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In Conversation: Varini Nathany On Empathy, Memory, and Design

Varini Nathany is a graphic designer, a serial doodler, and a motion design enthusiast.

Hailing from the vibrant city of Kolkata, India, Varini embarked on an exciting journey to New York City to pursue design at the prestigious Pratt Institute. After completing a BFA in Communications Design (Graphic Design), accompanied by a minor in Book Design and a student-crafted minor in Storytelling & Motion, Varini decided to set roots in the picturesque city of Denver. Now an integral part of the Branding and Experiential Design team at Tryba Architects, Varini relentlessly seeks opportunities to learn and broaden their horizons with new perspectives and experiences. With empathy at the core of their design philosophy, Varini is constantly driven by the question:

How can I help make the world a more compassionate place to live in?"

Varini Nathany

Q: First, would you tell us how did your journey from Kolkata to New York City and your education at Pratt Institute shape your artistic and design sensibilities?

Having always been an introvert, and rather shy person, I would always shy away from talking to a large audience, and advocate for myself. Moving across the world into a new country, new culture, and new people forced me to re-discover myself and my voice. Pratt gave me the chance to regain my confidence, and the opportunity to push myself and sharpen my design skills, but most importantly taught me how to think and how to convey ideas in creative ways.

Q: Can you tell us more about your design philosophy and the role empathy plays in your creative process?

Of course! I believe that empathy lies at the core of my design philosophy. In my mind, design is successful when its creative process takes into consideration the end user, how they will perceive the design, how they might use it, and how it will make them feel, OR how it conveys the feeling of the user themselves. I really believe that design can change the conversation, and create awareness as well- and I am always looking for opportunities to use my design sensibilities to help the larger community in some way or the other.

Card decks of "You remember this?"

Q: What inspired you to create "You remember this?" and how did the idea of exploring memories come to fruition?

Living across the globe from my home, my family and my childhood friends often had me asking myself questions that helped me keep in touch with my roots. Many conversations with new friends, professors, and classmates would have us sharing our past experiences and childhood memories.

I used this project to process emotions by finding a way to simulate these experiences and conversations through the design process of the game. I didn't even really know that I was going to make a game until 3 weeks before my final presentation- I really let my experiences with memory shape the product. I spent months talking to people about their childhood, talking to my family about my childhood, and recounting numerous stories with friends.

However frustrating it was to not know what the final product was going to be until the last moment, I really do believe that every dead-end idea I hit helped me find a solution I really believe commemorated my experience with memories in the best way.

I discovered new emotions - and resurfaced old memories. While digging deeper into my own, I found that my childhood memories make up the majority of what I am today. I also learned that these are the memories that need to be negotiated the most. Most of all, I also realized that I am not the only one who experiences this. This is why I came up with this game that simulates my experience with memories of the past year for others to enjoy!

Q: Can you describe the process of photographing objects that reminded you of home and how that led to the abstract representation of memories in your work?

Over the years, I have created for myself a repository of objects- objects that may seem ‘normal’ or worthless to keep to others but objects that I hold close to my heart because of what they might remind me of. I think I could call myself a hoarder — a hoarder of memories. In each of the places I have lived, I begin to acquire things, large and small, that tie me to that particular place and time. When I pick up those objects now, I’m transported.

I collected everything in my apartment that I could find that I had ‘hoarded’ because it reminded me of something of importance to me at the time. The problem I had, though, was that every time I would come back to this collection of objects after a couple of days of not thinking about them- my narrative about the memory associated with it would slightly shift. It wasn't 100% different, obviously. The core memory was the same, but I tended to remember different things each time. This made it really hard to come to a conclusion or a final solution that was rigid, for example, a book.

Through my research, I learned that every time we use our brain to bring back a memory, we anatomically change it, thus- our memories are never really the same for a second time… This new discovery is what really drove me to look at the abstract nature of memories and try to find a way that really tells the story in essence.

Card design of "You remember this?"

Q: How did you incorporate the fluidity and non-linear nature of memory into your artwork, particularly in terms of color and form?

My card deck represents 26 memories- each recalled by 2 people. One was my friend, and the other was me. I asked my friends questions like “When do you think we first met?” or “What is your favorite memory with me”. For each memory, I asked them to write down how many things came to their mind when I asked them that question and how vivid was the memory on a scale of one to ten.

I randomly selected 26 different colors and shapes for each memory- plainly going by emotion and gut instincts. But what really drove the design was those two questions. that determined how many shapes would be in the card and how blurry or sharp the representation would be. If you look closely at two ‘matching’ cards, you will easily be able to tell that the shape and the color match, but there are slight changes in it. This is what really takes the core of my research through my own experiences, and through all the readings I did- that no two memories are the same, each moment is perceived by two people very differently, and that memories change and be fluid.

Card decks of "You remember this?"

Q: What do you hope players take away from their experience with "You remember this?" How do you envision this game as a tool for fostering deeper connections and understanding between people?

I really hope that this game becomes a staple amongst friends- I envision a group of friends meeting after years, and picking this game up to recall old memories. But I also see people use this as a way to learn more about each other and make new friends. It's almost like making your own adventure.

The core of the game is really based on the idea that the same group of friends would revisit the game multiple times and see how they answer questions differently or how they slowly are able to complete a story piece by piece because they are unable to remember the entire memory at one go.

I've actually done both, I have played it with my core group of friends in college, and I have also played it with my new friends here in Denver after I moved for my job - both very different experiences, but really showed me the power of memories and how it helps reignite old friendships or inspire new ones.

Q: Are there any artists, designers, or other creative individuals who have inspired or influenced your work? If so, who are they and how have they impacted your artistic journey?

Of course, there are uncountable designers, artists, creative individuals, and even just non-designers who I talk to and interact with on a daily basis who inspire me and influence my work. Every conversation has its way of opening up your mind to a new way of thinking, or a new perspective.

There are so many designers and artists I can think of, I do not think it would be possible to name them all. But I absolutely love the work of Giorgia Lupi. I also love all the work that Buck.Co works on - they are always putting out such amazing work. I also absolutely love the work the Headspace design team puts out on their social- such quirky, bold characters, but just a meaningful message and brand. There are so many more - I find new inspiration every day.

Q: What role does collaboration play in your creative process, and have you had any particularly memorable or successful collaborative experiences in your career?

Collaboration has always been the key to my creative process. Even if I am working on a project ‘by myself’ - I do not think I could say that nobody has contributed to it. Even ‘You remember this?’ for example. It was my thesis project. But I have bounced off ideas with numerous friends, numerous mentors, and professors. These brainstorming sessions are what really drove me to the point where the game actually landed - I would have probably ended up making a book about memories instead. I actually did come up with this idea on a call with a friend - he was talking about an unbound book and I was talking about these memory infographics and we just put two and two together and made a version that used both ideas and really spoke to my project the best.

Varini's Doodle

Q: You describe yourself as a Graphic Designer, Serial Doodler, and Motion Design Enthusiast. Can you tell us more about each of these roles and how they inform your overall artistic approach? How do you balance and integrate these different aspects of your creative identity in your work?

As a graphic designer, I think logically and systematically. I think about how to convey information in a digestible way that is also pleasing to the eye. As for motion design, I think I am always mentally animating my designs. When I work on a logo for a new brand, for example, I am thinking about how motion can elevate that, and convey the concept and story behind the logo more efficiently.

But, in my heart, I will always be a serial doodler- ever since I can remember, the last page of every notebook I have owned has been filled with an array of characters, flowers, random lettering that I came up with, or just me learning calligraphy. Even today, my desk drawer in my office is full of post-it notes with characters that come to me at random hours of the day- that I stash away with the hope that I will use them for a personal project someday.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring artists or designers who are looking to develop their own unique style and approach to their work?

In my experience, you develop your own style organically - it is not really something you can force. I often have felt the pressure to figure out what my style is, and I have seen that it has often limited me. I really let the piece I am working on guide the style of the project. Whatever tells the story best, right?

I have had so many people tell me that when they come across my work on Instagram, for example, they know it is made by me. But I still don't think I have a ‘style’. So I would stay, don't push it, and put pressure on it. Your style will evolve as you evolve as an artist and a designer, just like you will as a person. Really just focus on what the message is you are trying to tell, and think about who you are conveying that message to.

Q: What are your future plans or aspirations as a designer and artist? How do you see your work evolving in the years to come?

I am currently working at a firm called Tryba Architects, here in Denver, and learning a whole lot about the world of architecture and how graphic design blends in with that. My goal is really to keep exploring until I land somewhere I know I really belong- but for now, I am absolutely loving diving deep into the world of environmental graphics and branding, while in my free time learning how to create bold and funky characters!


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