Broadly speaking, design is a process of discovery and experimentation leading to the realisation of a concept with the aim of commercial benefit. Be it a well engineered product, structural building, mass market product, fashion wear, moving images, commercial arts, etc., designers play a key but yet subtle role contributing to all aspects in our daily lives with the aim of making our lives more liveable in an efficiently managed and aesthetically stimulating environment.
Despite the enormous contribution to the society, designer, who has invested time, energy and financial resources suffers from inadequate compensation in exchange for the ‘soft’ investments. Their work is based on inspiration riding on their design passion. Witnessing the realisation of their ideal is considered rewarding enough rather than that of their own financial goals. True but sad, designers do not realise their designing career comes with a short life span.
Scan the industry and you will notice how few Asian designers are able to enjoy financial success pursuing this ‘hobby career’ of theirs. Financially, their designing success is typically creamed off by their employers.
The Asian employer’s mindset of employing designers as a cost rather than investment still holds true. Wage differences between talented and average designers form only a small fraction and output of designer is basically measured by the quantum rather than quality making many design firms no different from sweatshops operating out of a dingy tiny shop in some obscure street corners. Despite the huge contributing value of designer in today’s commercial world, the appreciation of design by the market and their willingness to pay top dollars for good design scores low. Employers are geared towards the bottom-line and paying top dollars to hire good designers are rare .
Unless there is a serious mindset change among paying clients, employers of designers and relevant government agencies, we are not ready to talk about developing sustainable design when the substainability of designers’ livelihood is often challenged.
‘Good design equates good business’ in the Asian context is still a myth reserved only for a select few.