Episode 18 Global Design Deep-Dive: Exploring Modern Design, with Lollypop

On the latest edition of Thoughtcast by Onething, Divanshu is joined by Anil Reddy, the cofounder, and global design director at Lollypop Design Studio. They exchange anecdotes over the design landscape, including their experiences with projects, clients, and teams, ranging from hilarious, to nightmarish. The discussion culminates in discussing the process by which India has become a powerhouse in the global design landscape, and how India as a whole is becoming a hotspot for multitalented design studios! Don’t miss the newest episode of Thoughtcast by Onething, available everywhere!

Episode Transcript

[Divanshu]

Hey everyone, welcome to an all-new episode of Thoughtcast, I’m here today in Bangalore at Lollypop Design Studio. With me is Anil Reddy, who is the posterboy of Indian design ecosystem, and this is going to be an amazing chat with him. With a really nice cup of filter-coffee, and, all I want to say is that I came to the studio 4 years ago, and I was so impressed with what he is doing, and what he has done, and I wanted to, I would say, lowkey be like him. And I’m so happy to be sitting beside him, and interviewing, or talking to him today!

So Anil, welcome to Thoughtcast!

Anil, thank you for taking out time for this, I know you are a busy man and, I am glad that you like mornings

[Anil]

I love it, and thank you so much, it’s wonderful to have you here, so happy to see you doing amazing stuff.

[Divanshu]

Thank you so much!

[Anil]

I’ve seen the videos on your social handle, and it’s amazing, and keep doing it, and I’ve learned a few things from prior interviews that I’ve seen.

[Divanshu]

That’s great, so it’s been I think 10 years for you, right? I want to understand, in a way that, back-then, how did you start. How did you just jump into an industry which wasn’t there, which never existed. UX Design now as a space is growing. But back then, it was a big-thing to kind of jump-in right?

[Anil]

So I was in New-Zealand, I did my masters there. And I worked and lived in New-Zealand for almost 10 years, 10-11 years. There was a point when I hit my career peak, I had everything, design as a career had given me everything from money, to fame, to winning awards. So I still remember in 2009, I was like what’s next?’, what is the next challenge that I should take-up. So, back in the 90s right, there was absolutely no career for designers, and I started my career as a graphic designer, and I moved to web when technology picked-up in Bangalore.

So web designers, there was a peak in web design, and web designers, all of a sudden it just fell, and thats when I left the country, but I always wanted to come back and do4 something about the design-ecosystem, because sitting there I was seeing what was happening here in India, it was like, in 2010, 11, and 12, there was an explosion of startups in India.

I thought design will play a very big role, so that’s when I packed my bags and came back, like you said, 2010-11, it was very very very difficult to sell design as a solution, so, yeah I spoke about UX, they didn’t understand, what is UX? User experience. Who is the user? The customer. They said, I know about customer, I know everything, you ask me, I’ll tell you everything, so you don’t have to waste time on it.

Wireframes? Why do you want to do wireframes? Show me the designs. So after the client meetings they expect designs the next day. From there to here, we’ve come a long way. India, it feels like India has become a design destination right now. So many designers are there, and heaps of people are considering design as a career now, and engineers are moving into design, and MBA graduates are moving into design.

Recently I came across someone on LinkedIn, a doctor, who has been practicing for many years wants to move into design now. Which is amazing, this is exactly what I came back for, where people will start considering design as a career, and also companies get us involved in all their meetings, and decision making of the product, even the business.

[Divanshu]

So, you know, client side of story definitely, there would be a limited knowledge, understanding of this space, back then, when you started off hiring people, how was it, did people actually know of UX design? Were there actual UX designers you were hiring? Or were you helping them learn UX design on the job, how was it?

[Anil]

So, we started as a visual design studio, there was no UX/UI, initial days, I was open to anything, except print design, I was open to design logos, identities, and design websites as well. From there, if they want mobile app and stuff.

I still remember, I couldn’t find designers here, because, you either get graphic designers or web designers, I let my friends know that I’m starting a company, and am looking for designers, not experienced, freshers, so that I can teach and train them. And the very first person that I interviewed, she came from a design background, and when I interviewed her, she was not sure about it, and I was talking too many things to her in the interview, I was like user experience, it was full bouncers to her, she was like ‘ye kidhar aa gayi mai?’. What did I study, and what is this person talking about. I told her, give it a shot for 3 months, if it works, if you like it, we’ll see how it goes. She said, only 3 months, I’m not going to stick around, only 3 months I’m gonna work here, and she worked at Lollypop for 6 years.

[Divanshu]

Do you remember your first UX design project, like core UX design project. Ok boss, this client understands, this is a UX design requirement.

[Anil]

I will talk about a client who didn’t understand UX, then I’ll talk about a client who knew what UX was, and what he was getting in to.

I met a client, we had great conversation, then I was honest enough, he mistook our company to some large company, he said congratulations, I’ve heard about this company, company toh last night shuru hua.

Then came about negotiation, cost, I had no clue, I had never done that in the past, I was never involved in working on the costing and all this stuff, so, I still remember 70,000 Rs. I had told him for 125 screens. Actually my idiot friends said you’re new, so charge him 7,000 rupees. I said 7,000, 150 screens I have to pack my bags and go back. So I thought I won’t listen to them, and 70,000, but it came down to 7,000, 125 screens for 7,000 rupees. I worked for 3 months, and after 3 months I received an email from the client, you are the worst designer, this is the worst company, first project!

So from there, after a couple of months, we met a client, very mature, amazing client and he’s still my best friend, and he gave us the opportunity, and that was Varun Aggarwal. He was just passing by, he was going to Indiranagar to meet another big design studio, and on the way to meeting the studio he just came across, there is something here, let’s stop by and go there.

And he said, look dude, I’m Varun Aggarwal, and we’re starting our matter, and I want everything to be digitised. Yeah so that was the first project where the client knew what he wanted and he was speaking UX, and he didn’t want us to skip any of the process, no photoshop files, until you tell me how did you arrive here, I need the entire story, so he was very much involved, everyday he used to come to office, sit next to me, and I was hands-on with design. He was like, what are these personas, these are not the personas, let’s go meet the real person, let’s go meet the students, interview them, it was wonderful.

I learned a lot of things, because I never did any on-ground research in India, so that was a project where real UX UI, research and all that happened.

[Divanshu]

Lollypop then and Lollypop now, you know, and maybe not now, let’s say 1 year before this, how do you see the processes change, how have you inculcated what you learned back then, into the process that you do now, or into the culture that you have built now. Because I know that Lollypop is very strong on culture, and we at Onething learned so much from Lollypop in terms of building a culture, I believe that if there is no culture, there is no company. How did you make sure that you keep that culture spread out for so long, it’s been 10 years right?

[Anil]

Yeah, there was a point, where people were talking about process and culture, and the entire Lollypop was built with lot of fun, lot of madness, and a lot of ups and downs. We just went with the flow, and there was no excel sheets, or no pie charts on what happens next 3 months, and what are we going to do this year, there was nothing like that. We just went with the flow, had fun, and the fun continued!

[Divanshu]

I think that’s the beauty of being part of a small knit team, and a studio, you don’t have to worry about pie charts and excels, unfortunately I have to do it, it’s a part of my role, but yeah I mean, things are different.

In terms of, a lot of your designers would go-out and start working in product companies, and for the product companies also studios are the right fishing ground you know? Because, designers at a studio learn the most, I mean obviously product companies allure them into working with them, but the learning graph I believe drops there, is what my two cents on that is, what do you think?

[Anil]

So there are two things to it, I always tell people who leave Lollypop that I’m curious to know where they are going, because they are my students, and they are my colleagues, and over a period of time they become my friends, and I am equally responsible for their career, if they take any multinational company, I advise them, if they take a mature product company, I am like, think again! I know we don’t stand a chance of paying the same amount as product companies, and I think through this video I would like to convey this message:

Whoever is doing research about design salaries, please interview design studios, nobody ever has interviewed us to find out what designer salaries are.

[Divanshu]

Only product companies, but that’s not true data!

[Anil]

If we have to put India on the map for design right? It’s the design studios which have to grow in India, and design studios are homegrown, and design studio founders like you, me, are just simple, middle-class people, trying to build something to bring more designers, have fun!

Now it’s, you want us to compare to product companies, who have millions of dollars of funding in their account, and can throw crazy amounts of salaries.

[Divanshu]

And actually the money thrown is not because, I don’t want to say it is as-per the talent, I don’t want to question the talent, but it is because people have no learning at product companies. I mean, there is learning, but not as much as studios, and it’s a tradeoff, that they are paying off right? Paisa le lo, that’s our job done.

And, as you said, design studios will bring-in the next generation of designers, people who understand design as such. Look at Frog and Ideo outside yeah? People don’t leave them, people love working there. They have built those companies for years, by having people as part of their studios.

[Anil]

I’ve met Frog design founder, Hartmut, and I had a great conversation. One thing that I mentioned about the great resignation that is happening, and people are jumping jobs and stuff. He said look, any new domain that is happening, it happens, and people do move around, and all you have to do is stay calm, keep building, and stay true to whatever you’re doing.

Design studio is not just a place for you to come and get the experience, to get into a multinational company, you can build your career, with a design studio.

[Divanshu]

And a more sustainable career.

[Anil]

So 23 years in design, I’ve always been with design studios, design agencies, and I love the madness. You work so closely with the founders, you know them, you know what they’re going through, you know how they’re fetching projects outside.

There’s a firsthand experience, and there was never a dull moment, for me, 23 years of madness is what is keeping me young and alive.

[Divanshu]

I think, energy is what reflects in your company also, companies are actually nothing but your own reflection right? That’s how you build a culture, or a company.

So you know, now that Lollypop is going global and all that, present in various other countries, and the brand is growing, what is that difference you see working outside with customers, outside India. Where I think UX has been around, and the understanding of UX slightly more deeper maybe.

[Anil]

I think the very first thing I would like to mention is the criticism, I won’t say all the clients, but there are few people who don’t know how to criticise design. What I see with clients outside, they are very mindful about their words. Even if they have to say no, so beautifully they so no that you feel like working over the weekend, and fixing it, and pleasing the client, and I think that’s also coming here slowly, but I’ve seen worst where client is literally throwing papers on the faces to now after few years it will get better.

And they come very well prepared, no one-liners anywhere, usme woh baat nahi hai type.They pinpoint and say, this is what.

[Divanshu]

What I have felt from this point Anil is, in the various feedback calls I have attended, in their head, everyone is a designer, like, everybody has a perspective to design, because it’s visible, it’s not code right, code you won’t understand.

But because you are actually not a designer so you don’t know how to comment in it. And that’s where the disconnect is, and it’s very important, as the point that you mentioned, that critiquing a design is a very sensitive topic, you know? And designers can actually get completely demotivated to work on your project, or will go their heart out to deliver something to you, if you just tell them the right thing. You know, the demand for UX, especially after COVID, is over the top, it’s off the roof, I mean there are less designers, more work now right?

Where do you think, or how do you think we should look at a scenario where we’re equally producing as a country, better designers, more designers actually. Because our design education system is also limited, you know? The schools we can count on fingers, and their education, curriculum is very old maybe.

So how do you think? Have you thought of it? Because it we don’t increase that, we don’t increase the volumes in this space as well.

[Anil]

So, today we are living in this time where even parents know there is something called as design, and their kids also can build a career out of it. So it’s good times, unlike 10-15 years back where anyone passionate about design had to go and convince parents, and go against them to study design and all that, today it’s changing.

See, you don’t know what happens in a design education right? There’s 5 years of not just Figma, or 5 years of not creating personas. There is much more than that which happens in a design college, and I request the next generation, who is considering design, to go to design colleges. It’s amazing 5 years or 3 years or 2 years. It’s amazing to meet fellow designers, and similar-mindset people, and to be in a campus which is super-creative, like if you go to Shrishti campus, or NIIT, or Chitrakala, or anything like that, any design colleges, it’s a different vibe, different feel. You’re not doing one thing, they teach you 100 things.

[Divanshu]

Do you think Indian design education system is catching up to what things are present in the global scenario? Like colleges outside?

[Anil]

Yeah, it’s just way better than what it used to be, even 5 years back, the students Indian design colleges produced, we had to train them a lot. They’re not exposed to technology, the thing that I totally believe is that technology is the canvas for us. We’re all artists, all designers are artists, and you should know your canvas. Without knowing your canvas, what are you going to paint?

The Indian design ecosystem is actually taking on the world, like, that means India is becoming a destination.

[Divanshu]

How do you think, you’re there in the west, you know, you meet people everyday, how are they looking at Indian design ecosystem now, compared to 6-7 years ago.

[Anil]

So, outside world right? They look at India as a tech-destination, lots of engineers here, and people who have travelled to India, they see a lot of traditional artists. So now, design studios, whatever size they are, small, boutique, big, large, medium, they are sending out the right message to the world that now artists have turned into designers, coders, and it’s amazing to see and hear from people outside that they’re saying artists have turned into designers and coders, and now is the time where we’re going to send projects, where you don’t just develop it, but you also design it. So years back, western or European world used to design it, and India used to develop it, and now even the design is coming to India, because design studios should send the right message to these clients out there, that we can do design here within the country.

So I think design studios have played a very very very big role in it.

[Divanshu]

Actually yeah! Uplifting the entire product ecosystem also, is because the design studios created amazing set of designers to match-up with the world scenario as well right.

[Anil]

See, I’m sure it’s the same at Onething, any product company, no matter how big or small they are, once they have a design team inhouse, there is a point they will engage a design studio again!

They are not able to pull that off, and they come to design studios, and I’ve seen your studio do some great great stuff. And again the questions running in your mind is, they have the team there, then why do they come to us. And they come to us to see things that they’ve never seen.

[Divanshu]

I’ve had scenarios where product companies, unicorn product companies, they have reached out to design studios for POC’s, and just ran away. Blank, just ideas. And then, I mean, I don’t wanna name, but it has happened to us, and it must have happened to you so many times. We just do it for the love of it. You give your business, you don’t give your business, we love problem solving right? But they know that innovation is happening here, and that’s where the differentiating factor lies in these design studios, the innovation, the thought process, the way we are thinking.

[Anil]

If people ask me, describe design studio, I say madness, rollercoaster.

[Divanshu]

That’s what you’re here for.

[Anil]

Oh yeah! Come on, if it’s too silent, you’d rather be dead.

[Divanshu]

I think before we head to that nice breakfast that you’ve planned for, and, I’m really looking forward to it. Is there one last message you want to give to design entrepreneurs, designers, or people who want to switch careers to UX design, that’ll be really great.

[Anil]

Great time for designers. 2022 is going to be beautiful, and, the next couple of years, it’s going to be amazing for designs, now it’s up to us, there are certain things that we should do, as a design community. We should take a pause, ask ourselves, why did we get into design, design should be something that even when we’re taking a break, you don’t have to sit and do Figma’s and XD’s, simply observe things.

My message to all the designers is, we’re doing really really good, and all you guys are making us really proud, and India has already become a design destination, the next few years, people across the world are going to come to India.

Now when they come to India, what are we doing, and how well are we practicing this, have we dedicated our life to it? Or is it just a labour kind of thing that we’re doing with design, is up to us.

So my two cents, or my tips are, dedicate your life to design. It’s beautiful.

[Divanshu]

Spoken like a poet man!

No I think it’s a beautiful message for everyone out there who wants to associate with design, and I think it’s a beautiful chat in the morning, I have tears in my eyes, but, yeah I mean it’s great seeing your journey and how design is changing in India, and how you’ve been a frontrunner to this, and keep doing well, I mean, keep guiding and mentoring people like us also, and loved to have this chat, and would love to have that breakfast now!

[Anil]

Thank you so much and dude, I am so proud of you man, I think we connected a couple of years back in the same office. I’m so happy to see you doing really really good, we keep talking about turning India into a design destination right? One or two studios can’t do this, we need many many many design studios, why India has become a tech destination is not because of one Wipro or one Infosys, there are plenty! When people come here, I think we should have enough design studios for them to shop around, and you’re doing really good! You’re going to do wonderful, and all the best, and my regards to your team, and thank you so much for creating this video. I follow you, I follow all the videos, there’s so much to learn from you guys.

Thank you!

[Divanshu]

Let’s move to that breakfast now, thank you so much for listening to this episode, we’ll keep coming back with more stuff.

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