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It’s okay to fail and take a leap of faith, says Senior UX designer Ajay Mittal

The Apeejay Institute of Technology-School of Architecture and Planning (AITSAP) alumnus says it was destiny that propelled him towards architecture

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Ajay Mittal, an alumnus of Apeejay Institute of Technology-School of Architecture and Planning (AITSAP), remembers the time he spent at the college campus fondly. Full of fun and learning, he says it was the best time of his life. Starting out with clear idea about architecture to becoming a successful UX designer, currently working at Amazon, Mittal’s journey has been quite eventful. In an interview, the new dad who is based in Bengaluru, talks about UX design, work-life balance, the importance of paternity leave, and more. Edited excerpts:

What are your best memories from AITSAP?

The campus was very nice. We were one of the early batches with a strength of about 40 students. I remember our first assignment—drawing straight lines on brown paper sheets. The next day, we were asked to bring ruled sheets to practise cursive writing (laughs). Those five years went off in a jiffy. Around that final year of college, I underwent a spinal operation and was on bed rest. I had to submit my thesis around the same time, and the one who turned out to be immensely supportive was my guide, late Professor Agnihotri. There were many other faculty members who were also very helpful. My time at AITSAP was actually the best because I learned a lot.

Tell us about your journey.

Hailing from Bijnor, a very small place in Uttar Pradesh, I was the first architect in the area. I was sure I did not want to become an engineer or a doctor. Architecture, of course, was not what I had planned on pursuing because I had a limited understanding of it. One of my uncles was in the construction business, who told me about architecture; I took the exam, secured a good rank, and got admission at Apeejay. Parallelly, I applied for the Air Force and cleared all the selection rounds except the final one. Shattered, I decided to go back to AITSAP. Destiny, clearly, had plans.

In my fourth year of college, I went to work with architect Abhimanyu Dalal. He told me, “I am going to make an architect out of you”, something I clearly remember to date. He was an inspiration and I owe him a lot. Later, I joined the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT)  in their first batch for Interior Architecture. Following this, I moved to IIT Bombay to pursue a degree in Interaction Design. As someone who has been associated with this field for 12 years now, I have seen how things in the world of design have evolved.

Why did you opt to become a UX designer and not a conventional architect? What inspired the transition?

During my time at CEPT, I was introduced to Interactive Architecture and was quite intrigued by it. To know more about it, I started writing to designers across the world and shared my proposal. One of them suggested Interaction Design as the gateway to what I wanted to pursue, which eventually directed me towards IIT Bombay. While studying the subject, I could feel a connection between Interaction Design and Architecture—both have a user we are designing for, keeping certain specifications in mind. Accordingly, the professional does his research and optimises the design process to arrive at the final solution. This is exactly what I do as a UX designer.

What is the difference between UX design and UI design?

UX is User Experience and UI is User Interface. The former can be considered the beginning of a problem-solving process. For instance, say a client wants to design a driverless car. A UX designer will talk to actual users or car companies as part of their research to identify a core problem. So, this research and analysis followed by a suitable solution is the job of a UX designer. A UI designer takes over once the concept is in place. Based on that they work on the interface like a dashboard or a website. In recent years, however, this bifurcation has been blurred whereby now they are called Product Designers, who are a hybrid of UX and UI.

With everything going digital and companies moving to the virtual mode amid the pandemic, what kind of impact or trends have you seen in terms of design?

For the UX design process, research is very important, which, in turn, got affected during the pandemic. We cannot do remote research and due to the pandemic, we were not able to connect with the users. Apart from asking questions, there is a lot of observation involved in the process which is difficult in the case of remote working.  So, we had to halt our research for almost a year. However, certain collaborative tools have come up recently that have reduced the challenges.

You are a new dad. With professional commitments and deadlines, how are you able to manage a work-life balance?

When the pandemic started, my wife was seven months pregnant. Amid the lockdown, it was just my wife and I staying in Bengaluru, without access to any house help. My company, however, supported me a lot during that time. My manager and team members called me regularly to offer help. My team took over my work so that I could take care of my wife. I also had six weeks of paternity leave during which I was able to spend time with my baby. I was given full liberty to take time off and only attend important calls. My team members are very understanding. All in all, I have been able to maintain a good work-life balance because of the support from my colleagues.

What is your view on paternity leave? Do you think it is important for the father to be around during the first few months of having a baby?

It is as important as maternity leave, according to me. Those initial months are the time when you start bonding with the baby. Not to mention how important it is to support and assist a new mother during that time. There’s a lot to do for a newborn and you cannot just expect her to take up all responsibilities. That is where the father must step in. So, paternity leave is very important not only to help the mother but to bond as a family.

Your word of advice for students of Apeejay.

It is okay to fail. You cannot always have clarity at every step of the way. At the same time, it is okay to take a leap of faith. But whatever you do, pursue it with full passion and commitment.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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