Looking Back, Looking Ahead

A designer’s journey through data, design & storytelling

My journey from Srishti to Gramener

About two years ago, as any freshly-minted design grad out of a Master’s program, I interviewed with various design firms and consultancies. Srishti has a fairly strong network of practitioners and companies who regularly dip into the graduate pool looking for candidates. Following through on one of these referrals connected me to Richie from Gramener. Richie and I spoke at length — about Gramener, about my work, about the work done by Storylabs, and the exciting things they have been exploring in the space of data storytelling. Though we both had our questions around how my specific skillset would best fit into a small research team, we took the plunge and I joined Storylabs in June of 2019.

Skipping to two years ahead

It’s been two years now; I’ve grown from a beady-eyed novice to a bespectacled information designer with a body of work to call my own. Storylabs has grown as well — in our search for ever more effective ways to communicate insights with clarity and panache, we have explored various flavors of data storytelling from comics and interactive narratives to data art and other non-traditional visualisation techniques. In these two years, I’ve had the opportunity to research storytelling methodologies, formulate them as tools & frameworks, and author data stories as examples.

As I reflect back on my work, there are a few common strands that thread through every piece.

Learnings and unlearnings

Good people are worth their weight in rhodium. More than anything else, Storylabs has given me the enormous fortune to work with Richie & S Anand. Richie took a bet on me when he hired me into the team. He has an unbeatable ability to find and bring out the best in others — for that, I’ll always be grateful. Anand is always bubbling with ideas and is a constant source of inspiration (sometimes too much to keep up with 😃). The patience with which he listens to others and his ability to simplify an idea down to its essence is something worth emulating.

Being able to write small snippets of code still continues to pay as a designer. The hardest part has been to stay true to what James Hague aptly calls programming without being overwhelmed by and obsessed with programming. Sticking to simple tools and languages has helped take out some of the anxiety associated with programming for me — p5.js, Tachyons, and AlpineJS have become dear friends. I, as a designer, write programs to communicate an idea, not to build empires with code. And that’s enough.

Design is more than making pretty pictures. There’s a certain view of designers in the industry as the people who sling photoshop around beautifying the world. Though Srishti never put us in a box, it’s easy to subconsciously absorb those notions or face them when working with others. Truth be told, at the right place, designers make great glue in an organisation — we are creators, connectors, communicators. At Storylabs, my work varies from researching new techniques one day to consulting, teaching, and writing the next. Be open to adapt to the needs of a small team and ready to learn as you go.

Up next

It’s been an uphill ride to find my way into the world of data, design, and research. Some of it has been challenging, some fun, but almost all of it has been worthwhile.

So, where do we go from here?