a personal style yet?

Sanika: I do believe in having a personal style but I feel I haven’t yet found mine. A lot of my work is in different styles, so they seem disconnected, which I feel is also okay because once you’ve developed a style you sort of get confined to it. I feel like I’m just not ready for that sort of commitment yet.
Sushi: I’m sure you’ll keep developing your style and it’ll get refined and start to reflect who you are. For all the foundation students listening, and all the future design students, what is the one piece of gyaan (wisdom) you would like to give?

Sanika: No gyaan… But most importantly that it’s okay to feel intimidated and anxious when you see people setting a bar. It’s okay to be jealous of them but channelise that into your work. I know there is a lot of pressure to be different and I still have existential crisis but it’s a process. Some people just find it faster and you’re taking your time. Surround yourself with people who help you get through it and are positively critical with your work. Share your work, and stop worrying about plagiarism.

Sushi: I think that existential crisis never really goes away! As Angie and I were discussing in a previous episode…even for people who have been in the industry for years! But still, what is the one thing you would like to ask experienced professionals in the industry?

Sanika: How can we make the Indian design industry cutting edge? Someone please tell me!

Sushi: So you feel like the Indian Design industry is not cutting edge…?

Sanika: The industry is so niche, so what do we need to do for us to be taken seriously? Even in terms of salary, we spend so much on our education. What do we do to make this change faster?

Sushi: Anyone wanna answer that? Stay tuned as Angie and I share our thoughts on this at the end of this episode…But getting back to you, Sanika…

Scary question, but what do you see yourself doing a year from now?

Sanika: I’ll probably be working at a design studio and doing my own personal projects. Sorry. It is V bland but i’ve planned this before my graduation year started.

Sushi: You seem very organised and well-planned. We wish you all the best as you enter the Dip project phase…can’t really call it Dip anymore, since you guys are getting degrees! See, even this shows the change in mindset, and that design is starting to be taken seriously 🙂

Now, before we go, can we know where to stalk you and find more of your work?

Sanika: I’d say behance but I haven’t updated it yet. I’m V active on Instagram and that’s where most of my newest work gets featured first. My handle is @shaniqua0208 (that’s a ghetto name too, FYI and I kept it before I knew ghetto names)

Sushi: We should take this offline and get to know more about these ghetto names which you seem to be an expert at…

Angie: Ok, ghetto names? I feel old. Has it really been that long since I was in design school?

Sushi: Probably! Thankfully, there was still a lot I could connect to.

Angie: That’s true, me too. Like figuring out what you want to do, finding your personal style…

Sushi: It’s interesting how Sanika went into design school thinking she knew where she will go with it, but during the course she discovered she’s more interested in Information Arts. I feel like that happens to practically everyone who enters design school. You get in thinking you want to specialise in something, but you end up doing something totally different!

Angie: Yes, that’s a good education if it teaches you something about yourself and gives you room to experiment. What do you think about the confident lines – always good to know I’m not the only one!

Sushi: Yup! Let’s draw some crooked lines and break those stereotypes! It also takes some exposure to the real world and the design industry to know what skills really matter as a designer, right?

Angie: Yes, that’s why I am glad you asked her about her internship. She’s really lucky to have landed one that helped her learn so much. Nothing like some experience in the real world to make us more disciplined designers. Industry projects are crucial to help students realise that not all projects have ideal conditions, as they might have imagined from their design school assignments.

Sushi: That’s true. You can have your design all ready, but there are multiple barriers before it’s ready to ship…and it’s always a back-and-forth process.

Angie: Yes, it’s more non-linear than one expects as a student, right? Hey, you also promised Sanika an answer or at least a discussion to the burning question she had!

Sushi: Yes, and you promised to help me answer that!

Angie: okay then…

Sushi:  She asked about how we can get people to take designers seriously and how we can make Indian design more cutting edge.

Angie: That is a tough one. I think we need to discover and embrace our uniqueness as Indian Designers, while also being aware of and participating in the global design scene. I think there are platforms to do this as students, but as industry people, putting India on the design industry map can mean having a face at global platforms like design conferences and showcasing our work there, or even giving a voice to the Indian design industry with something like a podcast! 

Sushi: Great to know Design Lota is in some ways trying to be a part of the solution! Another thing is also to be more inclusive when we work on our projects. Design never happens in isolation, there are always clients, users, people who engage with our work and thinking of ourselves as these special creatures who will wave a wand and fix it all, can do more harm than good.

Angie: Well said. We are special, just like everyone else!

Sushi: There’s another quotable quote for our Instagram this time 

Angie: Students, Designers – what are your fond design school memories – tell us!

Sushi:  Tweet to us @designlota, start a conversation and tell us what you want us to talk about as Indian Designers.

Angie: You can find references and the complete transcript of this episode on Join us next week where we sit down to talk about getting and giving feedback.

Sushi: That’s going to be interesting…and scary. Until then, bye!



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