Akshay Manjunath: designing solutions
For Akshay Manjunath, “pressure cooker” is not a pejorative.
At SCAD, Akshay (M.A., industrial design, 2019; M.A., design management, 2019) pursued two master’s degrees simultaneously. Among his crucial collaborations, he worked on a SCADpro project, conducting research and data analysis, and providing recommendations for the design of a low-cost modular firepit for Walmart.
“As I observed the excellence of my fellow students, I came to understand that intense challenges are part of life, and you can deal with them instead of getting stressed,” he says.
The Walmart connection was key. Akshay is currently a design researcher for the global giant (“When they hired me, they saw the SCADpro project on my resume”), part of a team responsible for creating a better work experience for Walmart’s 2.3 million employees.
A native of Bangalore, India, who also holds a bachelor’s degree from Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering, Akshay currently works from his home office near Logan Square in Chicago.
I joined Walmart in August of this year. My role as design researcher is to work with other researchers to identify challenges in the system, so that employees have a better work experience from point of hiring to retaining their talent. This also means creating a standardized approach for all Walmart employees globally. We use both quantitative and qualitative analysis to help build refined data sets to better understand the experience of the people who work at Walmart. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.
I came to SCAD in 2017 with the intention of doing an M.F.A. in industrial design. My first research project in industrial design was The Avocado, a self-tracking device prototype that improves your life by helping you manage your mood. It does this using chromotherapy, aromatherapy, and music therapy, all by recognizing your mood via touch and facial recognition technology. Through that project, we explored what research can do in design, and I realized I wanted to pursue another mastsers, in design management, at SCAD.
In simple terms, design management is the management of the design process through well-informed decisions that define the direction of the outcome. I saw the potential in design management for how it can be used to develop strategies in problem-solving.
The power of SCAD and the importance of its emphasis on collaboration means that as a design management student, I worked with textile designers, themed entertainment designers, actors, UX designers, and animators all together on a single project. To reflect on my projects at SCAD says a lot about the work I do professionally today.
All my SCAD professors were phenomenal. Eduardo Milrud was, at the time, the chair of industrial design, and wonderful to work with. Professor Kwela Sabine Hermanns taught me the basics of research, while professor Hari Nair, who took me deeper to show me the real-world impact made by quality research.
I also had the opportunity at SCAD to meet a number of living legends of design. In 2018, SCAD hosted an event called Crosswalks, featuring Don Norman, considered the founder of UX design; Vijay Kumar, the author of 101 Design Methods; Phil Gilbert, general manager of design at IBM, and others. They came for a panel discussion, and afterwards, I spoke with Don Norman, who told me, “It’s good to have empathy, but you as a designer need to control your emotions so you can create solutions.” That’s always stuck with me.
For students from India who are considering SCAD, I would say: Whether you are new to design or an experienced designer, if you get an opportunity to attend SCAD, go for it. As long as you put in the effort, there is every opportunity to shine. SCAD offers all the resources you need. Even after graduation when you enter the job market, SCAD offers essential assistance and support. SCAD is more like a family — always there to help.
Written by Peter Relic.