A candid conversation with founders, Juhi Vishnani and Shiva Nallaperumal
Juhi Vishnani and Shiva Nallaperumal met as undergraduate students in DJ Academy, a design college in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Years later, in 2018, they founded a design studio, November. Their studio practice helps them challenge themselves with new ideas, discover and learn about Indian design, and most importantly, recognise and build their own strengths as designers.
Shiva and Juhi will be taking over designyatra’s Instagram tomorrow, 11th July. We spoke with them about studying design, setting up November and coping with a pandemic right after getting married. Here are the edited excerpts:
You both studied in an Indian design institute and then moved overseas to study further. How different was design in abroad when compared with India?
Juhi: The most apparent difference was probably in the resources that are available in the universities abroad. We went for our masters and saw what resources were available for undergrad students. That was lacking when we did our undergraduation here.
In terms of education as well, we didn’t feel that there was anything lacking till we went abroad. There, everyone would ask us to tell them something about Indian design. And we had never studied Indian design; there is no documentation. The knowledge of Indian design that we inherently have is very limited to our state, or whatever we have seen when we were growing up.
Shiva: Design education in India for us was formative. It gave us an idea of the road that we need to take, in the sense of exposure into the world of graphic design. When we joined design school, we had no idea what graphic design was. We entered because we liked to draw and we were terrible at studies. I mean, she wasn’t, I was (laughs). But we were just creatively bent and design school was like a logical option, because at least my parents didn’t want me to go to arts school. In Indian design schools, at least like ours, we looked at Western design concepts, or American designs in a pure theoretical, kind of visual way. For example, we were taught about Vignelli’s subway map of New York when we had never been to New York. So in what way are we supposed to judge if the map is even good? We were just looking at it as a visual. One main learning we got studying abroad is that we need to closely look at design back in India.
Understandably, exploring Indian design became one of the driving ideas while setting up November. What were some other ideas and aspirations that led to founding of your design studio?
Juhi: Both of us always dreamed of having our respective studios, and when we got together the idea of studios also merged. After studying, Shiva wanted to start the studio right away but I wanted to work and gain experience in the industry to see how things work before we plunged into it. Our wish with November is to explore our identity in Indian design and our own strengths as designers. We are just trying to find our way through that and do work that really inspires us and that we really relate to.
Shiva: For me, I see it as an outlet to explore. In college, we were always told to stay experimental in college before getting out in the ‘real’ world. But what’s the point of studying design if we have to go out in the industry or corporates and stop being experimental? We had a fundamental problem with that. So at November, we kind of approach things in our own way. And, of course, we don’t have answers to all the questions, but November is an experiment to figure them out.
How has that experiment been so far? And now you also have a pandemic to add to the first two years of November. Since you design for many events, did you face a lot of cancellations?
Juhi: Not just events, actually a lot of projects just fell through because of the pandemic. But I think it’s fine because it’s finally given us time to work on our website that we had been trying to since two years. Shiva is working on type design and I am starting to learn type design, now that we have time.
So, how is the schedule these days?
Shiva: Last year was probably the busiest year of our lives. And we had just gotten married, so we just took a month off, soon after which everything stopped and lockdown was imposed. We were also very worried about the whole situation and things in general. But slowly we are adapting and we started working on our own projects. Type design had taken a backseat, so now it’s back to the forefront.
Juhi: It’s not been easy. It’s pretty hard to keep ourselves motivated to do something every day. Some days we watch movies and just do nothing but then there are the days when we just panic and go like, ‘oh my god we haven’t been working properly’. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions.
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