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“I Would Love to See Every Country Get a Chief Design Officer”



Prerna Mehra, head of design, Cheil WW India talks cohesive design, shedding preconceived ideas and advice for aspiring designers

“I Would Love to See Every Country Get a Chief Design Officer”

“The world,” muses Prerna Mehra, “needs superheroes in design.” Joined-up-thinking feels like it’s in short supply these days, so perhaps we should be turning to designers for a bit of help. Their sense of empathy, of behaviour, of experience, of connection is a superpower that could transform cities and countries, if only it were more cleverly deployed. In agency land, design is a discipline that’s evolving and expanding, a glue that brings different aspects of brand and marketing together – and out there in the real world a bit of that holistic thinking might be just what we need.

Prerna will be hunting out the next generation of potential design heroes at the One Show’s Young Guns 17. As part of the global jury, she’s looking for talent that can reassure her that the future is in good hands.

LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Prerna to find out about her own journey with design, her thoughts on holistic thinking and what advice she has for budding designers.

LBB> How did you first get into design?

Prerna> I was a naughty kid. The only way to make me sit quietly was to give me paper and a pencil. So I sketched, drew, scribbled, tore papers, made airplanes, flowers and Ganeshas. And then, ‘Eureka!’

LBB> When you were a kid were there any inklings or hints that your future held a career in design?

Prerna> There were hints in my actions. Like for instance, when I was five I cut my eyelashes so precisely it was as if they had been waxed at a parlour. After giving me a good thrashing (which is what any responsible parent would do) my mom said “this girl is going to be a designer one day”, and here I am!

LBB> What was the first professional project you worked on that you were really proud of?

Prerna> All my projects have been my babies. I cannot choose one over the other. It's like asking which is your favourite kid. I put my heart, sweat and blood in all. What comes out is something that looks like me. I seldom let things go to the client if I am not convinced.

LBB> And what recent projects from Cheil have you really enjoyed and why?

Prerna> I loved working on Opera House since it was a truly integrated project, right from naming to the actual finished building. We have seen it come alive from a blueprint to the world’s largest mobile experience centre. But when it comes to design, I loved working on the India South Korea cultural immersion program. It was a project which had to convince, inspire and motivate young minds from South Korea to visit India.

LBB> The scope of the types of projects that can include designers and design thinking seems to have broadened over the years - what's driving that?

Prerna> People have started to think holistically. It’s not just branding design, packaging design or designing other elements. It is defining the purpose for a brand and then designing a brand world around it. Design is not just about what looks good to your eyes anymore, it's about how one interacts with it, how one feels about it, and how it adds value to their experience.

LBB> And through your own career, how have you navigated and embraced the spreading tentacles of design-centric thinking?

Prerna> I am driven by purpose, of anything and everything. I approach every project, every brief I get, by asking, ‘what is its purpose?’ How is what we create going to enhance the experience of the user/customer. 

LBB> Design, at its core, seems a very empathetic discipline - what's your take on that?

Prerna> Design starts with empathy. Everything is now designed keeping the human at the centre of things. A deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for is required to design anything. Losing your preconceived ideas and choosing to understand the ideas, thoughts, and needs of others instead. That’s how one truly relates to and appreciates design.

LBB> In your current role you're overseeing anything touched by design, from more traditional areas like packaging and language to things like environment design and interactive design - from a leadership point of view, how important is it to break down the barriers between these specialisms?

Prerna> Well it's important. However, we are still evolving and it’s going to take its own sweet time. We are young in the design thinking game but we are trying to get there, one step at a time. But having said that it’s extremely important we get there, so that we design in a cohesive way. The brand talks the same language from the first hello to never-ending goodbyes. The brand ideology will one day flow from the logo and extend right up to the last mile. 

When we are talking about breaking barriers between traditional design and new ways of designing I would love to see every country get a chief design officer. We are designing cities without any thinking, without any empathy, without any proper planning. Its high time we bring the design thinking discipline to building our cities and countries.

LBB> Who are your design heroes and why?

Prerna> Michael Wolff when it comes to branding design. It's Minimalistic, thoughtful and inclusive. And Jessica Walsh for her thinking. Jessica is the goddess of disruption. She can turn heads and involve people in her work. I love her!


LBB> When it comes to the 'Young Guns', what will you be looking out for, as a designer?

Prerna> I am looking for someone who:

Makes me want to see his/her work again and again. 

Makes me want to see not just the submitted pieces but makes me want to google everything that I can find on him/her.

Makes me want to think that the future is in good hands.


LBB> Given that design now encompasses so much, I guess it could be quite bewildering for a young aspiring designer to know where to start, where (and whether) to specialise... what advice would you give to those starting out their career? 

Prerna> Observe. Empathise. Improve.

Young people should think beyond the brief, in fact the brief is just the starting point; they can reach for the stars if they think beyond the requirement. They need to think design and not just execute. They should start looking for solutions, not just design solutions, but real life solutions. The world needs superheroes in design. Think human. Think interaction. Think design.

LBB> Outside of work, what inspires you?

Prerna> Travel, travel and some more travel.

What you design is a reflection of your observations. I travel so that I can design; I design so that I can travel. That’s what my Instagram handle also says – EARN. TRAVEL. REPEAT.

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Cheil India, Thu, 15 Aug 2019 13:59:53 GMT