A conversation with Pragati Mehrotra on her design journey at Obvious

We spoke to Pragati Mehrotra, Product Designer at Obvious and Mentor at ownpath. She talked to us about keeping design simple, advice for managing imposter syndrome, and life as product designer.

A conversation with Pragati Mehrotra on her design journey at Obvious
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Expert Interviews

We spoke to Pragati Mehrotra, Product Designer at Obvious and Mentor at ownpath. She talked to us about keeping design simple, advice for managing imposter syndrome, and her day to day life as a Product Designer.

Q-What is your background as a designer, how did you get here?

Hi, I’m Pragati Mehrotra! I’m a product designer, I mostly design software. I am very interested in research and observing people’s responses to technology. I’d say in general, I’m very curious about the world.

At Obvious, I’m leading a project called ‘Simple’, it’s a large-scale healthcare programme that supports hypertension control in India, Bangladesh and so on, in Ethiopia. As a designer, I wear many hats. Sometimes a researcher, writer, trainer, and sometimes an actor. Prior to this, I used to work at Swiggy as a Product Designer and before that, I was working as an independent consultant. And before that, I worked with a company called HR One, a big enterprise with end-to-end HR software to manage employees.

Q- Kindly elaborate on the ways in which your role as a designer has evolved as you made the transition from a consulting firm to a product-based company and subsequently to a service-based company?

I started out as a consultant at MindTree, which was a service-based company where I worked with many of their clients. As an independent consultant, I was just working on one product. Moving to a role within an organization like Swiggy was my first project working solely on service design on a product-as-a-service.

Each experience has had different forms of learning. I think as a consultant, while you are part of their team and product, the work is very different. You’re sort of bringing your best solutions to the table. Whereas, when you’re working for a product company, you experience more unknowns. You’re a part of the product family and you navigate these unknowns together. You may not have the best practices in place to sort of apply at that point in time, but you’re able to learn together with the team. I truly have enjoyed both sides of it.

At Simple, our conversations are not ‘how do we increase user acquisition,’ or ‘how do we improve sales,’ and ‘how do we better our business model.’ Instead, our concerns for example are what would we do if the app crashes, or what happens if a healthcare worker cannot record someone’s blood pressure properly.

Q. How has your work evolved as a Product Designer at Obvious?

Simple is my second project with Obvious, and it is very different from my first one. My first was with a company called Slice where I had a more typical consulting type of role. Mainly, helping them simplify some of their complex flows, running user studies and other things like that. At Simple, a non-profit healthcare programme, our usual conversations are not ‘How do we increase user acquisition,’ ‘How do we improve sales,’ and ‘How do we better our business model.’ Instead, our concerns for example are, ‘What would we do if the app crashes’, or ‘What happens if a healthcare worker cannot record someone’s blood pressure properly’. 

So, the context is very different, it’s not user acquisition, profits or business models; it’s making sure we’re bringing hypertension under control at scale. And so, in this case, my hands-on design work may be very limited in this project. But there is a lot of stakeholder management involved. We deal with doctors from who we deal with cardiovascular health officers, and it’s a large team.

Q. What is your day-to-day as a product designer like?

A typical day would be spent doing multiple things. One is to make sure we’re constantly using the app and finding bugs that may be on it. Because it’s used on so many devices, in multiple languages, resolutions, etc., we need to make sure the design doesn’t break. Another, since the app is offline first, it stores a large amount of data on your phone rather than the cloud, so make sure the app doesn’t crash, lag or cause delays and it continues to scale.

As we scale in not only multiple states in India but to Ethiopia, a part of my day-to-day is conducting large-scale Zoom sessions to train healthcare workers.

The healthcare system is not very robust. There are some facilities that have single rooms and no doctors. At this level, there is a strong presence of community workers, healthcare workers, Asha workers and unions. So I have to think of different ways to bring care closer to the patient that is outside the digital solution. 

For example, if the patient is not able to visit a bigger hospital, which is too long of a commute. And if there is a strong presence of Asha workers, what else could we do to sort of, you know, make sure that they receive their medicines on time, make sure they have frequent and regular checkups, make sure they have their treatment is escalated at the right time when it is supposed to be. So I think those are also some of the areas of discussion that we have in it. So yeah, a lot of my focus is also on that. And of course, making sure that simple stays simple.

The more users you have, the more frequently you should be connecting with them. Every time I speak to them, I gather some new insight about their behaviours and expectations.

Q. Looking back at your career as a designer, what would you have told your younger self

I think one of my biggest learnings in the last two years working on this project has been the sheer need for simplicity. In my previous designs, my audience was very tech-savvy so I could rely on tried and tested principles for design. With Simple, I have discovered a very different form of much-needed simplicity. The reason is, it exists in ten different Indian languages with very different interactions within each language. This has changed my outlook in general; when I look at products out there, I think about all the ways they can be simplified. My colleagues and friends are always telling me how I’m becoming just like my users. Clever, engineered interaction patterns which would be ‘sexy’ and nice to look at don’t appeal to them as much.

Q. What advice do you have for growing designers?

Spend time with your users, I hope this is not too much of a cliche, but I really can’t stress it more. When you’ve been working on web and mobile apps for a while, there’s an intrinsic feeling that it’s intuitive to you, and will be intuitive for your users. However, when you spend time with them and speak to them candidly you realise how wrong your assumptions can be. 

Q. What about imposter syndrome and the chase for perfection?

It’s a very interesting question that also reminds me of this book by Valerie Geller, she’s a famous speaker on this topic. Moments of imposter syndrome are pretty common and there’s nothing unusual about it. I do feel them once in a while, but as long as you hold on to the desire to improve and be a better version of yourself it becomes a lot more manageable.

I’d like to quote my client, Daniel Burka, with whom I very closely work with and learned a lot from. He says, ‘There is nothing called final design,’ and a lot of people on Twitter started repeating this and I now live by it. Because every day we try to simplify things, we make decisions that we think are final, but we revisit them in two months and realise we can make things a lot simpler. Humans are evolving, their needs and their idea of simplicity can also evolve. And you never know what fits in one position may not fit may not be in the other one.

Q. What are other skills or fields you are interested in?

Lately, I’ve started officiating a lot of motion design work. It’s also pretty new to me. I think once you’ve figured out all your complex flows, and managed to solve all your hot-burning problems, you can explore this area of design. I think there is a lot of power in motion design. For example, when somebody is interacting with your product, motion is the best way someone can give you feedback. Just like when two human beings talk to each other, subtle gestures like head nodding, smiling and maintaining eye contact validate that they’re listening. Similarly, I feel that when someone is interacting with an interface, there could be these subtle cues that you can put in through animation, which give that feedback to the user that their job is done, or whatever they are doing is right, or whatever they’re doing is wrong.

Q. What book has had a profound impact on you?

Creativity, Inc. was written by Edwin Catmull and Amy Wallace, the people behind Pixar Animation. I think it’s something that we practice in our own team discussions. We think of how we evaluate if our designs are good enough; whether is it worth testing with our users; putting ourselves in the shoes of our users and providing feedback. It’s immensely helped my ability to articulate design and tell a story in a certain way.

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