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A conversation with Hardik Gandhi, head of design, Forma

Meticulously observing how things are made during visits to local markets and on television shows while growing up, subconsciously steered Hardik Gandhi towards the universe of design. A postgraduate in Industrial Design from National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Hardik now brings his signature, colourful style to Forma as the brand's head of design. Through his bold yet fun sensibilities, he is actively involved in ushering India's furniture industry into a refreshingly new light.

Hardik's unconventional blend of mild-steel, delicious colours, and subtle functional elements is unmissable in his Forma portfolio that boasts of everything from bed to wardrobe to table designs. Shristi Singh speaks to the award-winning designer about his furniture design journey, his works for Forma, and the things that keep him inspired. Edited excerpts:

Hardik Gandhi

We are curious to know about your design beginnings. 

My interest in design was mostly just intuitive. Back then, I didn't fully understand the exact definition of design. And apart from design, I was also interested in music, nature, craft, visiting the local markets and understanding how things are made. However, somewhere along the way, the fact that design had a major role to play in everything, even though it wasn't as defined, just stuck with me.

What inspired you to take up Industrial Design at NID?

It's quite a strange story actually. I come from a working family background and back then, spending free time together meant watching TV. There were certain shows at that time that talked about how things were made, which really fascinated me. I ended up learning a lot from them, and eventually honed my hands-on skills. Initially, I would start making something with no particular end result in mind. However, eventually, my interests steered towards creating things that had more meaning. 

I believe that Design and Art have different sides to them. Art is more mindful, while Design is more functional. And I realised that I was more interested in something that required hands-on skills. As I mentioned earlier, my visits to these local Sunday markets in Ahmedabad, which are very rich in handicrafts with strong characteristics, and my inspirations from those TV shows helped me realise that I wished to turn my passion into my profession.

I also realised that Furniture Design was an extension of working with and in spaces. After all, objects are what give character to any space. Studying furniture makes you understand the minute scale at which design can start and then grow into something giant. And that is why I enrolled into NID to study Industrial Design after finishing my graduation in Spatial Design. 

Before we get into the details of the products you have designed for Forma, we'd like to know more about the choice of colours for the furniture pieces you design in general. The colours are always so refreshingly bold and fun. 

The Indian market has a strong preference for wooden furniture. We usually want to see the grain in our furniture to be able to figure out if it's a great design or not. I felt like there was way too much seriousness associated with the furniture we put in our homes. India has always been very rich in colours, and we have these dashes of pinks, yellows and blues in our festivals and interiors, and I thought they could also be the key to making furniture fun. As a designer, I wanted to add a little delight to my designs by using bold, fun colours and quirky elements. Also, my interest in music and art in general has always helped me add a story to my designs.

 

DOT

What are some of conscious elements/ideas that you always integrate in your designs? 

I always try to use drama as a surprise element. We are in the age of information overload, and therefore, we need to find a way to break through all the clutter. My designs are more on the occasional side, and I play with elements on a smaller scale.

But no matter how big or small the scale, there has to be engaging and intriguing elements in your designs that people can identify with. They should be able to see their own selves in the designs they choose. India being diverse in so many different ways – be it food, culture, music – we have to find a way to connect the most basic thing with the kind of experience that is more seamless and subtle. 

Take the 'DOT' wardrobe, for instance. I noticed that at a lot of my friends' houses, and even my own home, everything was usually scattered and needed to be better organised. Chaos may have its own charm, but when things get too chaotic, they lose their appeal. I've tried to imbibe small yet engaging elements into 'DOT' that make the experience of living in your space more beautiful. Even as a brand, JSW always strives to make everyday living better at home, work or anywhere else, and I've tried to carry a similar tone into my pieces for Forma.

Can you also tell us about the 'VIBE' bed? What went behind the scenes?

'VIBE' was initially envisioned for people who live on their own, and the idea was to give them their individual space and at the same time, give them an easier way to store things. Our consumption patterns are at an all time high right now, whether it's with fashion, food, data, or media. We binge-consume everything and live in the 'FOMO' era. And our designs fit in seamlessly with the current times and yet break the clutter.

That's how 'VIBE' was born, with basic storage and great functionality. A lot happens in and around the bed, whether you're watching TV, eating or socialising, so it has to be a highly comfortable space. With 'VIBE, you have an angular headboard to give you better comfort, and then there is storage for your day-to-day items like books and office bags, and a tray for your phone. It's all very subtle and there's not too much technology involved in making it, but these small, thoughtful elements elevate the overall functionality.

Behind the scenes

DOT and VIBE

"We always have these dashes of pinks, yellows and blues in our festivals and interiors, and I thought they could also be the key to making furniture fun. As a designer, I wanted to add a little delight to it by using bold, fun colours and quirky elements."

Could you tell us about some of the features and interesting functional aspects of both the tables - LOOP and FERN? 

Forma as brand is very light-form and delicate. We're primarily using mild steel, which is considered very cold and heavy. Our challenge was to figure out how to use this material and its properties – or different mediums within that same material – to create a character in line with that of the brand, and in the process create a distinct identity. We were able to achieve this by adding certain quirky elements, the possibility of stacking them, for instance.

‍'FERN' is a combination of light-weight nesting tables which come together in a very interesting way. It's called 'FERN' because its form is inspired by nature and we relate its pattern to its naturally occurring counterpart. As a consumer, you may not actually notice this because it's very subtle. A lot of functional ideas have also gone into its making. The body of each of its contemporary parts has been designed in a way so that it stands out individually or takes up less space when kept in a stacked position. 'FERN' was made keeping in mind all these functional aspects and subtle elements. 

The same goes for 'LOOP'. It's actually a side-table, and it also functions as an interesting bookmark, thanks to its unique angle. Both the designs have detachable trays for your phone or tablet so you can binge-watch!

Behind the scenes

FERN and LOOP

What are some of the things that inspire you?

I travel whenever I get the time, and that helps me discover new things. When you're at work, you're in a different space mentally as you have a certain focus and way of working. But when you're travelling, you're exploring stories from across the world. You meet people, experience cultures, eat different types of food, and take certain risks. It's all very fulfilling. And when you're back from your journey, you're challenged with applying your new mindset in your life at work and at home.

Music is another huge source of inspiration for me. I'm learning DJ-ing right now. I really want to experiment with music, and it's not just about learning a new rhythm but also about trying to understand a different language through which I can express myself. Lastly, happy surroundings in general also help me stay motivated.

In your own home, which piece of furniture are you personally attached to? What is the story behind it?

I own this white Panton chair by Verner Panton. I have always been curious about its composition, even back in my NID days. It is a masterpiece designed in the early-to-mid 60s when technology wasn't as powerful. A lot of effort went into making it, and the designers took quite a few risks. Everyone came together to work on the chair because they wanted to create something completely new. More than the design, it's the thought behind it that makes it so special. It really is inspiring because if something like this could be achieved back then, we should be able to do literally anything today. 

'Knowledge Tree' is another one of my favourites that I'd designed almost six years ago. It's a bookshelf made of metal and can be dismantled and put together very easily. The piece is inspired by nature, trees in particular, and stores about 150 books. I also use it as a space divider between the balcony and the living space at my home.