Santosh Melwani

Does design have boundaries?

This young designer talks about her journey from architecture to graphic design.

THE DECISION

It was April of 2009 when I finished my twelfth grade with one of the biggest decisions overrunning my mind-a decision that would shape my entire career. I was only eighteen with the foggiest of clues as to what line of work I really fancied. It felt like a noose around my neck. The pressure was gnawing my insides and the idea of dropping a year to figure out “what next” was something unfathomable to my parents. So I went through the gruelling process of meeting career counsellors and writing those aptitude tests.

Art and Design, architecture and languages came up in my list of suitable careers.

Enter parents. They took control of the situation. Knowing full well of my muddled state of mind, coerced me into something more concrete i.e. architecture. And I, being so uncertain, and at that time, obsessed about Barcelona and all things Gaudi, thought why the hell not? I love to draw, maybe architecture is my calling. Stupid really, looking back on this now.

THE COLLEGE YEARS

I absolutely loved the first five semesters. It was all about design, the history of architecture, art appreciation, 3D modelling, conceptualizing. In a nutshell, completely visual. I felt like I had been given a pair of wings and could fly in just about any direction I wanted.

The crazier, the better. The professors dug that (P.S. we weren’t exposed to the shortcomings of structure just yet). Little did I know that until then, I was building castles in the air and getting my ego boosted by all the aunties and uncles who’d exclaim every time we met, “What a marvelous profession, so prestigious, how lucky!”

But was I really lucky? As I reached my seventh semester and the physics of the subject hit me so hard in the face, I knew I made the wrong choice. It dawned on me that this wasn’t what I wanted nor was it what I envisioned for my life. I found myself struggling with the classes and the time and effort required to just keep pace with my peers.I couldn’t give up, no, not after getting that far. Reluctantly I gave it my all, pulled countless all-nighters and graduated with my class in 2014.

THE WORK LIFE

This was an even bigger eye opener for me. Through my internships and job I was exposed to real projects and issues that architects face on a day to day basis.

I felt blessed to have a really great mentor, one that reignited my “supposed” love for all things architecture. He involved me in all facets of design-from conceptualization, to presentations and pitches to the client and finally all the technical drawings (This is when I got exposed to series of design softwares and started experimenting with them even post work hours on non-architectural projects).

Work was alright, the usual humdrum, I wasn’t particularly enjoying it but I didn’t hate it either. All this, until three residences that my mentor and I were really excited about, got canned. It was weeks of work down the drain in seconds. It wasn’t the design but every Indian architects arch nemesis-Vaastu. It was heart breaking to put dead walls and bathrooms in spaces that could so beautifully open out into green spaces.

This was the last straw for me. My parents were perturbed by my decision to quit but I wasn’t, because by this time I knew I what I wanted.I wanted to pursue design, but just not architectural design. I realized graphic design was my calling. Life is too short to be stuck in a job you hate.

I had been getting the odd job here and there through word of mouth. I spent all my spare time freelancing. It was fun, flexible and positively overflowing with creativity.

Everyday was different-each new brief throwing up a new creative challenge. It gave me a sense of satisfaction because it actually involved creating something; going through a process, understanding the psychology of a brand/client-to produce something beautiful, something tangible. Seeing something through to the finish and knowing other people are enjoying using it and interacting with it brought me immense pleasure.

Louis Kahn once famously said, “An artist can make a cart with square wheels, but an architect can’t.” I wanted to be that artist.

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