Creative people who capture an idea and can tell your story with just an image, a graphic, a monogram, an icon, and other visual expressions are vital to creating your brand identity and developing recall. From Nike’s tick to Adidas’ 3 stripes, logos, iconography, brand colours, signature fonts have etched some of the biggest brands in the minds of many, without actually ever using the brand name.
In conversation with TC46, Designer Pallavi Nopany shares insights on what it means to build a design agency that brands want to work with. She talks about monetisation and finding new clients in this interview.
1. What’s your educational and professional background?
I started out my career as an engineer, only to get disillusioned very soon about how engaging I would find my job. So one day, as do many engineers, I quit my job at Infosys and began my journey of experimenting.
My mother is an artist, still teaches and learns in her own school. She always took me to her art lessons when I was a child every weekend. So very early on, I was painting large canvases, imitating renaissance artists with acrylic and oil, experimenting with watercolour. I realise now, that this was quite extraordinary for a child, to have that kind of learning so early on. This was really my founding in the arts, and in my influences, in the work, I do even now.
After I quit Infosys, I went back to studying classical music (piano), theatre (acted in 2 plays in major theatres), studied Spanish for a year and got a scholarship from the Govt. of Spain to go there and study for a summer, did a 1-year diploma in dance at Attakkalari. After this, since I had tried just about everything that caught my fancy, I also started to intern at an ad agency on Lavelle road, just 3 houses away from where I lived, in order to try it out.
It was a big downgrade for me from my previous jobs that paid me rather well, however, through many hours of online tutorials and watching people work, I taught myself the design. As I did more of it, it was a revelation for me. It’s been 9 years since, and I’ve never looked back. All my education in art, music, ceramics, theatre, dance came together to give me design, and design has given me so much joy, and a purpose.
2. What prompted the idea for your venture, ‘Pallavi Nopany Studio’?
Well, it’s my name, and it’s the easiest entity to function under. My company earlier was called Pack of 2, but nobody really remembered that and it became inconsequential so I just went back to working under my name.
3. Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?
I wish I did. In school in the 90s, the arts were for the weak students. I had a point to make, so I had to take up the sciences. I thought I was doing the right thing, the holy thing. However, it was a stupid choice because I was always creatively inclined. I wish I had the counselling and the confidence to embrace it much earlier.
4. What was your first milestone & how did you get there?
There are milestones every year. When you feel like you need to take it to the next level. The first milestone, however, was to land my first paid job. After that, it was convincing Bakula Nayak to be my partner and mentor, and once she came on board, I learnt how to do contracts, invoices, and structure the projects. The next was to hire employees, accountants, lawyers, etc. Every step is a gradual process, and you know you have to take the next leap of faith when things start to feel easy.
5. How long did it take you to monetise?
For the first 5 years, I don’t think I made any money (around Rs 20,000 a month). My uncle who is a mentor and believes in my work convinced me to try and raise my rates, and while I did lose some clients, it eventually only made business better. Now I have realised that in keeping my fee at a certain minimum level, I actually help myself by getting only serious clients, and the work process is much smoother. In the beginning, I think one has to focus on the quality of work, in order to learn, and build up a portfolio that is unique.
6. What kind of marketing strategies work best for you?
I read this on More Janda’s Instagram recently and it struck a chord – that people don’t see an ad and buy. They buy because they trust you – so focus on building trust. In my case, this couldn’t be more true. So it’s important to be open, honest, vulnerable, and share as much as you can, as that’s what builds trust. I don’t think that putting out an Instagram ad will get me any clients. But engaging with people one on one, doing workshops, and putting your portfolio out there in an earnest and honest attempt helps.
7. Do you have any tips for an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to enter this space?
I would say, work on building your craft first. Focus on building your portfolio, treat it as your largest retainer project. And work on building relationships. Take your client out for coffee, ask them how they are doing, and be there to help genuinely.
8. Are there any online or offline courses that you would recommend before entering this space?
Get the Adobe Suite and get proficient in Illustrator, Photoshop, Indesign, and XD. Adobe help websites have the best courses. Skillshare is also great for specific skills such as illustration, animation, layout design. Ellen Lupton’s ‘Thinking with Type’ is a fabulous book that one must-read. Study typography, it’s the building blocks for design. Once all this is done, throw yourself into the creative space and do whatever workshops come your way across disciplines. Last week I did 2 courses – on food photography, and on working with colour for interior design. Courses like these give me insight into how to approach projects and help me understand how to collaborate with other people.
9. Which networking groups & showcasing events could help an aspirant meet the right people & generate work opportunities in this field?
My network has always been my personal network and I have never showcased at an event, so not sure. I find that if your portfolio is good, people will find you, no matter where you hide. Social media has made opportunities pretty democratic, so you have the same opportunity as anyone else. It’s free, but the value of what you share is what will bring you the opportunity.
10. What are some investments one should be ready to make when entering the designing space?
Adobe CC subscription costs around 70k a year – this is essential. Having a good desktop, a laptop (so you can travel), a Wacom, an iPad pro helps. The biggest investment is your mindspace, your time, and your eyes! Maybe even physiotherapy, considering how many hours one sits in front of a machine!
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