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Profiles in Design: Ritesh Gupta

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 11/09/2020 | 5 Minute Read

Ritesh Gupta didn’t grow up thinking he wanted to become a designer. Design, for him, was a hobby, he thought. It's not something you choose to do as a career. 

"It isn’t necessarily revered in the Indian community,” he explained. “So I didn’t discover my interest or know design was something I could pursue until I did an advertising campaign for an organization that I was a part of at UCLA. I found that I just had a natural knack for it.”

Still, he was under the assumption that design was something for fun, not for work—until he started his job out of college at agency Wieden+Kennedy where he ran social and search campaigns. There he met Serif Ozcan, the Head of Design at the time, and the two became good friends. Through Serif, Ritesh began to realize that he could actually work in design. He could love what he did, and he could make money doing it.

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“Wieden has this kind of adage you could say, which is: find an enemy,” Ritesh said. “If there isn’t an enemy, make one up. So essentially, we created a lot of provocative work. If a brand had a very specific point of view on the world and had a very clear enemy, like intolerance, for example, it made the work way more emotional. It was important to not make design just for the sake of design.”

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Wieden+Kennedy immersed Ritesh in campaigns that helped him gain a deep understanding of the end consumer—something which has helped to shape him as the designer he is today. He learned to see things the way the consumer would see things, to keep that user perspective always in his mind, and ultimately create something that people would react to emotionally.

“All the work that I try to make now is what I like to call magical,” he said. “That idea of magic is a subcategory of the emotions that I want to convey. So this idea of making it feel magical in some sort of fun way, even if it's a smile in your mind, is a goal of mine.”

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That desire shifted him away from working at Wieden+Kennedy, an advertising agency, and into companies instead. That way, he could focus more on the core product. He believes the magic starts there, with the actual product which goes out into the consumer’s hands.

“One of my favorite things to do is to watch Shark Tank,” Ritesh said, describing his atypical approach to finding new clients. “And if I felt like I really liked this one company, I’d just email them and say, ‘I’d love to work with you. I think there’s a lot of things we can do together, and I can solve some problems for you.”

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He has found himself especially attracted to projects where there’s a mission to make a change in the world. In the instance of Hungry Harvest, where he worked as Director of Marketing and Impact, the produce delivery service focused on finding food waste and battling hunger. Pet Plate, another company Ritesh worked with, wanted to expose some of the problems in the pet food industry and, in turn, create something better.

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“I think Serial Box has a really worthwhile goal,” Ritesh said of the company where he currently works as Head of Product. The world of publishing is incredibly white, and while media like television or podcasts have evolved, books have remained much the same. The digital audio and reading platform focuses on sharing diverse stories, inclusivity, and giving consumers an option outside of Amazon to buy books. “We're working on repositioning the company and getting closer to a really strong foundation in terms of the mission. We really want to make sure our product is clear.”

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As an Indian designer, representation and inclusion are important to Ritesh, and he encouraged other designers with diverse backgrounds to be themselves. He has often felt like he can’t bring his full self into a room. However, if he feels comfortable as the person he really is—an orange jumpsuit-wearing, chatty, glasses-clad individual—then he can create his best work. He also urges his mentees and colleagues to consider Black designers and people of color for projects first. Even selecting typefaces designed by BIPOC individuals can make a difference.

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“I also cannot remember the last time I read a design book,” he admitted. “First of all, it’s boring. But more importantly, there is very little representation of BIPOC individuals in graphic design. And I really think innovation comes from looking outside of the industry and outside of your comfort zone. When we created Pet Plate or Hungry Harvest, we didn’t look for inspiration in dog food or the nonprofit sector about fighting food waste. We looked very far outside of that, and that’s where innovation comes from.”

For Ritesh, he never wants to do the same thing twice—he enjoys coming into a project with fresh eyes, ready to research on a project he knows little about. But he also knows when it’s time to move on. His transition from Wieden+Kennedy to Hungry Harvest to Pet Plate all happened naturally. And when the time is right, he’ll likely move on from Serial Box to the next project that excites him.

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“For a designer to feel comfortable saying, ‘I think I’m done and step into different things,’ is really, really important,” Ritesh explained. “A lot of designers will work with a branding studio that is known for a specific type of aesthetic, and they just keep making that over and over again. And designers get bored of that very, very quickly.

“Be particular about the specific project you take on next,” he added, putting on his mentor hat for a last bit of designer wisdom. “I encourage designers not to move laterally. That means you’re learning more, you’re getting paid more, and you’re controlling more of the process. It should always be a growth thing.”

Pet Plate and Ritesh Gupta photos by Henry Hargreaves and &Walsh.

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