Teaching yourself design out of hours

Shivam Thapliyal on how he went from engineer to designer, on his own

From the design team at Flipkart, Shivam Thapliyal is a multi disciplinary designer. Shivam not only explores 3D and illustration, but also tinkers in hand lettering.


You studied Computer science engineering. How did you end up in design?

When began studying at college I became fascinated with design and illustration. I began to work on developing my skillset in my own time. Since I wasn’t in a creative environment, I taught myself by mimicking what I saw on Dribbble, contacting other designers and gathering resources and learning material to study.

Eventually I took course on Lynda. While I’d been learning and growing as a designer in my spare time, once I graduated from school I took on a developer role. This lasted about 7 months before I decided to move to another part of India.

Once there I joined the Flipkart Design team as a design intern. At Flipkart I worked on making brand illustrations, 3D compositions and writing interactive code for their website!

It was great fun to work in such a collaborative environment. Leaving my role as a developer was difficult, but in the end I really valued the experiences I was learning at Flipkart and knew I’d made the right decision.

How did you manage to teach yourself design?

Teaching myself was one of the toughest things I’ve done — learning the basics in itself was a challenge. I didn’t have much creative guidance or somewhere to go to get my questions answered.

Teaching myself led me to a develop a good observation for things like shadows, colours, perspective and geometry. This helped me see inconsistencies and distortions in my work.

Something else I struggled with while teaching myself was finding a design mentor. Eventually I connected with illustrator Ayesha Rana, who happens to be from my hometown. She’s been fantastic in helping me refine my skills, and knows how to differentiate between good and bad design. She also helps critiquing my work, process, approach and understanding.

Over the years I’ve also learnt from other illustrators like DKNG, Maite Franchi, Shaivalini Kumar and many more. It’s been super helpful to learn how each approaches their style and uses different techniques.

Your style varies from flat illustration to 3D compositions. How important do you think it is for designers to try new styles and techniques?

It’s like looking for something in a dark room — you need to try many times until you find it. I’ve come to believe that one must know what kind of work one can make, and would want to make.

I’m currently exploring 3D compositions in cinema4D which is very interesting. It’s important to go beyond your comfort zone and see what you can create in other circumstances.

I think it’s good for designers to try new styles and techniques as there are multiple ways to do something.

Trying new things encourages you not to just learn a new style but also understand and identify that style and technique in other works. Over time you come to learn certain styles and techniques, making you better at knowing how to use them in certain situations. This gives you freedom to explore and see what you can master.

What’s been in the inspiration behind your Instagram account?

I wanted to have a separate channel for my hand lettering projects and quick lettering artworks.

I wanted to have this so I could post randomly made artworks as rough sketches. I like incorporating images in my hand lettering artwork. The thing I enjoy the most about hand lettering is how one can combine a piece of text with art and convey more.

I’m currently reading “In Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process” by Jessica Hische and it’s amazing. It’s really helping me to come up with new ideas to work on in the upcoming months.

You’re currently working at Flipkart as a graphic design intern. What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt during your internship so far?

For me everyday is a new experience packed with learnings and personal development. Working on a big product comes with challenges like legibility and functionality of your work. I like how the entire team works collaboratively to power a giant system.

We often have brainstorming sessions where everyone has the opportunity to pitch an idea to the team. Team members will then challenge you to push it further, find flaws and help you refine your idea. It’s such an inspiration to hear the ideas of other team members!

Doing this exercise has made me realise that doesn’t matter who you are or what you have or don’t. Just focus on creating good work and you’ll surely reach what you’re aiming for.

Your Instagram has a great collection of personal projects. How do you make the time to work on these outside of your day job?

After 7pm I focus on personal work. This could be anything from posters to illustrations, 3D or something experimental like writing creative code on codepen.

Sometimes it’s hectic and tiring to come home and focus on personal work. There’s been a few times where I’m hyper focused and can easily tinker until 6am. Other times I’m not in the mood to work at all. Generally people think they need a strong brief, a text to work upon.

I feel in personal projects, one can make a lot of experimental work, based on techniques and tricks you have seen, developed or observed. You can take a lot of time for this. Or even make them in a cab, while traveling, or whenever you’re free.

I think personal work is about what excites you. If something interests me I take some time to explore and try it out. During this I try different styles, though I always seem to resort back to adding lots of detail and colour in my work.

Follow Shivam on Instagram, Twitter, Dribbble or Behance.


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The Creative Series is a publication run by Femke that highlights the under-deserved creatives of our industry. If you’re interested in being featured or want to submit someone, please reach out to Femke on Twitter.

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