MEET Saif Faisal
A bookshelf can tell you a lot about a person. In the heart of Bangalore, the ‘Silicon Valley’ of India, Saif Faisal’s carefully-curated collection of texts contains everything from French cuisine, to racecar manuals, to architecture to design to philosophy.
Graduated from RV School of Architecture in 2010.
Honed his technical skills through building racecars.
A student of philosophy, cultural anthropology and sociology.
"Racing gave me in-depth exposure to conceive, develop, test and improve a design to its best; but there was always some scope for more. It’s like squeezing a lemon--there is always more left."
"It was the use of ceramics and metal which was very attractive; also, the principles of sustainability. The initial line of objects caught my eye for their simple and subtle calmness."
"As I was expanding my life in those ways, I was becoming more coherent with my idea of what I thought was beautiful. I was putting that on paper and applying it to design."
These diverse works reflect the hungry mind of their curator. Founder of his eponymous design workshop, Saif has distilled his diverse interests into coherent designs that, though restrained, embody the “humour and seriousness” with which he approaches his work.
Designing opposite the pervading sensibility in India— ‘Jugaad,’ a culture of work-around solutions— Saif is part of a generation focused on quality and longevity. In his own words, it's a group of “avant-garde designers with fresh perspective, taking a sensible and progressive attitude towards design.” With architecture skills honed in the classroom and mechanical skills perfected on the racetrack, Saif’s socially-conscious design looks towards a bright future in which technology and craftsmanship peacefully coincide.
How did you first become interested in design?
I didn’t know what design was when I was young, but that was where I was heading, I suppose. I had a huge enthusiasm for things and objects: their materials, beauty and making. I always found it fascinating to watch a carpenter or a mason do his craft. I could make stuff out of anything that was around; I used to make miniature farms with plantations and working irrigation, inspired by the country life I experienced during the summer stays at my grandfather’s farm. I’d also make models of scooters and bikes out of wheat flour dough. That’s one of the reasons I still love scale models so much.
It was around 16 that I discovered design could be a career option. I wanted to become an automotive designer. I enrolled in an Architecture Undergraduate program, as it was the closest available option in Bangalore to what I wanted to do. There, in college, I discovered Formula Student Racing— things were never the same after.
What was the first object you ever designed?
If I recall, it had to be my bicycle--I had done some modifications on it to make it more like a dirtbike in appearance. I also created some sprocket geometry design for my first motorcycle to increase its top speed--and it worked! It was a technical exercise but I had consciously ‘designed’ it for a particular result.
What is Formula Student Racing, and how did you first get involved in it?
Formula Student Racing is a competition organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International). Students form teams and design, build and race cars across various, worldwide venues. I was part of a team formed by the Mechanical Engineering department of my college, called Ashwa Racing. It had been formed just a year before.
On my orientation day at school, I shared my sketches of cars and bikes with the Basic Design teacher. They suggested I join the team, who had been looking for someone to do the styling and ergonomics. It was like fate had me there. That was a big reason that I stuck with the college, and completed the course in architecture.
How has the design community in India grown or changed since you started your career?
It has changed for the better, albeit slowly. There is still a long way to go, as there is cultural hangover. Most designers find comfort and fascination in looking to the past, to a make-do attitude called ‘Jugaad.' It's like an epidemic; it’s all over the place from design to infrastructure, business and politics. This has created a chaos. It’s almost like a design and cultural movement.
But there are some young, avant-garde designers with fresh perspective who are taking a very sensible and progressive attitude towards design. With exposure to the outside world, there is also quite an awareness that is generating in the consumers which seems to be helping the case.
How has technology affected the global community of design?
Designers are always on the lookout for the next big thing, the next material or process, the next revolution.... to be able to exercise their creativity, solve problems and conceive better tools for living. As inspiring and fascinating as technology can be, it’s very important to not let that be the driving force; instead, it should be an efficient tool to move ahead. Technology can overwhelm design, and take the poetic and human factor out. If I can give an example of this from motorsports, MotoGP has got the right balance of man and machine. On the other hand, Formula 1 seems to have gone a bit too far; it has lost the charm.
How do your interests outside of design influence what you create?
I have a vested interest in philosophy, cultural anthropology and sociology, which plays a huge role in my understanding of a project beyond the corporeal aspects. Formula student racing and riding has cultivated my appreciation for technology, material and process, which are each an indispensable part of the product development.
What has your experience in racing taught you about design?
Racing is all about efficiency and performance, with a focus on the utmost essential design. My racing team had a ‘Hall Of Shame’ in the workshop, where we displayed the failed components of the car. This taught me to have both a humour and seriousness towards my work.
This gave me tremendous exposure to cutting-edge materials and processes; I had the chance to lay my hands on carbon-fibre composites and ‘rapid prototyping’ back in the day. It was quite inspiring. This gave me in-depth exposure to conceive, develop, test and improve a design to its best; but there was always some scope for more. It’s like squeezing a lemon--there is always more left. It also honed my making skills on technical level, which has been a great help. It taught me a great deal about the balance of the man and machine, how they come together to be one!
How would you describe your design process?
It is different for every project that I do: there is no particular style or pattern I follow, and each product has a story to tell in terms of its development. I have certain principles I try to embody in the diverse work I do. There is this vision of final product first; of what it does, its interaction with the user in space and time. Once I’m sure of that, then I go back to my tools and craft to get there.
Making has been a huge part of the studio; so much so that some of the products hardly have any drawings or detailed sketches--it’s just straight from the concept sketches to making of the prototype. I enjoy self-initiated projects more; inspiration for that can come from a social concern, a beautiful material, an inspiring craft, a practical need, a curiosity... these projects have a different timeline. I have the habit of keeping the finished object for some time to experience it and see if the initial vision has been met.
How did you find out about OTHR?
I came across the feature of OTHR on Design Milk. The brand captivated me for the way it elevated an innovative but very underexplored technology in mass produced design. I have used 3D printing in its earlier form, ‘rapid prototyping,’ for one-off racing components, but OTHR’s approach seemed to have brought something new to the table. It was the use of ceramics and metal which was very attractive; also, the principles of sustainability. The initial line of objects caught my eye for their simple and subtle calmness.