I spent last weekend at a little resort in the coastal village of Malpe, six kilometers from the temple town of Udupi in Karnataka. It was an impulsive decision- a weekend away from cities, computer screens and predictable Saturday nights at a bar.I went with a friend (also a graphic designer) and as we walked through the streets of Udupi and Malpe, we took in the brightly colored houses, each with names carefully painted in brushstrokes in the local script, the hand-painted advertisements on walls, the crude logos on shop fronts, children out for a ‘special occasion’ dressed far more elaborately than any child on a beach should be.
And like two designers thrown into a new environment, we chatted for hours about the aesthetic in towns, so far removed from our cities, about our assumptions of the middle class that in just a few hours, had been proven wrong, about design the way we know it and its relevance to the people we were surrounded by at that point- locals who were probably employed at the fisheries and government offices we’d walked past, devotees who thronged the famous Udupi Krishna Temple, waiters who’d travelled across the country to a little village hotel making Rs. 7000 a month.
As we sat at the hotel restaurant taking in the view and the cool evening breeze, the hotel manager approached us, asking what had brought us to Malpe, enquiring about what we did for a living.
And as often happens when I tell anyone I’m a designer, he sat down at our table and spoke about a project he needed a graphic designer for. Design is important, he said, in this industry. (hospitality) You need to have a good-looking card, good brochures, he said, only then will someone go to your website. …If it’s an impressive site, they might make a booking. He was starting a new venture, he said. He needed a logo. He couldn’t afford someone too expensive, but he was willing to pay ‘well.’ He spoke to us for a while about his new venture, and then I asked, What’s ‘well’? What’s not too expensive? Rs. 2000, he said, maybe even 3000.
My friend and I shared a quick amused smile. While we excused ourselves from the project with work and time commitments, I was appalled. How are people willing to pay so little for good design, I wondered. And when he asked if there was anyone we knew who’d do it, I realized no one I knew would do it for less than ten times what he was willing to pay. I didn’t think about it further at that point. My ego was bruised. I wanted to yell about the value of design and the time and thought that would go into crafting a good logo.
The next night, on the long drive back to Bangalore, I thought about it a little more. The manager paid his staff Rs. 7000 for sixteen hour days, thirty days a month. Compared to that, I could see why he thought Rs.3000 for what he thought would be just a few hours of work was decent pay. And I realized I was expecting someone to see value in something and pay for something he didn’t entirely understand.
Graphic design in India, the profession as we know it today, is relatively new. Trained designers have invested in formal design education and expect remuneration equal to that of our counterparts in other countries. We work for people who can afford us, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we leave out a massive chunk of our country. The large number of people who can’t afford to pay a designer’s fee. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why design is growing slowly in big cities, but not so much in smaller ones. It’s people who’ve taught themselves how to use software, DTP operators at small print shops who become graphic designers for the rest of the country. Which accounts, at some level for the kind of design we see in small towns- Crude, from the point of view of a trained designer, affordable and practical from the point of view of a local businessman.
It makes me wonder whether maybe, our egos come in the way of the growth of design. Whether maybe, owing to our education and our conviction in the importance of design to society, we’ve excluded a large part of the country from our little design-clique. We expect everyone to see the value we see in what we do and unquestioningly, pay for it… but have we really gone out there to try and prove it?
I’ve only been working in the industry for a year, and what I say might be a generalization. If any of you have worked for clients in Tier 2 and 3 cities in India, I’d love to know a little about your experiences with them and would really appreciate it if you shared them here, or if you preferred, over e-mail.