Nipuni Siyanbalapitiya

Industrial designer; Masters student

And - Member of Sri Lanka's pioneering Product Design firm


What I love about my work is I really get to push boundaries.

What do you do?

As an industrial designer, it is my job to create new & meaningful products for people to use. In my process, I always start with a question, for example I am working on this problem right now, “How might we help people to understand how much water they use daily, so that they can minimize water wastage at home.?” I sketch, create models, create computer models, and ultimately work with manufacturers to make sure that products are made to the proper specifications and will meet the expectations of both the people who will use it, as well as who are marketing it.

Why did you choose this field?

I stumbled upon design quite by accident. Coming from Sri Lanka, no one had heard of design up until about 10 years ago! I did biology in high school because I loved figuring out how the natural world works, but did not score as much as I needed to in order to go into the medicine or biological science fields. But that worked out for the best!

Drawing and making things were things I really enjoyed since I was a little kid. I also served as president of my school’s art club. So, when I got the chance to enroll in a pioneering design bachelor’s programme at one of the best local universities, my mom really encouraged me to apply for it. She knew I had a creative knack in me, even though I had forgotten about it for sometime!

So, here I am, combining my love for biology with art, for science with craft, making beautiful, useful stuff for people to use, and I am happy as I can ever be.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I wish I had known that “There is no substitute for hard work”. There was a time when I thought that talent was enough, and I can just “breeze through” things with just my wit (and gut).

Why do you love working in STEM?

What I love most about my work is that I really get to push boundaries. “Can I make this product technologically more advanced than what’s already out there?” “How can I make it look appealing for people of different cultures?” I wake up knowing that what I do will make someone’s life better. It could be something as simple as peeling potatoes more comfortably using a peeler I helped design. But it’s a really good feeling to wake up to!

Best advice for next generation?

Believe in your dreams and listen to your gut! We are already equipped with qualities that will help us do that particular role better than anyone else. This is very important to remember as you enter into the working world, where you will might feel intimidated by more smart and intelligent people than you, people who are better coders, better surgeons, better at maths! But you don’t have to be THOSE people! You have to improve in skill, yes, but more importantly, you must listen to your gut and find the role that best fits YOU. Each of us has a unique role to play in the world.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

My role model is Ray Eames, one of the first female industrial designers in America is one of my big inspirations. Stuff she designed are still popular today, and you have all probably sat on at least one of her designs! In a time when women took a back seat in a man’s world, she was bold and fearless and in her work with husband Charles, they were equals.

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