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Summer 2018

Summer Diaries: Srishti Institute of Design

August 4, 2018
- Anchit Shukla

Making it there

As soon as a second-year student is back to college after summer vacations, he/she gets exposed to an enormous amount of heat that surrounds the phenomenon of getting an on-campus internship. Some amongst them already have an internship experience and some have just heard about the great GS and Schlumberger stories from their seniors. I also felt the same heat when I was back after completing my 2 months internship in a fintech startup and gaining some corporate world experience as a UI/UX Designer. In spite of so many people giving gyan about following one’s passion, there are,in reality, very few who actually follow their passion. You can easily observe students doing their research on some fat-cash paying companies and blindly learning what is necessary to crack their tests. This is mainly because most students are confused about their area of interest and this is very natural.

Being actively involved in the design teams of some campus groups for 2 years helped me in figuring out that Design was the field that I wanted to be in but since design was such a vast field, I was really confused about what I actually wanted to do and on top of that having a decent CGPA tempted me to apply for some companies which were offering internships in management profiles but I failed and thanks to that failure, I realised the fact that it was time I started eliminating things that I didn’t want to do. When I started doing this, I went through various design profiles that people had and discussed them with my seniors and finally I was able to decide 2–3 profiles that I should try getting an internship in. Unfortunately, there are not many companies which offer on-campus internships for designers (last year it was only one). So, the way out was to apply off-campus and I started doing that. I was more keen on doing a research internship in a field called Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), which is very less explored in India and has a very small community of professionals practicing it. One of my senior who has an experience in HCI research suggested that I apply to the design institutes in India, so I started mailing in January after failing to get through Mitacs to which I had applied earlier for some HCI related projects that were available.

When you are mailing for research internships, one thing that you should always do is keeping a track of your emails. Set reminders for one week, two weeks and a month after the mailing date for follow-ups according to your order of preference for the project type. I used Google calendar for this. Use your resume wisely and the cover letter should be according to the project and the professor you are mailing to. Do proper ‘stalking’ and use relevant information from professors’ profiles in the cover letters that you send in your emails. I was also applying simultaneously for UX Designer and Product Manager profiles in renowned startups which had a good product team and were reviewed well based on the work environment and culture. After one month of serious mailing and follow-ups, I was able to bag interviews with three startups and managed to get through two of them. But I waited for a response from the professors whom I had mailed, especially the ones from Srishti and IIT Guwahati because these institutes had good projects in HCI and bagging an internship opportunity there would help me, especially with respect to my future prospects in research. Then on April 26th, during my end-semester exams, I received an email from one of the professor who turned out to be the course leader of Human Centred Design (HCD) department at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore but I was surprised as I had not mailed him for an internship opportunity. In fact, I had written an email to another professor in the same institute for internship and luckily the professor to whom I wrote the email forwarded it directly to him and he was working on a project which was relevant to my skill set and experience. This was a great opportunity for me, so I declined the two startup offers that I had and confirmed the internship offer from Srishti and it turned out to be a great decision for me.

Work

Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology (Srishti) is one of the top-notch design institutes in India amongst NID, IDC-IIT Bombay and IIT Guwahati Design Department to name a few. The institute has been working closely in collaboration with organizations, both industrial and academical on some very interesting projects and that gives you a great exposure to understand the actual life cycle of a product designed and developed, right from the ideation stage to go into the hands of users.

My area of research was HCI integrated with Healthcare and Personal Informatics. The project is called ReRide. ReRide is a platform to explore the interaction of a bike rider with the bike. The platform does real-time posture estimation and gives the rider a feedback for preventive self-care during the bike commute. When I joined, the team who was working on ReRide before had developed an early prototype for demonstrating it in a conference and had done a feedback analysis by consulting a physiotherapist. Based on the prototype testing and extensive design research done to solve the problems faced with the earlier prototype, the new objectives were set and we had to come up with an improved and stable prototype which would be easily mountable on most bikes and would be more modular. It was an exploratory research project which means that we were trying to solve a problem starting with specific use cases and not working on all of them. It was more of an open-ended research problem. The motive was to build a prototype which can be used for extensive user testing and ultimately feed that data into certain ML (Machine Learning) models which eventually would help us in building a prototype that would suggest the posture of the rider to a maximum precision.

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I got to learn many new concepts and tools which I had never worked with before and because I was the only student in the project team with the other three members being faculty cum researches, I got involved in a lot of conversations with them on a plethora of topics and it gave me a better insight into the world of engineering and design. There was no such obligation of specific work hours and I usually worked from 10 in the morning and often worked till late in the evening and tried to be on course with the weekly plan that we had prepared. Faculty at Srishti are from so many diverse fields that you can’t refrain yourself from talking to them and discussing the kind of projects they were working on and the way they teach is totally different from the traditional methods used in engineering colleges. They believe in getting their hands dirty and building, and not just spending their time in speculating about a theory on a whiteboard. The faculty is extremely approachable and helpful. The conversations with all the HCD faculty on the lunch table ranging from Asimov’s writings to cracking a lame and ‘punny’ joke makes you feel good about the place. Sitting with creative people around you forces your creative juices to flow and get struck by ideas that you couldn’t even think of getting stuck by otherwise and the Bangalore weather adds to it by being the catalyst in making your mind feel more rejuvenated than ever.

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The city is beautiful (barring the traffic, of course) and there are so many places to visit in and around Bangalore which you could easily find on the internet.

Key Takeaways

I got to learn a lot in these two months which were very overwhelming for me. I have also learned about the gap that is present between engineering and design which we need to bridge in the coming future. The experience has been amazing and satisfying. I also got a chance to be at the annual grad show- The Srishti Collective 2018 in which the graduating students exhibit their final projects and I would recommend everyone present in Bangalore at this time(mostly around mid-June) to visit this grand exhibition which had around three hundred unique ideas this year from all the design disciplines and going through those projects took me an entire day and even then I was not able to see all of them.

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Since there are not many people in our college who have some kind of experience in HCI research projects, the important part is to contact the right person and take their opinion and suggestion while applying for these internships. Design research is surely a thing for you if you are a person who loves to identify and solve problems around you. An internship at a design institute would surely give you a perspective that you always wanted to have.

The only thing that I would suggest to the present third-year students is to try to come out of your comfort zone and not follow a defined path. Instead work on your interests and talk about them to as many creative people around you as you can. PS: Feel free to contact me if you have any query related to design research fields or anything that is bothering you.