Why is our creative sector, particularly the design industry not thriving? As much as there could be an array of reasons for this, I believe what we lack as Batswana creatives is a cohesive industry availing collaborative platforms and interaction for individuals and creative disciplines with contrasting talents and determination
For an industry in this case, by any means would be an active and organized action of creatives and enterprises. The creative industry in Botswana is not really refined to be actually defined as an industry. It is made up of a number of role players among them the following -1. hundreds freelancers who are mainly unemployed graduates still struggling to get a nine to five job, 2. A fragmented collection of small locally-owned agencies and 3. One or two advertising network agencies. These all operate separately and in silos. Why is our creative sector, especially the design industry not thriving? There are many varying reasons for this. What we lack is a cohesive creative industry availing collaborative platforms and interaction for individuals and creative disciplines with contrasting talents and determinations.
Design is education
Wherever there is a thriving Creative Industry, there seems to be a progressive design education program. Skills and knowledge-based economies are a consequential translation of a thorough design curriculum that aims to produce creative thinkers and problem-solvers in contrast to simply technically savvy individuals. Often times, I have had the benefit of meeting students and graduates of Design education from local institutions presenting their portfolios looking for work, and it’s evident that our design schools are mostly concerned with the teaching of how to master the tool and following technique rather than encouraging process, methods and pursuing interest.
We are not innovative, because we are not thinkers; and we need to understand that innovation is a creative thinking process more than it is a design execution. We can build world-class innovation hubs and creative centres, but if our core design education and training is ignorant to the demands of society and does not embed our own cultural aesthetics and functions into our built environment, it is pointless. We will continuously be looking for solutions to problems that we don’t fully comprehend, and sometimes to problems that don’t even exist. The education and methods of our educators also need to be interrogated, to see how are they are evolving to overcome varied complex design challenges of students not only in the classroom, but also in the real world. This will also solve this crisis of students coming out of institutions not only badly prepared but also clueless on how to function in the industry. It is given that no Design school will teach everything; actually it shouldn’t, but one still feels that the output of our design education system is greatly mis-matched with the needs of the market. Graduating students have no actual insight into how the industry functions. Young creatives are fixated on the craftsmanship of design and they are greatly subjugated under its aesthetics more than its problem-solving function. Don’t get me wrong, the core craft skill in any design discipline is essential if not critical, but I don’t think most local creatives understand the need for socially-relevant problem solving design, and how the sphere of influence of design expands when it reaches people who would normally exist outside of it. We have an array of opportunities that we miss as a developing country; to think and design on matters of sustainable environments, community education, and alternative solutions to social issues.
Design is Society
The relevance of design is greatly missed when it is deeply exclusive and understood only by people who create it. Our work is greatly detached from the community and the society it’s supposed to exist in. Even in its most commercial form, it does not connect. It is made mainly to interest the client and please the self, and mostly it lacks in its own impression and has no profound-ness to it. Generally, I believe our work is unidentifiable and ignorant of our own cultural reference and style. It’s even harder to pinpoint exactly where our work is borrowing from as far as inspiration is concerned. You look around; South African advertising and film is unmistakable, Kenyans’ ethnicity in their Fashion Design cannot be missed, and the influence of contemporary Nigerian comics is undeniable. Only if we start to be conscious of ourselves and reference ourselves in our design can we have some authority over our work. It does not grow the industry for designers to exist in isolation and silo the way they operate. As much as there is a need for collaborative platforms for creatives, designers should not have this misplaced belief that they need to indulge only in design-related material and only interact with other designers to draw inspiration. Self indulgence with one’s own craft makes one forget that we don’t design for designers. Interest in matters of science, technology, literature, music, food, finance, law, engineering etc will make one a better designer than any design book would. It helps for creatives to derive insights from multiple perspectives to refine skill, knowledge, experience, behavior and work ethic.
Design is Business
Creativity adds value and benefit to every business sector; from service industries to manufacturing, but do we know the true value of the creative sectors to the economy of Botswana? How is it measured and compared to other industries? Are creatives at liberty to fairly value their talent and price their work? Everywhere you look, bad design is the order of the day. Some people say that perhaps the clients deserve that kind of work, since there is really no demand of standard from clients. Some would opine that there is no decent standard because creatives are largely under-valued and underpaid. The truth is design is not only undervalued but also greatly misunderstood. Clients under-stand what it is for themselves and deal with designers with that understanding, and this is compounded by the fact that there is no definite valuing model for design work. This is the reason a client will set a price for work that has to be done by the designer. Generally, Botswana business does not see creativity as a key factor of their business. Some clients simply wont be earger to pay to the true worth of exceptional creative work. The client has no interest in great work but is looking for the cheapest designer he can get. His concern is not what value the work brings to his business, but how little he can spend on the designer. The designer will submit to selling cheap just to get the job and in turn commit the least possible thinking and work effort into the project. And this is the norm that sets the value and standard of the industry. These are the challenges facing the design and creative industries sector in the country.