Sargam Gupta
L: Girl meets boy 2020 QuarantineProject

R:Monday Blues QuarantineProject

Sargam Gupta

Like most designers, while growing up, Sargam Gupta mostly kept to herself. She read a lot, kept a journal, and loved the rain. ‘Also, I found the sound of people walking on bajri incredibly soothing (my school campus had a lot of gravel),’ she recalls. Sargam always wanted to tell stories, and for many years she dreamed of being a novelist. Even though she drew little as a child, Sargam has now made a very successful living out of Art Direction and Brand Designing. With over a decade of experience in tow, she is currently working as an Art Director at Apple, where she works on building interactive experiences exclusively for them, and has, in the past, worked for giants such as Bumble, Uber and Bon Appétit Magazine.

We asked her how it all transpired. Excerpts below:

When did your romance with design begin?
It was my love for writing that led me to pursue design. My sister and I were once discussing design and she explained to me that “design is about problem solving and functionality, not form.” That blew my thirteen-year-old mind away and the line has been stuck with me. I began to explore it further and see how I could translate some of my scribbles in a visual way. 

Can you describe your design sensibility?
To me, design is about problem solving and presenting it in a way that creates a memorable experience. I like detailed, thought through design. I build my visual narrative around this and it allows me to create a unique personality for my projects. I believe that once I know the function, form will automatically follow, and more often than not, surprise you.

We must talk about your quarantine project and the whole story of you being stuck in Kathmandu in 2020. Please tell us about your experience and how did you find inspiration while stuck in a hotel with a handful of hotel staff.
In March 2020, while everyone was dealing with the world shutting down for the first time ever, I found myself stuck in Kathmandu, where I was travelling briefly for work. My five day trip somehow turned into this never-ending wait for international borders to open up and countless calls to the Indian Embassy for any information on repatriation flights.

I was staying at a hotel when the lockdown was declared. The entire hotel staff was sent back home except for three people. They closed down all facilities, including the kitchen, housekeeping and hot water. With no staff at the reception, no one on the hotel grounds, no occupants and pitch black hallways, it felt like the set of The Shining. I was also the only woman on the premises. They’d serve me eggs and toast for breakfast and I’d eat whatever the staff prepared for themselves for lunch and dinner. It was mostly dal rice or masala oats. I would get half a bucket of hot water every two days to shower and wash my clothes. 

There was no transport and I couldn’t really venture out. I would spend my days in the hotel garden and occasionally play ping pong or chat with the general manager in the evenings. With so much uncertainty around me, I felt I needed to focus on my inner self and block everything else out. I had already had a pretty rough year before covid and I felt it was time to channel that pent up energy into something more productive. I created a series of illustrations that reflected my state of mind back then. I also found respite in the fact that many people were going through a similar phase and it encouraged me to explore illustration. 

Sargam Gupta Aluxes Greens are good for you 20x20xcm

Aluxes Greens are good for you 20x20xcm

Do you have a creative process?
My usual creative process begins with identifying a problem and using keywords to narrow down on visual cues and possible solutions. I also think of everything as a system, so that my design solution can adapt and evolve with time. For illustration, I like to be more chaotic. I keep a note of all my ideas that strike me at random hours of the day and go back and forth on different ideas with rough sketches. I work on a few illustrations in tandem to maintain a fresh perspective.

Can you comment on how design has changed with the pandemic.
We now have more tools at our disposal than ever before, opening up more possibilities and making design more accessible. At the same time, the world has picked up so much pace that design styles go in and out of trend faster than the blink of an eye. I feel that the pandemic forced everyone to take a step back and slow down, and the same should be done with design. We have too much inspiration, too many trends to keep up with, too many tools to learn and too little time. It ends up forcing designers to not think and just deliver, and taking a step back and slowing down when possible would help create work that’s fresh, unique and durable. 

Sargam Gupta Aluxes Watery kiss 20x20cm

Aluxes Watery kiss 20x20cm

Where do you get inspiration for colors?
I am intuitively attracted to bold colours and unusual combinations, and I’ve borrowed a lot of my colours from Mexico City. It’s incredibly vibrant and has a special space in my heart because it reminds me of India.

You’ve worked with giants like Uber and Bumble, among others. Is it challenging to keep your voice afloat when doing commissioned work?
It can be challenging, especially if you treat it as a client and designer relationship. Then all you’re really doing is drawing an invisible line and that ends up in a tug and war of different opinions. The key is to make their problem your problem. I spend a lot of time understanding the DNA of the company I work with. The way Uber approaches a design problem is very different from Apple or Bumble. Every company has a unique story and once I understand it, I automatically end up speaking the same language as them and can drive the work in a way that feels like we are working together on the same team.  

Tell us about the best project you have worked on so far and the most memorable one?
Currently it’s a series of illustrations that was exhibited as part of the art show Aluxes, in Mexico City. A World Of Its Own was born out of the need to question things we take for granted and give reality a little nudge. The illustrations depict a lopsided world where anything can simply be anything. This series also incorporates shapes and hues borrowed from the vivid landscape of Mexico City, a city I find oddly reminiscent of India. 

As for the most memorable one, I’ve worked the longest with Uber and I have many fond memories of work I did with them. One such project was the launch of Uber Rewards loyalty program. The campaign involved shooting fourteen videos in two days in Mexico City. We spent two months building the concept and storyboards, and pre-planning production and design. I really had to push the limit on that project and I loved every sleepless night I had over it. 


Text Hansika Lohani Mehtani
Date 06-01-2022