I Studied Design, Graduated, Now What?

Indonesia is likely to produce more graphic designers and other designers alike in more years to come. I have no statistics at hand, but when I entered college, interests in graphic design as a field of study for bachelor degree were steep. Competition was high (I believe it still is now). Campuses who organize design education are struggling with a dilemma: delivering quality design education in an economy not entirely driven by commercial arts and design. There is a growing number of institutions that provide design education (mainly undergraduate, there is a scarcity in furthering design education, most Indonesian designers take their masters or doctoral abroad).

Indonesia is no Singapore, or even Malaysia who probably has better shots at design that drives the economy (if not culturally, commercially is fine). Indonesia is also not the Netherlands, Germany or Switzerland whose design roots took place many decades ago. In countries like these, design is a highly-specialised area, evolving, shaping, born and reborn.

Where is Indonesia in this? Is it a crossroad?

Why do parents permit or even encourage their children to study design? What motivates the students at the first place? Most students were inspired by design as part of the commercial arts they see everyday: motion graphics in television, computer & multimedia apps, the world wide web, mobile devices… even in more conventional medias like magazines, books and in some, comic books.

As an economy, it is clear that Indonesia is not fully driven by a consensus that design matters in leveraging values of a product. Most of the products sold in Indonesia where design plays a large role are imported ones. Most design or advertising agencies only communicate a brand through larger campaigns. Some might build a brand, probably thoroughly from all perspectives (some which all 360 degrees branding or anything like that), but how many of those are local products? How many of those are then successful to maintain a consistent brand, and to communicate it further? The most nerving question would be, can the product itself compete?

Where is the place of Indonesian graphic design students and graduates here? Some or most of them would be willing to work in international creative agencies or in-house companies, helping foreign products sell; some others would stick to small yet creative & fulfilling works for local products with less to care about the products; some others would strive in helping design education by teaching. Some others will not deal with design anymore somewhere in the path of their lives.

Another issue is with specialisations in graphic or visual communication design. In many cases, visual communication is taught academically for about four years teaching just about everything, structured autonomously by each institution, some “tailored to industry needs”, some “pride on the importance of conceptual strength”; but rarely on something that is related to specific focus: why can’t we have focus studies on typography, branding, or illustration? Why can’t we have more flexibility?

Then again, how are people outside going to deal with these unfamiliar jargons that only the discerning designers know why those matter?

Is design only for the idealists? Could it be that design students have ample time and money at their expense to explore without worrying about making monthly salary? If you ask design students, “why do you want to study design and what are your plans for your future with design?”, would they give tangible answers?

It probably takes Indonesia many more decades for design to be really appreciated, and design graduates have promising careers in their hands. Or, in the worst scenario, this hope might never materialise.