Pallavi Nopany runs a boutique design studio in Bangalore. She has worked on over 60 identity & communication projects over the last 9 years. Her clients include Titan, Tarun Tahiliani, and the Karnataka Government. She has trained in various art forms including music, ceramics, and movement, which all inform her design practice. In her studio, she reviews portfolios and applications of many young designers. From that experience, today she will give you her opinion on what stands out in a portfolio.
Pallavi: I started out my career as an engineer, only to get disillusioned very soon about how engaging I would find my job. So one day, as do many engineers, I quit my job at Infosys and began my journey experimenting.
My mother is an artist, still teaches and learns in her own school. She always took me to her art lessons when I was a child every weekend. So very early on, I was painting large canvases, imitating renaissance artists with acrylic and oil, experimenting with watercolor. I realize now, that this was quite extraordinary for a child, to have that kind of learning so early on. This was really my founding in the arts, and in my influences, in the work, I do even now.
After I quit Infosys, I went back to studying classical music (piano), theatre(acted in 2 plays), studied Spanish for a year and got a scholarship from the Govt. of Spain for a summer residency, did a 1-year diploma in dance at Attakalari. After this, since I had tried just about everything that caught my fancy, I also started to intern at an ad agency on Lavelle Road, just 3 houses away from where I lived, in order to try it out.
It was a big downgrade for me from my previous jobs that paid me rather well, however, through many hours of online tutorials and watching people work, I taught myself design. As I did more of it, it was a revelation for me. It’s been 9 years since, and I've never looked back. All my education in art, music, ceramics, theatre, dance came together to give me design, and design has given me so much joy, and a purpose.
Pallavi: I started work as a freelance designer in 2011, and interned with a few agencies to learn the skills and the trade. In 2014, I started feeling stagnation coming on and I wanted to jump to the next level. Because I am a self-taught designer, I felt like I wasn’t really doing things right. So I invited Bakula Nayak to partner with me to start a firm, which we called Pack of 2. Bakula was an established designer, had worked in New York with Ralph Lauren, and taught me how to make contracts, structure projects, etc. It wasn’t easy to convince her to partner with me though, because her initial impression of me was that I was weird. We met at a watercolor workshop, where I was the worst student in the class. While the class was very informative, it was 8 hours long, and after 2 hours, I had lost my ability to concentrate and followed no instructions properly. But we partnered as a trial on a project for Anand Sweets and got on like a house on fire. To this day, she is one of my closest friends, although she has retired and moved to the USA. So I went back to functioning under my name, and I have a small team of 3.
Pallavi: Because I am a self-taught designer, I was never really sure if I was doing things as they are supposed to be done. I didn’t know if I was charging adequately, how to make contracts, or how to sequentially approach projects. After doing 20 projects, you find your own methods, and see that it’s very much the standard approach. One starts with asking questions, coming to certain concrete ideas, trying them out, and then selecting one to fine-tune. These steps have various complex names – such as “design research” and “mood boarding”, but really everyone follows similar steps to arrive at the final output. I started on this career because I love doing what I do. It redeems me from bad days, gives me focus, and teaches me so many new things. So there wasn’t any fear, nor were there real challenges. Just the occasional questioning – whether I’m doing this right, and how can I be better. There was a lot of shooting in the dark, many online workshops, experimentation, and just having fun through it all. I didn’t make any money for the first 5 years, and through that my family supported me without questions. This really helped to have a certain freedom of mind, without which it is hard to be creative.
Pallavi: My favorite project would be my very first. The book I did for Luxmi tea which 10 years later I translated to a website. I have been working with this client for 10 years. And I get complete and total creative freedom while doing any project with them, which means I can follow my instinct. Without the external pressure, I find that the output for this client always turns out to be my ideal output, as I design it as I would for myself.
Beyond this client, every project is really pretty challenging, as I try and create something new and exciting. There is always this scary carte blanche period, where you don’t know whether your starting point is correct. And then the point when you commit to one idea, to go into its depths, and explore it thoroughly. It involves sitting on my lazy chair for many hours, staring into my high ceilings as I assimilate the ideas that float around in my house, and into my mind. My team does the same, in their own spaces.
Pallavi: To constantly keep learning, whether it’s through online workshops or people that you engage with and collaborate with. Find out what your strengths are, and be aware of those. Be confident in your skillset, and the value that you provide – and that value could be many things, like how friendly you are, or how resourceful you are.
Pallavi: There is a lot of opportunity in India, as many manufacturing houses that were exporting earlier, are looking to create retail brands for the Indian Market. What we can learn from the rest of the world is confidence. To see value in small ideas, and have pride in everything Indian – whether it is our languages, our skin tone, our textiles.
Pallavi: There is less weight carried by the logo, and brands have had to be more communicative, which means that fonts, images, and layouts need to do more work. It does not make sense anymore to spend millions on a logo and then uses stock photos on Instagram. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a neutral font as your logo, without any symbol, and ensure that it fits neatly into the layered atmosphere that one builds for it.
Pallavi: I don’t think a gender bias exists in the creative world. I have personally not faced it in my personal career. If at all, I think it has helped me as I could connect with many women entrepreneurs who wanted a certain delicate and sophisticated creative expression.
Pallavi: To be friends with your clients, and get to know them personally, so that you can give them something they cherish. People get into enterprise for many reasons, to be creative, to express something, to have an impact, and to make money. If you understand their hopes and dreams, you can help them realize it.
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