How Badal Patel became a graphic designer and creative director
On creating the South Asian beauty campaign she needed when she was younger
By Aleenah Ansari, Contributor
I believe that you can’t be what you can’t see — in other words, representation is everything. That’s why it means so much to me to see South Asian small business owners, creatives, and entrepreneurs who blaze their own trail and inspire me to do the same. I sat down with graphic designer & art director Badal Patel (@bybadal) to learn more about her journey to discover design, her vision for Kulfi’s Nazar No More campaign, and the lessons learned along the way. In the process, she opened up about her identity as a first-generation Indian American who grew up in a family of creatives, but had to pave her own trail to pursue design as her career.
Q1. It’s so great to chat with you, Badal! Can you introduce yourself and share a little bit about your work?
A: I’m an independent graphic designer, art director, and photographer currently between NYC and LA. I essentially operate as a one woman design studio and take on my own clients. I mostly focus on branding projects that can involve strategy, visual identity, packaging, website, campaigns, etc., but I also take on other non-brand related design projects as well. My work ranges across industries such as fashion, beauty, hospitality, and wellness brands, to name a few.
Q2. How did you get into graphic design? Did you always know that you’d go into this field?
A: I’ve always considered myself a creative person. Growing up, I was always asking for crayons and paper for Christmas every year.
Even though I was surrounded by creatives in my family, art and design always seemed like a hobby.
As a first-generation Indian American, I grew up seeing the linear career paths of doctors, lawyers, and engineers, and it was hard to imagine my future outside of this.
Two years into pursuing Biochemistry in college, I interviewed for a lab position, and it was the worst experience ever. It ended up being a blessing in disguise, because I realized that while science was interesting, it was not the right career choice for me.
Fast forward to a few weeks later — I was talking on the phone with my cousin and she said, “I always thought you’d go into graphic design.” At the time, I didn’t know a graphic designer, let alone a South Asian one. I Googled it to learn more, and that’s when a lightbulb went off.
Being a designer would allow me to solve problems in a visual way.
Even after this epiphany, I felt like I had to prove that I could pursue graphic design as a career. I stumbled upon a nationwide graphic design competition to win a scholarship. Instead of studying for my genetics final, I opened Illustrator to make something for the first time, and somehow ended up winning the competition. This definitely helped my parents get on board with the change of major.
Q3. How did you discover the world of creative direction? What was the next step to getting closer to becoming a creative director?
A: After years of working at design studios, I realized that I wanted to be a creative director so I could work directly with clients and share my vision. For me, that meant working my way up from being an intern to a junior designer, to a designer, to a senior designer, and then finally creative director. For a while, I was just focused on being a great designer and fine tuning my craft. As I’ve grown over time, I had to naturally lead that vision and bring it to life through the help of other talented designers, photographers, illustrators, etc.
Q4. I love that you learned the importance of communicating your vision, especially when working with clients and stakeholders. How did you start working as the lead creative for Kulfi?
A: I was brought on by Priyanka Ganjoo, the founder and CEO of Kulfi. She told me that it took 3 months for her to find the right partner to bring Kulfi to life, and I’m so glad it ended up being me! We started working together on brand strategy and then went into a full visual identity exploration.
After finalizing the core branding I designed Kulfi’s first line of products, the Kajal, and creatively directed the brand launch with the Nazar No More campaign. The campaign concept is all about empowering ourselves to define beauty from our own perspective rather than the gaze of others.
Q5. How did you create a campaign for a South Asian focused beauty brand that’s still appealing to everyone?
We wanted to first and foremost be relevant to the South Asian community. The cultural significance of Kajal goes back hundreds of years. It was (and still is) used to ward off the evil eye, also known as Nazar. This concept goes beyond borders and is prevalent in many different cultures.
Having it be the inspiration for the campaign just made sense, and I also saw it as an opportunity for an educational moment for everyone else.
Q6. How did your identity as a first-generation Indian American woman show up in your work?
A: Post launch, I was doing a lot of reflecting and I realized that I never knew how badly I wanted to design a South Asian-centered beauty brand…I know now, after creating it, how close to my heart this project is. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and just like any other teen,
I loved using makeup, but I never saw someone that looked like me in the beauty industry.
Never in an ad, magazine, or even in the makeup aisle. I can’t imagine what my teenage self would have thought seeing this kind of representation growing up. It would’ve made a huge impact on my self esteem and embracing my identity early on.
Fast forward to today, and I’ve had the opportunity (thanks Priyanka!) to design a beauty brand that highlights and celebrates all South Asians. When casting for the campaign, we chose models that reflect the diversity within the South Asian diaspora. This is just the beginning and I can’t wait to build further upon this!
Q7. Kulfi has been featured in Allure, Vogue, Refinery29, and more. When you see your work on these high-profile platforms, how does it make you feel?
A: I had been working on Kulfi for over 1.5 years, so when all the press came out, it made everything very real. It was no longer just me designing on my computer. It was a real brand that was resonating with POC folks everywhere and being shared on the top platforms out there! Again, I think to myself what my teenage self would've thought seeing this. I hope it makes a difference for anyone out there seeing it now, I know it does for me :)
Q8. What advice would you give to designers or creatives who are just starting out?
A: Learn as much as you can by surrounding yourself with other insanely talented people. Every seasoned designer out there has their own school of thought and perspective when it comes to design. Eventually you’ll figure out what your values and voice are and that takes time so have patience!
Hone your craft and taste. Don’t let fear hold you back.
If you want to try something new, just start doing it —that’s the hardest part. Don’t try to get it perfect, otherwise you’ll never actually do it and won’t be able to learn from it.
photo credit: Badal Patel
Don’t let social media bog you down.
You’re surrounded by people who are constantly putting stuff out there, but know that everyone is on their own journey.
And the number of likes aren’t indicative of your talent so keep doing you.
As creatives, our work is often an extension of us and we can be perfectionists. It’s important to create boundaries so you don’t get burnt out. Make sure to set start and end dates for projects so there’s a clear finish line.
Q9. Thanks for chatting with us! Where can people check out more of your work?
Cover photo credit: Badal Patel, @bybadal
- Creative Direction & Branding: Badal Patel
- Campaign Photography & Video: Melissa Isabel & Frankie Leroux
- Production, Casting, & Styling: Reva Bhatt
- Talent: Sarennya Srimugayogam, Bethany Morrison, & Eyesmin Yunus
- Makeup Artist: Amrita Mehta, assisted by Erica Janssen
- Hair Stylist: Takuya Yamaguchi, assisted by Chika Keisuke
- Fashion/wardrobe: Abacaxi NYC