Arta Team Spotlight
Q&A with Kishore Kumar, Design at Arta
Arta Team Spotlight
October 26, 2022
Most designers dream of having a career trajectory like Kishore Kumar’s. With prominent names like Designit, IDEO, and Adobe on his resume, Kishore joined Google in 2015 as the first designer on Next Billion Users and Tez (Now Google Pay in India). Kishore is currently a designer with Arta Finance who plans to change the way we feel about interacting with financial products. Read on to learn more about this background and design perspective.
Can you take us through the significant milestones that shaped your journey to Arta?
I was born in Kerala, India. At 17 years old, I left for Pune, a city in Maharashtra, to study design. For the first time in my life, I was alone in an unfamiliar city a thousand miles away from home where I knew no one and didn’t speak the local language. Luckily, it felt like an exciting adventure! That level of independence and exploration set the tone for my life moving forward.
After graduation, I lived in different cities - Copenhagen, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. I was not in one place long enough to call any of them home, but just long enough to fall in love with each city.
In 2013 I worked on a project with IDEO, a large, well-respected design agency, as they were setting up an office in Mumbai. Designing and building with IDEO was incredible. That said, a part of me started growing uncomfortable with bringing an idea to life and then handing it off to someone else to decide its fate and nurture its future. Increasingly, I wanted to be part of the team building and iterating on a product’s design over a long period of time, so I decided to co-found a start-up.
While networking with VCs, one of the senior leaders at Google told me about Next Billion Users. At first, I was skeptical about moving on from my startup idea. However, when I met Caesar Sengupta, who was leading the NBU effort at Google, I was immediately thrilled about the opportunity and project. I joined as the sixth person on the team and worked on Tez / Google Pay, which became household names.
Earlier this year, when Caesar left to build a fintech company, I had no doubts about joining the team. And that’s how I got here with Arta Finance.
That sounds like a designer’s dream career path! Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Not exactly. Like in many Asian families, there was tremendous pressure to pursue engineering or medicine. My parents expected me to become an engineer because I showed much interest and inclination toward technology from a young age.
My dad is a mechanical engineer, so growing up, I could access every tool imaginable, right at home. I took full advantage of that and was always opening things up - literally! For example, when I was young, my parents were at work, and I had 2 hours to myself after school. Once I opened the washing machine to look at all its parts. I put it back together twice but somehow had two components left, and I couldn't figure out where they went. When my parents returned home, they were about to lose their minds…but they were also proud. This became a pattern. Throughout my childhood, my parents reacted to my actions in a sequence of anger, confusion, and then pride about why anyone would do the thing I had just done. But luckily, they always later appreciated my intent.
That pattern continued into adulthood too. Many years later, when I left Google, mom and dad were a little mad because they used to enjoy being able to say, “my son works at Google.” Once the anger settled, they were confused about “who in their right mind would leave Google?” Eventually, when they realized I was taking this risk with a group of incredibly talented people, they were really proud - completing the reaction pattern again.
Did your parents teach you about personal finance?
Kerala is known for its matrilineal societies, and like in many other families there, my mother managed the finances. Mom, along with my dad, made sure I grew up with exposure to family finances. They talked openly about how much money was spent, if there were outstanding loans, and when there was debt. So from a young age, I knew our income and expenses and how much we could afford. If I wanted something and we couldn't afford it, my parents explained why, rather than just saying no. I’m fortunate my parents shared so much with my sister and me as kids. It normalized money conversations and set a solid foundation for personal finance, which is rare for most children.
That background must be helpful for designing inclusive financial products. How would you describe your design approach? In other words, what is your design superpower?
I think my ability to relate to the audience distinguishes my design approach. So, I guess you can say empathy is my superpower. I believe my experience living in many cities and experiencing different cultures helps with this.
My approach is also informed by curiosity. I still enjoy opening things up and discovering why things work the way they do. It helps me better understand complex concepts. For example, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about investing and why each “nut and bolt” exists in the process. I find things unnecessarily complicated in the financial realm, making for interesting problem-solving opportunities from a design perspective.
Tell us more about that. What do you see as being complicated? What common UX challenges do you see in fintech products? What do you think is missing from a design perspective?
Often fintech products try to do one specific thing, like move money from one place to another. As a designer, what I think is missing is how these things make you feel. When building Google Pay, we were passionate about the emotions the product would evoke when people transacted with money, not just the transactions themselves. For example, people pay money to many different entities, but it feels different depending on the transaction. Paying rent to a landlord, finally paying off a debt, and gifting money to a friend for a birthday feel different. Sure, all of those things involve moving money from point A to B, but there is an emotion associated with each experience. Unfortunately, with many fintech products, the “flavor” of the transaction often gets lost.
A lot of financial transactions are purely functional. But when you use it, you want to feel secure. You want to feel confident, like the money you invest is working for you and will grow into something important to you, like paying for your kids’ college. These are missed opportunities to design an intentional emotion into the experience.
It's the eternal UX battle of making the design obvious, intuitive, and easy to use while adding that thrill that evokes a particular emotion. It’s a tricky line to draw, and it's easy to focus on one and miss the other. I would love to take steps to find that sweet spot.
Secondly, a lot of digital products simply translate offline behavior to online. However, there is so much more we can do! Modern technology is a more versatile medium to experiment with. For instance, we can design audio queues, animations, and personal interactions into the experience. As crafters of digital experiences, we can't simply follow paradigms from the physical world. I don’t view this as a constraint but as an opportunity. We get to go back to the core of what users are trying to achieve and make that happen - not only easier but more delightful too.
What kind of design culture do you hope to cultivate at Arta?
I want our team to build products that we ourselves are incredibly proud to use. Building a product is not a one-time thing. It’s not a launch or a micro-moment. It’s a living design that evolves and changes. It’s crucial to build products you will use yourself and proudly endorse to your friends and family.
Earlier in my career, I was living in Bangalore, a hip and exciting city for a 20-something-year-old working to build a life. When I joined Google, I had the choice to relocate to Hyderabad, a far less interesting and glamorous city, to join Caesar’s team to work on Tez / Google Pay. I thought, “why would I ever want to move there?”
A trusted mentor asked me, “do you want to build products that are so well-loved that they become household names? Do you want to design technology so intuitive and relevant that even your mom and dad will use it?” That idea changed everything for me. That conversation happened on a Friday, and I was in Hyderabad, ready to work, on Monday.
I want Arta users, including Artasans, our family, and friends, to get the maximum benefit from our products. Our goals are not so different from our users’ goals. They are aligned and far-reaching, hopefully allowing us to build something we are so proud of that it can be a legacy.