In the next of Career Profile series we speak with Interior Designer Arjav Shah, Senior Interior Designer at Perkins & Will with a hope that you will find aspects of his career journey an inspiration for your own creative career.
What is your educational background?
Design has no boundaries and is generated out of ideas that have no limits. It took me awhile to get to this conclusion. Growing up I aspired to be a Fashion Designer, but in my country, intelligence was very closely associated with gender and was perceived as an easy, simple degree for women, and the stigma attached to men pursuing art related fields was strong. For me Architecture (a more masculine profession) bridged the gap between art, design, and engineering. I quickly took the prerequisite exams to study architecture in India and ranked first in my state competing against 20,000 students. The path ahead was clear, and I commenced my career in Architecture. Upon graduating from University of Mumbai with a Bachelor’s in architecture I decided to engage in a Master of Science in Interior Design in the United States, bringing me closer to my original passion of studying art, fashion, and design.
How did you start your career as a designer?
I started at Perkins and Will in August 2008 during the Great Recession, when competition and pressure to perform was high. In the early years I worked on Institutional projects, but my true passion was in Workplace design, because of the opportunities to cultivate strong cultures and enhance performance. This added to my versatility as a designer, and I learned to adapt to be able to perform many different tasks in various project phases.
How did your career progress?
I would be remiss not to acknowledge the impact my incredible mentors at Perkins&Will had on the trajectory of my career. Mentors and Sponsors are instrumental in helping you reach your career goals and gain confidence. Today, I am a senior interior designer leading on several large-scale and high-profile projects throughout New York City and beyond. I have proudly carved out my niche and developed deep expertise in workplace interiors projects including developing strategy, generating research, and designing and implementing solutions for clients across the corporate, institutional, and retail worlds.
What were your highlights during this period?
It was a project in Sydney for a media client in 2014 that became a highlight in my career. It was a client who demanded a highly efficient and healthy office design. We delivered a design that is as visually stunning as it is sustainable. It is LEED-CI Platinum score of 89 was the highest ever awarded in Australia in 2014. This opportunity made me realize that the role of a designer is beyond creating a good-looking space. To this day this is something I’m really proud of.
Are there any projects that have been pivotal to your career?
Absolutely. Leading the re-design of the Nixon Peabody New York law offices was a highlight moment in my career, largely because of the challenges that came with it. Nixon Peabody tasked us with a clear design objective: break the norms of traditional law design, promoting employee creativity and engagement within a vibrant, open, loft-like environment. Our team went right to work, deploying a consensus driven decision-making process collecting input from attorneys, managers, and leadership to plan and design a workplace solution that would meet everyone’s needs. The project ended up winning 2018 Project of the Year, New York City CoreNet, and 2018 Crain’s New York’s Coolest Offices. I’m so proud of how we were able to transform the space to reflect their principles and deliver a progressive design.
Why did you decide to join Perkins&Will?
As a designer, I recognize that my role goes beyond just designing a space that is aesthetically pleasing; it is my duty to create spaces that are as visually stunning as they are sustainable. Perkins&Will has been at the forefront of sustainability for nearly a quarter of a century and continues to push the needle on creating spaces where the entire ecosystem can flourish. This aligns with my own commitment to sustainable design and belief in ensuring that projects are designed with material health in mind, so the decision to join Perkins&Will was not a difficult one.
In addition, I truly value inclusivity, so a workplace that operates on the pillars of diversity, equity and inclusion was extremely important to me. I wanted to be part of a culture that really believes that people are at the heart of everything they do.
Do you have a design ethos?
I believe in breaking down the silos that currently exist in design and finding inspiration and creativity in other disciplines. For me, that is fashion. I enjoy making clothing from the fabrics I use in my clients’ designs bringing me closer to my passion early on in my life. The output we produce as designers should be fluid; how come we don’t see more architects designing jewelry or clothing?
What advice would you give to younger designers beginning their profession?
As someone that thrives when creating genuine connections, I value the importance of authenticity, and this is something my clients really value. As designers, we ensure that our designs satisfy the needs and wants of our clients, but as a creative, when challenged, I am unafraid to argue for what serves the design beyond all else. This is precisely my differentiator that is most admired by my clients and colleagues.
As young professionals you may find yourself working long hours carrying out someone else’s vision and not being able to express yourself as creatively as you wish. Those things will come in time. You can use the time in your career when you are just starting out to learn and be open to learning as much as possible, stretch outside of your comfort zone to grow, find mentors who will help you learn and grow, network and establish relationships with people across the industry, think about your unique value and what matters to you as a designer. Most importantly have an individual voice and do not forget to dream big!
What are your plans for the future?
My life is a testament of struggles I encountered while finding myself growing up in India, and it brings me immense pleasure to help people around me find their voice. I see myself doing more of what I currently do in the future and live up to my ethos on fluid design and expand by creating garments, furniture, building materials, etc.