She's only 22, but Mumbai-based Simoul Alva already has her plate full. Barely out of her undergrad programme (in Visual Communication, with a specialisation in graphic design) from National Institute of Design (NID) Ahmedabad, and she’s already been the recipient of Ratan Tata Scholarship and Helen Lansdowne Resor Scholarship; recognised as one of the 25 upcoming designers under the age of 25 by Tata GenX Nano; represented India at the 44th Worldskills Abu Dhabi for Graphic Design and went on to win a Gold and a Medallion of Excellence. Plus her hefty portfolio includes many work she has produced for agencies such as Codesign, Lopez Design, Vogue, Wieden+Kennedy and Sagmeister & Walsh. Phew!
“In fact, I recently found out that I am this year’s recipient of the Patrick Kelly Scholarship. In its history of 20 years, I am the first person who isn’t from the United States of America, or had attended university there. It felt great to see India on such a talented and esteemed list,” she tells us over the phone. “You know, how, when you’re small, your parents explore by putting you in different classes, like Bharatanatyam, sports, etc. I did just that,” she says, “But I would rather draw than do other things.”
The Road to Self
After starting off at the age of three, Alva found out about design through her school drawing teacher, who told her about NID’s programme. “That’s how I realised that this could actually be my career, and not something I could do just as a hobby,” she says. However, there are other things that have been drawing her attention of late. “Recently, I’ve been getting interested in Indian vernacular design such as those on bus tickets, or graphics behind a taxi or packaging of agarbattis (incense sticks),” says the designer.
Alva’s work is fluid, even experimental. In that, it doesn’t mean that it loses context as she jumps from one concept to another. While her illustrations have a distinct flow to it, her 3D designs articulate her need to take the format beyond animating and industrial design. “I feel like there are softwares now for making it easier for graphic and visual designers to pick up and explore design,” she says. “You don’t feel limited anymore. In India, 3D has just started and is taking off right now. It’s nice because there is a whole other dimension that you can express yourself in.”
Typeface is another vertical that the designer developed during her exchange semester at the École Supérieure d'Art et de Design de Reims in France, last year. Titled ‘Vixen’, this typeface is conspicuous in its voluptuous curves and contrast forms, and has “subliminal sense of fluidity and strength”. ‘Not for the invisible’, her note for the typeface states. What began as a mere classroom assignment took off spectacularly. “The idea was to choose a sample of type, so I chose something that was in another language altogether, probably Mandarin, and I had to draw Latin characters set out of that. This is the first time I designed an entire typeface and designed it in such a way that it could be typed out.”
New Kid On The Block
Alva’s insights on the Indian design world are sharp and incisive. Context, she says, is essential. “In India, the level of understanding of design and the importance of it has shot up a lot because of social media. That kind of bridge between the two is more essential now. And I hope that people are working towards it. That's where I see my work—extremely context-driven,” she says. “Additionally, agencies are being revamped across the country. Initially, they were focused on advertising in terms of print ads and hoardings. Now it's become very design-centric. It's more visual. Activation ideas are also more immersive now. Branding and strategy have become an afterthought. People are ready to invest and put in the time to build back.”
For now, Alva is taking a backseat and allowing her work to speak for herself. Just off an internship at the famous Pentagram in New York under graphic designer and critic Michael Bierut, Alva awaits her graduation ceremony, due January 2019. “At this point, it's about exploring a lot of different mediums. I've never really seen myself having a style. That's why I kind of refrain from being referred to as an artist more than anything else.”
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