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Meet Aarish Netarwala

Today we’d like to introduce you to Aarish Netarwala.

Aarish, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am a designer working for a large consulting company in a startup/incubator division in the South Bay. We build companies from the ground up after identifying a human need to solve for and leveraging emerging technology to create profitable businesses for our clients. I work as a design strategist and my job responsibilities include activities such as conducting ethnographic research with people to understand what and more importantly why people do the things they do. By uncovering deep insights we can identify user’s unmet needs, pain points and desires to create a product of value to them.

My path to being a design strategist has been a winding one, and at different stages in my life, I have gone through experiences that have influenced what I want to do next. I grew up in Bombay, India and completed my high school there. At the time, I was good at two things, sports and Art. Having taken art classes from age 11, I refined my skills and wanted to become a fine artist post high school. However, a part of me had a more practical side, growing up in India, and see the country in need of development, I wanted to help improve peoples lives. While contemplating how to work with these two interests, in the 8th grade my mother introduced me to a lesser-known profession she saw in a design magazine – industrial design. Industrial design is the design of physical products – everything from air conditioners to iPhones to furniture in our homes. It was the perfect balance of art and science for me – bringing aesthetic beauty and improved functionality to people’s lives. I decided to pursue this as my career.

There were not many design schools in India, less so industrial design schools and so at age 17, I moved to Singapore to study industrial design. The first few months were a culture shock, moving to an unknown country with no family or friends and completely different culture was like drinking from a firehose. Over time, I grew to love Singapore and called it my home. I experienced a lot of personal growth from living life independently and having to think for myself. I was responsible for shaping my life for the first time since I had a sheltered upbringing. Four years went by and the friends who are now family stuck with me. Singapore was a blast and I was now an industrial designer ready to work on designing products that would improve people’s lives. With a lack of entry-level jobs in industrial design in Singapore, I moved once again – to a city in India I had never lived in called Pune to start my first job. After working for six months and designing products in the automobile, medical and consumer appliance industries, I knew I wanted to do a master’s in industrial design and learn more about design strategy as well. My goal was to become a better designer of physical products but also learn what are the right products to make and how to determine what to create. Since undergrad, I had a strong entrepreneurial sense and I wanted to master the full stack of design from identifying human needs to execution to create successful products independently. My goal was to work on creating my own products one day. I applied and got accepted into ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena California, my dream school and one of the best industrial design schools in the US and the world.

So after a year working in Pune, India, I once again packed my bags and moved to Pasadena. ArtCenter was a spiritual experience in my life, it completely changed who I am today. The quality of education, eye-opening learnings of design, the creativity of my peers and extreme institutional rigor made me blast beyond what I had thought was my full potential. Endless late nights and early mornings for two and a half years resulted in a refined skill set in industrial design and design strategy. I knew I had the skillsets to succeed in industrial design, but I had yet to practice design strategy and decided this was the path I would pursue professionally post-graduation.

My first job out of school was working in San Francisco for a famous design firm fuseproject that I had learned about eight years ago when convincing my father to allow me to study industrial design in Singapore. It felt like life had come full circle and my dream had become a reality. Working as a contractor, I worked at fuseproject on product and design strategy for products such as consumer electronics and cannabis electronics. Our work would entail going to user’s homes, understanding their needs and desires, understanding why they desired the things they did, and building product strategies based on these insights.

A year later after working at fuseproject and Samsung as a design strategist, I moved to Santa Monica, LA to work at where I am now. Its been a dream job, everyday is different at work and I get to work on building new businesses from the ground up!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Getting to this point has not been a smooth road, but I’d like to think it could be worse. My challenges were based on how to manage my time between work and my personal life. Spending countless hours at work may have taken a chunk out of my early 20’s but I’m working towards making that up now!

What were you like growing up?
I grew up as the middle child between two brothers. The 3 of us raised hell, I was known as the attention seeker, the wildcard, the comedian. Gaining notoriety in school and home, I sought to live up to it. I did also have a completely different side to me, artistic and creative, I found peace and beauty in sketching and painting, it would take up most of my day in class and at home. Needless to say, my grades weren’t great but at Art, I excelled. Outside of school, my brothers and I were very active, playing a bunch of sports like cricket, gymnastics and finally rugby in high school. We ended up on the winning team of the under 19 Indian national championships in rugby, and my brothers ended up representing the country while I left to study in Singapore.

Looking back, I couldn’t imagine a career in which I wasn’t creative and am thankful to have had the blessing and support of my parents to help nurture my childhood interests into what has now become a full-fledged career as a creative!

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