Talking Design with Jaskaran Bhatia

Computer Science Aug 25, 2020

Jaskaran Bhatia is a CSE undergrad at BITS Pilani, Goa. He is a graphic design mentor at The GirlScript Foundation. He holds the position of Head of Videography at Department of Photography BITS Goa.

1. What got you interested in graphic designing and how were you introduced to it?

It’s a bit of a long story. I was initially HUGE into film making and video editing, since way back when I was in 8th Grade. I used to participate in local inter-school competitions, and eventually a friend and I decided to start a YouTube channel. We needed to design the logo, and cover art for the videos back then, and that’s what got me into graphic designing. I was already familiar with Video Editing suites like Premiere Pro, which is an Adobe software, and I thought about giving Photoshop a shot. Post 12th grade, my friend moved to Canada for film school and I ended up here, so the idea for making it big in the YouTube world derailed, but my interest in designing stuck.

On reaching college I realized that designing was a HUGE asset for anyone looking to get into clubs and departments, and that made me focus on improving my Photoshop during my first year, and that’s what got me going.

2. What would be your advice to a beginner who is looking to just start with graphic designing? What and from where should he/she start learning?

I understand that picking up a new skill is daunting, especially with how overwhelming the interface might seem at first. I think what made it easier for me was that I was acquainted with the Adobe Suite through Premiere Pro and After Effects before learning Photoshop, and so the learning curve probably wasn’t as steep.

Either way, the thing to realize is that Rome wasn’t built in a day. To anyone wanting to get into this field, the secret is to keep practicing, without expecting a lot of returns at first. The thing about design is the good design is hidden, unnoticeable, while bad design screams at you. As you begin, you’ll make a lot of mistakes, but you need to keep improving yourself, and you will get better over time. Design isn’t rocket-science, and it shouldn’t take long before you get the hang of it.

As far as resources are concerned, YouTube should be the go-to option for anyone. There are a lot of great channels that I refer to even to this day, because there’s always something you don’t know. PixImperfect, hosted by Unmesh Dinda happens to be a personal favorite. I would recommend not just watching tutorial videos, but following them along- that’s what helps. I personally never watched a tutorial series. Anytime I want to do something new, I google for relevant keywords, and watch a video, to try to understand it. That helps because I always have a short term goal in mind that way, and I can self evaluate myself easily.

3. How do you focus and stay creative while under pressure, if you are working on a deadline?

The idea is pretty straightforward- I don’t think of work as work, I think of it as an opportunity to grow. I feel that the most useless kinds of tasks in such a field are those where you know everything and don’t have to apply anything new. These kinds of tasks lead to stress. Avoiding it is pretty simple- I try to go for something new every time. As long as I feel I’m learning, I’m not really stressed, as such. Sometimes, there is a lack of inspiration, at which point I just ask the client to throw ideas at me that I can work with. I also recommend sources like Behance, Dribbble, Unsplash, and even Instagram to get comfortable with design in general. It goes a long way towards helping your creativity.

Moreover, Graphic Design feels like an escape. Most of the time, as a designer, you have the freedom to interpret your client’s needs, and create something that you feel best conveys their ideas. You’re not bound by rules, as such. In such a situation, you feel under control, and even though you’re working on a deadline, it feels like your project, and not something you’re doing for someone else.

A word of caution for anyone looking to get into anything related to design: your client will pester you all the time, asking you for numerous iterations. I think that is one factor that will always agitate you, and again the idea is to stay calm and explain your intent to your client before working so that everyone’s views are on the same page. As long as there is enough communication, deadlines aren’t really an issue.

4. How do you manage academics as well as creating awesome workpieces at the same time? What’s your secret to managing time efficiently?

If I had a dollar for everytime somebody asked me this, I wouldn’t have to think about sitting for internships or placements!

To be quite frank, I’m not really sure. I think I get obsessed with stuff, and don’t leave it till I start getting bored. This, thankfully, hasn’t happened so far with either academics or design. I think the key here is that I do only what I’m actually interested in, and I’m quick to realize if I don’t feel something is working for me. As far as academics in college is concerned, I had missed less than 10 classes in total, over the course of four semesters. I was very particular about attending classes, so I didn’t really have to spend a lot of time outside of the classroom studying. I also remember doing design work in between studying for midsems- I would get tired of studying sitting in the library, and I would open up Photoshop and start making random stuff.

I honestly don’t remember watching TV series, or playing Video Games while on campus. That’s not to say that I didn’t have recreational time- it’s just that my form of recreation was hanging out with friends, and so I wasn’t ever tempted to skip class and watch Breaking Bad, for instance. I sleep a lot, too, and that’s why I say I’m not really sure how I’ve been able to manage time so well. I think I usually just wing it and hope for the best.

I think the thing about time management that is unique to everyone, and there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ mantra. I’ve never been a fan of making and following time tables, but if you think that works for you, I think you should do it by all means. I’ve always been a ‘do it in the spur of the moment’ kind of guy and I just do what I want to do, when I want to do it- it’s been working well so far. At the risk of disagreeing with a lot of readers here, I strongly believe that your time management strategies should come from within you, and not from some self help books, or blogs/videos on productivity, if you get what I mean. Try out different strategies while you can, usually at the beginning of the semester, and try to get comfortable with one of them. I feel that people only try to get into a schedule closer to exams and that throws them off. Regularly reviewing academics, and sparing a bare minimum amount of time each helps a lot in making sure acads don’t stand in the way of you and what you want to achieve.

5. How tough was it to make the waves aftermovie this year considering everyone might have been at different places?

I’m so glad you asked me to answer this. I really, really am proud of the entire team that worked on the movie. Everyone was so stressed throughout the entire process, and we also had a couple of fallouts in between, just short of shouting at each other over Meet. But in the end, it all fell through. I think everyone on the team agrees that this isn’t some of DoPy’s best work, but I strongly believe that in the given circumstances, everyone in the team went above and beyond what they signed up for.

One of the major issues we faced was the fact that the files we were sending to each other became very huge towards the end of the process, because we were sharing high quality exports, and some of us did not have very high speed network connections so that was a problem.

Besides, not all of us have very powerful laptops to work on, and in college we would have borrowed each other’s laptops to do some of the more hardware intensive stuff like color grading, but sitting at home meant that we had to make do with whatever we had, spending hours and hours as files were processed slowly. Premiere Pro crashing for someone or the other everyday wasn’t helping either.

I think the main problem that we had was lack of effective communication. There’s only so much you can do over calls, and Google Meet. We have a habit of working late nights in the corridors on campus, and that simplified a lot of things. Expressing a process like video editing through speech is not very effective.

Through all this, though, I think we all learned a great deal- especially patience. And since it seems like this is the way we’ll be working this coming semester, sadly, I think we’ve learnt a lot from the Waves Aftermovie, and I feel confident about all our upcoming Video projects.

6. What are the major steps in your creative process, from start to the finished product?

Whenever I’m given a task, I begin by asking the client for ideas. I want to get a proper hold of what’s in their mind, and what they expect out of me. Initially, I try to think out loud with the client and tell them what I feel the end product is going to look like. Sometimes, it gets hard for me to explain exactly what I’m trying to achieve, so I try to find a similar design online to help the client understand better.

Getting on the same page usually takes a draft or two, so that it’s amply clear that we’re on the same page, and I don’t end up designing something the client doesn’t want. Ofcourse, if this is a personal project, I usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking, because I generally only make stuff when I have a fair idea of what I’m trying to achieve.

At the beginning of all projects, I look online to find inspiration, and royalty free stuff that I can use for my design. I have a folder on my HDD called Designs and Sh*t where I create a new folder for every new project. I think keeping files organized on your machine helps a lot, especially when projects get bigger and bigger.

My go-to application is Photoshop, which is almost always running on my computer. Each design usually has its own unique process, but I begin by setting up a bare bones structure on the canvas. I think I’m a messier creator than most because I believe in iteration, and sometimes end up making huge design decisions on the fly.

My primary concerns are usually layout, and fonts. I try to look online and find suitable fonts before the project begins, although I may end up making changes almost all the time.

I’ve never really done any proper courses on design, and all of my knowledge in design comes from experience, inspiration, and from the time I took the Graphics Design CTE and had to go through technical stuff in order to teach in class, so there’s no framework, so to speak, that I follow while designing stuff. As I said, I like to wing it and go with the flow, usually relying on feedback to judge if I’m on the right path or not.

That’s more or less it. Sooner or later, both the client and I end up satisfied enough to consider it done. On personal projects, I do have to draw the line somewhere, because I feel design is something that has infinite scope, so I stop when I feel like I’m done when making something of my own.

7. Can you see yourself using AI tools which can generate hundreds of images based on algorithmic visual approaches but reduce the scope of human creation ?

I feel that automation is inevitable, but something like design needs character. I think AI hasn’t yet reached the stage where it can replace a human when it comes to creating art. Moreover, design is an ever changing idea and what is considered tasteful design today might become obsolete tomorrow. Plus, a lot of designed work has a context attached to it. That context comes from what’s prevalent in the world at a given point in time, but it also comes from the designer’s perspective of said world. I think mimicking subjectivity is where AI falls short.

On the other hand, though, advancing technology has made a lot of the creative process smooth. With a platform like Canva, for instance, even novice designers can come up with aesthetic designs. Photoshop recently added a lot of AI features to the application, and things like edge detection, auto-selection, subject detection, etc., have been becoming better. With tools like this, a designer has to spend less time doing manual labor, and can instead spend that time refining designs, and coming up with better ways to present things.

At the end of the day, design is all about conveying contextual information in a visual way, and I feel that a human understands that concept way better than an algorithm, at least for now. So while I’m all for abstract art being generated by neural style transfer, and what-not, I think there’s still room for designers in 2020, and we won’t be replaced by bots anytime soon. Not in a meaningful way, at least.

8. Do you plan to be a full time visual designer? What are your future plans?

From what I’ve researched so far, the exact job description of a visual designer seems a little hazy to me. Different sources describe the role differently. In any case, I would definitely love to take this skill forward as a potential career path. As I said, I’ve started exploring Front-End development, and having a background in Graphic Design certainly helps. A typical front-end developer expects designs from a UI designer and attempts to copy them into code. With the skill-set that I’ve managed to develop, I can potentially drive the entire process of application development- from User Research, to Wire-framing, to creating mock-ups, and then putting it all into code- all on my own (to some extent). This opens up a potential to cater to a huge market in the freelance world, as I can offer my services to clients in requirement of a designer, or a developer, or both.

Ofcourse, freelancing can only get you so far. I would definitely prefer having a stable source of income, possibly as a full time designer-developer on a payroll, while picking up side projects as and when I can.

Either way, though, I’m not fully sure of what I want to do. I’ve been considering all my options, and this one does seem like a solid choice, but in the end- only time will tell where I end up.

For now, I’m just exploring, and trying to expand horizontally as much as I can. You never know how much something appeals to you till you’ve spent a decent amount of time with it, and I want to make sure I exhaust all possibilities before I really decide.

9. How does one get started with video editing? What are some resources you would recommend?

Here’s the thing about creative fields like these. There isn’t a lot of effort required to get started, but it takes a long time to get good at it. Getting started with Video Editing is as simple as acquiring Premiere Pro and following along a 10 minute long tutorial video. That’s all you need to export your first edit. The problem is, again, that you wouldn’t create an Oscar worthy video in the first try- or even the first thousand tries, for that matter. The software takes time to get used to, and there’s a lot more to a creative process than just the software anyway. What most people want is to get immediate results, which is just not possible. You might be a quick learner and get familiar with the software and the workflow easily, but you still have to endure time to gain experience.

I’m not going to cite a source for tutorials here because I personally don’t use a single source, but you can search on YouTube and watch any tutorial series to familiarize yourself with the interface. The difference between a good editor and a brilliant editor, however, is creativity.

If you want to aim to be the latter, I’d recommend you start watching movies, and TV series with a different perspective. You need to enable your brain to subconsciously notice the details, and the way that world-class editors do their job. In cinema, each cut, each transition, each pause has a meaning. These days, there are a lot of YouTubers who have developed a beautiful technique in their short films. Justin Odisho, Peter McKinnon, kold, JR Alli, Benn TK, etc. are just a few names that I recall off the top of my head that you should definitely be subscribed to, if you’re a film-making enthusiast.

Again, it’s the execution that matters, and not just the technical expertise that you possess. You can make wonderful edits by using just simple cuts if you have the right technique. Conversely, you can ruin beautiful footage by unnecessarily applying unwarranted effects to it.

The way you should get into Video Editing is by doing, and this is what I’ve said even for Graphic Design. Each video that you make will be better than the last, and you’ll grow eventually, as long as you’re consistent and willing to give it enough time.

10. Any advice on how should one utilize this time to pursue various fields of their interest?

It isn’t the best of times, and there’s a decent chance that a lot of us aren’t exactly in a state of mind that’ll enable us to be productive. The world, however, is still functioning, and so for everyone who says that turning a pandemic into an opportunity seems insensitive, I say that this is what the new normal looks like.

I, for one, took the last 4 months very seriously. As soon as Coursera was announced to be sponsored, I ticked off a few courses I’d been meaning to do, on Amazon Web Services, Graphic Design, and a few other things. I also explored Law and Economics, which was fun. I finally found my niche when I saw an ad on Reddit, funnily enough, about a Udemy course on Material UI with React JS, by Zachary Reece. That’s the course that got me into front end development, and soon after, I created an online portfolio for myself using the frameworks that I’d learnt. This was sometime around the end of May. I’ve since done about 2 more Udemy courses on React and React Native, and I’m planning to dive into a little bit of Node.js as well.

For some reason, I feel empty if I’m not doing anything, which is why I keep exploring. And it’s not that I don’t spend my time in recreation- I do. I’ve improved my finger picking on the guitar during this ‘coronaction’, I’ve read a couple of books, and I’ve definitely been watching a lot of Netflix and YouTube. Just last month, I binged watched 5 seasons of Better Call Saul in a week. After watching, I felt the urge to learn Spanish, and that’s what I’ve been into these last few days- Spanish on DuoLingo.

Some people have told me that I should be exercising, which I believe is fair, but I don’t feel like I’m being rewarded for the effort that I put in when I work out. So I don’t. That doesn’t make me any more, or any less productive. You don’t have to listen to what others say. You should be wise enough to decide what’s best for you.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I enjoy being productive, only because I do the things that I like. I tried exploring ML/AI because it’s ‘the trend’ but it couldn’t keep me engaged, so I dropped it after a few introductory courses. If you force yourself into doing something that you don’t like, it’s not going to be ‘productive’. I recommend using all this free time to explore fields, and decide what you want your future to look like. You don’t have to study for the next semester, or code and prepare for interviews, or create fancy mask detectors and post on LinkedIn to be productive. You might as well pick up writing blogs, or painting, or even try to formulate a startup with friends if that’s what you’re into. But you will have to find a niche that you’re comfortable in, and you will have to do something that you like, and that is also productive. Whiling away this precious opportunity is not a viable option, because you can scream ‘pandemic’ all you want, but at the end of this, those who could utilize this time will definitely be better-off than those who could not, or worse- could, but did not.

Bottom line is that you should decide for yourself what productivity means to you. As long as you believe it can add to the quality of your life in some way, it is productive. The only advice I can offer is- accept the situation, and make the best out of it.

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