Beyond the PX: In conversation with Tanya Bhandari, Design lead at YLabs
Welcome to the #IndianDesigner conversation series in the 8px magazine. I’m super excited to kick off the first interview with San Francisco based designer Tanya Bhandari who is not only designing for social impact at Ylabs but also happen to be a delightful illustrator — some great art on her website
Enjoy, and see you next time!
For those not in the know, can you explain briefly who YLabs are and what they do?
YLabs (Youth Development Labs) uses data-driven design to deliver programs that support young people’s health and financial futures.
We are a non-profit organization that designs, evaluates and scales solutions to improve the health and livelihoods of disadvantaged youth.
We currently work in nine countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to design health and economic innovations with young people, for young people.
Using a deeply participatory methodology, we seek to leverage community voices, needs, and actions in the design, evaluation, and implementation of health programs.
What has been your design journey up until now?
I started my design journey at MIT Institute of Design in Pune, India where I studied graphic design. From there I went into a string of internships that eventually fed into the kind of masters program I wanted to pursue.
After undergrad, I joined the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. After a two year program (during which time I was also working with Teach for India as a designer), I joined UNICEF Office of Innovation as a design fellow. I stayed with this team for 4.5 years, graduating from Design Fellow to Design Lead by the end of my time there.
What does your typical morning look like?
I wake up at 7 am, I try to stretch out my back through yoga or when I’m lazy just with a foam roller, I get dressed for work, I take the train for 45 minutes (during which time I am either listening to the moth podcast or reading non-fiction).
I like to get to work early to weed through emails and get a cup of coffee, I consider this time ‘pre-work’ and then when people start coming into the office, start more collaborative work at around 9:30.
What does your design tool stack look like?
I use the Adobe suite extensively — mostly Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.
Recently I have added keynote as a powerful tool for building beautiful decks and procreate on the iPad as a way of incorporating illustration into my work.
Do you have any design hacks or particularly smart processes?
I think there are many hacks that I use in my day to day design work. One of the hacks is definitely building things that can be used by non-designers in an easy way that still maintains the aesthetic beauty.
This means building things in programs that can be accessed by non-designers, templating documents and decks that previously were consistently being produced by designers, and up-skilling non-designers in basic typography and color processes. This allows for me to not spend time on menial design tasks and focus on bigger projects.
What drives YLabs to social projects. Has it been something they’ve always wanted to do? What drew them to this industry?
Design is not the thing that’s going to change the world, but there are people in the world who are doing small bits of good and if the design can help further that agenda, that’s where I want to be.
I don’t know if this is something I have always wanted to do but I know that I have always felt drawn to addressing injustice in whatever way I can.
Can you explain your team dynamic?
I work at a company with about 20 people.
The team is multi-disciplinary — ranging from public health experts to graphic designers to researchers.
On a daily basis, I will be working with 3–4 people that form up the project team that I am currently part of. The makeup of this team depends on the kind of project or timeline.
Do you work on side projects?
Yes, constantly. I don’t think that my job lets me explore the more craft-based side of illustration.
I use Instagram and Tumblr to share a lot of my illustration and lino print work.
It was empowering to see how Tanya is using design to solve real challenges faced by the youth today in various parts of the world. I thank Tanya on behalf of the readers of 8px for being a part of this series and sharing her inspiring insights.
Until next time 👋
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A selection of our other interviews:
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About the author:
Shivam Dewan is a product designer based in New Delhi, India.
Remote worker by day, Flaneur by night. Feel free to reach out to him over Twitter @theshivamdewan