Salil Parekh is a design researcher and creative technologist. He is currently working on creating The Planetary Bureau at The New School, New York.
A retrospective is to look back at events that have taken place in the past. The process of retrospection is a useful one, as it allows me to reflect on my work and try to figure out what I want to be doing in the future. I do not have a profession I can identify with, or a line of work that I know I want to be doing. I like making things, and hopefully this auto-retrospection will allow me, or you, the viewer of this page to glean insights into what I should be making in the future.
This retrospective attempts to capture from my archive the things I have found interesting, enjoyed the process of making, and the important failures. These have been grouped into larger themes or threads: Speculations, Experiential Narratives, Digital Fabric, Design Thinking, and Physical Computing
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A common thread through my projects is that of speculation, or trying to create something that doesn't exist. Speculative design gives me the license to daydream and try to make the fanciful things that I draw out in my notebook. The license however, doesn't guarantee that you'll do a good job of it, and I've come to realise that although it's easy to make speculative creations, they may not necessarily be successful at telling the stories I want to tell.
Speculative design requires the mastery of narrative gymnastics, a subtle yet effective communication–which is not easy to pull off. Even if I'm not satisfied with the things that I create (like the The Planetary Bureau), the process is always incredibly enlightening as I learn so much while iterating.
I studied Exhibition Design, the study of storytelling through physical spaces at the National Institute of Design (NID) while getting my Bachelor of Design. I'll be honest, it's not what I wanted to study but the department at NID allowed me to do so much more than advertised. I learnt how to craft narratives in multiple dimensions, using a wide variety of mediums and storytelling devices. This ended up being incredibly useful in everything I do now: creating virtual spaces in extended reality, facilitating research sessions, hosting workshops, immersive exhibits and so much more.
What started out a side-step, became a very valuable tool in my arsenal and something I deeply enjoying practicing.
I started learning to code in high school and at first, I didn't quite understand how it would be useful. But then I realised I could finish my art assignments rapidly using generative art, and since then I've come to see coding as an incredibly useful skill. The ability to use a computer to do what I want, in the way I want to, is fascinating experiences. Giving instructions to this artificial thinking machine has opened up possibilities for doing things I still cannot fully comprehend.
The ability to code is the ability to influence, change, and play with what I call the Digital Fabric. It has given me the capability to work with almost any kind of digital medium.
Right after graduating from the National Institute of Design, having studied Exhibition Design, I wanted to get a better understanding of 'Human-Centred Design (HCD)'. So, I started working at Quicksand, a design thinking and innovation consultancy. Very quickly I realised that it was in fact, exactly what I wanted to be doing. The HCD process is a multifaceted one, which is continuously evolving. The entire process, from research all the way to prototyping is incredibly exciting. Not only is there so much to do, but also so much to learn! The opportunity to work with different people, different cultures, and different environments is what makes this so fulfilling.
There are so many projects I'd love to share–but unfortunately, they are confidential.
Using a push-button to light up a small LED isn't the most engaging activity and my outlook toward physical computing wasn't great. But I stuck at it, as I was fascinated with the idea of giving physical objects a 'software', or programming something outside the boundaries of a screen. Soon I realised that I could give objects a 'life' and tell stories using these active objects. Working with base level electronics has given me a much better understanding of how digital technology at large functions, and more importantly, how I can make things for myself. Making bespoke tools and objects not only for various custom projects, but also to build hardware and software stacks independent from Big Tech.