Design duo Adrita Das and Karan Worah talk about how all kinds of spaces impact design work.
Upside Down Room Project:
His Diploma Project in Kutch can be watched here.
You can get ambient sounds to listen to while you work here.
Angie: Hi! This is Design Lota, the podcast where we talk about life as Indian Designers. I’m Angie.
Sushi: And I’m Sushi. Can you believe we’ve made it to 10 episodes?!
Angie: Oh yeah, wow. This has been fun so far. Thank you all for being such great listeners! In our last episode, we dug into all the aspects that make for a great process.
Sushi: Today we are going to take a look around the room.
Angie: What room?
Sushi: You know, the spaces where we designers work out of.
Angie: That’s not necessarily just a room
Sushi: You’re right! And we have with us today, two designers – Adrita and Karan- from the very fun collaborative called “Smarter than a Waffle”
Angie: “Smarter than a Waffle”?! Sounds quirky!
Sushi: Yes, you should check out their work later, but now, we’re going to have them talk about their personal experiences with spaces, and how it’s impacted their work.
Angie: Alright, let’s do this!
Interview with Adrita and Karan
Sushi: Hi Adrita, Karan! Welcome to Design Lota! Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourselves and what you’ve been working on…
Adrita: I’m currently freelancing from home, from Bombay. At the moment finishing off some freelance projects so I can focus on a passion project by the year end. I’m planning to write and design a fictional newspaper.
Karan: I have stationed myself in Bangalore, for no apparent reason. I’m currently shooting films for NGOs, Developmental Organizations as a freelancer. I also take up UI/UX design projects.
Adrita and I are toying with the idea of working together on projects in various mediums under the name Smarter than a Waffle.
Sushi: It’s really cool that you guys are continuing to collaborate much after college and as always, I’m sure that’s gonna lead to some really fun work.
What got you guys here on Design Lota, was a conversation you two had recently about how we never had a proper campus in college. For our listeners who did have proper campuses, can you explain what exactly this meant?
Adrita: I think it was a year back that we were talking about how we were missing Srishti, where we went to college, and even though we didn’t have a “proper” campus like most universities do, we came back to this point that a lot of our work is still inspired by what Srishti did to us, because of not have a single large campus, but smaller spaces that were campuses.
As a Background, we had an old campus, which was shared with a school, and then as we grew in number and in fields of study, they started taking up more buildings around the area, called New campus, New campus 2, New campus 3…and now they’re on New campus 5! And this is in a small town called Yelahanka, on the outskirts of Bangalore.
Karan: For me, the roots of this conversation go back to our orientation day, when a parent asked if the rumors about Srishti shifting to a new campus next year were true. To which our director replied that, yes, the construction was underway.’ I don’t quite know what happened to that.
6 months later, I was doing a film project for which I had to go to the “New campus”, which was known as the Taj Mahal campus. It turned out to be a two story house in the middle of a housing society! Then we got the New New Campus, which was an office space alongside a software company. That was the birth of N2. Followed by N3, N4 and the latest in line, N5.
Adrita: It was kind of cool to be right next to a software company. Such a contrast!
Sushi: I bet this all sounds pretty alien and unbelievable to most of our listeners. Do you think this system created an identity for Srishti students in some way?
Adrita: I’m not sure how, but when I see someone in Bangalore, I can figure out if they are from Srishti. Maybe because the campus thing affects the way we use design. I feel that because of not having a campus, we would work more on community driven-ideas, whereas students from NID tend to have more industry-oriented work. At that time, we were forced to look outside our colleges, sit on roads and sketch, design products for people on the streets who didn’t speak our language, so we didn’t base our projects on pushing the technology or our skills, but more on observation and space.
Sushi: That’s a really interesting point, Adrita. What do you think, Karan?
Karan: I am really confused about this. We were told that the underlying philosophy of Srishti was to ‘embrace chaos’. And things like not having a campus, or an ever changing campus, or not getting the course of your liking was all wrapped up into ‘embracing chaos’. But I also feel that not having a traditional campus helped us become very resourceful.
Adrita: That’s so true. It’s a different type of skillset we were taught. That being said, I think Srishti contributed massively to the local economy and that is still very much evident. Yelahanka has gone from being almost village like to being a self- sufficient town on the outskirts because of srishti- locals mingling.
Sushi: So unintentionally, it’s grown into a sort of ‘university town’ right? All that’s missing is fancy names for each of the buildings.
Adrita: Yes! I think just staying in a place like Yelahanka, which had such a different culture from big cities, where most of us came from, it gave me a huge amount of perspective as well. We all came from well to do families with few restrictions and liberal agendas but we were still stuck with our ideological bullshit when we reached. It was hard to get used to- safety- language- moral policing. But over time we spoke to more locals and tried to understand where it was coming from. We also sobered down by the end of our college life.
Karan: I think the residents always went through a culture shock every June when the new batch of students arrives.
Adrita: It’s like a trailer getting released. You thought the last batch was bad? Check out this new batch!
Sushi: Do you have some fond memories of the Paying Guest (P.G) system where all of us stayed?
Adrita: Yeah, I really enjoyed my stay in Yelahanka and that would have never happened if our college had a hostel. I got to share a bungalow with like minded friends, which had a terrace and greenery all around. So the pg system made me feel a bit closer to nature, street dogs and the ability to work anywhere despite not having a table. The houses in Yelahanka were so colourful and unique so that made me look at architecture in a completely new way. And I think in that way, a ‘well designed hostel’ would have never made the process so immersive to the indigenous culture of yeli.
We got to live in houses owned by people from there and what they considered “aesthetically pleasing”. My room was covered with bright orange walls at one point! I would never live in an orange room again, but it was quite an experience!
Karan: Half of our time was spent in the PGs, and a lot of our work came from there.
Adrita: We would have feedback all the time.
Karan: That is so true! And after a point, I had no boundaries in terms of whether I got feedback from a film person, or someone from a different discipline. I would literally ask anyone next door for advice.
Adrita: Everyone matters as an audience to your project. We would even take feedback from P.G owners, or the security guards.
Sushi: And not just as an audience, but also as participants right? So when you had a film project for example, you had the house, you had the people…
Karan: All we had to do was start the camera! A lot of the photography projects too, were with people we knew.
Adrita: Yelahanka was pretty photogenic too, as a space. Bright colourful buildings and parks everywhere.
Karan: I think we made a deal with the devil. We gave up having a campus in exchange for living in a beautiful place with parks and trees.
Sushi: That would make a good T-shirt quote for Srishti students! Do you think not having a campus influenced any of your projects?
Adrita: We did a scenography project with Scenographer, Karen Butcher, for which we needed an exhibition space, for around 20 exhibits. We couldn’t find that kind of place inside any of the college buildings, so we looked around Yelahanka and found an abandoned building in the same area! So we just got permission from the people in charge and through this we realised that space is all around us. We just have to find it, speak to someone, get permission and use it! This space was particularly great for us, because it looked haunted and there were some really crazy ideas for that project. That way we looked beyond the “campus” and it led to a lot of good things.
For the project, my friend Rutuja and I created an upside-down room inside one of the houses there. We wanted to build a dystopian sort of atmosphere, where as soon as someone enters the room they feel very disoriented. We went to the Sunday market in the city, and our budget was just 500 rupees! We bought an old fan, a curtain, hangers, and an old clock. We borrowed a ladder from Srishti, and that was the infrastructure for that project.
Karan: One of the projects I fondly enjoyed was done in collaboration with Sushmita’s friends from Church, who were from Uganda. They too were in a college somewhat closeby. It was a live video-mixing project. So we hung out together, shot a little footage and did a live video dj gig at the MG road metro station. It was absolutely delightful to spend time with them. I don’t think I would’ve been able to meet these friends and do this, if we were staying in the city and not in the outskirts.
Sushi: Students also got to do a lot of out-station projects right? Anything that stays in your memory?
Karan: When I think about college, the thing that always jumps out to me is my Diploma Project, which I shot in Kutch, Gujarat. Three of us were simply left to our own devices with minimal equipment and 22 days to come up with a film.
Sushi: I guess the four years before it turned you into an excellent jugaadist
Karan: For sure!
Adrita: That should be on your Resume – “Karan Worah- Jugaad it for you!”
Karan: Yu-gaad it man! When we were in Kutch especially, that helped because we had very little resources. We felt stranded at first but, the result was a film which was in the format of an unstructured documentary.
Sushi: I like how unstructured documentaries usually tend to be more artistic, and don’t really lead the viewer’s thoughts, unlike an ad-film…
Karan: That’s actually what happened. When we landed in Kutch, we had this idea for a film, but we ended up making something totally unstructured, because coming from an urban set-up, what we saw was really new to us. If we were to be true to ourselves, then we would say we did not understand it, but definitely needed to explore it.
Adrita: Even with a lot of the Smarter than a Waffle work, what we planned never worked out. Whatever ideas and films we ended up making happened almost by accident because we had a camera and were in that space.
Karan: Another away from the city experience I really cherish was the Natural building course in Chickmangalur. All three of us were in that course but Adrita had to back out because she fell ill.
Adrita: I had a broken toe.
Karan: But if you had been there, it was really a refreshing break from being in the city. I had to live in a tent, away from network and civilization with 7 other people, while learning to build an earthen house.
Sushi: Did you have any creative ideas, or were you inspired to take up a new exploration during that course?
Karan: Not really, but I would attribute that trip for helping me realise how much I loved traveling, and that is why I decided to get into documentary film-making.
Sushi: So, Adrita, sorry you had to miss out on this inspiring experience, but you had some other really interesting travel opportunities during college, right? You went on an exchange program, right, and more recently on a fellowship. How did it feel to be working in a foreign space, on projects that weren’t centered around an Indian context?
Adrita: I was traveling abroad for the first time and getting to see university life for the first time, the way it is shown in movies! I was living in student housing and had a very different kind of interaction there with those born and brought up in Sweden. One of the reasons is probably the scandinavian culture is a lot more independent, and less community driven than India. The idea of diversity got into me, and I started looking at my work and wondering if it would make sense to someone who is not from India, or if it would be offensive to someone from another country. So I think working in a foreign space helps you realise more things about your own culture. We don’t know we have an Indian accent until someone points it out. It was really interesting to see life in Srishti as compared to life in a different country, but in a college with a similar philosophy of embracing chaos.
Sushi: After graduating, you both have worked at studios and corporate offices. And I’m sure that was a very very different culture there as well! What did you think of the work environment, both physically and culturally?
Adrita: One of the things I realised was that I really don’t like white light. It seems to kill the creativity out of me. I love working in natural light, when it’s a bit sunny but not really hot. I was working at a company that had, not a restrictive, but limited space with no natural lighting, or a space to think and discuss ideas. Some of our best ideas came from when we were just relaxing on the terrace without the pressure to create.
Karan: I was working as an interaction designer in start-up, alongside tech people, marketing and business development people. All of us designers like to feel really special. But in a corporate set-up it gets difficult to get concessions for that.
The cold, metallic environment of a corporate office was definitely not the right place to design. So me and my colleague, who was the only other designer in the start-up at the time, came up with 90 percent of the design for the app and the website in the smoking area outside the office. The other 10 per cent was finished at a bunkbed we found lying around in the office, and for the longest time that was the ‘design department’. Anything to feel special. The cold office was also the real-life environment where our app had to function, so it was befitting to create design where it really mattered.
Adrita: I think even the temperature matters a lot. You can’t work if the A.C is too cold, or even if the weather is too hot. Your body needs to be at peace.
Karan: Exactly! You’re sweating like a pig when you’re in a humid place
Adrita: You just have to relax and wipe your face before you enter so that you look poised.
Karan: In this case, I can say that Bangalore has the perfect weather for work. I don’t know if it’s just this, or the fact that so many designers are in Bangalore that is bringing more people to Bangalore! Maybe some kind of gravity effect.
Adrita: Or maybe it’s just coincidence!
Sushi: Fast forward to present day. Right now, both of you are freelancers. Where do you currently work out of?
Adrita: I recently shifted back to Bombay since I had responsibilities at home. I thought I could take this time to save some money and freelance instead of slogging it out at a job. My physical space is quite restrictive since I’m staying with family and I need to plan my work hours and spaces according to other people. But I get to travel because of this too since I can attend more events, festivals etc. I think the biggest change has been that I get to use the swimming pool everyday so I think a lot in the pool and it helps me calm my nerves when I am stressed out about work. Sometimes I even visualise my work while swimming before starting it.
Sushi: I’ve heard they say a lot of people come up with ideas in the shower. So for our listeners, here’s another option! What about your work Karan?
Karan: I have to travel a lot for shoots, and I’m in a different district of India everyday. I’ve travelled across 10 states in the past two months.
Adrita: Hashtag Wanderlust!
Karan: Hashtag Wanderlust! So when I’m back, I need a couple of days to reorient myself. When I’m not on a shoot, I take up graphic design projects, which serve as a nice break from all the extensive travel. At present, I live in Indiranagar, Bangalore, in a rented apartment. A lot of my friends live nearby and I try to meet them as often as I can, because freelancing can become quite lonely.
Sushi: Do you feel like it’s too quiet?
Karan: The present house I am staying in – and as a freelancer, that is my place of work too – is very noisy. I can constantly hear construction sounds and the dreaded Bangalore traffic. I have come to despise honking. I have been thinking of writing a script about a serial honker, who meets a really bad ending. But since the weather is great, I’m at total peace unless I can hear traffic.
Adrita: I think the tone of your work changes according to the space you work out of. When I was staying in Pune my house was huge, but I wasn’t feeling inspired in that space. On the other hand, I feel a serious lack of space in Bombay with so much traffic, and population, in my own house. But I get time to do some photography and the kind of real estate that has been popping in the city, really inspires me these days. It’s scary and dytopian and claustrophobic but in some ways more inspiring than that pune phase.
Sushi: So do you think there’s an ideal environment for a designer, or someone in a creative practise?
Adrita: I realised that most of our colleges focus on ‘producing’ content and constantly spewing out ideas. But we spend very little time consuming it ourselves. I think spaces like libraries and smaller areas where you can project movies, need to be made with more thought, not just for students but also professionals. Students have a lot of opportunities to network within classrooms but for professionals, it gets more crucial to get feedback and be around like-minded people. So there should be some spaces where one does not feel the burden to create something in that space but just put down thoughts, read, sketch or watch a film with their friends.
Sushi: How about the shared workspaces that are now becoming popular?
Adrita: I did go to a few of them. One of them in Bandra was really fancy. One cappuccino was 180 Rupees! I would feel like Aaj ka payment nahi aaya par cappuccino tho mil gaya (Today’s payment has not yet arrived, but here’s the cappuccino)! So co-working spaces are nice, but I wish you didn’t have to pay so much to be in one. When I was doing the fellowship in Spain, I found a lot of public spaces which were’nt designed for any particular use. There were kids skating, elders sitting around…I feel like there aren’t so many such public spaces in India where you can just sit and work. All you have to do is provide a little shade, and place a couple of plug-points there. So you don’t have to pay to be a part of the “cult”. I feel like this is an initiative the government should take.
Karan: I was forever looking for public spaces to work out of. I tried various shared work-spaces, but I found them rather expensive, and though they claim you can socialise, but I’m guessing that if everyone is working, no one has time to socialise, especially when you’re paying so much. Somebody suggested I should go to the State Central Library in Bangalore to work, which didn’t occur to me earlier. There are rumours that it has WiFi now! So this could be a really great work space for someone who wants peace and quiet, and also free WiFi.
Sushi: I should certainly check it out!
Adrita: Sounds like a great place to work or socialise as well. You just need to be comfortable working. I guess different people find different spaces to be more ideal for productivity. But libraries with good lighting and WiFi works for me.
Karan: I feel another aspect of having a good work environment is getting your tools right. We should all invest in a good mouse, a fast internet connection and a comfortable chair. Being comfortable helps you focus on what you have to do, instead of fussing around.
Adrita: A lot of my ideas come to me even during long commutes within the city., because I get a lot of time to think. I’m not working working, but still passively working, and I later take time out to execute these ideas. So I would consider this to be working as well.
Karan: Yeah, that’s so true! So you can’t really put life into brackets saying, this part is career and that part is leisure.
Adrita: I think, Srishti was like that too. We didn’t know when we had stopped working.
Karan: When I look back now, I feel like we did a lot of working, though back then much of it felt like an absolute waste of time!
Adrita: Even when we were just cribbing, something came out of it.
Sushi: I think most of your Smarter than a Waffle work came from cribbing!
Adrita: Yeah, all of it was just cribbing!
Sushi: Thank you, guys, for coming here to talk about your experience with space. I’m sure this is some cool input for all the spatial designers out there…just some stuff to think about when you’re designing spaces for designers. You can never be too picky!
Karan, Adrita, where can our listeners find you and your work?
Adrita: Probably our Facebook and Instagram, and of course, Smarter than a Waffle is coming back next year!
Karan: Look out for that, coming soon!
Sushi: Hey Angie, hope you didn’t “space” out too much!
Angie: No! It’s really cool to look at the Space-Design relationship, in all the various contexts that Adrita and Karan mentioned.
Sushi: It is! It’s too bad that I never got a scoop of living on a proper campus, though. But you did, Angie!
Angie: Actually, the Bangalore NID campus where I studied – if you’ve seen it, is a small space. We ended up bumping into each other a lot more and had an idea of what people are working on. This also caused us to engage with the neighbourhood more and make it a part of our field work or even just where we hung out.
Sushi: Really?! I guess also a less structured space makes for a less structured curriculum. What do you think?
Angie: The point about embracing chaos was fascinating…it does seem absurd at first, but when you think about it, that’s what we designers do on a daily basis. We take an ambiguous problem or a concept and try to make sense of it!
Angie: I really like the point Adrita made about being able to work just about anywhere, even on a moving train or bus…as long as your mind is creatively absorbing information!
Sushi: I guess the old saying, “work, while you work, play while you play” doesn’t apply to us much.
Angie: Yeah! I also agree that as designers we spend so much time creating for others, but very little time experiencing it ourselves. One way we can do that, is to intentionally create better work spaces for ourselves.
Sushi: You mean like the perfect clutter-free ones we see on instagram?
Angie: I wouldn’t want it to be too squeaky clean, that it becomes…synthetic. Like the Bombay example that Adrita gave, sometimes clutter can be inspiring! Good lighting, and (add any other environment point) though, can really affect your mood and your ability to think creatively!
Sushi: I’m partial to big windows with trees outside and birds chirping occasionally. But they shouldn’t chirp too often. It can get lonely as a freelancer, so I’m always playing some ambient video game soundtracks in the background.
Angie: Haha, Sushi, did you know there are places online from where you can play ambient sounds such a busy workplace, or a cafe?
Sushi: I would certainly approve of the cafe sounds! That and the smell of fresh coffee…
Angie: In a few years you could probably hire a robot to actually make and serve you that coffee!
Sushi: Er…this is getting a bit like ex-machina…
Angie: A bit creepy, right? But get ready to embrace the future, Sushi! Hey listeners, what’s your ideal work space? do you have a secret hideout you like to work out of? Tweet to us @designlota, or share some pictures with us on instagram – use the hashtag #lotaspace!
Sushi: You can find the transcript for this episode at designlota.com, and all the references are listed there too. Do check out “Smarter than a Waffle”s Youtube channel! Stay tuned for our upcoming episodes about life as Indian Designers!
Angie: Until then, bye!