Think before you hire: Points for corporations looking for designers

Samadara Ginige is a brand and corporate identity designer with a lengthy portfolio of international clients. Here, she tackles problems of business relations in Sri Lanka’s creative industry

Samara Ginige is straight up. There are neither frills to her speech nor ornaments to her design. Her logos are solid lines and her ideas are clear. “There should be some ground rules,” she says.

She means in the design industry.

Ginige came out of a software and web development career, and began freelancing as a brand and corporate identity graphics designer in 2011. Many of her first clients were from Australia, China and the US, which led her to begin functioning at an internationally expected level of professionalism. Since beginning work with local clients and encountering more of Sri Lanka’s design environment, Ginige is convinced that, without organised efforts to change industry relations, “the graphic design sector is not going to grow”.

Fast-changing trends

The main problem Ginige identified when she began working with Sri Lankan clients is the lack of exposure to contemporary design. “Clients are not up-to-date,” she says. “This is very limiting, because clients make the decisions.”

Simplicity is the single principle underlying Ginige’s work. Nike and Apple, seen as companies of the future, have very simple logos with universal appeal. All forms of design, from clothing to operating systems for technology and interfaces, are moving towards simplicity, Ginige points out. But Sri Lanka, she believes, is still in the age of traditional.

“People want more detail because they think that communicates more,” she says. “They don’t appreciate that less is more.”

Ginige believes it is the collective and individual responsibility of designers to guide their clientele away from the familiar and towards contemporary design. As Sri Lanka lacks an organised body of designers to create public awareness, the onus falls on individual designers to update clients on what’s in and what’s not.

“At the end of the day, I am designing for the client’s client,” she points out. “It is my responsibility to tell the client, ‘this logo will not appeal to your market’, even if I don’t get the project. It will ultimately be my work and my portfolio.”

More than just “drawing”

As a brand and corporate identity designer, Ginige’s work crafts the “face” of the company. “This is the identity they will carry through the years,” she says.

Following a briefing, Ginige does her own research on the company. This process starts with a questionnaire exploring the identity, client requirements and research into competition. Through this process, she identifies keywords and symbols that the target market will understand and relate to. It is only after these are established that she begins sketching. Once she has two or three viable sketches, she prepares a concept to present to the client including a variety of applications such as business cards and stationery. This takes three to four weeks.

In an ideal scenario, Ginige has used the client’s conceptual requirement, combined it with their vision, mission and goals, and produced the best possible graphical illustration of it. Instead, she finds she is often required to do quite a different task.

“Clients often see a designer as an illustrator of what is already in their mind,” she says. “This should not be the case.”

Competitive pricing

Ginige finds that clients who interpret her work simply as “drawing”, without awareness of the conceptual and creative work in the logo design, impacts compensation levels.

“There are great designers in Sri Lanka, and we should value them,” she says. “If not, they will keep working for the international market.”

Ginige herself began work as a professional designer five years ago, for foreign clients. While developing the website for Temp Fencing, a start-up fencing company based in Australia, Ginige took a shot at designing a logo for them. They liked her work. She charged them USD100 for copyrights to the logo, and decided to teach herself design so she could do more, and better.

Six months in, Ginige realised that her rates were lower than that of the market. Now, she charges upwards of $450 for logo design, making concessions for startups.

“If I don’t value my work, then my client won’t either,” she explains.

Designers stepping fresh into the industry will work for very low rates, or sometimes even for free, to gain experience and exposure. Ginige believes that this cripples the design sector, undervaluing the training these young professionals have been through and making internationally competitive pricing impossible to achieve within the country.

What’s with documentation?

The other compromise Ginige finds that many designers make, and clients expect of them, is speculative work.

“Why expect spec work from a designer if you don’t expect the same from a dentist?” she quips.

A designer’s portfolio and recommendations are standard gauges of their capability, she points out. These should indicate whether the designer can be trusted to produce the expected work.

Working with international clients has trained Ginige to document her work every step of the way, and be transparent about her fees. Most of Sri Lanka’s established designers belong to a generation that studied graphic design because that was a thing to do after completing secondary education, she says. Without professional training, the absence of transparency and clear documentation has so far been left out of the designer-client relationship. This, in turn, has created widespread distrust of the fees charged by designers for their work.

Clarity and transparency in documentation are priorities in Ginige’s process, and she insists on clear and consistent communication. These two factors have had a significant impact on growing her international client base.