Hey APC! My name is Sarika Kumar and I’m a current sophomore at UC Davis!
“Design” is an interesting word. Drop it in a highly technical conversation amongst engineers and immediately the idea of design means pure aesthetic rather than usability. When used in just a general conversation, there are several different meanings to the word —which connotation does the person intend? Aesthetic? Or functionality? Both? And so the main question becomes: how does one define design?
In grade school, I was the kid that everyone knew to be “the artist”. However, what people didn’t see was that I spent an equal number of hours building lego sets as I did doodling and creating watercolor paintings. And when it came to the chapter in my life where it was time to pick a college, everyone had this assumption that although I had enjoyed math and science, I would almost certainly go into art and design.
When I looked into applying to art school, there were no hands-on activities, no possibility of building something functional that would abide by the laws of physics. When I looked at engineering degrees, there was no option to take a design class that taught me Adobe software or allowed me to create with a paintbrush and pen. Both are equally important to me and I wasn’t able to find a path that combined the two in a meaningful way. There was no consideration at all towards doing both. The only thing I began to be sure of was that I couldn’t go to school solely for design. I didn’t understand why this was the case, but I knew that the moment you said you were a design major to a group of engineers, no one would take you seriously. I began to shy away from the idea of being a design major and even went to far as to take my artistic accomplishments off of my resume because I thought it would hinder my ability to get jobs in the field of engineering.
So I ended up going to UC Davis for Aerospace Science and Engineering. My thought process was as follows — I loved space, I loved engineering, and I loved art. So maybe aerospace would allow me that extra little bit of creativity that I wouldn’t otherwise get to explore in a regular engineering program. The idea of working at NASA, SpaceEx, and Boeing was intriguing and awe-inspiring, and I loved the moment when people found out my major and their jaws dropped in astonishment as they realized I wanted to be a real-life rocket scientist.
This past June, I completed my freshman year at Davis and after some deep consideration, I realized that aerospace was not the path for me. It didn’t fully encompass both of my passions to the capability that I was searching for. I began to lose the art and design that I had poured so many hours into while growing up. I was disappointed that my creative side was dwindling and I had lost my focus on the combination of the two fields.
Now circling back to my original question — what is design? Design is all about innovation, creativity, technology, user needs, aesthetics, and societal and business interests. It is the process of learning to translate new technologies and issues arising from societal trends, into innovations for everyday life.
It is not arts and crafts as so many often believe, but rather the real-world application of empathetic thinking innovation. And the crossroads of design and engineering can be known as the sweet spot of innovation — it provides the ability to create something for the benefit of society while being both fully functional and aesthetically pleasing. Art has always interested me because of its unparalleled ability to make others happy just by simply existing. The unique combination of design and engineering takes that to another level. I also love the social aspect that comes with science and the art of product design.
Designing a product is a “make or break” process. The initial view of the product dictates people’s level of interest. As such, a large part of product design is talking to potential users and understanding feedback to a high enough degree that you can implement in the creation of the product. This same process goes for engineering as well. In order to build something to take to market, an engineer must also talk to prospective customers and learn to understand what features are missing and how to bring them into the next design. The seemingly insignificant joy someone can get from toasting a piece of bread to the perfect golden hue, or the satisfaction someone feels from a good stapler; the day to day items that, when perfectly designed, bring a smile to someone’s face or make their day less daunting. This is the culmination of the intersection between design and engineering.
Although this idea is prevalent throughout many universities across the world, it is not currently as prevalent in the USA. Whatever you are interested in or passionate about — whether it be a sport, an instrument, art, gaming, designing Pinterest boards or aesthetically pleasing Tumblr blogs, even just watching a certain youtube feed, don’t give up that passion. There is always a way to connect the things you love and do for fun to the things you want to do because of practicality.
When I say art and engineering, people look at me like I’m a little bit insane. That doesn’t make me doubt my enjoyment in those fields, however. So I encourage and challenge everyone to find a way to connect your passions into something bigger than individual creative outlets. To take risks— try to merge those outlets. And even if everyone seems to be looking at you like you’re a little bit insane, ignore them. No matter your age, your societal status, the lower class neighborhood in which you may have been raised, don’t let someone else’s predetermined notions guide your own. Be creative.
My subject matter is nature-inspired whether it is a traditional landscape or ink and watercolor mixed-media painting. I use traditional materials, ink and brush on canvas and paper, to capture the contours of the land and the spirit of the pacific northwest. Additionally, I work with metal. In using metal such as copper and steel, I enjoy the ability to manipulate with strength and finesse a seemingly harsh and cold medium to create pieces that express a deep human sentiment of beauty. The techniques of welding, brazing and other construction-oriented methods allow a sense of competence and defined deliberate order that provides the bounding boxes of comfort and control. My pieces also come from a place I like to call the intersection of art and engineering and my designs work to capture physical objects made for the benefit of society while being both fully functional and aesthetically pleasing.