Narayan Gopalan — “Design is more than what you see — it’s creating what you experience with all your senses.”

ADI Bengaluru
Jan 16, 2020 · 6 min read
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After working for companies such as The Brand Union, Human Factors International, and Adobe, Narayan Gopalan has established himself as an independent consultant specializing in Interaction Design. He has assisted startups and large corporations globally in the creation of new digital services and products. Narayan, an alumnus of the Edinburgh College of Art & Srishti School of Art & Design, aims to climb into higher altitudes and is a proud dessertarian. Here’s a peek into his practice:

Complete the sentence:

Being a design/creative professional is NOT applying the final coat of
paint!

Being a design/creative professional IS understanding the customer, the
business and designing an experience that benefits both.

Your journey from visual design, branding, web and interaction design has been a long one. What were some challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Having to explain to anyone the role of a Designer has come a long way in the past 14 years of my professional time. From being the designer who enters the process at the last stage of a project (Logo/Branding/Visual Design) — to now becoming part of the first few brains to lead a project has been the result of a steady design-led process. Design is more than what you see (Visual Design) — it’s creating what you (as an end-user) experience with all your senses. It took a few projects and years to put this to the test and the results backing me up, helped me gain momentum as a consultant.

Design can be split into Form and Function. The former is an aesthetic call while the latter can be measured quantitively. Aesthetics are hard to prove — and work well with a sense of trust in the designer. Building this trust has been the hardest challenge. It takes patience, multiple tries and experience to ‘convince’ a stakeholder to go with the designer’s opinion. As a strong portfolio grew, the experience spoke, and the opinion was upgraded to an expert opinion. It also taught me to take a firm stand, be assertive
and refuse to become a tool for clients to express their visual ideas.

Being creative is largely about having the courage to fail repeatedly. Could you give an example from your own experiences of a project that failed? What went wrong, and what did you learn/take away from that experience?
I was bitten by the startup-bug in early 2013. Between 2013 and 2015, I played a leading role in multiple unique ideas ranging from renting expensive art to selling freshly picked teas & coffee online. The journey for each was short and sweet in retrospect, and in many ways and eye-opener to various challenges and aspects of a business.

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Being the 2nd runner-up for the Seedstars Asia award in 2014, was an insight into making elevator pitches, pitch decks and revenue projections to juries that at times were surprised to see a designer on stage. While the journey ended early with these startups, the knowledge and insights proved
beneficial as I continued consulting as an Experience Designer for various organizations. It did give me a firm grip on taking ideas to reality with shoe-string budgets, multi-tasking roles within an organization, and most importantly keeping up with the latest technologies to stay ahead of it.

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Is UX design largely a globalized practice or has it been contextualized in India? How so?
Globally, UX Is an emerging practice. There is much to be learned and discovered — and hence to share across the globe. UX itself is always contextualized to the customer — be it anywhere. The tools of UX — Research, Visual Design or Development — are common globally and shared across countries and continents. Putting them to optimum and efficient use requires knowledge of the end-user and their demographics.

As a designer and ‘serial entrepreneur’, has it been easy or difficult to merge the two roles? Do you have a personal preference for either role?
A designer who takes ownership, a realist who sees ideas through production, is an entrepreneur in many ways. As the designer, you often need to take ownership similar to be able to command bold decisions and create innovative solutions. Often, not being the primary stakeholder or business owner — the designer plays an important role unseen to others. I prefer the less seen yet important role that focusses on thinking & doing, each being as important as the other.

To me, the ‘Designer’ plays a more important role within. Having tried my hand at many ideas, I now have a very critical approach for self-initiated projects and often play the role of the Devil’s Advocate while evaluating an idea.

What was one memorable experience in bringing together the Indian design community for DesignUp?
Watching it grow has been the most memorable experience. From a community of around 250 in 2016 to around 1700 attendees in 2019 (that’s just the number of paid guests at the Bangalore & Singapore events, there are 15x of those who engage via multiple ways, including meetups, social media, our newsletter) the scale of growth was an eye-opener.

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How has being in Bangalore enriched your creative process? What have you learned from the city?
The city, after making it through the unwinding jams, does provide access to talented folks working with various technologies. From building drones to recycling e-waste there is always someone at hand to help you bring an idea to life — to build and create the technology to go with. Having spent the better part of my life in this city, the connections through friends and colleagues has provided me with a pool of resources to partner and learn from to not restrict my solutions by technology.

A Designer needs to be well-resourced with technologies, processes and other fields. These play a pivotal role in converting ideas into reality. It takes a while to make connections — through friends, family, and social gatherings. The ones I have right now are the result of over 20 years of living in the city.

And lastly — How do you spend a perfect Sunday in Bangalore? Any specific recommendations or must-try?
Sundays start and end with great food. I’ve traveled around the world, and my favorite breakfast is a ‘typical Bangalore idly-vada/masala dosa.’ It’s hard to go wrong with this. My favorites joints are still in the southern areas of the city.

Find Narayan’s work on:
Instagram @whereisnaru
LinkedIn Narayan Gopalan

This interview is a part of a series of conversations with designers from Bengaluru called ADI Diaries. You can find more interviews here. Follow ADI Bengaluru on Instagram at adi.bengaluru

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