A Conversation with a Graduate: Anushka Todi

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Anushka Todi is an Indian YSDN student who transferred over from Sheridan’s Interaction Design program. In the interview that follows, she discusses her experiences as a designer and YSDN student, and looks ahead to what the future might hold for her.

How did you first find and get into design?

I knew in high school that I was interested in art. We weren’t taught design, so I never really understood what design was. A lot of the things I was doing, like making book covers, was labeled as ‘art’ under the Indian education system, and I had no idea it qualified as design. So I think my interest in the field unwittingly stemmed from that. Knowing that art might not be the best career path for me, I started searching for different design programs. I came across the Sheridan Interaction Design program, which at the time seemed really interesting. It taught me a lot of things and it was pretty cool, but I just don’t think it was meant for me at the time.

Was design something you always thought you’d end up making your career? If not, what did you think you were going to pursue?

I think I always knew I would do something in the creative field. I thought that it would be something like art direction or photography. I didn’t want to make a career out of just photography, though, because it was more of a hobby for me. I think design does a pretty good job of including all those little elements in a way that I can choose what things to draw upon for a project.

When you first got accepted into the YSDN program, what did you think it was going to be like?

To be honest, I don’t think I had much of a clue. I just knew that it would be more visually-oriented than interaction-based. I never expected that this is where I’d be or this is what I would have learned by the time I reached my fourth year, but I am glad it still included some aspects of interaction design and that I’ve been able to help craft experiences.

What surprised you when you actually started taking the program? Did any of the things you’d been imagining beforehand end up being a reality?

Some of it was kind of what I expected, but I remember taking a design thinking class in my first year, which completely changed my view of how design works. I think that made me interested in design even more, and it sparked my interest in design research. Learning the software and stuff is easy enough, but knowing how to tackle the associated research is really great. YSDN emphasizes that a lot, which is part of why it’s such a great program.

What has been your favourite YSDN design project to work on and why?

I did a group project for my User-Centered Design class that I was really proud of, because I think as a team, we put in a lot of thought and effort. It’s one of the projects that I truly believe has the potential to find a place out in the real world. It was an app that we designed for university students called Pls&Thx. Probably one of my other favourites was a project I did during exchange on the subject of the kilogram becoming an equation instead of being something physical. It was very conceptual and abstract — you could do almost anything — so I think that was a really interesting experience. Another exciting project I’m currently working on is my workshop project, Besharam Babe. Besharam is the Hindi word for ‘shameless.’ This is a project that allows me to reflect on my role as a brown, female designer trying to break from the stereotypes and traditions that have been forced upon me. Through this project, I’m aiming to create a narrative for myself that will resonate with other South Asian women and women of colour, and to create a dialogue that challenges the patriarchal framework of the design industry.

Do you have a favourite YSDN professor quote? If so, what is it and why is it your favourite?

I’m taking a workshop class with Paul, and I think his attitude and the faith he has in his students is what kept us going. He’ll often remind us that we’ll be fine, that everything’s okay, and that he thinks we’re all great. The fact that he believes in us so much made us produce some pretty great work. At Sheridan, I think Renee and Brian Donnelly are probably the same way too. They’re always motivating us, which is incredibly helpful.

What’s one of your favourite moments from your YSDN experience?

Going on exchange was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. The whole experience, and understanding how differently design functions in Europe, played a big part in shaping my personal approach to design. Nowadays, I try to find a middle ground between how YSDN approaches design and how European schools approach it. While I was on exchange, I got to visit Art-Basel, and I went to Dessau, Weimar, and Berlin to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Bauhaus. That was super fun, because throughout YSDN, we’ve learned all about the Bauhaus, but actually being there and seeing the way things are there was really impactful.

What would you say has been the biggest change you’ve seen within yourself between now and when you were a first year?

Since first year, we were always trying to make things look pretty and pixel perfect, but coming into fourth year, I feel like that’s no longer my approach. I’d rather consider the meaning behind the work, and think about how it would help the user and help convey a message. So my understanding of the intellectual side of design has definitely changed over the past four years. I now have a better understanding of what design is, and my limited knowledge from first year has definitely expanded. I believe that as designers we wear many hats, and that’s part of what I like about it.

Looking back on the whole experience, what would you tell your first-year self?

I would definitely tell myself to take more risks. Because this is a joint program, we have access to so many facilities and tools, and I don’t think I fully took advantage of that. I could have done so much more if I’d experimented around with the different printers. I just recently started using the sticker printer, that was super fun.

What do you think you’ll miss most about YSDN once you’ve graduated?

I think to some extent, I’ll miss the pressure. I work best under pressure in a collaborative environment. YSDN emphasizes group projects, and I’ve learned a lot by working with people from different cultural backgrounds. That’s probably what I’ll miss most.

What are three words you’d use to describe how you’re feeling right now, approaching the end of your YSDN journey?

Very. Very. Happy. [Laughs] Now I just find myself very eager to head into the real world and get a job and my own space. I’m eager to do a lot of self-learning that I might not have had the time to do while in YSDN. My current bucket list includes learning spanish, maybe mandarin, learning latte art, and taking bartending and business management courses.

Now that you’re starting a new chapter, what are some of the things you hope to accomplish in the future? Any big plans? Dream jobs?

I want to own a café at some point in the future [laughs]. During the summer of 2016, I did a cake designing certificate program, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was very therapeutic for me, and I was free to just let out my creative juices, so that might be something I pursue later on. For now, I think I want to work as a design researcher and experience designer, helping to create and curate both physical and digital spaces.

Be sure to check out Anushka’s work in the upcoming YSDN 2020 online graduating showcase, which launches on ysdn2020.com on April 13th.

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The Medium blog to promote the YSDN 2020 graduation showcase.

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