Tell us about yourself, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
My name is Shantanu Suman and I’m from India. Currently I live in Asheville, NC and work as a graphic designer. In the past I’ve worked as an art director (6+ yrs), as a design educator (2 yrs) and very recently I’ve made a documentary film — Horn Please. Apart from doing the research and developing the concept, I also acted as the Co-Director, Director of Photography and Art Director of Horn Please.
Tell us a bit about your documentary, Horn Please…
As a kid growing up in a smaller Indian city, I witnessed a different kind of advertising. The streets were filled with vivid representation of popular themes that ranged from political messages, religious celebrations, as well as commercial advertisements. Most of the work was hand painted by local sign painters, rather than mass-produced using computer aided design and vinyl. Traveling from one part of India to another showed the regional variation in style and technique. I’ve always been fascinated by these hand-painted walls and shop signages. The Indian truck art is a part of the same hand-painted culture.
I started my research about the truck art of India in 2011. In the early days of my research, I realized that very little documentation was available in the form of publications or books. During the summer of 2012, I traveled to India and conducted my own research with the help of two friends, Istling Mirche and Shreedavy Babuji. For 45 days I traveled to various cities in India, collected information about the Indian truck art through interviews, video footage and thousands of photographs. All this information was finally compiled, edited and made into a documentary film—Horn Please.
Although I started the Horn Please project, I would like to emphasize that I couldn’t have finished it without the help of my friends Istling MIrche (co-director), Shreedavy Babuji (scriptwriter), Atif Afzal (Music Director), Raju Pandit (Chief Editor) and many others who volunteered their time and effort for this project. Horn Please is a fully self-funded project. Having an advertising/design background helped me in the promotion of the Horn Please documentary film. However, until now, most of the promotion has been done using social media, word-of-mouth and some published articles (both print and online).
Being the only film made to document the wonderful truck art of India, Horn Please has garnered a lot of critical acclaim. It has been an official selection at 4 film festivals including
• Chicago South Asian Film Festival 2013,
• River to River Florence Indian Film Festival 2013,
• The New York Indian Film Festival 2014, and
• the upcoming Auto Moto Film & Arts Festival, 2014.
It has also been screened at multiple international venues including Mumbai, Miami, London, Asheville, and Gainesville.
The documentary film is just one aspect of Horn Please. I also designed and created a series of projects inspired by the theme of Indian Truck Art. Some of the well-known projects are
• Truckopoly: a variant of the popular board game monopoly but based on the rules and regulations of the Indian Truck industry.
• Use Rubber at Night: A deck of playing cards inspired by truck art and intended for spreading AIDS awareness
• Horn Please exhibition: an exhibition inspired by the truck art theme
How did you get started doing what you do?
I lot of the credit for what I am today goes to my parents. As I mentioned earlier, I was born and raised in a small city in India and my father used to be an engineer. During the late 90’s in India, most of the kids were still opting for professions related to either engineering or medical sciences. I was probably the only kid from my school, who wanted to be a designer. Even though my parents didn’t know much about the various careers in design, they supported my decision to study design. I moved to New Delhi to pursue my Bachelors in Graphic Design. I wouldn’t say that I am a gifted designer. I just know how to work hard.
What’s your inspiration?
My work is primarily idea driven. And so it’s difficult to have a single source of inspiration for different ideas. I do look at inspirations for the stylistic decisions. But even those vary from project to project. I think for a graphic designer, every project is different. And so is the solution.
What is design to you?
I think of design as a process of making things useful and then improvising on them based on the requirement. It’s a constant process.
Can you talk more about the design process?
I’ve met a lot of people who think that a graphic designer’s job is to make things look beautiful. I’m not saying that their idea of graphic design is completely wrong. But beauty is just one component of any designed product. Depending on the project there are a lot of factors that influence the design e.g. materials used, cost, sustainability, codes and guidelines, aesthetics, printing etc. A designer has to keep all these factors in mind during the design process.
The design process in itself has various phases. The most common ones are:
Gathering info – Every project starts with asking pertinent questions through the mail or during client meetings. It’s important to gather as much information as possible and be clear about the project requirements and expectations.
Sign the contract – This is the most important part of working as a professional designer. Even while working with the closest of friends, it’s important to have a signed contract between everyone involved in the project.
Research – The client might not have the answers to all your questions. It’s always helpful to do your own research about the client’s business, their competitors in the market and what works or doesn’t work for them. A lot of the times, you can find the answers for the client’s problems during the research phase.
Design – This phase involves ideation, creating sketches, and then converting the sketches into designs. It’s advisable to spend more time on finalizing my ideas through sketches. The design software is just a production tool and it can’t generate ideas for you.
Presentation – A presentation can make or break the project. Even the best designs, if not presented well could get rejected by the client. So it’s important to have a good presentation with all the required info about the project. Once the presentation is done, it’s also important to gather the proper feedback from the client.
Revisions – It’s very rare that a client would finalize the concept in the first round. Most often there will be corrections/revisions to the initial design. Based on the client’s feedback, make the necessary revisions and send it back to the client for their final confirmation.
Preparing the artwork – Once the client approves the final design, it needs to be prepared in a format suitable for printing/publishing. If you’re working on a print material, you should ask the printing company about the preferred format for delivering final files.
Production — Sometimes clients have a dedicated printing company that they work with. However for a print designer, it’s always good to know a production manager at the local printing company or any other company that you’ve worked with. Having a good understanding of the various paper qualities, binding techniques, production methods etc. is worth a lot of time and money.
How do you keep motivated?
I love design and the fact that I can earn a living by doing what I love. It’s not just a job for me. And the best motivation is to know that people who hire me for their design work are happy with the results.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
To solve one problem at a time.
What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
When I was a newcomer in advertising my boss once told me, “Try to be a sponge and learn everything you can. And eventually you’ll know what to keep and what to discard.”
I think it was good advice.
What are your thoughts on art school?
Art schools can only provide the environment, equipments and professors who can guide us. But it would be foolish to think that just by attending an art school we’ll become a better designer/artist. The motivation has to come from within the person attending an art school. I’ve met a lot of brilliant designers/artists who’ve never attended art school. And I’ve also met people who have spent a lot of money in art school without the willingness to learn.
What’s your dream project?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one dream project. I try to do my best for every project that I work on. Although there are so many times when I see work done by other designers/artists and I have my “I wish I did it” moment.
What art supplies do you use?
My notepad, pen/pencil, my Macbook and my Wacom tablet.
How could the design industry become better in your opinion?
I think we need design education to reach the smaller cities/towns of the world. And education should be less expensive. There is a lot of talent in these remote places. Most of the time you’ll see design education being limited to colleges and universities in the bigger cities. We need to understand that design education is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.
Any other artists/designers that you would like to recommend for others to check out as well?
I usually remember the work more than the artist/designer who did the work. That said here’s an artist and a designer studio whose work I’ve liked time and again: Banksy and Sagmeister & Walsh.