Perspectives 05.19.2021

Conversations with Colleagues: Rishi Nandi

Rishi is a Senior Associate at our Boston studio

What drew you to the design profession, and what’s keeping you here? 

What drew me to design is that its core purpose is problem solving. What keeps me in the profession is the paradigm shift from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, where so much of what we did or aspired to do was framed through the artistic license of the few.

I am a big believer that everyone has something to contribute to the design dialogue, and that the most relevant solutions often are the best at coalescing many diverse viewpoints. What that results in, for me, is constant learning. Learning from colleagues, clients, consultant partners, craftsmen, contractors, venture capitalists, and non-profit game changers on how they would approach the same problem often in such different ways is what makes this profession worth working in. You get such a wide breadth of exposure to thought leadership if you are just willing to listen and put your “expertise” on the shelf for a while.  

Photo of the TU Dublin FOCAS Competition which we submitted in February of this year.

Q: What role does diversity, inclusion, and engagement play in the design profession at large?

A:  My outlook is that our role as designers is to create an inclusive and engaged process that mediates between the many to find the best solution. Embracing this approach allows for teams to consider novel solutions. One way to think about diversity, inclusion, and engagement is that those are the three legs of the stool that prop up innovation. Innovation requires a group of engaged individuals with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds in an inclusive, safe process

Therefore, we all benefit from having a diverse team where people are comfortable sharing ideas borne from their personal experiencesThe resulting solution is often one that no individual could have conceived or executed by themselves often on an accelerated timeline.  

Q: As a leader in the design industry, what steps do you take to expand professional design opportunities to members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities? 

A: I personally focus on a lot of one-on-one mentorship to enable more Asians to succeed. I recognize that being part of this minority group in America, let alone the design community, can be tough.

The reality is that term “Asian or Pacific Islander” is probably not a great starting point. The people who are categorized within the term represent an amazingly diverse group of cultures each with their own, and sometimes dramatically different, social mores. In some ways it reminds me of the British use of the word curry. Curry became a ubiquitous term to describe all Indian cuisine, not recognizing the differences from region to region and between masalas. I feel that the use of the word Asian is much of the same.

Therefore, to be a successful mentor I first try to understand and empathize with my partner’s background. Then I have to recognize that they are trying to fit into a system that is in many ways very different than the one they were brought up in. For instance, personally, it took me many years to learn what people perceived as a valuable career accelerating tools within the context of American business. To top it off many of these were anathema for me since they are completely divergent from the way I was raised where we were told to wait our turn to speak, not to interrupt your elders, and to practice humility. To this day, I hate talking about what I do, not because there is no value behind it, but more so due to my belief that people will see the inherent benefit of the joint solutions we bring forward. I personally do not like living in the twitter-sphere of the constant sound bite.

My approach is not necessarily the best for everyone. Therefore, what I key in on is how I can help people navigate the system on their own terms. Therefore, it is important for me to listen to others and try to help them with their personal approach while  trying to research and understand the avenues that are available to them; including the ones I personally am not comfortable with. The result is an approach that looks to make sure that (1) people understand the opportunities available to them; (2) encourages a level of engagement that they are comfortable with; and (3) makes sure that they take advantage and are not passed up for opportunities.   

Taking the Leap – an image of Rishi and his son.

Q: What message about design’s positive influence on the world would you most like to get out there? 
A: An inclusive, empathetic design process has the power to posit and provide transformative adaptable solutions.