Building Blocks to Eminence: In Conversation with Ms. Prapti Jha

Building Blocks to Eminence: In Conversation with Ms. Prapti Jha

One of the finest design strategists and researchers, Ms. Prapti Jha, formally trained as an architect from the IIT Institute of Design Chicago, Illinois. She is currently working as an Innovative Catalyst at Ford Motor Company. Ms. Prapti Jha, a prestigious alumnus of the college, visited our college Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, for a talk during E-Summit’20, the annual flagship event of the Entrepreneurship Development Cell of BIT Mesra.

We, at the News and Publication Society, got the golden opportunity to have a conversation with her during her visit. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Q1: How did you manage to time your designing skills while working with Convene, UI health, and Ford, which are completely diverse sectors?

A1: That’s a great question, and that question itself opens up the whole conversation around design as a world and field. In India, especially, I looked at design in a very narrow manner. Design meant something which makes stuff beautiful. Architecture was still about spaces, but as we move forward, the whole definition of design is changing. So design in today’s world means the experiences which you create. The experience can be in the health sector, like how a patient is experiencing when he or she is going through treatment. That’s what I did at UI health, the University of Illinois’s health department. Convene is a company with a business model closer to We-Work, which provides co-working spaces. That was close to my architecture degree, where I was working on the experience of how people would use the co-working spaces.

“I have not carried out any of my researches till now in India, but I surely can comment upon the differences in the mindset of people.”

At Ford, it’s about how a person drives a car and uses any Ford product, what is the experience like. At Ford, the aspect of Futurism also comes in. It’s like how the future is going to be and how are we going to adapt to it. In the U.S, people have already stopped buying cars in cities where they can depend on public transport; a car is a burden. And if it continues and people just stop buying cars then what will Ford offer to them? So our design team and the team I work with are helping Ford to ask that question. As people’s mindsets are changing, we need to get closer to the people, understand their expectations, experiences, needs, and then design for them. But just the designer cannot be a part of crafting the whole experience. Designers, engineers, people in business, people from finance, all need to come together and design the experience. So, I work in multidisciplinary teams, bringing the design lens.

Q2: You just stated about multitasking and multidimensional thinking. In college, along with academics, how did you manage to keep up with all the other co-curricular activities?

A2: For you sitting here and having this conversation is equally important as sitting in the hall learning from the lectures, reading, or giving an exam. Ultimately when you step out to work, theoretical knowledge is required, but along with that, you need to have to talk to people, learn from people every day. You cannot be an expert in everything. For me, I don’t want to be an expert, but a continuous learner as being an expert will become obsolete. While studying here, I used to participate in as many events and competitions as I could. This also meant sometimes weighing the co-curricular activities more than the academics. Trust me; you won’t regret it!

Q3: Your day to day activities include interacting with people, which includes delivering your thoughts in front of a large audience flawlessly. Has this experience shaped you into the great speaker that you are today?

A3: I am personally a lot inspired by Indra Nooyi, an Indian-American businesswoman and ex-CEO of PepsiCo. She is an amazing public speaker with radical thoughts. Also, she is amongst the world’s 100 most powerful women. She talks about a lot of different and exciting things, including design. Interestingly, PepsiCo was the first company to introduce the post of Chief Design Officer. Another source of motivation was my grad school in Chicago. In my very first class, it was to my surprise that the professor, along with a bio-info, asked us all to state what we expect from the course. Whenever we had to read a paper, we were asked about our opinions on that topic and not just what we learned from that theory. All these aspects bring inner confidence to share your thoughts in front of people and strike an engaging conversation. The group can be of 2 people or 100!

“A major part of my work itself comprises of user-research where I have to reach out to people.”

Q4: What opinion do you have of the students, who are not a part of premium institutes like IITs, who want to pursue research abroad?

A4: To me research has different meanings in different fields. It can be scientific. A significant part of my work comprises of user-research, where I have to reach out to people. I learn from them by knowing what kind of changes are they expecting in cars and vehicles and their surroundings. When it comes to institutes, from my point of view, B.I.T. is good enough as an institute to train and make the students ready for pursuing research in any foreign institute with a lot of ease. You have to talk to people and broaden your perception about things before beginning to work on it. Studies here being quite more theoretical makes us devoid of realizing the importance of other stuff. Talk to people who have been studying abroad and also to those who have been working there to learn from their learnings and get guidance.

Q5: Can you explain the difference that occurs in the field of research across places. Like that between India and U.S.A?

A5: I have not carried out any of my researches till now in India, but I surely can comment upon the differences in the mindset of people. In foreign schools, research is incorporated rigorously throughout the project. But in India, research as a field in non-scientific education is still evolving. There are a lot of institutions and places in India where this conversation is indeed different. It is highly recommended to take up research abroad to know how people deep dive into the topics of research. Research is not just merely reading other people’s opinions but reading other people’s views and then having our own views.

Q6: What is your opinion about the substantial growth of design colleges like NIFTs and NIDs?

“One thing I would like to state that studying design from institutes like NIDs is promising because one of my best professors in the U.S. himself was a NID graduate.”

A6: When it comes to NIDs, they are at the forefront of design education. At the same time, there are many other colleges providing great expertise in this field, like Narsee Monjee in Mumbai. Design is not something new to India. We have numerous traditional colleges offering a course in graphic design, fashion design, architecture, etc. We need to bring the new courses of design to these institutes. NID has a course called Strategic Design Management, which is somewhat very close to what I studied in the U.S. One thing I would like to state that studying design from institutes like NIDs is promising because one of my best professors in the U.S. himself was a NID graduate. In conclusion, I feel India is catching up for sure.

Q7: This fact is nowhere hidden that nowadays every company wants its customers to grow by providing an economically better, efficient, convenient and reliable product. So, according to you, how well is Ford able to achieve this and the strategies it follows?

A7: Ford till now has not been performing the best in the Indian car market. Markets in different places vary drastically. Like in India, the market demands cost efficiency as well as fuel efficiency. But the scenario is different in the U.S where more emphasis is on the safety, strength, and durability of the vehicle. Ford is doing great is some markets and trying to catch up in others.

“It is good enough to provide you with a platform to go wherever you want in the world.”

Q8: What are your views on E-Summit and the effectiveness of expert lectures delivered by delegates from various companies regarding entrepreneurship?

A8: It indeed is great and feels awesome. I am a part of the core team at the BITMAA-NA. Once we had a meeting in Chicago, where members decided to organize a team of people on the ground working in the colleges to get closer to the audience. E-Summit is purely a student initiative and helps students connect to the mentors and motivators.

This is the best time to take a risk and live your ideas. As once one steps out to work, even if ideas come to your mind, they cannot take shape into reality quickly due to lack of time, proper environment, and resources, but these can be best done in colleges.

Q9: Do you believe in luck when it comes to entrepreneurship and the success of a start-up?

A9: Yes, I do, but I believe luck favours those who are ready with everything. I strongly believe in Alchemist’s saying when it comes to luck. It is more about being in the right place at the right time. I also think that sometimes even though you work hard, you remain unsuccessful. It may be taken as another bigger opportunity to be waiting in your way. So I suggest you work hard, surely you will be in the right place at the right time.

Q10: Can you give a message for the BITIANs out there?

A10: One of the most significant advice to my dear BITIANs is that you should not think of BIT as a second-grade institute. It is great to provide you with a platform to go wherever you want in the world. After graduating, I came to know about our Alumni working in amazing places. To state, one is at Disney and worked on the animation for the movie ‘FROZEN 2’. Another one is a professor at Columbia University. I strongly suggest the students connect to the alumni. Do your research, talk to people, and take risks!

Picture Credits: Photographic Society, BIT Mesra

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