Over Virtual Coffee with Design Educator, Mandar Kale

Mandar Kale is on a mission to unlock and ignite creativity in the youth of today. He is currently the head of academics at Strate School of Design, Bangalore. We caught up with Mandar as he shared with us the challenges of starting a design college from the ground up, his perspectives on design education in India and some advice for young designers looking to make a name in the industry.

Young Designers India
YDI Dimension

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01| Knowing Mandar

What is your superpower?

Patience. My ability to take a step back and read a situation without reacting to it impulsively is what I believe is my superpower.

How would you describe the last two years in a sentence?

They were like the first two years of parenthood. It felt as if everything was going too fast and too slow at the same time, as if the years had passed too quickly. Yet in the moment, it felt like time couldn’t move any slower.

02 | Mandar’s outlook on design

How would you describe design in a sentence?

I think design is about intent. And I believe at the core it’s more about bringing people together.

How do you try to inculcate the intent part of design in your students?

When I say design is about intent, it involves taking a step back to looking at the 360. Looking at the why; the way we try to do it in school is to encourage people to ask questions, to debate, and to share, all to make sure that they understand why they’re doing things. I think that design as intent is a lot more about being self aware in terms of the kind of value you want to create in the world as a reflection of who you are. As a student, you’re constantly changing, so it’s important to find a balance between who you are and what value you want to give, or what impact you want to have through your work.

When he is not hard at work mentoring his students, Mandar loves finding time to make product and sci-fi illustrations and often shares them with us on our Discord Server!

03 | On mentorship

Many students regard their first internship experience as a completely foreign experience with a new set of learnings. How do you prepare students to work in an industry environment in college?

Creating a professional environment in the college itself is a good place to start. Simple things such as punctuality — being present five minutes before the class, or just simply showing up, and communicating — being articulate, enough. We have some writing courses and some articulation exercises which help students to articulate their thoughts well because many times, they want to say something, but they don’t know how. For example, putting forward an opposing point of view, without it coming across as a personal attack.

In an internship, it’s about the value you add. No one is expecting an intern to do great things, or to have great results. But what they are expecting is hygiene first — enthusiasm, being on time, being open to learning, and of course bringing their own fresh point of view.

Hence, if the college simulates a professional environment where you’re expected to make a presentation for your work, expected to deliver things on time, both in terms of assignments as well as overall projects, it builds the practice of appropriately showcasing and articulating your work. This, I think, gives students enough preparation and confidence to be ready for any professional setting.

Most importantly, the ability to take feedback. I think this is a very underrated thing. If you have had a very protected school environment, it becomes difficult to sometimes accept the harsh criticism that can come at you in the real world. Building that resilience to feedback and learning how to accept it in the right manner also becomes key.

04 | Setting up a design college

What are some challenges in setting up a design school in India?

I think the challenges involved in setting up a new organisation boils down to three things — Creating a great culture, building the right team and nurturing your vision.

1/ Creating a great culture: This is in reference to the whole idea of innovation in terms of the thinking and the attitude, and also setting up a culture of curiosity, and of proactiveness where students are here to listen, make their own decisions, and actively practice and learn on their own.

2/ Building the right team: There are many people who are good. But there are many more who are teaching because it’s a second option to them. And that’s something that we don’t want to have in the school at all. So finding people and getting them involved in school and getting them to feel as if this is their school often becomes a challenge.

3/ Nurturing the vision: When you start something, you have a lot of power as the engines are full. And it’s very easy to lift off. But it’s very important to make sure that the direction is something that you really want. Because this initial direction will have a big impact when the rocket goes up. Articulating the vision and then nurturing this vision within a variety of constraints — it could be from the university, the business, the market, a pandemic — any of the other things. We have to make sure that you are relevant — Not for today, but 10 years down the line

Three must haves in an ideal design education system?

1/ Inspiration: The space you build should be such that when students come, their minds get activated. If someone’s starting off their school day at 9, and are waiting for it to be over so they can run to the football field for some leisure time, then it’s a failure.

2/ A Challenge: Challenge is important, because in many cases, design almost feels as if “anything goes”. There needs to be a certain amount of tension in the process, for the student to be challenged and strive to be better.

3/ A Positive Relationship with Work: An ideal space is one where students have a positive relationship with their work. It should be a space where you pursue things which you’re passionate about and not doing it because someone has told you to do it.

So it should be challenging enough for the student to feel like they’ve achieved something when they come out of it, but also a space of freedom, peace and enjoyment that inspires them.

05| On The Future of Design in India

Where do you see design education in India heading towards?

Going forward I think it’s going to percolate down more and more to schools. A lot of what we do as fundamentals like design principles or elements of design will be taught early on. Which means that the people who come to a professional design education are already going to be at a higher level.

The overall sensitivity to the fundamentals of design is going to be wider, which means that there is going to be a lot more expectation from designers to go to the next level, understanding psychology, understanding human behavior, and so on. I think over the next 10 years, design education will become more experience based and knowledge based than practice based.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to design students today?

I would advise students to not get bogged down with what is right and wrong. For them to follow a iterative or circular approach. Clarity will only come from quantity. With social media, it’s hard to avoid getting stuck comparing oneself to others and surrender to a spiral of negative thoughts, Am I good enough? will i get there? etc. So just that one sentence can actually motivate you to keep going — and someday, maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday, it will be of value and it will be worth it.

Young Designers India (YDI) is a truly collectivistic cohort, nurturing the essence of design in India. YDI hopes to empower young creatives with a confident mindset in the realm of creativity and exposure. YDI is an ever-welcoming home for designers, artists, educators, makers, creators, leaders and thought starters. We celebrate cultural diversity and strive for inclusivity.

We setup camp on discord. Engage in our daily discussions and see mindblowing work from community members. YDI is unlike any other community when it comes to sharing and caring. We ask, we give feedback, we learn and we unlearn here at YDI.

Head over to this link to join.

Interview conducted and compiled by Priya Kini and Saurav Vaishnav for YDI Dimension.

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Young Designers India
YDI Dimension

We are a truly collectivistic cohort, nurturing the essence of design in India.