Women Leaders in India – Karthi: The Designer, Mentor, Teacher, Guide!

Women Leaders in India – Karthi: The Designer, Mentor, Teacher, Guide!

A designer and design thinker with over 15 years of international experience in the fields of UX design and cognitive psychology, Karthi Subbaraman is an entrepreneur, wife, mother, daughter and daughter-in-law – all roles that she takes very seriously. Having worked across multiple domains including technology, education, banking & finance, insurance, and product development across the globe, Karthi has added the duties of teaching, mentoring and guiding other designers into her already busy life.

As the Chief Product Officer of design firm Xperian, Karthi leads global design teams who deliver meaningful products with an awesome user experience and provide a solid return on investment. Her specialisation? “Delivering focused innovation through consumer insight and creative foresight strategies”.

Here are excerpts from a recent chat with Karthi where we tried to unravel the multiple layers that make up this superwoman.


CLEARLY BLUE: Books play a large role in self development! What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why?

KARTHI: The book which I like to give people the most is, ‘The Power of Moments’ by Chip and Dan Heath. It is a book about design, but it talks about the little moments in life, how we architect them, and how they become memories to others.


CLEARLY BLUE: How do you get the time to read, besides everything that’s going on in your life?

KARTHI: I give 25 minutes of my undivided attention to reading every single day. You might think that this is very less, but I’ve realised that in the past year, I’ve read more because of this approach.

CLEARLY BLUE: As an avid reader, what do you prefer – paper, electronic or audiobooks?

KARTHI: I used to carry books with me, but now I just carry one Kindle with thousands of books in it. If a book is well designed, I give phenomenal importance to it and buy the hard copy. Otherwise, if everything is black and white and just words, I grab their e-versions. Audible books help me travel and I prefer them while travelling.

CLEARLY BLUE: Tell us about your Life Design project. What are the key takeaways and insights you would like to share with your readers?

KARTHI: Design is more than just a job for me, it’s part of my life. I used to think that, if design principles can create innovative solutions and solve complex problems, why not solve your life using design too?

 I felt like there was a lot of time being wasted, even though I was busy. So, I started reducing the things that take away my energy, which made my life more efficient. Efficiency and effectiveness were the goal of this life design.

CLEARLY BLUE: How are you influencing other designers and professionals with your mentoring and teaching?

KARTHI: I don’t consider myself a mentor or a teacher. I don’t even know if I am a wonderful designer, but I do know that nobody in this universe loves design as much as I do. So, when somebody wants to be a designer, I tell them about design as a career path. But when they specifically say they want to make more money, I tell them exactly what they should be doing to get better opportunities. I profile them by their aspirations, where they come from, their skills and finally tell them where they should be going and which path to take.

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CLEARLY BLUE: Let’s talk about failure, which everyone inevitably goes through. How do you pick yourself up from times of failure?

KARTHI:  If I’m not able to help someone I gave a commitment to, I treat it as a failure. I’ve realised that I can’t do everything in life and I need to prioritize my life in so many ways. I’ve learnt that the best way to come back from this failure is to make people understand that you’re busy. You need to keep a clarity in terms of relationships, entrepreneurships and the things that you love to do.

CLEARLY BLUE: What are some of the struggles you still face?
KARTHI: Time management is still the most difficult struggle for me. I’m not asking for 48 hours a day but trying to do many things a day is still a challenge. You need to do more if you want to do big stuff and this is a huge struggle which everyone faces. But the idea is to accept the fact that this is how it is, and work with this time in an innovative way.

CLEARLY BLUE: You recently gave yourself a health makeover that’s inspiring to learn about! [Karthi lost 24 kgs over the course of a year and a half and has transformed herself into a long-distance runner. She is currently training to run marathons]. Do let us in on your secrets to success.

KARTHI: 95% of weight loss is based on your nutrition. If you are trying to lose weight don’t exercise. It will enhance your weight loss, but your brain doesn’t have the ability to do all at once. If you are trying to lose weight using nutrition and you add running, gym, weight lifting and lots of stuff to it, you will fail.


CLEARLY BLUE: Awesome Karthi! It really sounds like you’ve applied your design prowess to the weight loss process too.

KARTHI: As a designer I don’t know anything else! If design can be used for everything why not weight loss? Of course, there is cognitive science behind weight loss too.  Let me explain it a little bit for you.

I created a framework to lose weight by understanding the system design behind our body. Based on how our body works, here are the three rules and the rationale behind them.

  1. No sugar & no flour. Reasoning for no sugar and flour for another day.

Rationale: Set boundaries that you will never cross. Out of mind and out of sight will help you work with what you have. Reduce the number of options by removing. This is what is designing within constraints is all about. We get very creative:) Trust me!

  1. Eat on specific times everyday as a routine. 8-9 am, 12-1 pm, 6-7 pm for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 Rationale: Our liver works a certain way and we need to go by how the system is designed. Going against will cause friction. Feed your body when it is super active.

  1. Eat the specified portion sizes. The chart is available.

 Rationale: Our mind is deceptive. Based on context it will show different colours. So use numbers to remove the cognitive overload. Portion of 6 oz protein is 6 oz at all times whether you are hungry or not. Stick to numbers and rule out ambiguity.

 We all have a limited willpower battery. Use it wisely. Don’t do everything. Do only that 20% that gives 80% results.

CLEARLY BLUE: What are your tips for career success for professionals – whether a fresher, someone coming back to work after a break, or for a mid-career professional?

KARTHI: My mantra in life is, “An idea at the center”. It is not about pleasing the client or anything else, it is just about the growth of your business. If you can apply this goal in everything that you do, your focus will come, and you will know exactly what to do. You can use this both personally and professionally.

Thank you Karthi, for a most enlightening chat. We wish you all the very best in all that you are and all that you do!

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