In any fast-evolving new industry there will always be broader scope for those with creative talents and entrepreneurial flair. The risks are greater but so are the room for personal development and the opportunities to build a ground-breaking business. If you are the type who prefers to work without someone else's rules and can find your own path to success, the sense of satisfaction can be enormous.
Kelly Sze, director - creative of Eureka Digital Limited, remembers having just this experience. "We were the first batch of people engaging in interactive design and we had no formal training for it," he says.
Starting out as a graphic designer, Mr Sze set up his own company in 1994 and later established a separate company with his partners to get started in the interactive design business, without really knowing what lay ahead. "I thought we would be doing something like computer games," he recalls.
He attributes the way things have turned out to fortunate coincidence and believes the awards he has won in competitions organised by the Hong Kong Designers Association also encouraged him to specialise in this field. "It's impossible for anyone to know everything so I told myself I should become a specialist," he explains.
"We have to understand the full objectives of the project and decide which elements and functionality should be put on the website"
Transforming from traditional graphic designer into an interactive designer was tough. Much was learned by trial and error. "There was no blueprint for running such a new business and nobody has any rules for designers taking on management responsibilities," he says.
From Mr Sze's perspective, interactive design is a distinct new discipline and he advises newcomers to be willing to learn and change. New technology means that things can change rapidly, he admits. "Interactive design is a more appropriate term than web design to describe our work because it involves more than building websites. Online banking and many promotions emphasise interaction and need a good user interface."
Staff at Eureka Digital mainly specialise in developing websites, CD-ROMs, brand marketing and creating user interfaces. While website and CD-ROM projects may be one-offs, the other two areas provide on-going work.
Planning is the first and most important step, says Mr Sze. "We have to understand our clients' needs. For example, a corporate website contains not only "about us" and "contact us" information. We have to understand the full objectives of the project and decide which elements and functionality should be put on the website," he says.
Implementation, design and launch of the website then follow. To maintain an up-to-date website is an on-going process requiring careful planning ahead. Objectives are set at the start of each year and new functions and features added when necessary. A well-planned project always achieves better results than rushed efforts which mistakenly try to save time and money.
As Eureka Digital targets the international market, Mr Sze emphasises the importance of language skills. "Most projects we handle are promoted internationally so proficiency in English is crucial," he notes.
Good communication skills are equally vital because, in interactive design, everything is teamwork. In large projects, the designers will deal with many different parties and must communicate well with clients and all those involved.
As large companies have now educated their customers to accept the use of interactive media, which was originally a means of cutting costs, Mr Sze expects to see rapid growth in the industry. While very positive about future developments, he believes, however, that recruitment will be a problem because there are relatively few experienced interactive designers in the business.
He feels that the multi-media courses offered in Hong Kong are not practical. "Their training in multi-media doesn't turn students into instant experts. What they learn is not what we want," he notes.
When hiring, he prefers experienced candidates who are specialists in either programming or design. He admits it is difficult for fresh graduates to enter the industry as employers will always pick experienced staff before a newcomer even if their salary is a bit higher. Computers and software cost a lot and, therefore, employers prefer to recruit those with hands-on experience, he says.
Design is more than drawing pictures and interactive design requires designers to understand their clients' needs and objectives and formulate solutions which achieve the best results, Mr Sze concludes.
Mr Sze says that he is not too familiar with the situation in mainland China although he has several key clients located there. He has made understanding and exploring the China market his number one priority as he thinks China is where the true potential of interactive media can be realised. "They are embracing and adopting this new communication means with open arms because of the vast extent of the country. It will be interesting to see what they can come up with and if they can catch up with what we are doing in Hong Kong!" Mr Sze not only welcomes the challenges but also sees this as the future of the industry.