‘I’m still a graphic designer; I’ll always call myself a graphic designer. I entered advertising with the identity of a graphic designer. I exited advertising with the identity of a graphic designer.’
Above is a quote by Chani Perera, one of the first ever AOD degree programme students, who stepped into the advertising industry with a First Class in BA (Hons) Visual Communication Design in 2010. After working at Leo Burnett she started her own design based zine, Riot House. She also worked as a consultant at Dentsu Grants (former Grant McCann Erickson), and is currently a visiting lecturer at the Academy of Design. Her experience at advertising agencies, freelance work, Riot House, and being among the younger generation at AOD, Chani spoke with us about the state of advertising in Sri Lanka and what a young designer should arm themselves with before stepping into this amazing world of creativity.
Firstly, she stated that what we are discussing here is visual communication, and the role advertising plays in it. In Sri Lanka, advertising is the tool that plays a major role in visual communication. Though design is very niche, through the years, the need for a design element and its impact are being realised.
‘Visual communication is always going to be a subjective topic, but advertising is really kind of marked out that collaboration with the logical people with the rational people plus the irrational creative people.’
Secondly, Chani emphasised on how design is used in advertising by saying Sri Lanka is ready to take on designers on a prominent role as clients can now see the significance impact it ads on to their campaigns. She believes that there are talented skilled experienced creative people all in that community, and that it’s also a great learning hub for anyone who enters the medium of visual communication. Even from a point of educating, she encourages her students to step into advertising first as that is a crucial place where the students will learn the process of how to sell their work.
‘We don’t know how to talk to clients. We don’t know what it takes for us to work with clients, but advertising has really addressed that topic. This is why they still have clients regardless of the new upcoming designer community. They still have leverage on having a great relationship with clients. Therefore, I think advertising can really craft, and they have the right people to mentor the designers into a better visual communicator.’
Chani encourages all emerging graphic designers to work on building client relationships. From her first step into Leo Burnett, she saw herself immersing in understanding client relationships and professional practice. Having these two advantages work well than simply showing a client the quality of work a person produces; ‘You can be the world’s best designer, if you don’t know how to have a good client relationship; your work is not receptive.’
Thirdly, the cultural aspect of Sri Lanka is a topic she’s exploring more herself this year about how a designer should be selfless; ‘You are not designing what you are not designing for yourself. You are not taking that logo home. Doesn’t matter if you think font doesn’t work, how do you make it work for the client who wants it?’ She says the most unique aspect of Sri Lanka is the culture. As Sri Lanka is an island, it will always be a bit behind the world trends, but at the same time Sri Lanka possess attributes that are completely unknown to the rest of the world. When collaboration happens between advertisers with professional practice and designers with their fresh skills, the outcome will be a unique visual communication standard that is new against everything the international market is doing.
‘We work with the talent that’s already exists in the industry only.’
However, she did emphasize that there was a huge change in the game of advertising where the decision makers are becoming younger. While there’s more young blood, the veterans are there to guide and mentor. She also encouraged the advertisers to reach out to designers, as this niche group will be still learning to reach out to the advertisers.
Lastly, Chani left us with two pieces of advice for the young graphic designers; that knowing software does not make a graphic designer. Simply knowing how to do a logo doesn’t make a graphic designer. To specialise in one area is impossible without dabbling in all areas such as typography, publication, branding, packaging, and all other areas of graphic design. After working with clients of all fields, a person can find their specialty. Furthermore, find a mentor; someone who can introduce a person into culture of visual communication. To build a portfolio, a person needs to work with the right person. No one can work alone.