We live in a country where the design industry is always raising productivity and sharpening its competitive edge. With the ever-changing industry, does the future of design in Singapore lie in more self-initiated works? I intend to question the prospective of design in Singapore and review the notion of self-initiated work through an interview article, ‘Reputations’ with illustrator, Marian Bantjes.

More often liked to be called a “graphic artist”, Marian Bantjes is known for her obsessive handwork with intricate illustrations. Her style of work is constantly evolving as she blends the different areas of design – graphic, type, and illustration – where she presents a unique and untraditional aesthetic in her body of works. Bantjes has worked with several companies internationally and other designers from her home on an island off the west coast of Canada. Some of the designers and companies include: Michael Bierut, Stefan Sagmeister, Pentagram and The New York Times.

‘Does the future lie in more self-initiated work?’

Bantjes have a strong self-directed mentality where she feels that she needs to continue doing what she loves using her personal style. Although it may seem like an inspiring example to certain people, I have to disagree with this belief to a certain extent because I feel that she is overdoing “self-initiated work” in this context. And in this case, I would not call Marian Bantjes a designer. Instead, I would refer to her as an illustrator – she beautifies things. One of the many reasons why people keep returning to her for her works could be because of the aesthetically pleasing and illustrative style of work. Another reason could be her rather successful experiment in following love over money where she left her company of over 10 years to focus on her personal work, totally leaving the design industry behind her – This life-changing step which Bantjes took have nudged many young designers like myself in a way to question whether one should follow love or money in the design scene.

Although Marian Bantjes follows love over money which I have great respect for, I feel that she puts too much of herself and her emotions into her works. I believe that designers should not be visible in our designs. To use Joost Grootens as an example, Grootens is a self-taught graphic designer who designs books in the fields of architecture. He focuses on atlases where he designs both the maps and the books. As compared to Marian Bantjes, Grootens is invisible in his works as he communicates the informations directly without putting in his personal emotions, even though a distinct style is present in his works.

I agree that Marian Bantjes’ works do invoke a certain curiosity and a sense of wonder in people when she expresses her emotions in her works; but in my opinion, I believe that there is a certain right time to present myself in my works. For example, when I draw and paint, or when I take a photograph; I become visible in my art. However, when it comes to design, I should become as invisible as I can.

In the interview, Marian Bantjes also talked about her ideals and methodology – ‘I never doodle, and I never sketch multiples of ideas. I draw one single thing that represents what’s inside my head.’ Despite the fact that Marian Bantjes have influenced many young designers all over the world, her ideals and beliefs in design is not definitely a positive influence because I personally feel that they do not work quite effectively in the design industry. What are the chances that a particular client would request for a single draft that represents that one single idea in my head? Probably none, or perhaps a small percentage of clients who do not see the value in good design, which is one of the essential areas that portray the image of their companies. Following the interview, Bantjes  mentioned, “I work worst with a lot of art direction.” – this is one of the points that made me question about Marian Bantjes’ role as a designer when she possess too much of a self-directed attitude.

Do I design for the people, or do I design for myself?

Even if I feel that when designing for myself, I may communicate a better concept and message, the industry is not all about myself. When I have an audience out there, I also have a specific message to communicate. That being said, I do not set that particular message; it’s the clients. Singapore’s design industry, in my opinion is all about commerce and advertising where many companies come up with cheesy marketing schemes to promote their points – eventually, it’s all about the money. In 2005, DesignSingapore Council of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) conducted a survey that revealed Singapore has only a moderate level of public awareness towards design, although the attitude and interest towards design are high, which I absolutely agree. Speaking from my own experience, I have came across a handful of clients who are always more interested solely in getting their messages across, but never seem to understand or appreciate the balance between good design and effective communication. At times, I design for the clients with my own intentions, be it initiating the art direction or rephrasing the given copywrite; but I refrain from overdoing it and making myself visible in these designs.

After reviewing the notion of self-initiated works in the industry, I can say that having a self-directed mentality is not entirely wrong. However, as a designer I should always design with a purpose and at the same time keeping in mind that I am designing for a target audience and not for myself. Being self-initiated and self-directed can be positive traits in terms of having the passion to change the way people think about design, through design. For instance, using good design to raise the attitude and interest of people as a whole, and not always just the designers showing a high level of enthusiasm for the design scene.

Having questioned and reflected on my own voice as a practicing graphic designer, I want to encourage and cultivate the use of good design in Singapore to make effective communications throughout the country. Apart from the standard, commercial works, we should always indulge in the thought of going beyond to persuade the use of good design. For instance, little things like the pamphlets given out at electronics fairs, name cards of small startups, or even the posters pinned up on the bulletin boards at the HDB estates – even though they are only meant to be shown in a neighbourhood environment, my thoughts are that these posters deserve to be well designed and presented and at the same time, communicating its message effectively. That in my opinion makes a sweet balance. After all, these posters are designed for the general audience. And in order to change people’s mindset about design and its purpose, I feel that making a change has to begin with myself – if I don’t do it using the capability that I possess to design, who will?

Image Copyright Dawn Ellis