The Tubelight- How I learned things years after they were taught to me
In the 90s in India we used the word TubeLight as an insult. For someone who is slow or lights up too late. Basically the last person in the room to get the joke :)

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I started off as a designer in India with a salary of about $450 per month, designing logos and artwork for brands.

That was 10 years ago.

Since then I’ve worked in ad agencies, mom & pop design studios, tech centric startups and consultancies.

I’ve worked in huge teams of 150+ and tiny teams of 2 and 3.

I’ve worked as a graphic designer in print, as an HCI researcher going door to door in India, as a UX designer in San Francisco and Bangalore.

And now I’m working with a product design team in Singapore.

I looked for a common thread in all this design experience.

The TubeLight Moment


What I found was that throughout my design career I learned amazing new things that only truly clicked much later. I either didn’t get it, got it for a moment and then it was gone, struggled to grasp or apply it in any practical way.

And when it did finally click it was usually months or years afterwards.

Let me illustrate this with a few examples.

Draw 200 trees


My first story is from the design school I attended before I became a graphic designer.

Day two of our five year course we were asked to draw two hundred trees.

My immediate response was “What?”

What was the deadline? How do we draw it? Should we use 2B pencils or something else? Is it supposed to be realistic? Or abstract? What course was this part of anyway? What paper should I use? Are we going to get grades for this?

And so we wandered about our beautiful campus with questions and more questions.

I completed the task along with my classmates, wondering what my teacher was upto. At the time I thought he was just testing us, trying to get us to break out of our usual idea of an assignment. We were coming straight out of a rigid education system and he wanted to throw us into another mindset.

Years later my TubeLight came on and I realised there were two main lessons here.

The first was — Explore, explore and explore some more.

Draw 200 trees was a great way to explore the campus for new students. You could explore different styles of drawing. You could do anything really.

The second lesson was — getting comfortable with ambiguity.

Draw 200 trees was a very vague brief. It was up to us to clarify it, come back to the first principles of it and deliberately interpret it as we wanted to.

Design a chair


I was talking to a close friend of mine about this and she remembered her own TubeLight moment from her design education.

They were told to design and build a chair out of corrugated cardboard.
It had to support the weight of a person and behave like a chair.

Like any design student she was super excited about this exercise. She worked on it for a long time with her classmates and eventually came up with something she was happy with.

However what she thought at the time was:

I’m going to be a graphic designer. That was a really fun exercise but I’m probably never going to design a chair. Oh well.

A few years later — she was working on making hygiene kits for underprivileged children in Mumbai. The goal was to encourage basic practices like washing your hands.

She remembered the material corrugated cardboard. 
How it was flexible, strong, affordable, and if done right, could look good. Suddenly she could show off her in depth knowledge of the material to her colleagues and her boss. They had found the perfect material for making hygiene kits.

That was her TubeLight moment — When she realised the exercise wasn’t just about designing a chair. It was about understanding materials. Not just understanding cardboard, but understanding the depth of how you could use a material in different ways.

Explore vs. Execute


Another TubeLight moment for me was when one of my first bosses said:

Your first option is probably the best one

In design school we were pushed to try 500 different options until we found the right one. The harsh reality of the design industry was execution.

You had to deliver results — sometimes on the same day.

Explore vs. Execute. So I thought, OK this was the balancing act we have to do as designers.

Then there’s Make and Ship


If you don’t have time for 500 explorations and to truly go in depth, you can make a quick prototype.

You can workshop and build test objects. This isn’t production quality execution. But you can still explore by making things: You can convince clients with a prototype if the explorations aren’t getting through to them.

Then I discovered- Shipping. Ship your product to production.

When I joined the startup world, this is where the whole explore vs. execute conflict really clicked for me.

While working at Postman, an API testing service for developers, we grew to more than 4 million developers. That means, 4 million developers were using our software in about a year and a half. That’s a really hectic growth curve.

I learned to ship a lot! We shipped to millions of users and learned which designs were actually working, live in the real world.

The moment we knew which designs weren’t working, we would update again to millions of people and keep iterating on the fly.

It was a great way to explore and execute at the same time.

TubeLight moments are not always aha! moments.
They are (sometimes) slow dawning realisations over months and years as you delve deeper into the things you’ve learned.

Learning moments depend on being in the right place at the right time.And having the precious opportunity to practise what you have learned.

Learning design like a TubeLight

1. Most of the time you don’t truly connect the dots until much later.

2. TubeLight moments click like aha! moments.

3. Sometimes TubeLight moments are (painfully) slow dawning realisations.

4. Without the right opportunity in the industry you may never truly learn — because you can’t apply what you’ve learned.

Thank you for reading ❤
I would love to hear your TubeLight moments in the comments :)

(This article is an excerpt from my talk at the IXDA Education Summit in France in Feb 2018).
Originally published on Medium.

Your design career doesn't have to make sense right now

A lot of designers I meet worry about structuring their career in the “right way”. They obsess over which “industry vertical” to work in. They worry if this or that company is the right “next step”.

This was especially highlighted when I spoke at DBA Singapore recently about my work. It made me realize a lot of things that I’ve learned, I have learned in hindsight.

So here are some things I wish someone had told me while I was slogging out there in the design industry.

Don’t worry about some kind of overarching “narrative” in your career

It will make sense eventually (trust me).

Do what you love, learn new skills (even if they are not design related) and work with amazing people.

If you studied graphic design, don’t get too invested in the label of “graphic designer”.

Your career is not a straight up ladder (it’s a zigzag)


It’s a lot of detours, experiments, random events and luck!

Just have fun on the ride while you try to pay your rent.

If you need to learn a new skill, take that demotion if you can. That new and different skill is going to be invaluable to you in the future.

Failure is good


It makes you question and experiment more. It makes you leave your job and try something else. That’s amazing.

The more things you try the closer you are to finding the thing that is going to work for you and bring the story together (finally).

It doesn’t matter how cool the work is

You could be working for the biggest brands, the coolest clients, newest tech, the most funded startup. But it means nothing if the people suck. Work with the best people and teams. You will become a better designer.

Caring too much about the “what” you are working on is a rookie mistake.

It’s ok to quit your job in the first 3–4 months


No it doesn’t “look bad.” You tried something and it didn’t work. It’s ok!

The best time to quit a job that’s not working for you is in the first 6 months. Don’t stay and just make it worse for yourself and the team you are working with.

Go look for something better for yourself.

Thank you for reading!

What did you learn from your design career? Does your design career make sense? Let me know in the comments :)

This post was originally published on Bytes of Candy in October 2017.

Design metrics for better design decisions

This quote by Spock explains what most designers instinctively understand. It’s easy for numbers to mislead a team down the wrong path. You need to be constantly vigilant that you are measuring the right things, for the right reasons, in the right way.

So how can metrics help designers in a consistent, practical way?


1. Funnels convert complex user behavior into neat little chunks of data


Let’s say you have an amazing number of 5000 signups/week. However this is not actionable to you a designer. Even if you have a trend on top saying signups are going up or down, that is still not helpful.

Funnels are a great way to identify starting points for a redesign. You can prioritize what needs to be fixed first by looking at conversions and drop-offs. You can even kill the entire funnel and make a new one.

2. Upgrade to a goal oriented design process (stop the opinions)

 Awesome illustration by  The Design Team

Awesome illustration by The Design Team

Design reviews often spiral into confusion and vagueness. People focus on fonts and colors when the real stuff is the interaction and user flow. Use metrics to keep everyone clear headed and on point. Especially for non-designers, it’s a great way to start learning about potential impact of good design.

Use metrics to deal with superficial stakeholder feedback like “Make the logo bigger.”

 What I imagined when I read the amazing tweet above

What I imagined when I read the amazing tweet above

3. Test and validate your designs

It’s not always possible to extensively test your design with user research. Especially for superficial changes, use metrics to validate your designs once they are already live in production. This is the fastest way to work in small teams. Keep checking and validating that you are on the right track with user interviews and numbers.

Any extensive research effort with both interviews and a/b testing may lead to a month of wasted time when you can always validate on the go.

 Old hero tile

Old hero tile

 New hero tile

New hero tile

For example we recently redesigned this hero tile for our product. Instead of extensive internal reviews and testing for a relatively minor change, we went ahead and made the change in a day. Then we checked that this was working better than the older version and it was. 

Conversions increased by 7%!


4. Setup your own design metrics stack

In about 3–4 weeks you should be up and running so that your design team can make more data based decisions. Depending on how your product architecture is structured, it may be easier or harder. But it’s always worth it.

There are a ton of amazing services out there that make it much easier today.

Fullstory has an amazing rage quit feature that is amazing for any designer. You can watch video session replay of people who were recently pissed off by your app or service.

 Services we use for qualitative and quantitative data. User interviews happen in parallel.

Services we use for qualitative and quantitative data. User interviews happen in parallel.

So we use GA for basic numbers, Optimizely for A/B testing, Amazon QuickSight for dashboards, FullStory for qualitative and quantitative and Desk for customer support data.

Eventually it’s really cool to have your own dashboard with all the behavior data in one place.

5. Metrics for discovery and exploration

The way people use software and apps is constantly changing. Looking at trends helps you understand user behavior at a deeper level.

You can gain new insights and convert them into radical ideas and designs for the future of your product, six months or a year from now.

Discover new usability and functional bugs


Although the engineering team is always tracking performance, sometimes problems slip through the cracks. Mysterious changes and dips in numbers can be an insight into a new bug in your product.

6. Find your user centric metrics

 Joel uses our new product  CandyBar

Joel uses our new product CandyBar

Never lose sight of the person who uses your software. It’s crucial to listen to the rich stories behind the numbers so that there’s always context.

What is success for your customer?


For example at ReferralCandy our success metric is the amount of referral revenue we help our retailers earn.


For the consumer side of our service, its the reward the consumer gets. It could be a gift or cash reward.


So really think of the user centric metric that your entire product team can get behind and design for.

User centric metrics fits neatly into user centric design

Thank you for reading! This article is based on a talk I recently gave at Tech in Asia 2017. 
You can also check it out on Medium.

Sequoia::Hack 2016

Super exciting to be part of the hackathon as a judge and mentor for the second year in a row. More than 5500 people applied this year to participate, and it was an amazing turnout. Inspiring to see so many teams come together to build something awesome in 24 hrs. And it is always a learning experience mentoring teams as they develop an idea into realization in a frantic rush to the finish line.

 The "Slightly Mad" team talks to me about their foot scanner concept. Loved their design process and teamwork!

The "Slightly Mad" team talks to me about their foot scanner concept. Loved their design process and teamwork!

 By Day #2 everyone was sleep deprived, intense and focussed and the space started to reflect it :)

By Day #2 everyone was sleep deprived, intense and focussed and the space started to reflect it :)

 Only an hour left until judging begins...

Only an hour left until judging begins...

It was a bit disappointing to see an all-male judging panel for the main development track in Seq Hack, but hopefully things will improve next year.

The day after the hackathon, there was terrible violence due to the Cauvery river water conflict. It was sad to see this especially just one day after the hackathon where so many futuristic concepts were shared, discussed and built. While a team in the hackathon won for building a robot that can help diagnose your illness, the streets the next day fought over water shortage, communal differences and drought issues.



Flowers & People
Flowers and People cannot be controlled. team Lab. Singapore 2015.
Flowers and People cannot be controlled. team Lab. Singapore 2015.

A young family enjoys the immersive digital installation 'Flowers and People cannot be controlled but Live Together.' It was part of the 'Art in Motion' series during Singapore art week. I noticed more than 8 massive projectors used to create the space. The flowers and petals grow, wither and die. As you move, the petals try to grow around you along with a tinkling almost fairy-like sound. Overall a beautiful, almost meditative experience.

Creating the Jugaad Dishwasher, The X-Way

The X-Way was a 2 day workshop sponsored by Nokia and Microsoft that focused on ideas, strategies and discussion around improving Mumbai city. Ben & Andrew moderated the workshop, keeping it challenging as twenty creatives and innovators came together with many, many city ideas.

One of the interesting exercises was listing things we love and hate about Mumbai. It was heartening to see that the 'love' pile was so much bigger despite Mumbai's numerous faults.

When discussing Mumbai's numerous problems, traffic cannot be ignored. Everything to do with traffic and way-finding is contextual. Signage is missing in a lot of places. When pedestrians give directions, the meaning may be different depending on the tone of their voice, how they stand, hand gestures and language. Honking has varied meanings depending on frequency, tones, loudness and the length of each honk. The city is a hotbed of large scale issues and topics of interest.

My team eventually looked at pavement ownership as a microcosm of health and sanitation. How could we encourage and create value in a public space such as pavement. We were in posh areas of Mumbai, and even here we found street hawkers taking ownership of pavements (in a good way) keeping them clean and ensuring their part of the pavement was maintained. Eventually we focussed even further and came up to a sugarcane vendor. Could we come up with something to help him wash the glasses in his stall while he was busy doing a million other things like making the juice, serving and cashing. A lot of times hygiene and proper washing was way down in his priorities while multi-tasking.

The final concept after two days of guerrilla research and quick prototyping was the 'jugaad dishwasher' - a mechanically automated machine that washed glasses saving the vendor time and effort as he ran a one-man operation. The washer connects to the juice machine itself so it doesn't need electricity to run. Soap is optional here since most vendors do not use soap. Overall the 'jugaad dishwasher' concept could also work for other street hawkers, juice vendors and with a few upgrades could even save time in someone's kitchen.

Check out some photos of the prototype we made. The video below has a few shots of us talking to sugarcane vendors.

The rotating juicer translates into the up and down movement of the simple washer, which repeatedly rinses the glasses. The trough can be easily refilled and cleaned and occupies minimal space.

We made several quick prototypes using found and re-usable materials. Above is an image representing the juicer wheel. A simple mechanical addition to the wheel as shown above allows it to connect with with dishwasher out of frame.

More about the X Way here and here.

Arduino Yun Workshop

The two day workshop by Ankit Daftery was a great way to dig deep into the possibilities of the Yun. As an interactive artist, I'm already aware of various options available. Trying them out was empowering and surprising. You can make complex interactions with just two to three days of effort [as a beginner], especially at an affordable price.

This example converts two fruits into a drum kit, sort of a very basic version of the famous Makey Makey. Below is a short video of the test.

UX Workshop at Construkt

The workshop focussed on teaching hands-on design prototyping, taking the participants step-by-step through a prototyping process, how to think and analyse their design concept, and even a quick ten minute guerrilla user research activity at the festival grounds. It was rewarding to see the 25 participants get so involved and excited about what they were building. Below are some pictures of the three hour session. It started with some warm-up creative thinking activities, after which the participants chose a random 'everyday-life' object. They then proceeded to redesign it, much to their surprise! One of the participants chose an orange as a common 'everyday' object for the first exercise and ended up 'redesigning' it into a scent dispenser and pen holder. Every participant had a set of raw materials such as card paper, straws, tape and foam pieces to use. UX Workshop participants at the Construkt Festival, Bangalore. The Construkt team gave me a beautiful location under a giant tree on the festival grounds, so everyone could work in the outdoors.

UX participant shows off his prototype, a redesigned Table Tennis racket as part of a completely new type of Table Tennis.

UX workshop participants at the Construkt festival, Bangalore. One of the central goals of my workshop was to make it hands-on learning, and also ensuring it was fun. It is so important to enjoy these exercises since it makes people more relaxed and therefore more creative.

UX participant shows off his smart watch prototype at the end of the workshop. The last stage included quick user research, getting reactions from people wandering around the festival and trying to make last minute adjustments on the first level prototype.

Installation Sketches

Worked on some collaborative concepts with Ankit Shekhawat who is the head of the Emerging Media lab at Moonraft in Bangalore. We pitched these ideas to an upcoming event in Bangalore. Conceptualizing these installations is a really fun process, especially when budget is not a constraint. Quite proud of these sketches, since we went crazy dreaming up robot drones to do our bidding.

Hoping to get a chance [funding] to build this stuff one day.

Creative Workshop at Sourcebits

Inspired by the Marshmallow Challenge Ben and I organized a creative thinking workshop for the lively crowd at Sourcefest, a two-day hackathon for the employees of Sourcebits. The aim of the session was to get people excited and energetic, and of course get their creative juices flowing. Instead of using marshmallows and spaghetti, I sourced waste foam material and straws. The idea of wasting so much food just didn't make sense [especially in India]. 45 people attended the session. Rules were pretty simple, use only straws and foam cubes, no glue/sticky tape is allowed, and the tallest structure wins. And the tricky part - the tallest point of the standing structure has to be a piece of foam.

Very rewarding to see everyone have so much fun and make crazy structures. Here are some pictures from one hour session.

Vikhroli Skin - Prep

My most recent work will be displayed at this event sponsored by Godrej Labs on the 14th of Dec. It is going to be 200 thousand square feet of art, performances and culture, so don't miss out if you are in Mumbai. The space is an abandoned Godrej factory which will be demolished soon after the art event. The factory will be moved elsewhere. It is deeply relevant to the story of Mumbai and how it has grown into post-industrialization. Here are some images of the space, once the setup starts I will do my best to share photographs of the buildup.

The plan is create an interactive installation using projections, the audience and city images. It is going to be a real challenge setting up an installation outdoors, in the day time, where electricity is coming in from generators. Limited electricity means that planning and testing the installation in another location is crucial.

NID Talk

It was a healthy turnout of about 45 students, still in their first years studying Interaction Design. Talking about my work from the past six years helped me look at it in a completely different perspective, basically the breadth of different types of projects I've done, and what interested me the most. It was titled 'Mobile UX - What it's like to design and create iOS and Android apps today.'

Students were full of questions, which is a great sign. Post talk discussions brought up several interesting topics, such as power dynamics between designers and engineers in the industry today. One thing I always stress is respect - engineers are the ones implementing your work so a healthy respect goes a long way especially in large companies and situations when engineers are part of a client team. Another thing that interaction designers should strive towards, and something I struggle with everyday, is keeping up to date with the latest tech so you can converse intelligently with the team.

One of the stories I like to tell at such talks. Check out the full article here.

NID Bangalore is a R&D hub for design in India. Image Source.

The Clock

While first entering this work by Christian Marclay, I was a bit sceptical due to the expensive MoMA entry fee of $18 and then the huge 45 minute queue to watch the video. Eventually I got in and it was worth the effort. Almost calming, at times ironic and humorous this 24 hour video work pulls you in and makes you just sit and watch for a while. I managed to watch it for 30 mins the first time and 2 hrs the second time. Almost addictive and hypnotic it's amazing how accurate the film is and lovely to spot familiar scenes from favorite movies or old classics I was forced to watch in art school.

A must-watch for anyone interested in the video art side of things. Ever since I accepted the fact that I cannot enjoy art at a purely intellectual level it is much easier for me to spot things that I like versus things I don't like. It's almost crude to divide art into these groups but it is true. You either feel something when you look at a work or you just don't feel it. You can still enjoy the techniques/concept/history/context/etc. that the artist uses but eventually it doesn't matter. If you really want to become an art lover, then be honest and admit that the giant 100 yr old oil painting of a naked woman is pretty cool but doesn't do anything for you.

The Clock 2010 by Christian Marclay. Single-channel video with stereo sound. Twenty-four hours. Image Source.
Gallery Reflexive

Prajakta Palav (Dec, 2011). This caught my eye because of the way she has used the gallery floor in her work. It is intelligent and relevant, especially in these old buildings of South Mumbai that are converted into gallery spaces. What I love about this is how the work is almost indistinguishable from the gallery floor at first glance. It makes you sit up and pay attention. Here are some pictures I managed to take from my mobile phone.

Reclining Buddha Murals

These are photographs of the detailed murals that decorate the walls and windows of the Reclining Buddha temple. It exists in a much larger temple complex called the Wat Pho, which contains several hundred images of Buddha, many stupas, a huge Bodhi tree, stone statues and smaller temples. The scenes narrate the story of Buddha, and remind me of the vast murals in the Ajanta caves which are much older.

From the photos you notice that some parts of these murals look newer than others. I can only guess that these parts have been restored and touched up recently.

Mumbai's First Comic Con

Mumbai's first comic con was crowded and full of enthusiastic fans and artists. I even met several NID alumni and graphic designers, so I'm hoping there will be another one next year. Amongst the notable independent graphic novels being sold, the ones that caught my eye were Hush: A Silent Scream, Twelve: Prelude 0.2, Milk and Quickies and The Itch You Can't Scratch.

Hush by Pratheek Thomas and Rajiv Eipe. Manta Ray Comics, India.

Detail, inside page.

The preview of the book is beautifully illustrated and literally breaks the silence on a socially relevant and taboo topic with a depth of understanding. It gave me so much hope for the future of independent art like this in our cities.

Twelve: Prelude 0.2 by Jasyot Singh Hans and Prabha Mallya. A collection of short stories.

Wonder Bai by Abhijeet Kini, a hilarious series. Others such as Wolver Anna, Angry Moushi etc. were also sold.

Neon Workshop

The neon workshop was a one-day crash course on making neon lights. Detailed demonstrations on how to bend glass tubes, suck out all the air and then fill the tube with either neon, argon or helium took up the first half of the day. The second half was spent exploring the material, after which we were given free reign on the propane blowtorches!! :)

Cutting a glass tube

Glass tubes are bent after careful heating in the right angles, using gravity. Results like this only come after lots of practice.

The ribbon burner has a long flame that softens a large part of the tube evenly.

Joining two glass tubes using a precise burner was extremely difficult. I totally failed at my attempt, I ended up blowing a glass bubble instead because of too much air, and then the bubble burst. A tube with a hole can never be used for neon.

Part of the giant machine that creates a vaccum in the tubes before filling it with the required gases.

Neon master Julia Bickerstaff and British artist Richard Wheater encouraged us to question the limits of the material and explore its potential in relation to our individual art practice. That was the best part, being introduced to a completely new medium and told to freak out with it on the same day. Also worth mentioning was how to transcribe an idea into a drawing for neon-making.

The video below is my work (made by Julia of course) which we filled with helium. I love the colour of helium, its a natural pink hue that went well with the concept, which is the number sixty-nine in Devanagari letterforms. Due to a few impurities added in the tube flickers continuously, an effect that I really really wanted to try out. Another way to do this would be to programme it to flicker. However this is purely physical and does not need any external controls.

The best work was displayed later at the Light Night festival in Bournemouth town center and the Neon: Shaping Light exhibition at the text+work gallery.

Shift Exhibition

Have a look at our post-graduate show Shift. This friday (9th September) is the last day so don't miss it if you're in or around Bournemouth :)

Artist Yi Lu with her paper mache world

Subconscious Form by Shiro Araki

Urban Brick by Bana Toutounjee

by Taro Morimoto

Mumbai/Bombay by Aditi Kulkarni

New Blindness by Rocco Nahas

A stretchable movie by Richard Hurst.

Be-Bee Project by Kaya J. Lee

The Ophelia Project by Samantha Else.