Today we’d like to introduce you to Varun Gadh.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Growing up playing music in LA taught me how to tell the difference between failure and growth. Today, as a designer & engineer, I use that skill every day.
When I was a teenager, I performed – sometimes alone, sometimes with others – in more than a few strange venues. The patio of a Mexican restaurant. A 13-year old’s birthday party at a skate park. Just outside of a bank (they were having a grand reopening). A couple of times, out of the back of a four-wheel modified cable car.
As most performers will tell you, it’s challenging to get even one member an unengaged crowd on your side. Groups of people have inertia. Over time, you learn tools to try to overcome that inertia.
You learn that empathy is critical – considering and reading the audience.
You learn that your first idea – maybe melody or song structure – is almost never your best. There’s a huge difference between your first attempt not working and the entire endeavor being a failure.
You learn that the most beloved songs or performances aren’t necessarily the most skillful, but often those that stir and connect to our emotions or our sense of self.
Without knowing it, I took all of these lessons with me when I started my journey into design & engineering. I began to take the intersection of design & technology seriously in my second year of college. I had less experience in fabrication, robotics, & sketching than many of my classmates.
But I felt completely comfortable with the concepts of human-centered thinking in design, iteration as the core of any development process, and the incorporation of human elements into my work.
It made perfect sense to me, and I eventually realized why: the audience is still an audience, even if you’re selling instead of singing.
I learned that empathy is critical – observing and understanding the user.
I learned that the first idea – maybe a sketch or potential market – is almost never the best. There’s a huge difference between a first attempt not working and the entire endeavor being a failure.
I learned that the most beloved products and experiences aren’t necessarily the most skillful, but often those that stir and connect to our emotions or our sense of self.
The incredible creative culture I got to grow up in still runs through me. Today, I work at Honda Research & Development here in the South Bay, where I continue to grow my skills. I also experiment with new forms of design & creativity (some of which you can see on my Instagram – http://instagram.com/
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’ve always loved consumer products, and I’m always trying to grow my user-facing skillset. What that really means is I’m focused on three things:
1) How to generate more and better ideas (and how to evaluate those ideas).
2) How to build out the accompanying set of smaller, more specific ideas that guide the experience of a product or form – this part usually falls under design.
3) How to approach building a scalable, trustworthy, elegantly created product – this part typically falls under engineering.
If someone has an idea (or many ideas) about a potential product, I love digging into it with them and figuring out potential business models, what users expect, how it might look and feel, and how you might approach making it! I’ve been lucky enough to meet some great people with physical, digital, and – most often – connected physical consumer products. The best thing about working with people who are excited about what they’re making is just that – their enthusiasm.
One way that I try to differentiate myself from others is that, although I’ve historically been focused on physical products, I work hard to have viable skills for the technical and creative sides of both digital and physical products.
That way, if I don’t feel that I have the right skills for a project, I can point the budding entrepreneur in the right direction. And more importantly, even if I’m not the right person for every part of a project, I can comfortably understand the right approach.
I love working with individuals with passion and a bright idea. If you think you have one, feel free to reach out to me!
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I’ve been really lucky in terms of mentors – for years, I’ve had teachers, professors, business leaders, engineers, musicians, designers, and others encourage me and show me how they think about life. Without my friends and family, who spent their time teaching me and supporting me when they didn’t have to, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today – nor could I hope to reach where I want to.
Something I’m particularly thankful for is established professionals being willing to take a bet on a younger person. One of my mentors told me that he achieved a great degree of joy and freedom in his career primarily because he took a series of calculated bets on himself. I’m always amazed when others do me that incredible kindness.
When I wanted to work for a summer as an engineer at a design firm, I reached out to dozens of firms and hundreds of people. I had very little similar experience on my resume. After a few months, I’d had one design firm interview and hadn’t received an offer. Then, a couple of months before the summer, one of the companies I’d applied to reached back. After a few interviews, the vice president of the firm offered me a position.
He made a bet on me. I plan to keep pushing forward, and one day be in a position to help others in the same way.
Arunlal Soman (photos of Varun), Varun Gadh (photos of projects)