Khyati Trehan on how design grads can make use of failure

CR talks to designer Khyati Trehan about working across multiple disciplines, why personal work matters, and how adversity can make you a better designer

Khyati Trehan, Hand Test

Illustrator and designer Khyati Trehan has had a pretty good time since graduating. Last year, at just 25, she was named one of the 15 Artists Under 30 by Print magazine; and in 2017 she moved to Berlin to work at fashion brand Zalando as a communication designer.

Originally from  New Delhi, she’s packed a lot in to a short time – working in pretty much every discipline you care to name – from type design at the Indian Type Foundry; working on the Think Tank Team at Samsung Research in the US; a stint in branding and publication design at Codesign in Gurgaon, India; and working as part of the UI design and 3D animation team at Struckby in her birth city.

Recently, she moved to Munich to join IDEO. The shift, she says, has been tough. “I fell in love with the city too hard and it hurts to leave behind the family I made in Berlin,” says Trehan, who reckons the city had a huge impact on her work. She’d been drawn to Berlin when she was considering studying for a Masters, and at a time when she had been rejected for a visa for other countries. Luck took her there, she says, when Anne Pascual, the VP of product design at Zalando, found her through Instagram.

“Berlin is a magnet for artists because of the sense of freedom that’s in the air,” she says. “I remember going to a sound installation in someone’s living room. Being in such an environment, as a visual artist, helped me push myself to create more often and create more freely. It also made me more open to experiences. I heard myself saying more yes and less no. The challenging bits are always the beginnings: all the paper work and bureaucracy that comes with living in Germany.”

She adds: “At the same time, my first few weeks at IDEO have been super exciting! The scale and the impact of the work we do is huge. I’m still easing into this new way of working and can’t wait to see myself grow into a more strategic design thinker.”

For all these impressive agency namechecks though, it was Trehan’s self-initiated work that caught our eye – notably her 3D design experiments. Trehan always makes time for personal projects, even if it kills me and I’m overworked like crazy,” she says. “And I’m not sure why.”

She loves the potential for expression that 3D design offers, “because you’re essentially whipping up spaces and objects that are close to reality, out of thin air. I feel like a wizard sometimes.” She learned a lot about Cinema 4D when she was taking a break from in-house work, teaching herself using sites like Greyscalegorilla. “I accelerated my learning by taking up projects that I thought I was not equipped to do,” she says. “Designing in 3D has added new dimensions (pun intended) to the way I visualise ideas. But it has also worked the other way. I also feel that there are so many concepts that surface just because of knowing the possibilities of a tool.”

To keep her designs and ideas fresh, Trehan advises frequently pushing yourself to work across new processes and disciplines. “I switch tools very often and the more I do it, the better I get at all of them at the same time,” she says. “Switching tools for my overall practice also feels really rewarding because I surprise myself with what I end up making. The last tool I dabble in, or the project I finish somehow always influences the next one.”

Trehan is refreshing in her admission that things haven’t always panned out right. She’s spoken about a series of rejections – for both visas and and a place at Fabrica – that have helped her cultivate a philosophy around dealing with failure: “It took a lot to realise that things eventually work out. The series of failures and missed opportunities also helped me get humble, and poke the bloated ego that most graduates (including myself at the time) have when they first start exploring their design practice.”