Tanya Bhandari, Senior Designer, Office of Innovation, UNICEF

Tell us a bit about your background.
When I was growing up, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Not in the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ but in a genuine – “I will study for this” kind of way. Fortunately, my parents identified my penchant for art and design at the right time, and supported me to pursue a career in design. I studied graphic design in Pune, India and moved to New York to further advance my skills through attending the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts. Since then, I have been trying to figure out the best way to make and do good in the world.

What do you do?
At UNICEF, I work as a communication designer – with more of an air of a generalist. I work on visual systems for scale-up products, build data visualizations, map out complex systems, and guide our team with the process of storytelling and so on.

What’s your working day like?
This is a tough one. It could totally vary from day to day. I could start the morning replying to emails I got through the night across all time zones for deployment of our scale-up products, or I could be running around our workspace helping our team set up one of the many events we have. I could also be working with a project team in a closed room for a whole day (or even weeks) –  banging our heads together to produce something meaningful. Or I could spend the entire day just making stuff on my computer and not talking to anyone. Hence, It could be anything – and that’s why I love it.

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
As I read this question, I tried putting myself in the user’s shoes. But of course, I have no idea how a five-year-old thinks. So, I would describe it as – I try solve problems for children (much like yourself) by creating fun and useful things.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I partly answered that, but my alternative career as a child would have been as a hairdresser. I used to play a lot with people’s hair and eventually started learning how to cut hair (you can ask most of the girls I went to undergrad with and some unfortunate boys). I still cut my hair so that I can say, I’m living one of my childhood fantasies.

How/when did you join UNICEF?
After finishing graduate school in New York, I intended to move back to India. I had, of course, applied for jobs in the U.S. but wasn’t very interested in staying. In this search, I typed ‘design’ and ‘social good’ on Twitter and UNICEF’s Office of Innovation job post appeared. I applied for it. As the timings for recruitment and availability didn’t match up, I accepted a design fellowship opportunity for two months. That was almost three years ago, and it’s been an awesome ride.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
As a designer, the most satisfying thing is to see your work being used by others. 99% of the time at UNICEF’s Office of Innovation, our work is not only used once but utilized over and over again. Also, my work’s purpose gives me satisfaction. It feels good to be contributing to the work that accelerates results for children across the globe.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. My challenge is to accept the ambiguity that comes with working with a dynamic and rapidly evolving team. After almost three years of being here, I would like to think that I am prepared for it. However, there are still moments of chaos that can be overwhelming.  What is great about working with this team is how everyone fosters ambiguity to bring forward the best ideas and solutions.

What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
In April 2016, I was on a mission in Kosovo with our innovation lab. It was my birthday, and I remember thinking that this was the first time in my life where I didn’t have at least some family and friends around me. I was wrong. The team in Kosovo ended up surprising me at midnight and through the rest of the next day. It was one of my most memorable birthdays.

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
Moving to New York to attend a brand new graduate program and pursuing a field, which at that moment was considered niche. Looking back though, I would do it again – in a heartbeat.

What are your passions?
I love to sing, I enjoy learning how to play instruments, I draw sometimes, I invest in too many cameras, and dogs are my favourite people. Even with all these, I consider design as my biggest passion.

What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours?
Doing this job, you’re expected to juggle several things at any given time. What I find helpful is that I have a very concrete skill (graphic design) that keeps me grounded. My biggest piece of advice is to identify your strengths and skills, hone it well and be confident to utilize it.

Who do you look towards for inspiration?
I don’t think I look towards one particular thing or person for inspiration. It’s the everyday things which I see on the internet or encounter in my daily life that keep me inspired. When I do find specific things or people I admire, I try my best to document them for my own inspiration bank.

My colleagues don’t know that…
I love climbing trees. I fell off a tree once as a child and got hurt really badly but still continue to climb trees.

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