June 2021 marks the first anniversary of Arjun Kumar working for me at Design Axl—I could not be more thrilled to have him. He has not only been a great designer and comrade over this trying year—he has inspired and elevated the work of Design Axl. Take a look below about the man… Arjun Kumar.
James Grady: I came up with a few questions and they’re in no particular order, but we can just see how it goes, alright? So, all about Arjun! Happy first anniversary working together—it’s been awesome!
I thought it would be really helpful—and fun—to do a post that showcases some of the work that you’ve done at Design Axl and give a little background about who you are. Tell us about yourself; where you’re from, what you did before Grad school at BU*/what you did before working with me at Design Axl, and we’ll go from there—the floor is yours.
*Arjun took a gap year (fall 2020–spring 2021) from Boston University—during the pandemic—and will be returning in fall 2021 to complete his MFA at BU.
Arjun Kumar: So I’m from New Delhi, India and I grew up in Delhi itself. When I talk about myself, I like to tell people about what interests me and what I like rather than just reading off my CV, because that’s pretty boring.
JG: Sounds good! One of the questions that I have is about inspiration, where it comes from, and what you’re curious about, so take it wherever you want —we’ll fill in the gaps. However you feel comfortable talking about yourself is the way to go. I wanted to do this without giving you the questions in advance so you did not overthink it.
AK: I think that’s nice. I’m a person who really likes to keep myself busy and it’s not always work—many times it's personal projects or things that really excite me. I love to play soccer, go swimming, and play squash quite a lot. If I just want to chill I love playing my PlayStation, I also like reading a lot of novels—I love reading dystopian, historical fiction, and fantasy novels.
I realized—as a designer—you need to have interests outside your area of study because that’s what inspires your projects. If you are only focused on being a designer all the time it becomes too insular.
After high school, I studied Electrical Engineering. I was really good at science, and in India—unfortunately—that’s what many of my peers end up studying. Many people I know study to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. Because everyone around me was studying in those fields I was not exposed to a lot of other things, but I liked to paint.
In high school and middle school, everyone knew me as a person who used to make amazing oil paintings, I used to paint all the time.
I also loved to work in Photoshop, but it was just a hobby—somehow throughout the four years of my undergrad I never gave up painting—I used to paint every semester. Every club that I became a part of I became the “creative guy” I was designing posters and banners, stuff like that. I enjoyed that more than my engineering studies.
After my four years in undergrad, I had a job offer, but I talked to my parents and I said, I want to give design a shot. If I don’t give it a shot right now I’m worried I won’t do it later in life. Then I became an intern at an ad agency, it was quite terrifying because truthfully I was being paid a quarter of what I was offered as an engineer.
So I became an intern at this ad agency called IPG Mediabrands, it was quite interesting, I was shocked by the ad agency world. I had imagined people working formerly dressed in proper suits and ties and all working in offices on laptops, but it was quite the opposite. They don’t act all that professional, but it was really nice to be exposed to that creative world. There was freedom and I liked being thrown into it. I learned a lot about creative brainstorming, new media, technology, and software. I was able to hone my technical skills a lot.
I also learned to manage projects and clients—it’s not about just executing—it’s the 10 steps before the final deliverable. I learned to work with a team and bring feedback into the process and understand the client’s needs.
JG: You’re also a really great photographer and animator. How does that influence the work that you do and when did you really start honing your skills in animation and ways of seeing?
AK: That started in the first year when I was working at IPG Mediabrands. It was just two or three months into my job, I was working for brands like Coca Cola and MasterCard and those brands wanted more than static images for their social media campaigns. They kept telling us “we want something dynamic—we want something to be made that actually shows movement” so that’s when I jumped into it. One of my colleagues told me I could make simple animations in Photoshop and then I moved into After Effects and that got me hooked. After many many hours of tutorials I started to get the hang of things. I started to proactively work on some things and then share them with my creative director and she really liked it. She decided to put me on the Coca Cola team so that’s how I actually got into motion design.
JG: What made you leave advertising and work? It sounds like you were having a great time there.
AK: My second year of work was nearly ending, and during that second year I just felt I had exhausted how much I could learn. I realized I wanted a formal design education and to be surrounded by a group of faculty and talented peers from whom I could learn, that’s when I decided to apply for Grad school. I got into BU and started my MFA journey.
JG: You’ve worked on a lot of really great projects—at BU and with Design Axl—what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on?
AK: It has to be the MediaVax project—it’s been my favorite project—because this was my first time working from start to finish on a UI/UX project and it’s a project that has so many arms and legs to it. It’s not just focused on one area of design. I remember when you were working on the UX study for it, then we started working on the UI design, and then working on the video, and back on the UX. It was very iterative. That was also the first time I was working with a development team, so there was a lot that I learned during that project.
AK: One of my favorite specific parts was the app promo video. You gave me a lot of creative freedom for what to do with it. We had a clear idea of what we wanted to do but I had a lot of flexibility and a lot of time. There wasn’t a deadline that was imposed because you wanted to showcase the app for the Design Axl portfolio. Without a deadline it eases up the tension. I could actually spend time to figure out some new things that I really wanted to experiment with, it was really nice.
We also worked on the website and that was really fun. That was the first project in which I had been learning about micro-interactions and CSS animations. I learned so much by doing this project and it was just really nice to be a part of a project like that.
JG: What about a dream project that you’d like to work on or a dream client? I know you talked about working for Coca Cola, and that was really exciting because of the work that the team was doing but, if you had to visualize a dream project or client, what does that look like?
AK: It depends, I’m really interested in UI/UX, motion, and brand. These are the three pillars that I really love to work on and I’ve already worked with you a lot on UI/UX and motion design projects.
Actually, Grid City is an example of something that could be a dream project. I’d love to expand on that brand, maybe create a whole new campaign for them. Maybe use some of the 3D skills that I’ve been learning to create some new visual assets for them. I feel there’s so much more that I can learn with programs like Cinema 4d, I’d love to see how that could be applied to expanding a brand like Grid City.
AK: Otherwise, dream clients? Huh, I know people like to have some big names under their belt but even a small business can end up being the best project you can work on. So it’s no big name that comes into my mind it’s what the project that comes to be the will matter the most.
JG: I have to agree with that—each project is unique and each client is unique. Anything has the opportunity to be a dream situation. I’ve worked for Fortune 50 companies and many top brands that are out there, but the same thought and execution goes into a small startup or a major corporation.
JG: Alright, last question what special trick or superpower do you have that we don’t know about.
AK: In terms of graphic design?
JG: No, not necessarily.
AK: I feel it’s more to do with stamina? Some people don’t know this, but when it comes to stamina, I can work, for what seems like days when I get really excited about a project. For example, photography projects take a lot of stamina. That’s one thing that shocks people quite a lot. I went to the city called Varanasi in India and it’s one of the most ancient cities in the world. I wanted to capture the prayers that were happening on the banks of the river Ganges and those prayers used to happen at 4am in the morning. I had to plan these projects very thrifty, because I was a student and I didn’t have a lot of money, I’d stay in these hostels and get up at 3am. I traveled an hour to get there, I’d spend the entire morning then spend the entire day roaming the streets. They were the most beautiful narrow streets! I would take photos and staying at one place for two to three hours until I got my perfect shot and then I used to come back and do that again for the next two to three days.
JG: That’s an awesome answer and I think that is a great way to wrap this up, because I think that you’re an incredibly talented and hard working person. I think that really comes through and everything that you do. You really commit to it and are very focused. I think you have a really great work ethic, and I think that’s really important.
I was doing end of semester reviews this spring and a student asked me “What kind of work ethic, do you need as a graphic designer?” I said an incredibly strong one. Being a designer is something that you have to do because you love it, it’s a lot of work, it takes a lot of time, you can do other things and make a lot more money.
You’ve got to absolutely love this and at the same time, everything you do, you should love and be passionate about. I always like to say cleaning my house is graphic design—creating order, systems, and aesthetics. Taking pride and the things that you do and getting love from it. Whatever it is, if it’s animating a logo, or if it’s vacuuming the floor, you should have a lot of passion for it and passion for life.
It takes that hard work and effort to make these things happen. To wake up at 3am to get the perfect photo—that’s really experiencing life, and I think more than anything if you can incorporate the things that you love into the work that you do you really find a lot of fulfillment—from being a designer and living your life. You’re very inspirational to me. I look forward to continued collaboration. ✌️