An interview with Khyati Trehan
Tell us a little bit about you.
I grew up in New Delhi, India and studied at a school called Mirambika until 8th grade. I know it sounds too long ago to rewind to but the free Progress school has had a direct impact on who I am and what I do today. Learning was free of structures and sounded more like ‘look what I discovered’ rather than lines marked with highlighters in a textbook. Education meant drawing out potential that was already there, instead of prescribing it. So when I picked up a subject to study, I did it because I really wanted to learn about it, not because I was expected to. We’d make bridges over ponds to learn about architecture, go to France to learn French and do pottery and carpentry between math and science. Because I was exposed to creative disciplines at the same time we were learning our ABCs, I realised pretty early on how much I loved working with my hands. Those years helped me build a great relationship with learning which lingers even in my adult life. I’m constantly teaching myself whatever I’m curious about, and as a result, build versatility into my design practice.
It's fantastic to hear about how a freer education system has had a positive impact on your creativity. How did your creativity progress beyond education?
I didn’t really know design even existed as a discipline until I heard about National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad through seniors from school who had been preparing for the entrance. I decided to wing it and somehow got through. NID lay emphasis on sharpening your senses, building a strong foundation and redefining design as not decoration but as creative problem solving. Since then I’ve been catapulting from one corner of the gamut of design to another, spanning from type design to branding to publication design to now, working as a senior communication Designer at IDEO Munich and moonlighting as a 3D visual artist in whatever little time I can squeeze out of a day.
"I accelerated my learning by taking up projects that I thought I wasn't equipped to do, and then racing to learn what I just signed up to deliver."
What are your inspirations when creating 3d work?
Everything and everyone within a 20m radius is ripe for the picking. My style of work is brief dependent, and is fueled by the places and people I’m designing for. I get to be a little more selfish with my personal work, looking inwards and enjoying the craft for its craft. In the words of Zima Blue "to extract some simple pleasure from the execution of a task well done."
Your ability to translate your surroundings through 3D is part of what makes your work so playful and visually appealing. How did you get started with 3D?
I started dabbling in 3D art a few years back, when I took a break from working at studios and managed to have a lot of time on my hands. The more I learnt, the more I was drawn to it. It felt like magic, except that spells sounded more like 'splines and booleans'. You can whip up worlds that are close to reality out of thin air, just as well as you can create worlds far from it, distorting reality.
Do you have any tips for young creating beginning their 3D journey?
Greyscalegorilla.com has a series to cover basics, and then there was no stopping really with all the tutorials and patreons that are peppered across the internet. I accelerated my learning by taking up projects that I thought I wasn't equipped to do, and then racing to learn what I just signed up to deliver.
"Ideas in a lot of ways are a synthesis of life experiences, or the seemingly unrelated connections you make. There are only so many connections you can make sitting at your desk."
Nature is prevalent in your work. What draws you to represent nature through digital technology?
There is something strangely therapeutic about entropy in nature. We feel interconnected with the earth and have an undeniable, almost mystical bond with organic and imperfect elements. No matter how much chaos I add in a scene, and how many ever simulated winds and forces I subject artefacts to, even a synthetic and chaotic representation of nature induces a sense of calm and that blows my mind.
What is your starting point for creating a piece of work?
The starting point for commercial work is diving deep into the context of the work and staying very very far from Pinterest hah. For my personal work, there's no fixed starting point because I don't really begin with intention. Sometimes the starting point is not starting at all. I find it’s important to give time to life outside of work, both for your life and for your work. Ideas in a lot of ways are a synthesis of life experiences, or the seemingly unrelated connections you make. There are only so many connections you can make sitting at your desk.
Staying away from Pinterest is solid advice for creatives. How has growing up in New Delhi and now living in Munich informed your work?
Being rooted in multiple cultures gives you a broader understanding of cultural issues across borders, and a greater insight into your own. I’ve understood so much about my Indian-ness in the process. And that a shy introverted woman of color who’s a glaring minority in the room can bring so much value and rich experiences to the work. I definitely wouldn’t be the same without having done some globetrotting.
Can you tell us a little bit about working at IDEO and has this role changed the way you think about your creative practice?
These past two years have been the steepest learning curves for me and a huge mindset shift. I applied to IDEO because ambiguity scares me, and navigating it is what they do best. At IDEO, the definition of design is much broader and is essentially, discovering the 'why' and addressing the 'why'. We don't make packaging graphics, we figure out if they need packaging at all. I don't design textbook layouts. I get to be in teams that are designing learning curriculums for government entities. Dealing with big and challenging questions on a daily basis changes the way you think. It's also helped me see value in my work differently. Human stories have this unique persuasive power and sometimes our ears and our eyes do a better job of getting to the heart than reading mere facts. The place for storytelling in such discovery heavy projects, is to make people 'feel' the insight so it internalizes and sticks.
Thank you, Khyati.