Urban Designs

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Up narrow wooden steps in a cosy yellow bungalow in Mumbai’s trendy district Bandra, Karthik has his second home. The design agency he started four years ago is nestled within an art gallery, False Ceiling. From here, the team at Xtrathin comes up with cuttingedge designs for diverse campaigns, ranging from environmental awareness and electronic music festivals to corporate branding and communication. We asked this out-of-the-box thinker to share his inspiration and journey with us.

How did you get into a career in design?
My father is an artist, while my brother runs an ad agency as does my sister. Initially, I was in science but I decided to take up fine art at an art college. In my third year I specialised in commercial design. I found that commercial design came easily to me – it’s basically just about communication. I did better than the others and took half the time others took so I thought I would try my hand at working. I started working part-time in my third year at an ad agency in Bangalore on campaigns such as Levis.

What was the journey like till you set up Xtrathin?
After graduating, I spent one year with an ad agency in Mumbai and then joined MTV. I handled their print media for five years. I thrived in that environment, coming up with bad jokes and fun designs. After that, I started a design and animation cell for Pixion called Zebra Works that I ran for a year and a half.
Then, I decided I was done answering to people and wanted to see what my deal with the outside world was like. When I started off, I was working as an animation director for two years. In my second year, UTV called after seeing my work. They wanted me to try out one campaign, which resulted in a retainer. It has been about four and a half years now. Apart from that, Incredible India came to us around two years ago for the Cannes film festival and Goa film bazaar. Mostly, we have been working with the entertainment industry in the urban entertainment design specialists.

What’s the process to creating your designs?
Xtrathin in a nutshell does super conceptual graphic design and other young, urban kind of work – for example, we have recently started a series of graphic novels that is a collaboration of different designers, 69. Xtrathin is a space for intense, mindblowing ideas. That’s why we have opened an art gallery adjoining the design agency; to aesthetically inspire the team to create as well as give people something new to see.
Most my work is just funny. When designing, you just have to trigger off one emotional reaction from people – not all ads can be funny. You have to find your zone and become good at it. One serious work of mine for example is ‘My Mother’s Funeral’ – this was a funeral I organised for Mother Earth dying. I was fighting with my sister who was saying that there were no serious effects of global warming. So the idea sparked on the spot. We got a tree, splashed a paint of blood on it, and mummified it. Then we hired these two actresses who were crying, “My whole life has gone… I could have changed my light bulb and you would not have died ma…” The event was a huge success and 2,500 people came for half an hour outside the Gateway of India.
Communication is the most important part of advertising. It’s about catching the person at the right point. For example, people got angry when they first read the ‘Your mother will die,’ sentence; but then they read Mother Nature in small print. That’s the thing – we are instigating some new emotion in people.

What are some common challenges faced by you?
Sometimes egos come into play, but if you are good talker, you can get out of
it. I like my job but I also make my job look very easy. It’s only rocket science if you make it so. A lot of designers talk so much, but they are only talking about the process. Also, keep in mind that design is a very subjective thing. People will not like your designs based on very individual, subjective reasons.

What’s your advice to people starting off in this field?
My advice to young people is just to do good work– good work gets noticed. The problem is that some people are just counting money now. They want to know how much before knowing about the project or the company. It’s great to be with people who are passionate about their work, who don’t even mind putting their own money into it.
Also, don’t waste time hanging out at lift-sides and thinking of the best idea for hours, posing as an ‘artist’. The best ideas just come to you. If you roughly know what you want to get, it is much easier to design. The concept, the one-line-brief from the client is also important. Your style follows the concept and helps build the concept. You can’t, of course, go grungy on P&G. So you have to know what you are working for.
You have to crack your base formula; like contrast work, or by showing a contradictory picture. If you are listening to the right music, then you are dancing away.

Volume 1 Issue 12

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