When Hazel Karkaria and Somesh Kumar realized they had much more in common than an ‘unparalleled love for tea’, the result was By Two Design!
What is the story behind By Two Design?
We’re batch mates from Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore where we both pursued a Diploma in Visual Communication. We shared the same ethos of how we’d like to practice design and just genuinely liked working together. A year or two after graduating, we sat and chalked out a little road map to have our own studio in a couple of years.
‘By two coffee’ is a phrase we became familiar with while at Srishti. It seemed to sum up our philosophy of halving everything and working together. Often decisions of how you choose to work are born out of constraints and are more organic than you’d think. Both of us are sort of old school and believed in hard work; the idea of having our own little studio motivated and excited us!
As a young graphic design studio, we had a lot to figure out and somewhere along the line we realized that we wanted to specialize in illustration (analog and digital). Whilst engaging with everyday projects, we’ve always encouraged each other to hone our own skills and learn new ones too. Recently, we added lettering and basic animation (gifs) to our repertoire whilst continuing to specialize in illustration. We’re excited to see where we’ll go with that!
How did you come up with the Perch Project?
The Perch Project precedes our studio and it’s special to us because it kind of validated our belief that design could be meaningful and could make a visible impact. Urban wildlife rescue has been integral to Hazel since she was a kid. There was always an animal in the house that had to be looked after, then rehabbed. One day Somesh found an orphaned baby myna that needed looking after. We spent a large part of the day over the phone passing information from one end and updates from the other. Much to our dismay the myna didn’t make it and we started talking about how it would be useful to document information for different species, for those who actually wanted to help. In the Indian scenario, we thought there was a void when it came to information with regard to rescue of urban wildlife.
The Perch Project was born, and our first post was about the myna. We carefully catalogued all (non-medical) information with the help of carefully prepared illustrations and diagrams accumulated over years of experience. The Perch Project became a wonderful place to start By Two Design because we realized how passionate we could be about what we did and that we had fun doing it.
Which have been your other memorable projects?
Every project has been part of a larger learning curve. While some projects help us sharpen or showcase a skill, others teach us that our contracts need tweaking or how to communicate or work better with a client.
One of our earlier projects was designing an e-magazine for ESPN Cricinfo called The Cricket Monthly – it was particularly exciting and rewarding because we pored over it for months, ironing out every little detail.
Happibo is a company that makes packaged baby food and is run by a couple committed to making good, honest products. We got to be a part of their journey from the very beginning and it’s an ongoing relationship. We value the fact that we get to work with clients who believe in good design and trust us with their brand.
Somesh had the opportunity of working on illustrations for a book called Jal, Thal, Mal by Sopan Joshi that looks at sanitation in India. It took two years to complete and was a rewarding experience in terms of interacting with the author, as well as doing the illustrations themselves. We recently had the opportunity of working for Drishyam Films on a poster for the movie Newton! We were super stoked to have it out.
Within illustration stippling has become something of a specialization and we did a set of 12 illustrations for Lathika George’s book, Mother Earth, Sister Seed. It’s always rewarding to see your work in print in a publication.
We’ve also loved working for WRI (World Resources Institute). The projects that we have done for EMBARQ always have very clear, interesting briefs and a chance to interpret large amounts of information visually – we love doing infographics!
How do you approach a new project?
We like to keep it simple and since we work remotely (Hazel is in Ahmedabad and Somesh in Bangalore), we make sure we discuss the nuances of every project with each other. If the brief isn’t clear, we arrive
at a brief with the client and articulate as best we can. We make sure the scope of work and timeline are both realistic and well defined. We discuss the thoughts and ideas each of us have had and make sure they’re properly vetted. We sketch out the ideas we’re most excited about and show them to the client. Changes are made according to the feedback given and we proceed with the final artwork. More often than not, that also has a couple
of rounds of changes. The last leg is applications (if any) and handing over
files to the client. We like to execute our artworks well, so we typically make sure the time spent on ideas and execution stays proportionate.
Share your tips for dealing with clients.
We’re still learning, to be honest. The more projects we do, the more we realize that it has to be a participative process and it is important to help the client articulate what they want, if they haven’t already. We try as much as possible to make sure that all expectations are clear from the get go; we try and make sure that our costs and timelines are realistic, and we don’t promise things we know we can’t deliver. Once you explain yourself, most clients are understanding. It was a while before we learned that every once in a while, you have to learn to say ‘no’ even if it means things not working out as intended (and that’s okay too). Communicating efficiently is important to us, so we do lay emphasis on articulating ourselves as well as we possibly can.
Have there been many entrepreneurial challenges along the way?
One of the biggest challenges of having your own set up is that you’re always working. While the flexible hours are nice, at some point you realize that you’re always embroiled in something. For us, funnily, the challenge has been to set aside time for actual life stuff. In the beginning, there were times when work was slow, and we didn’t have the luxury of a fixed pay check, so it caused some anxiety (understandably). It’s exciting and fun to chart out your own road map and figure out where you want to be, but it’s also been grueling because you’re the one writing the proposals, following up on payments, writing the emails and doing the accounts, in addition to actually working on the projects. Possibly like every other designer, we’re forever trying to streamline our processes.
What inspires you?
We love buying/collecting design books, graphic novels and magazines (especially Communication Arts, New Yorker, Wired and National Geographic) and those are always inspiring. The work of early Bauhaus designers and the clarity with which they approached design always makes you want to better yourself. However, ever so often inspiration comes from ordinary (possibly even mundane) scenarios. Just watching things and people while you’re commuting, looking out from a rickshaw, at train stations and airports; it’s almost always right under your nose.
What is the role of awards in the design business?
It would be a blatant lie to say that it isn’t satisfying to have one’s work recognized, but between us, we honestly believe that you’re only as good as the work you’ve done recently. As humans we’re hard-wired to look at external validation and when it does come from credible sources, it can be extremely gratifying. It perhaps provides the conviction, contentment or self-belief needed to continue carving your own path. Traditionally, we assume that ‘achievements’ would refer to awards or having your work featured and while that does have its place no doubt, what is truly rewarding is having finished a project well and being happy and proud to later showcase it.
How did formal design education impact your career?
If it wasn’t for Srishti, By Two Design wouldn’t have existed. While at design school we were taught by the legendary Mahendra Patel who said it was important to know the rules before breaking them. Design school was exactly that – setting up a framework or foundation within or outside of which to function. We’ve had some stellar faculty who have impacted the way we think and work even today, and we’re forever indebted to them. It’s not just the classroom scenarios, but the privilege of being in an environment where one can question freely and have one’s belief systems, thoughts, and ideas questioned as well. It was nice to be exposed to the fact that there’s no gospel truth to adhere to, no black and white, but perhaps the shades of grey that need poring over.
What’s next for By Two Design?
Besides having actual weekends, having a normal eight-hour workday and sleeping more than four to six hours, at some point we’d both like to teach and conduct workshops as a way of giving back. We’d like to realize the vision we had for Perch and develop it as the holistic resource we’d like it to be. In the future we’ve talked about taking on socially relevant projects on our own steam (distinct from the pitfalls of bureaucracy).
Somesh wants to work on his graphic novel, one that started as his diploma project, but has evolved considerably since. Hazel wants to work on a lettering- based book that documents her Parsi-Kutchi heritage.
This article was originally published in POOL 97.
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