Badal Patel on running a business, work-life balance and finding inspiration in her upbringing
Badal Patel is an independent creative director, designer and ‘occasional photographer’ with a vibrant portfolio of brand, print, packaging and digital work for a wide range of clients; from a Bangladeshi restaurant in Jersey City to a cosmetics company that celebrates the rich culture of South Asia. Having featured a handful of her projects over the last few years, we thought it was about time for a catch-up about her background, process and everything in between.
EM Hey Badal, how are you doing?
BP Hi Elliott! I’m doing pretty well. I’ve been lucky enough to work remotely and nomad around California this year so it’s been a really great experience so far.
EM How did you find the last couple of years throughout the pandemic, both personally and professionally?
BP Oh, what a rollercoaster it’s been. Personally speaking, it was pretty tough. A lot of my family members including my parents are essential workers so that was very nerve-wracking especially in the beginning. Some of my family ended up getting COVID including my baa (grandma) which was very stressful but she luckily recovered.
Professionally speaking, things have been going really well. I’m working on projects that really excite me and I even surpassed my salary goals which I am extremely grateful for.
EM As a first-generation Indian-American, how has “being immersed in two cultures at once,” as you put it on our site, influenced your career and your work so far?
BP It’s influenced every part of me and my work – allowing me to see things from different perspectives, pull inspiration from more unique sources, and also relate to a whole group of people that have predominantly been overlooked in the West. It’s also been so awesome being able to create these brands that I wish I saw growing up. I think I would’ve been way more proud and less embarrassed which took me until my mid 20’s to realise. There is a huge power we have with design and being able to pick the people, brands, and talent I work with makes it that much more meaningful. That said, there are some struggles. Representing a culture that is so diverse within itself is very stressful. In addition, while I’ve done work for this niche category, I have lots more to offer and am looking forward to working on all kinds of projects in the future.
My creative influences are less who and more what.
EM Are there any specific brands or companies you’d love to work with?
BP I’d really love to design a boutique hotel and, maybe kind of random but I’d also love to design a hot sauce brand. In addition to that, I want to get more into book covers, album covers, and overall more campaign work. It’d be a nice change of pace from the large branding projects I typically take on. As for specific brands, would it be cool to work with noteworthy clients? Yeah, but if I’m honest, at the end of the day, I just want to work with good people doing good things that value good design.
EM Who are your creative influences?
BP I feel like my creative influences are less who and more what. I’ve been greatly influenced by my upbringing, experiences, and culture. Colour combinations seen in my mom’s closet full of sari’s. Interesting type on old cassette tapes. Visiting a new city or country and finding new meanings. All of these things have influenced me in one way or another.
As for people, there are too many to list but here are some people within the design world that I admire are: Gail Bichler, Pum Lefebure, Ruba Abu-Nimah, Lotta Nieminen, Bijan Berahimi, and Noemie LeCoz.
A lot of people glorify the whole ‘boss life’ and owning your own business.
EM You mentioned in an Instagram post recently about the ups and downs you’ve faced during your four years of running a business. Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges and how you’ve learnt to tackle them?
BP Ooof, where to begin? I think a lot of people glorify the whole ‘boss life’ and owning your own business. Well, it is, pardon my French, fucking hard. There is no guidebook, no one telling you what to do, where to start, or how to do it.
The first couple of years, I’d wake up and lay in bed staring at the ceiling because I was overcome with anxiety. There is so much to learn and figure out like contracts, scopes, negotiating, tax, but it gets easier the more you do it. Fear of not knowing how to do certain things can hold you back. What I’ve found helpful is giving myself some time to process it. Even if it’s something small like responding to an email. Give yourself a deadline so you can take a break from it and then come back to tackle it. If you’re really stuck, reach out to someone that’s more experienced. Seek out the information you need to get more clarity before making a decision. Oftentimes we already know what we have to do, we just have to force ourselves to do it.
EM How did you figure out how much to charge for projects, particularly when you first started out on your own?
BP I would read everything I could get my hands on. There are many different resources (The Graphic Artist Guild, The Dark Art of Pricing by Jessica Hische, Youtube videos by Chris Do, Freelance and Business and Stuff by Hoodzpah) out there and many different methodologies, so it was a lot of trial and error in order to figure out what worked for me. In all honesty though. The biggest thing I learned early though: stop skirting around the money conversation. Always ask what the budget is and if they keep pushing back, know what your range is and what your minimum would be. The last thing you want to do is dance around the subject and waste everyone’s time.
EM Aside from the obvious things like Adobe CC, what tools and software do you use throughout your day to aid your process and stay organised?
BP Quickbooks for invoicing and bookkeeping. Keynote for presentations and Slack for chat. My notes app is essentially my brain so I’ve been thinking about switching over to something like Notion. I just got an Asana subscription but I’m also still getting used to it.
EM What do you think is the most important skill a designer can have that isn’t design?
BP Solving problems. Although, part of the way I define design is just that so not sure if this counts :) but yeah. We are visual and verbal problem solvers. There always needs to be a function or an idea at the core of what we do. It’s really about asking the right questions and solving for them.
EM Do you manage to find a good balance between work and life?
BP Considering we spend most of our lifetime working, I find the two are actually the same. I’ve created my work life to work for my life. So if I want to cook some lunch, I’ll make time for that. If I have insomnia one night... I’ll work during the night and then nap during the day. It works for me.
EM That’s good to hear – we like to work like that too. A lot of designers I’ve spoken to feel that being forced to be creative during an eight-hour block every day can be challenging. Do you ever get creative block, and if so, how do you tend to deal with it?
BP To be honest, I haven’t had too many blocks ever since I quit working at an agency. It’s crazy what happens when you aren’t confined to an office desk working for 8, 12, or 18 hour days...
But on the occasion that I do get a creative block, I do my best to stop working on that particular project. Depending on how much time I have, I might opt to do something fun like go out with friends, get dinner, go for a walk, or watch a movie. If I don’t have time to spare, I procrasti-work and switch to a different project that needs to get done. Giving your brain a break is an important part of the process!
EM Do you have a project you are most proud of?
BP It’s really hard to pick one project because they’re all my babies in a way. If I really had to pick, I’d say working on Kulfi Beauty was super close to my heart because growing up as a first-generation Indian American, you never saw South Asian representation in the beauty industry. I never saw someone that looked like me in ads or the makeup aisle. Fast forward to today where I’ve creative directed and designed a beauty brand celebrating South Asians which has been featured on Vogue, Allure, and Vice, to name a few. My younger self would have only dreamed of this representation. I also was ecstatic to independently work on this full-service project handling everything from strategy through visual identity, packaging, website, campaign and more.
I’ve been working on creating space for myself to experiment.
EM What’s it like being an ‘occasional photographer,’ as you describe it?
BP I have a huge passion for photography and was a few classes shy of a photography minor in college. I’ve been working on creating space for myself to experiment, figure out my style, and sharpen my skill so I can start incorporating more of it into scopes. For example, I did the product photography for Kulfi and that was a lot of fun. That being said, I’ll always put the vision first and make sure to put together the right team of talent for any project.
EM What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
BP I can’t believe the year is already coming to an end. My plans include continuing to work with Kulfi on new product launches. I’m also rebranding a jewellery company which up until now has been on my bucket list so that’s been fun. And I’m also counting down the days for two identities I’ve worked on to finally launch!