The Malaysian Designer Survival Kit (What You Need To Know)


Getting a job here as a designer can be very easy because the fact is that Malaysian designers are mostly UNDERPAID. While most think we, designers are glamorous, stylish at work, go out to the party, only little aware the circumstances that creative people have to go through to make one single design work for them and sell to their clients. They work under constant pressure. Above all, many local designers are clueless about their future plans and direction. This is because some of them are blinded by influences that do not benefit them financially, to gain fame or popularity, paying too much attention of the number of ‘fans’ or followers who like your post instead of improving skills and gain as many experiences. Before we start the basic survival kit, let’s see what’s our current concern among designers, client and our country itself.

What others deceive designers and freelancers?

  1. Produce killer portfolio.
  2. Gain more clients. If you have Nike or Adidas in your list, you are already a mega-star designer but most unaware that some of these ‘branded’ clients are the worst paymasters.
  3. Open a design studio so you’ll be a cool design entrepreneur. But you forgot that you need a strong business management to operate your business. You need to be good at administration management so that you could deal with the SSM or DBKL/MBSA regulation on signage that would possibly disrupt your studio’s ‘branding’.
  4. They teach you techniques & skills. Learn HTML5, etc but they don’t teach you about trademarking your works, implementing copyright and intellectual property to your work. (They don’t tell you to watermark your work)
  5. Most designers put list of awesome branded clients in their online portfolio to impress people yet not all aware that these designers work under agencies which the CEO, or MD, the CD or the account director was the ones who pitched and awarded with the project. Some designers happen to proclaim other people’s work by misleading the work’s credit (you don’t get the account under your own belt from the beginning).


What you should know about the designers here:


  1. They have an amazing skills and techniques and they are able to adapt a lot of design style.
  2. Asian designers are so talented but they also love to copycat other design style, hence no personal style or identity created. Everyone wants to be somebody they adore, not want to be for who they are.
  3. Don’t like to step out of their shell to learn other field (Graphic Designer to Flash or Print, DTP, 3D, Architecture, Photography, etc)
  4. They make commercial work too personal, and once their design had been rejected, they whine like a baby. (Business IS business, attach NO emotional/personal feeling to work. Unless you work with clients who required emotional intelligence)
  5. They do what they like, NOT what the client want (Remember the ‘Missing Cat’ Design Poster case?)
  6. Our designers have a big problem in communication skills; none can understand a brief or misunderstood them. So they produce work that is self-indulge.
  7. Ignorant to understand the current economic situation in this small industry
  8. Lavish spending on unnecessary possession or things that does not contribute to future investment (i.e. RM1,500 worth of designer’s toy or a Nike shoe)
  9. Too greedy in project ownership, NO teamwork or team effort (it’s always ‘I’ instead of ‘We’). An Art Director or CD usually like to take full credit instead of appreciating their team’s effort. (I had experience this myself back in those days).
  10. Mostly don’t bother about design competition, creative gathering, design conference, exhibition and claim there’s no support from the small industry. If they do attend one design conference, its a big deal for them. When a person won a competition, everyone would anticipate on post-mortem such as ‘yeah, he should’ve not won the 1st prize because the artwork doesn’t make sense’, or ‘that conference sucks’.
  11. Usually the ones in the advertising would barely participate in creative conferences; because they are too busy with datelines or just being ‘double standard’ to mix around with the underdog (non-famous) designers/creative individuals.
  12. Most Malaysian designers refuse to accept constructive criticism. They just like to hear what they want to hear. They love compliment and felt threaten and hostile when someone show them a weak spot.
  13. Other countries recognize our talent more than the local due to less awareness & appreciation
  14. Malaysian designers are mostly insecure about others achievement & success. They just couldn’t get enough of what they posses. Then someone put one initiative, they just felt unsupportive and always look out for weaknesses.
  15. Most of the designers here don’t have an organized portfolio nor a website
  16. Instead of learning, they spend too much time on social networking sites that does not improvise their skill
  17. They bother nobody except for themselves & expect others to treat them as superstars (or taikor) = DIVA
  18. Above all, most of them are underpaid



What you should know about Malaysian clients:


  1. Huge gap of understanding art and design process (thinking). They thought designers use wizard or plugin to create work in seconds.
  2. Most client who appointed vendor entrusted them to develop creative campaign, but because they, client, don’t understand the nature of creative process, they are either left behind or not aware about it. Hence, vendors could take advantage of timeline and charges. There are clients who pay RM5k to produce amazing TVC but there’s also a client who pays RM50,000 for a TVC but produce lousy-crappy ad even far worst than montages.
  3. There are some amazing clients you can brag about, who understand design process and respect creativity and it’s price tag. But you don’t get that everyday.
  4. Clients would thought design is easy to execute and cheap. They don’t question if they spend RM5,000 to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag but question if designers quote them RM500 for a mock design.
  5. Everyone thought design worth below RM1,000 and for a logo design, they think building their corporate identity or brand cost only RM100. That’s why their brand are so cheap.
  6. Malaysian clients have this attitude of ‘no, I have some design sense, let me put some ideas into it’ instead of trusting designers capability & ability to provide a solution.
  7. They felt they needed to be too superior and vendors or people like us should worship them due to their megalomaniac attitude.
  8. Most of the creative campaign is injected with personal agenda; politics or just to impress boss to get promoted
  9. They don’t understand a lot of things, especially when it comes to technology and backend. They thought technology is too simple & too easy that they thought purchasing a dedicated hosting is cheap.
  10. Most local client fear of putting an upfront payment to designers so that they can flee/run away from paying when their stakeholders cancelled the project.
  11. It’s all about 3rd party engagement. Usually the case of government contractors sub-con. to small/ SME companies to cut down the cost and profit to their own pocket.
  12. The ‘Ask For Quotation’ clients. Usually, in any large company/agency, the finance department will require 3 quotations from vendors (us). Usually, they just ask for quotation to be submitted to them, but the project had never been awarded. I encourage those who ask for a quotation, we charge them RM100 because costing requires research & time to do it. We’re not Xerox copy machine who can produce according to your demand.
  13. Malaysian clients love the idea of putting entertainment element in their work ‘to sell’. They think young/teen people would love it but eventually, us, adult who have profession are the actual one who will buy their product.
  14. Clients are most conscious about the regulation in Malaysia’s censorship. It makes our creative process a hassle. Last time, Government agencies are forbidden to wear anything that resembles to rival political parties, such as Green, Sky Blue, Red, or have imagery of rocket, rounded shape, moon and such.


What you don’t know what the Government and other groups are doing:


  1. Government DO give out grants and funding for creative entrepreneurs. MOSTI and along other government agencies give out creative grant each year. But most Malaysian don’t bother and ALWAYS blame the government for not doing enough. Actually, it is us who are not doing enough to improve ourselves because we don’t want to take responsibility and always have someone to blame.
  2. We, non-profit organisation or individual collective, design associations throw free conference, free seminars, invited top notch speakers from all over the world. We put 3 days creative conference for just RM300 but still people whine about it, but they don’t whine if they spend RM300-500 for a bottle of liquor/whisky/beer and then get drunk & barf on their way back home.
  3. There’s a lot of art bazaars, it takes two place to give the best example; Arts for Grabs at The Annexe Central Market, and Bazaar Seni in National Art Gallery. In fact, each year we have events like Urbanscapes. But Malaysian make ticket a big deal. They still can’t afford to pay RM35 for a ticket. Everything want for free. We are not talking about students who can’t afford. Professional who thinks the tickets are expensive are just cheapskate.
  4. NGO host a lot of art events and call up volunteers. We see volunteers came all the way from Singapore, Australia, United Kingdom BUT Malaysian don’t bother to offer their expertise to contribute in helping the orphanage or youth to give impact in that creative awareness.
  5. Government host a lot of open-tenders and pitch but the first thing Malaysians would think of is assuming about the ‘ah, tak dapat sebab kita bukan Melayu’. Apparently, those non-bumi who tried get awarded with many projects. Please, it’s so last decade to put racial-barriers and assuming things with such prejudice. If you don’t trust your talent and capability, stop doing what you dream to do and do other things besides creative.
  6. There’s a lot of collective groups and associations formed up to help give designers and creative people platform to promote their works and other types.

(The list to add more upon feedback and comments) 

So what are the basic survival kit?

  1. HAVE at least a diploma or a degree in selected field. If you don’t, make sure you’re a hard-work-self-taught-designer to impress them with your experience and let your work speak it’s volume, not your appearance. If you only depend on PMR and SPM, you have small chance to work based on the employment rates, there are many jobless Malaysians own diploma and degree and if you don’t have similar traits, you’re unlikely to be hired. Remember, Malaysia standard working requirements is all about qualification. Unless you are lucky and have huge talent in producing creative works.
  2. Learn as much knowledge and skills possible from the internet to gain wide technique, skills and knowledge. Visit, Photoshop tutorials, etc.
  3. Make sure you get headhunted if you’re good. If you’re not good, improve your skills and portfolio to get recognised. Hanging out with famous designers do not secure your establishment.
  4. Learn your rights. Most companies don’t cover your insurance because they want to run away from it, especially EPF and income tax responsibilities. Learn about Employers Act 1955
  5. Forecast at least a 5-year career milestone on how you want to achieve yourself. Always have long term goals.
  6. Make sure your insurance is covered in a company so that if any health problem occurs, you have an insurance.
  7. Attend creative functions and events to keep yourself notable and mix around to trade experiences
  8. Avoid participating on design forum (those phpBB or Facebook group). 99% Design forum have so much negative that influence you to be more insecure about yourself and prejudice for your working environment have seen I seen so many designers from forum who could not settle for less. These people are kids and like to inject ‘weird’ idea to provoke people to hate due to career failure or fail to gain fame or profit-making.
  9. Seek career advice from experience people, lecturers who have hands-on experience as a professional designer and not from certain lecturers* or your colleague who’s lack of conviction in giving the best solution in shaping your career forward.
  10. Have pride in your work: respect your ability to create wonders, even if you felt inferior. Be motivated and don’t question or doubt yourself. When you love yourself and love your work, people will also love you.
  11. Trust your instinct and be firm in your decision. Don’t get influence easily by others when it comes to decision-making.

How to get a free online portfolio?

Register at . Check out (see how short this URL was given!) to see how you can sort out your portfolio, get constructive feedback and study on the statistic of people’s view to their favourite style of work that you had published online. From there, you will learn and continue develop other greater style for a greater creative impact.

Hope this article helps and profit your knowledge for positivity.

* Notice: (updated 24/1/2017), certain lecturers means they have no industrial background and experiences but merely academic studies based on survey conducted and does not perform actual task as a designer.

* This article was originally posted via on 30 July 2010.