12 Questions: Meet Shubho Roy (India)

This is the second in what will be a regular series in our blog where we’ll feature interviews with someone (a creative and/or a buyer) from the crowdSPRING community.

We’ll pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice. Really.

We’re very proud to feature Shubho Roy (crowdSPRING username: shubho_roy) today. Shubho lives and works in India.

1. Please tell us about yourself.

I grew up in a small university town called Santiniketan in Bengal (India). It’s a pretty place for lazy people like me – life is slow…nice creative atmosphere…you find musicians and artists and writers around. Lots of trees, and there’s also a river nearby you can go down to on a bicycle…I’ve lived here all my life save a few times when I thought a job in a city like Calcutta would be better – I was wrong. Now, I am back in my hometown, living with my wife and my four-year-old son. I am 29, by the way.

Professionally, I am mainly into broadcast designing, specializing in low-cost solutions for channel packaging (from logos to look-n-feel to channel IDs). And since you don’t have TV channels changing their looks every day, I have lots of time to do other things…

2. How did you start out as a designer?

As far as I remember I was always going to be an artist of some kind. I was trained in the art college as a painter in my hometown university. Side by side, I also nurtured a passion for filmmaking and writing. I was doing designing too (posters, cover-design etc.) as student, but was not being paid for it. Still I do a lot of work for nothing more than grateful smile! I love doing that. But I still have a hard time imagining myself exclusively as a designer. ‘Artist’ is better word.

How I professionally started out as a designer is a minor accident. I made a short film in 2003 in which I, naturally, did the graphics bit as well. It was early 2005, and STAR News, one of India’s biggest news networks, was preparing to launch the first 24 hours Bengali news channel. I remember I went to Calcutta to try my luck there as a video editor. An American gentleman called Ken Tiven (former CNN vice-president) was conducting the interviews in his capacity as a consultant. After talking to me and seeing bits of my film, Ken advised me to join as a graphic designer instead of an editor! At first it seemed crazy. I wasn’t sure if I could do design professionally. And there were more experienced designers applying for the job. But Ken was somehow convinced. Secretly, I was excited too, because surely graphics was more fun than editing…and before long I was part of the core designing team, designing the channel with some of the best broadcast designers in the world (Red Bee Media, formerly BBC Broadcast, was involved in the designing, along with a team of ex-CNN guys, who were there as consultants, and STAR network’s own powerhouse technical team). I never had any formal training in designing, but I was lucky to have worked with some really good professionals early on.

3. What great design(s) have you seen recently that you love?

Nowadays, more than ever, we are flooded with really attractive designs, aren’t we? But it also makes it harder to create an impression. We are literally deluged day and night with attractive designs from all over the world.

What I look for in a work is individual style: styles that are flexible but offer distinct worldviews. If I had to name…in no particular order…Cody Hudson. I love his flow…repetition and deviation…simple eternal intuitive design. He enjoys the freedom. I also like works by designer-illustrator Sanna Annukka. I think she has created a sophisticated language using fundamental shapes and a simple syntax of decoration, but it’s amazingly flexible and expressive. A good visual language is one that is capable of expressing a wide worldview without any stylistic discontinuity or logical break. Also, American artist Brian Dettmer’s ‘altered’ books made me think a lot…kind of Borgesian vision translated into design! Brilliant! Come to think of it, not very Borgesian either! On a more commercial line, I must pay a tribute to Japanese design: Naoto Fukasawa’s brilliant fruit juice packaging. His banana pack has been for some time a rage across the global design community. So many great artists…exciting times!

4. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your design work?

Among my earliest inspirations, I must mention Satyajit Ray, filmmaker, who was also a fine graphic designer, typographer and illustrator, who really helped shape the identity of Bengali design, fusing traditional Indian pictorial wisdom with modernist minimalist solutions.

Among international designers, I think the works of Paul Rand, Walter Landor, F. Starowieyski, Saul Bass, Herb Lubalin and Milton Glaser, to name a few, should be studied by every aspiring designer. I constantly draw inspiration from sculptors and painters – Matisse, Mondrian, Picasso, Giacometti…Egon Schiele was a favorite when I was a student. Love watching figurative painters like RB Kitaj, David Hockney, Francesco Clemente, KG Subramanyan (we have seen him up close, working at the college)…too long a list, really. Also Russian constructivists like Tatlin, Rodchenko, Gabo…major inspirations for designers! Should be studied by all.

Major ideas often come from other disciplines…Poetry, films, music. But finally, as a designer, I always go back to nature. That’s essential. Studying stones, leaves, vines, ripples in water, a feather falling endlessly…absorbing the rhythm and energy inside will reflect in your understanding of forms. You must spend time. I think, everybody does that; just that some are aware and some aren’t.

5. What’s the very first thing you do when approaching a new design?

Since you have asked, I run to the bathroom! I think it’s the excitement when you have an idea! There I sit for about half an hour and think…smoke and think…trying to capture the fleeting idea, trying to grasp it completely.

But not always…Sometimes a job may not exactly be cut out for me…and then usually I miss the excitement – but I have to do it anyway. So then I try to slug it out on my Photoshop…or even on paper…scribble and scrabble till I reach a solution. Sometimes, it may even start with extensive research.

It depends, actually, on the job.

6. Which of your designs are your favorites and why?

Usually it’s always the last one. So I must mention the Sunlily logo design I did here on crowdSPRING. I am, in my own small way, trying to push the boundaries gradually. Of course, every designer tries that! I am still not there yet…but I can sense a direction, vague, and I am chasing it. I think these are exciting times for the logo, really. Some wild new trends can be seen. Call it the post-modernity of logos. The modernist minimalism is fading. We are seeing transparent overlapping logos, animated logos…we must remember the times are changing! Old canons are still valid, but less effective. I am not even sure if twenty years from now we will still need single-color versions of logos! We will be living in a totally RGB environment. The Sunlily logo, however, works fine in single-color too.

Among other works, I personally enjoyed doing the channel IDs for TARA Muzik, a Bengali music channel. There’s one ID where you see a cluster of zeppelins and hot-air balloons carrying a floating ensemble of musicians and objects…Personally, I enjoyed making that, from the initial idea to execution. I wish it had a more stylized look, but they didn’t like that idea!

7. When designing a logo, what do you think are the biggest mistakes a designer can make?

For some designers, the biggest mistake would be to ignore the basic “canons” of logo designing. Yet, for others it is precisely the opposite: believing that these laws cannot be breached. There already are websites discussing things a logo should not overlook. They are all valid, but for how long and how far? Of course, for a designer starting out, I shall prescribe those laws. If you want to be a good designer, you MUST learn them, so you can transcend them and unlearn them later. This is true in all arts. Needless to say, only a few manage to do that. But it’s a mistake to think that these rules are the be-all end-all of it; neither should they be applied to appreciate a work. If something is just beautiful, go for it. Great designers will always, like naughty children, give these laws a slip from time to time. Among recent works, I thought the Bahamas logo is a great example. Also, though it’ll probably never go down as a classic (no way!), the Microsoft Silverlight has to be mentioned, definitely along with others, for the way it has taken a step towards redefining the idea of the logo itself.

But these aside, there are a couple of things I’d like to mention: I hate clever logos. By clever, I mean, a logo that’s really nothing but an apparently clever idea. It can be those clichéd objects becoming an “O” or an “I”, or it can be two alphabets conjoined or twisted or overlapped to create a meaningful shape (a house, a staircase or a bridge…whatever). Most of the times, they look forced and farfetched. Of course, sometimes it works too, when it really seems effortless, like the F1 (Formula One) logo, for example, or Herb Lubalin’s Families logo (they don’t scream! HL’s Mother & Child does, however…). But I think most of the time young designers tend to look for such happy coincidences (or manufacture them) in the shapes of the letters…it’s like an obsession these days. And that’s precisely why it has lost the novelty. Sadly, however, most minor buyers are still impressed (not to mention designers themselves!). I can understand the joy of doing such a thing…or the initial excitement. But if you ask, how many big and beautiful brands have such clever logos? Very few. A visual ‘pun’, or a ‘gag’ isn’t always necessary to make a great logo. It doesn’t always have to be meaningful…it can simply be beautiful…I know most will dispute my contention!

8. How has technology affected your work?

The place where I live lagged behind in technology for many years (and still does). People started using the computer late and still I am probably only one here doing graphic design professionally. But things are changing, more and more people are Photoshop-literate now. So that’s good news for the next generation. But there are some major hurdles that we face everyday – in West Bengal, particularly outside the big cities, we have never known what an uninterrupted power supply is! During the summer and the monsoon we can have long stretches of power-cuts (they call it load-shedding here), or may even be many short breaks throughout the day at regular intervals. The autumn and winter are better. But, anyway, that’s a real bother for those who are making do with technology. It can drive you crazy. But we just go about doing what we can and try to beat the conditions! So I try never to make myself too technology dependent. Of course, in big cities, the situation isn’t that bad at all.

Sometimes I plan things in ink & paper, because I like to do that…But I am mainly a Photoshop guy. Of course, I have to work on other software too…After Effects with the set Trapcode plug-ins being my personal favorite. Adobe Illustrator, too, of course…but I am not much of a vector person. Anyway, I try to play down the technology. I am not really curious about the next innovation…or I don’t fuss about the older versions. I am doing fine without a stylus / tablet, or any such fancy gadgets.

9. When working online, how do you decide whether to participate in a project?

I think most designers immediately know if a project is made for them. If it is, you feel the excitement…You are restless till you finish the job. If you don’t feel the excitement, it’s not for you. But of course, that’s not all: sometimes you feel the excitement, execute the design, but you realize someone else has done better. What do you do? I usually prefer not to submit. Partly, that’s showing respect, and partly, the idea of rejection isn’t very attractive.

10. What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a graphic designer?

As far as rewards go…Being appreciated…the joy of creation, after having done something good…the feeling that you are making some contribution, however small. Not to mention the fact that you are doing what you like best and being paid for it. Lots of rewards. The journey itself, from idea to execution…priceless.

Challenges are many too…sometimes, on a bad day, just to come up with something at all! On an average day, to be able to maintain the standard. On a good day, to do something really beautiful! Sometimes, it’s all about doing better than someone else; nobody is beyond such petty rivalries (it’s an old instinct). On other days, it’s about beating yourself.

11. What advice would you give a young designer just starting out?

That if you really want to be good, you must figure it out yourself.

12. What do you do with your free time?

Design. I feel most free when designing or doing something related…something creative. Maybe writing, scribbling…But that’s really how I would define my free time. However, when not designing…I either read, or spend time with my family…or maybe listening again and again to the few songs I like (Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, mainly)…browsing the net…taking long walks. But if you are an artist, you cannot cease being one, ever, not even in your ‘free time’. You remain a designer, or a writer, or a musician…your mind stays tuned that way. Whichever way you look, you see patterns, forms, shapes…it’s a pleasurable curse.

??????? , Shubho!