From discovering creative disciplines early in life to meaning-making through juxtaposition in her art, joining the Young Guns powerhouse cohort, and adopting conscious sartorial choices; Communication Designer Khyati Trehan gives us a peek into her prolific life.
1. When was it that you realized that art and design were your callings? We’d like to know everything there is about your journey.
Early schooling gave me clues about what my future might look like, even though I didn't know the exact course. I studied in a free progress school called Mirambika which was only till the 8th grade. Learning was free of structures and authentic discovery was encouraged over blind studying and textbooks marked with highlighters. 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 I was learning the ABCs, I realized early that I loved working with my bare hands. The philosophy of the school was to help you discover what you love instead of prescribing it. Those years helped me build a great relationship with learning which lingers even in my adult life and has had an impact on my design journey. Jumpcut to adulthood, I've continued my love for learning and my quest of stretching whatever "communication design" can mean–from building AR experiences for clients like Snapchat Spectacles and Instagram, image-making for Apple and the Oscars, to illustrating articles for NY Times and The New Yorker Magazine, practicing human-centered design and storytelling at IDEO, and more recently, building complex brand systems with the design collective Sovereign Objects.
2. As a young artist, how did your signature aesthetic evolve? Tell us about your philosophy/design process.
I've always worked towards broadening my skill set in the pursuit of becoming a versatile designer, which isn't the best formula for developing a singular signature style. Having said that, I am drawn to a few signature visual moves and image-making devices. A large part of my work is dimensional and I often use 3D as a tool to think spatially and create work that isn’t photorealistic. Instead, I think there's a lot of potential to create a new aesthetic toggling between 2D and 3D. I also enjoy meaning-making through juxtaposition–putting two ideas together that don't make sense...until they do! There's an additional compositional challenge in working with abundance and chaos and then trying to find balance in it. My design practice begins with research, heavy discovery, diving headfirst into context, and building off of strategy. I get to throw all of that out in my artistic process and let my hands chart their course. While every process varies, the intention is always to arrive at the 'right' feeling, and make the intangible tangible.
3. In the broad spectrum of design, how did you arrive at where you are today? What has been your biggest source of inspiration?
I've made a few strange decisions in my career and when I look back at them, turns out every role demanded a different kind of designer. Not repeating myself in the disciplines within the design that I worked on was oftentimes motivated by boredom, but most often by a craving to expand my skill set and mindset alike. Making sure I never settle to have a funneled view of the world and remain open as I grow in my career has been a deliberate effort. My biggest source of inspiration is my immediate surrounding and the people that shape me. Sanchit Sawaria was my first favourite designer, and then my partner. Inevitably, he's played a huge role in my growth as a designer–being a point of inspiration, a source of feedback, and a sounding board, and he has extended the definition of partnership. I've been really lucky to find mentors in people like Franz Blach (Former partner at IDEO Europe) and Karin Fyhrie (former MD of Collins, Founder of Sovereign Objects) in different stages of my life who are generous with their knowledge and time but most importantly, are just really cool people!
4. You’ve accomplished so much over the last few years. What’s been your most special moment so far?
Awards and recognition feel good for 15 minutes and then the feeling fizzles down. But winning the ADC ‘Young Guns 19’ hit differently! So many designers that I've looked up to in the past have been a part of the powerhouse cohort and it has set the tone for their future career trajectory. Throughout my graphic design education, I've annually ogled at each winner’s work and repeatedly wondered, "How did so many good ideas come from the same human being?" Seeing my work on the same platform was indeed a special moment, although it was bittersweet to learn that I was the first-ever winner from India. There’s no dearth of talent in the country and they’d only benefit from the visibility and meaningful connections that being included in the class of Young Guns helps make.
5. What's the next possible turn in your career? Do you have a plan of action?
I’ve only begun my independent practice and have been very lucky with the projects that have landed in my inbox. They've been, both, intellectually stimulating and hands-on. I find myself leaning into scopes that are longer contracts vs. one-off projects because it helps me build relationships with collaborators and clients and be more deeply involved in the decision-making process. My plan of action is to do more of what I'm already doing, and not forget to find some time to breathe once in a while.
6. Although over the years, opportunities in your field have expanded, where do you think we as an industry stand today? Do you see scope for design for the next generation in our country?
I feel very positive about this industry's future in India. I'm surrounded by a ton of talent and have lots of people to look up to. I find parents feeling less gloomy about their children picking this path. I see art fairs gaining more general public traction than ever. I see Indian companies arriving at the conclusion that good design is good for business! However, (there may be bias seeping in here) seeing instances of friends not getting paid for their work by very well established firms and others who've had their work plagiarized by massive fashion brands are telling us that we've still got a long way to go in respecting design as a discipline, seeing value in the hours and labor that go into the craft and having regard for a legally binding contract.
7. As a part of the succeeding generation of powerful, contemporary Indian women, we want to understand your style and what fashion means to you. How do you translate your ideologies into your sartorial choices/practices?
For the longest time, I defined fashion as a way to show up to the world and a medium to craft how others perceived us. As I grow older and dare I say, wiser, it's become less about what I want to project, and more about what I enjoy seeing myself in. Whenever I find myself making a choice between what is appropriate for an occasion and what feels right to me–I'll pick the latter! I appreciate good airflow between my body and the clothes I wear; it makes me feel at ease and defines the fits I gravitate towards.
8. As the world around us rapidly changes, how has your perception of fashion changed over the years? Talk us through a mantra you live by.
So often when we referred to ‘fashion’, we were really talking about fast fashion because for the longest time, it was trend-driven. As we all become more conscious of the impact our choices make, fast fashion is slowing down. I now only buy clothes either to fill a functional need or if I've fallen in love with a particular piece and I see it having a long life in my wardrobe.
9. A trend you’re currently digging:
All-things oversized!