Candy Crush Kathak

User Interaction Design Through Dance

Shravani perfoming Kathak
Shravani perfoming Kathak


Her two graceful fingers point towards the sky. The rolling sounds of thunder envelope the lightening-dazzled valleys of Pune. Swaying in her balcony overlooking a verandah with a mango tree, Shravani suddenly widens her eyes, lifts her hands, and her wrists begin to tremble. With two fingers from each hand still pointing to the sky, she traces the path of rains descending on the hills in the distance.

As if on cue, the rain falls heavily on the thousands of thirsty leaves of the mango tree. The young and beautiful Shravani’s dance is expressing her joy at her gaining admission into the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID), a train-journey away in Ahmedabad. The daughter of a dear family friend, Shravani is at the threshold of her new life, sharing for the first time with me her love for design and for Kathak, which is a classical dance-form from India.

When the rain starts to abate her movements slow down, focussing all her energy to the forefinger of each hand tenderly tapping its thumb. Aha! The gentle pitter-patter of a drizzle. In simple, evocative dance moves, she wordlessly expresses the different moods of India’s majestic monsoons. From downpours to light drizzles, lushly lazy to dramatic, thunderous ones.

Her hands and gestures, known as mudras in Kathak, soon melt into evoking the stately poise of a proud peacock, the sudden alertness of a grazing deer, the determined hunt of a ferocious lion, the prowl of a fierce tiger. And finally of course, the dancing form of Shiva, the playfulness of Krishna, the longing of Sita, and the desperate search by a lovelorn Ram.

Hand Mudra Gestures in Kathak
Hand Mudra Gestures in Kathak

Design Is Non-Verbal

Like the first exhilarating chirp of a Koyal, or a nightingale, that bursts into song when the rain finishes, a fresh thought dawns into my mind. Through centuries in India, the essence of stories and myths have been expressed using the non-verbal. Elegantly, they cut across the barriers of different languages and our rich and intricate cultures. Generation-after-generation, the eternal truths encoded in our legends are literally danced through gestures and expressions.

We need to trace our steps back to thousands of years, when ancient tribes in India first discovered the art of storytelling through non-verbal communication. Indeed the word ‘Kathak’ is from Sanskrit that literally means ‘story’ and this art relies solely on the dancer’s expressions, gestures, mudras, stance and especially delicate eye movements to evoke emotions while unfolding the story.

When I then turn my gaze to the years just ahead of us, I see the same game at play. Today, the world is a multicultural, plural society. The internet embraces all, the literate and the non-literate. In the present moment, how do we design apps for smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, smart TV, Internet of Things (IoT) and even more that we have not imagined yet for this rich, diverse and global cauldron that bubbles on this planet.


The Womb of Verbs

Design philosophers of the twentieth century from the Bauhaus movement and its minimalism boldly proclaim: ‘Form Follows Function’. Yet I strongly feel that design is not made of just nouns and its associated forms. Design to me is forged from the womb of verbs, actions and interactions. The role of a designer therefore is to design interactions that emotionally touch and delight your customers while fulfilling specific, precise tasks. Exactly like a dance.

To me: ‘Verb Follows Function’ is the new design language of the century. From the flirtatious swipes of the Tinder app, the harmless pokes on Facebook, the pinch and zoom in photos, the flicking of cash in an e-wallet, the exploding and popping of sweets in Candy Crush Saga, all design has become verb follows function. We are transiting from pure user-interface design to user-interaction design.

In Interaction design, there is indeed a form of Kathak at play in your hands. The Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian text on classical arts, has this famous quotation:

“Where the hand is, the eyes follow
Where the eyes go, the mind follows
Where the mind is, there is the feeling
Where there is feeling, there is mood, flavour, sweetness.”

Shravani’s dancing points to a deeper truth: The most fundamental approach today is to design as if the world has turned non-literate.

The objective of design is to use playfulness to enhance usefulness.

Take a look at these stunning and inspiring examples of six second transitions and interactions here for web and smartphones:
In the ‘Dive Into Interaction Design’ workshops, I cover a great deal more about every aspect of making the world more meaningful through interactions. Here, for example, are easing functions which choose not just the speed but also the mood of moving elements in a design:  Each one conveys a mood and emotion in the interaction design. I call this ‘Motion with Emotion’.

Lots more is covered in the workshop, including for instance, finding inspiration from some great film-sequences and opening title sequences in movies. From these we gain insights in interaction design for apps and UI. Am also curating a special board on my Pinterest account, dedicated to great examples and inspirations of interactivity. I may currently be conducting other workshops on Design, so if you do wish me to conduct one on Interaction Design, just write to me, and will inform you of upcoming dates.
Meanwhile, the next time you have to hire a designer or developer, ask them what they understand about dance. Every button, every icon, and every relationship between elements jumps to life with interaction design, because dance is a celebration of life. Need some quick inspiration to dance? Here’s some trippy, groovy music I composed a few months ago for a colleague, ‘Think With Your Feet.’

So go ahead, dance like its raining. It might just help you understand design as definitely being more alive.

I’m Hiring. Do You Understand Design?

I’m looking for a graphic-designer willing to work with me full-time.
You should be young, hard-working, and you wish to work and grow because you love design. You are going to work with me at the cuttin’-edge of design, as we move away from the creative restrictions of the 20th century, into the brave new-world of design and creativity as it unfolds before our eyes in the 21st century. You therefore have to be willing to study and work on your own, learn and grasp new concepts and paradigms, and follow design-trends and analysis.

Graphic Designer ( 1 or 2 openings)

You’re going to work with me on my projects in:
  • Graphic-Design
  • Logo and Branding design
  • Web-design
  • User-Interface design (UX)
  • Illustrations, info-graphics, and imagery.

Your Location:

Your Qualifications:
Minimum: a certificate, diploma, or a degree in design, web-design, graphic-design, or fine-arts. Those with a diploma or a certificate must also be a graduate with a degree in any discipline.

What’s Your Experience:
None? One year? Two? Even more? Okay, I’ll let that pass if you have a real kick-ass portfolio.

Your Skills:
Have a fundamental understanding of the four pillars of design, Yes, you will be quizzed, and your portfolio evaluated on these:

  • Color
  • Typography
  • Illustration
  • Photography

In addition, you must have:

  • A good command over spoken English. Your pronunciation and fluency over English should reflect your refined cultural-background and the polish of your education.
  • Your written English should be devoid of SMS-spellings, free of grammatical mistakes, and easily comprehensible.
  • You should be able to handle cursory sub-edits.
  • Those with a flair for creative-writing will be preferred.

Your Software Skills:

  • GIMP: for photo-editing and pixel-imagery.
  • Inkscape: for arm-twisting those beziers.
  • HTML, CSS.
  • [Just in case you want to know: rigid, legacy, and proprietary bloatware like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, are so last century. Move on.
  • Note: It’s okay if your existing skills and portfolio are based around Adobe and/or Corel software. However, I do want to see work you’ve authored that shows you’ve dabbled around, and kicked-some-tyres in Inkscape and GIMP, and optionally the software mentioned below.

Your Optional Skills That’ll Get You Noticed:

  • Understanding and use of UI-widgets as a designer, like JQuery-UI among others.
  • WordPress theme-customization.
  • Ability to learn how to customize the look-and-feel of any CMS.
  • Having taken Bluefish-editor or Kompozer out for a spin
  • Basic video-editing.
  • Basics of 3D modeling and animation. Familiarity with Blender3D software preferred.

Your Gear:

  • Digital Camera: point-and-shoot would do, but a dSLR camera even if an entry-level model, preferred.
  • Your own Laptop. Any mainstream brand: Dell, Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, Acer, Sony…, whatever catches your fancy. The model should not be more than two-years-old. Must support a resolution of 1440 pixels or higher. Candidates with an Apple laptop will have a definite advantage, you’re a designer, right?
  • If you have an Apple laptop, your Mac OS should be an updated Leopard, Snow-Leopard, or Lion.
  • If you use Windows, your OS should be authorised, updated, and secured.
  • If you use GNU/Linux, I’ll buy you the first round of coffee. In Linux, any variation or flavour of Ubuntu or Debian preferred. The release should not be more than a year old.
  • If you don’t have Linux installed on your laptop, you must have it installed before you commence work with me.
  • Roaming internet datacard. Those with a broadband connection preferred.
  • Wrist-watch that shows the accurate time. Your internal time-clock should be calibrated to Delhi’s traffic so you stay punctual. Surprising how many ‘five-minute-distances’ in Delhi have slowed down to take 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Would be good if you have your own vehicle.
  • Mobile-phone. Ideally, it should be smart enough to do a little more than just voice-calls and SMS.
  • You should have an interest in gadgets that are impacted by graphic-design. Over time you may have to dabble with iPads, iPhone apps, Android-tablets, eBook readers, higher-end smartphones, and whatever else blends with culture and technology.

My Hiring Process

  • Send me only a PDF-file of your C.V. Please note if you have your C.V. authored as a *.doc file, then you must convert it to PDF before sending it to me. A filter in my mailbox will delete your *.doc file and your application will be automatically rejected.
  • In your mail and your PDF, please share links to your online portfolio. Please don’t send me your portfolio via attachments or even on a disc. If you don’t yet have your portfolio online, this job is naturally not for you.
  • I’ll just glance at your qualifications, experience, and references, but go with a toothcomb through your portfolio. Tutorials and exercises are okay, but for artworks and design authored by you, will check your work for plagiarism. Yes, when I say I want sincere and genuine people who have a love for design, I mean it.
  • Am looking for a portfolio that shows a high-level of creativity and innovation, shows your ability to solve design problems, and resonates with your sense of aesthetics and design.
  • If you do get shortlisted, I’ll call you over for an interview, and if you look promising, you’ll have to sit for a short 30-minute test of your skills. So bring your gear.
  • If you qualify, I’ll sign you up for an initial probation-period which should lead you up to an initial 6-month contract.

So Why Is My Website Looking So Tattered?

Get hired. There are dozens of projects to complete.
This one is just one of them.

Creating Creativity In People


I’ve spent more than 15 years teaching creative-professionals some of the most advanced techniques and technologies behind the latest graphic-design, audio, and video software and hardware. My heart, though has always been more keen on pure design and creativity. Long ago, I recognized the real bottleneck is neither in hardware or software, but in creativity. I call this the ‘blank screen’ syndrome. You get yourself the most powerful computer system with advanced components and peripherals; feature-rich and overwhelming authoring software, only to panic as you stare at an empty digital canvas for several awkward minutes, wondering what to do.

It Can Only Be Caught

At long last, my clients have also started to acknowledge this as their real problem and have started to ask me to focus on deeper and more fundamental disciplines. How to author anything that resonates with aesthetic beauty and creativity is indeed challenging. Teaching others how to do this is exponentially more challenging and exciting. It can’t be taught. It can only be caught.

NewConcept is one of my clients bold enough to move in this direction. I’ve been training and consulting them in technology from time-to-time since circa 1998. A couple of my students have also worked with them on design projects through these years. Finally, in October last year, they invited me to professionally mentor their Research and Design team.

Crystal-Ball of Creativity

The mentorship program covers almost all disciples of design, creativity and media. Some sessions have been devoted to typography and publication-grid and design. Others on color-theory, color-schemes and trends. The team’s also honing its skills in photography and building a large in-house library of photos and images. We’ve covered digital print-production, and several sessions have focussed on the latest trends and techniques in web-design and user-interface. Together with the client-coordination team, we’ve also discussed pre-press and production technology. In almost every session we brainstorm on new and ongoing client projects. Plus, we also set up and fine-tune systems and processes for client-servicing, briefing, and profiling. Once in a while I’ve also delved into new features and technologies in the latest design software.


Personal Challenges

At a professional level, combining creativity with people-skills is indeed quite exciting. Nurturing talent demands a lot of effort and sensitivity, and every insight shared needs to be backed with solid research and references. I spend hours scouring bookshops, libraries, and online resources to compile my references. In the process, am helping build a growing in-house library of reference, imagery, and color trends.

Am blessed to work with a team of devoted professionals each with several years of experience. So far, they’ve always strived to fulfill their clients’ objectives. Personally though, I wish for them to break out of this mould and take a quantum leap in their creative aspirations. I wish for them to study and absorb the latest and most daring design trends; work on creating their own unique signature style; and usher in a fresh vision on design and creativity in their domain. I want the entire organization to start thinking in terms of design and aesthetics. And, along the way, I want them to win several international awards and recognitions.

We certainly have a long way to go. The inspirations and standards I’ve set for them at times seem impossible. I merely chuckle. The initial six months of hard-drilling have started to bear some fruit. We’ve at least sorted out our color-moods and palettes. The team’s always eager to plug into its own photo bank for imagery. We’ve started to roll out a new branding and identity which may take a few more months to percolate down. Some of the newer web-design projects are significantly far-ahead of their earlier predecessors. The greatest challenge though, is to master typography with all its complex nuances. No trivial feat this, but after several months of trying I’ve finally devised a better pedagogy to achieve this.

Finally, all this work is only possible thanks in turn to all my gurus of design. To learn is to share, and vice-versa.