So You Want To Be A Designer? Here’s What An Expert Has To Say


A self-made design curator, Michelle Tan is founder of DESIGNation LAB, a product incubation design studio, and mum to a baby boy. She’s also hard at work investing in local designers’ ideas and solutions, helping them turn these into actual products. Here, she shares her thoughts and concerns about the local design industry and how young designers can make a change.

You might be wondering what goes on behind the scenes in a designer’s life or maybe considering a job in design yourself. So, what is it actually like to be a designer here in Kuala Lumpur? To be honest, the opportunities we have now leave a lot to be desired, but I believe there’s a lot of raw talent to be finessed. Being a strong supporter of the design industry, I’m always hopeful about its future in Malaysia; here’s what I think of the industry today and how I think it can be improved!


#1 There’s a lack of good design education

Design institutions in Malaysia tend to promote technical skills but not business skills and critical thinking. Typically, a class of 90 design students will be taught to work with digital software but not how to build a brand around themselves as designers. Upon graduation, they end up in the same position: competing to work at design firms, only to eventually get overworked and underpaid.


#2 Our good designers are moving abroad

So what happens when you are underpaid and overworked? Well, you’re very likely to seek better opportunities elsewhere. It’s a shame because we have the talent, but they’re slipping through our fingers!


#3 There’s a lack of idea incubation

Another negative effect of our current design education is that though we’re encouraged to build ideas upon ideas in university, these ideas never come to fruition when we graduate. Ideas only have value when they are made real and when you can see the effect they have on society. That’s why I founded DESIGNation LAB: to encourage designers to submit their ideas and make their designs come to life.


#4 We should design for a cause

What kind of causes, you might ask? For example, there was a house fire in Subang Jaya early this year, resulting in the death of a family of four. This could have been avoided with a well-designed smoke alarm. A design company in the USA has created a product called The Nest, a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm that alerts your phone immediately and tells you what you can do in an emergency situation. Simply put, in order to increase our value as designers, we ought to make what we do relevant for society. Design often goes beyond aesthetics, and it can be a powerful tool to cause social change.



#5 But all hope is not lost!

By continuously questioning the norm and benchmarking ourselves to international standards, we can push our local industry to improve, and perhaps find fulfilment in what we do as designers.


Taken from print issue. Text by Michelle Tan