30 January 2019

Design students, freelance and SMEs

by Raja Sharil Azhar bin Raja Abdillah

One of the many things enjoyed by design students, aside from not having to sit for exams, is their ability and opportunity to practice their design skill in real-world situation, even while still studying.

‘Freelance’ is a popular term used in the design field, referring to contract-based part-time work widely practiced by design students globally. University students, in general, are known for doing part-time jobs whenever their time permits.

While part-time work positively affects students’ financial well-being and helps add additional ‘colours’ to their resume, many of the part time jobs available to students are not related to their field of study. Hence, by the time they graduate, many students are lacking in industry and profession-specific work experience.

Of course, we cannot blame students for choosing such unrelated jobs as the employment system in their field possess some boundaries that cannot be breached. Medical students cannot work as part time doctors, or engineering students cannot work as part time engineers.

However, the situation differs for design students. They can actually work as designers while pursuing their full-time study in college or university. The nature of design work in real-world is basically imitated in design education.

The students produce design pieces similar to those of professional designer. While their work may differ from a quality point of view, there are many design pieces produced by design students which are not easily differentiated from the ones made by professionals. The qualities of any design piece is in fact, subjective.

Herein lies an opportunity for companies and students. Big companies may be adamant on achieving the highest quality design piece, hence, the need to hire top professionals. But the use of design for communication and marketing tools such as posters, flyers, company logo and so on are not restricted only to big companies.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) also need to pay more attention to the importance of having a good design to boost the company’s products and services in the eye of their customers even if they cannot afford high professional costs. For them, freelance designers can provide the solutions.

One of the most commonly cited reasons for the SMEs to pay little attention to design pieces is the service cost even though most of them acknowledge its marketing benefits. More often than not, the fees that SMEs owners need to fork out for a good design piece is unexplainably high.

Other than service cost, a design piece needs to be sustained and maintained and this also involves a certain amount of fees which may seem unreasonable for small companies. A website, for example, needs maintenance and regular updating of information which demand the need to hire a person equipped with the specific technical skills. Without a doubt, this comes with a cost that might exceed the SME owners’ operating cost.

Fortunately, this dilemma of marketing versus budget can be solved quite easily. The solution is in hiring design students who possess the ability to produce design pieces similar to those designed by professionals. Generally, the SMEs owners only need to have a simple and basic design for their businesses.

There are a lot of design students in Kuching who are eager for such opportunity to provide their design services to clients. Both parties can benefit from the partnership as design students’ service charges are not as expensive as fully qualified professionals, and the quality put together by design students are good enough for simple marketing purposes. Some students may also be able to produce complex design pieces such as mobile apps.

Furthermore, producing a design piece for their clients will develop the students’ portfolio which can be used as references for future employment. Design students who actively produce design pieces for clients are well respected by their fellow students and lecturers. This can definitely help build or boost the students’ self-confidence and encourage them to do better.

SMEs owners should give design students the opportunity to help them with their design needs. These young, creative and ambitious designers may pleasantly surprise you.

Raja Sharil Azhar bin Raja Abdillah is a design lecturer from the Faculty of Business, Design and Arts at Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus. He can be reached via email at sabdillah@swinburne.edu.my.