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An interview with Umesh Pandya

Judges Interviews

We spoke to Umesh Pandya, commonly known as uMe. Formerly Design Lead at ustwo, he co-founded Wayfindr, and specialises in making inclusive, human centred, digital products and services.

What are you passionate about? What motivates and inspires you?

I’m passionate about using design and technology to solve problems that matter. My current focus is on creating scalable digital products and services that serve people with physical and/or cognitive disabilities in carrying out their day to day activities. This focus motivates me, and the people I serve inspire me to do more.

I believe that as we weave computers into the fabric of our environment and our very being, us designers and engineers should take the time to bake in inclusiveness, trustworthiness and delight into the products, services and systems that we create.

What is your greatest professional (and/or personal) accomplishment?

On a personal note, my greatest accomplishment is an ongoing joint venture between my lovely wife and me – in the upbringing of our two children! I only really got focused on what I wanted to do with my career after they were both born. I was overcome with a sense of needing to do purposeful work urgently, and the support from my wife has been instrumental in helping me achieve this. I owe my accomplishments to these three amazing people, one of the achievements being Wayfindr.

I co-founded Wayfindr, an award-winning, pioneering tech for good, nonprofit, whose mission it is to empower millions of vision impaired people to navigate the world independently. Co-created with young vision impaired adults, funded by Comic Relief and Google.org. We identified that indoor navigation could hold the key to independent travel for people living with sight loss, and wanted to contribute in a meaningful way to this emerging market. Wayfindr facilitates the creation of an Open International Standard for Audio Based navigation, which in 2017 was adopted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ITU is the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies. When the standard (ITU-T F.921) is applied to indoor navigation services, vision impaired people are no longer held back by their sight loss, removing barriers to employment, to meeting friends and family and engaging in their community. In addition to the social benefit, tourist and in-turn business and cities also benefit financially from many more people being able to easily access all the services that the city has to offer.

Who has been your biggest influence?

Hmm, a tricky question, I have never really had one biggest influence, it’s a mixture of people, serendipitous conversations, objects, movements and ways of working. On the people front, let’s start with my awesome parents through to Mahatma Gandhi and Bruce Lee. In the context of mastery: El Lissitzky, Ray and Charles Eames, Bill Moggridge, Eric Spiekermann, Hayao Miyazaki and Takehiko Inoue. Movements that influence my work Constructivism, Inclusive Design, Open Source, Tech for Good, Lean Start Up and the concept of Wabi-sabi.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given and who gave it?

I cannot remember who or where I got this from, but I love it “Don’t ask what. Ask why.”

What moved you we get involved with Creative Conscience?

I wanted to find a way to share my ongoing learnings back into design community (present and future) about what it means to do ‘good’ design, and a friend recommended that I check out Creative Conscience, I did, and was immediately hooked.

You can follow uMe on Twitter @the_uMe