Drawing Outside the Lines with Akanksha Deo Sharma

Akanksha Deo Sharma

Akanksha Deo Sharma made news in 2017 when she joined IKEA as an in-house designer. In 2020, she made the prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 list. Safe to say, she is something of a prodigy who switched lanes from fashion design to product and moved countries for a dream job. Sharma’s energy on social media (@akanksha.sharma) is infectious–she makes you believe in the power of good design and enjoys sharing her learnings with the industry. Le Mill sits down with the creative force who lives between Malmö, Copenhagen and New Delhi on the liberating power of good design and how taking a leap of faith could change everything for you.

How did product design happen to you? What’s the average day like at work?

Working in the field of fashion allowed me to appreciate the invaluable work of craft communities in different parts of India. However, my time at IKEA has given me a global perspective on the people’s needs and the transformative power of design. With my history I’ve recognized the importance of integrating traditional craftsmanship, celebrating its artistry, and actively collaborating with these communities to create meaningful solutions.

A typical day in my role as a designer encompasses a wide range of activities, from conducting thorough research and immersing myself in user insights to generating creative ideas through sketching. I then bring these ideas to life by crafting prototypes, allowing me to tangibly explore and refine the design concepts. Collaboration is a vital part of the process, as I collaborate closely with my talented team members, exchanging ideas and incorporating valuable feedback. This iterative approach ensures that our designs continuously evolve and improve, ultimately resulting in products that resonate with and positively impact people's lives.

What are the parts of your job you enjoy, which are the unsavoury bits?

Akanksha Deo Sharma

The joys of the job lie in the ability to materialise ideas, witness the influence of designs on users, collaborate with a diverse team, get the opportunity to deeply comprehend, learn and advance our design practice towards circularity resulting in continually evolving our approach to design.

Having the opportunity to effect substantial change within the industry through my work by result of working for one of the biggest companies in the world. Most importantly, the privilege of engaging with vulnerable communities, collaborating with them, and learning from their wisdom is profoundly rewarding. The journey of creating more job opportunities for these communities, particularly empowering women, holds a special place in my heart and brings immense fulfilment to my creative endeavours.

However, challenges arise from tight deadlines, managing stakeholder expectations, bureaucratic hurdles inherent in larger organisations, production limitations tied to cost considerations, and navigating conflicting design viewpoints.

You made the big decision to move countries for work–on a personal level what was that change like for you?

Moving to Scandinavia for work has been a truly transformative journey on a personal level. I must admit, I initially underestimated the magnitude of this change, but it turned out to be so much more than I expected—complex, eye-opening, challenging, humbling, and undeniably beautiful.

Making the move during the midst of a pandemic added an extra layer of complexity to the process of settling in. However, this longer settling-in period provided me with a unique opportunity for self-reflection, a chance to delve deeper into my own identity. It became a profound exploration of both understanding the new culture and finding my own place within it.

In this process, I found myself contemplating the meaning of home and the sense of belonging. I felt a strong pull towards my roots, my culture, and the place I came from, as if rediscovering and reconnecting with them in a new light. It became a fascinating journey of discovering my own voice in this unfamiliar setting—a delicate balance of integration and honouring my heritage.

And of course, the journey became sweeter and more beautiful with the cherished relationships I formed here—new friends who chose me and whom I chose, a loving partner, and the extended new family that I have created here in this new land. Through it all, this experience has offered me invaluable perspective and an immense space for personal growth.

How do you overcome creative blocks?

Akanksha Deo Sharma

Creative blocks are a common occurrence, and overcoming them varies from person to person and from one phase of life to another. I vividly recall a significant creative block I faced in late 2016 when I was 25 years old after I lost a dear friend. During that time, I made a proud decision to embark on a vipassana retreat in Jaipur, which proved to be instrumental in breaking through that block. While there are other strategies to overcome creative blocks, this experience holds particular significance for me. 

Piece of advice for aspiring designers?

As creators and designers, we should remember that the environmental impact of an object is determined at the design stage. Instead of feeling guilty or overwhelmed, embrace your role in solving the biggest problem humanity faces: the climate crisis. Tap into your creativity, curiosity, and optimism to become part of the solution. The climate crisis is complex, but we have a unique opportunity to lead the way by demonstrating the power of creativity and innovation. Design from a position of hope and excitement for the future we can create together.