Career Path

A life of hard knocks and success

by Gerry Xavier

Graphic Designer
Freeman Lau
Kan & Lau Consultants

A graphic designer with more than 20 years' working experience and winner of over 200 overseas and local design awards, Mr. Freeman Lau pulls no punches when he talks about his profession.

"Don't attempt it (graphic art), if you haven't the passion for it, or the patience, or the humility," he warns.

The pay is low, the work is hard and there is so much you have to learn in the commercial world that is not taught in school. "It's a fulfilling profession and very rewarding, but only if you truly love it," he says.

International reputation

Kan & Lau Design Consultants, of which Mr. Freeman Lau is a Partner, is one of Hong Kong's top graphic communications design consultancies set up in 1976. Founder Kan Tai-keung is a renowned artist and designer, and Mr. Lau was attracted to the opportunity to work with him.

" It's a fulfilling profession and very rewarding, but only if you truly love it "

After his graduation from the Hong Kong Polytechnic as a graphic designer, he joined the company. Lau explains: "In school, I had read many books about design, particularly those written by Kan Tai-keung. I was greatly impressed and influenced by him.

"I joined his firm as a junior designer and, after seven years, became his partner. We have been working together for 20 years since then. He taught me a lot, and I am ever grateful to him."

Having won numerous international awards over the years, the company has become internationally known and is frequently mentioned in design magazines around the world.

Kan Tai-keung was named one of the world's top designers by IDEA, the world's second oldest design magazine, and Mr. Lau was chosen as "Artist of the Year" in 1997. His other awards in art and design were won in cities across the globe, including Leipzig in Germany, New York, Moscow, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Mr. Lau is a renowned artist and is particularly well known of his installations. His works of fine art are included in private collections as well as museum collections in Hong Kong and Italy.

Perseverance and learning

Mr. Lau points out that only a few graphic designers make it to the top of the profession. The chief reason for this is their lack of perseverance. Advancement is slow and there are hurdles galore. It's a life of hard knocks, he says.

Freeman advises students to inform themselves about the work place well before they leave school.

"Don't just look in the newspaper for a job after graduation. You should already know something about the studios offering the jobs, whether or not they have a good art director and whether you will be able to learn anything by working for them."

Name and fame is not a guarantee for an environment where start-outs can really learn. Some small studios have good art directors from whom a junior designer can learn and form a strong foundation.

The first one or two jobs are very important. They can inspire and motivate the newcomer, or disillusion him or her for life. Apart from the design, one also needs to learn about the market, and marketing, and how to cater to the views and whims of clients, things a good designer has to master but are not taught in school.

Mr. Lau also cautions about high-sounding titles, which some studios offer. "It's not what you are called, but what you can do that counts."

Freeman encourages Hong Kong designers to take part in competitions. It's one way of getting ahead and of getting exposure. There are also lessons to be learned from such participation, regardless of whether you win or lose. Some of these lessons will come by way of the judges' comments.

China Opportunities

There are lots of jobs for graphic designers in China, but the pay is low, according to Mr. Lau. Chinese graphic designers are very good, says Mr. Lau, but most lack the Western touch, which an increasing number of companies - particularly the foreign investment ones - need, to get their messages across.

Monetary gains aside, China offers Hong Kong designers rich rewards. It exposes them to Chinese culture and art which they can better assimilate in China than anywhere else in the world, including Hong Kong.

China can also help Hong Kong designers "round off" their education, says Mr. Lau: "They (Hong Kong designers) already know Hong Kong and they have a certain amount of exposure to the West. A China experience will further enhance their skills."

Figures for reference only   K='000

Taken from Career Times 12 July 2002, p. 28
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