Fariz Ghazali, ASWARA

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As part of the effort to ICAD Design Days to stimulate deeper discussions with the design community on the nature of being a design professional and the values of our work as a collective, we reached out to various industry practitioners and stakeholders, seeking their perspectives on a series of thought-provoking questions on current issues in relation to the core values professionalism.

Fariz Ghazali, Dean, Faculty of Animation and Multimedia at ASWARA shares his thoughts with us.

 

What should the relationship between the academia and the industry be? How are we able to bridge the gap between what the academia is producing and what the industry is demanding (skills/traits/attitude, etc.)?

This issue have been around and discussed a lot. Especially within the Creative Industry where software move fast and are expensive. MDEC even had a discussion session on this in 2017.

Let me first explain the situation. Basically the industry is saying that academia is not producing students (fresh grads) who can hit the ground running. Students come in not well verse with the software and sometimes have no knowledge in certain software. Students are not multitasking enough. So what happens is the industry have to put in more months to train these students. When a company invests to train these new students, they spend time and money. These trained students will then move on to another company after a year, leaving the former company in a loss. They have yet to see their RoI return of investment from the trained students. They can always bind the students with contract but the main point is, industry have to re-train them.

There are also arguments that the syllabus that is being constructed consists of subjects that are not related to design.
Too little time allocated with each subjects.
Lecturers do not have industry experience.
Not being focus to one particular expertise.

I can say that, at an extreme level, the industry are looking down at academia by saying ‘you are not doing anything’

This argument are being strengthen by the students themselves. They feel they learn more in 6 months internship than they did in 3 years of university. But these students forgot that when they came into the university they didn’t know the difference between a hard drive and a motherboard. And when they go into the industry, they have actually have the basic, the jargons right, the understanding firm and a fairly good knowledge on the industry.

The academia on the other hand is also stating that they have to teach a little of this and that. They can’t focus on just one thing. The students have higher chance of surviving being jack of all trade. Lecturers have to write, do research and admin work. Sitting at your desk polishing your animation skills on the computer is not seen as working.

All these being said, the academia and the industry is now working closer together so to produce students relevant to the demands. What used to be just a final assessment relationship, industry panels are now involved a lot more in Universities. From the initial construction of the syllabus, taking part as advisory members and board members to the faculty, giving talks and involving in certain special projects. The relationship goes up even to the Kementerian’s level. Reps are being called up for discussions. This frequent working together have create better learning experience for the students. It also elevates respect in each others work. The gap between academia and the industry is closing.

I believe that should the government allows more academic freedom and institutional autonomy, the gaps should even be narrow. Nevertheless there should be a gap – universities is never been a place to produce workers, to start with.

 

What does “multidisciplinary” mean to you? In your practice/industry, do you think it is more important to be a “generalist” or a “specialist”, and why?

I am a man who is lucky enough to be in both the industry and the academic world. I came in to the creative industry through the post production job working as an animator. That was in year 2000-ish. I would like to refer to those years as the post golden years of the production / advertising era. In the 1990s the advertising world was blooming. The economy itself was booming. Directors do not art direct, nor do they edit. Camera man do not handle the lights, producers don’t double up as graphic artist. Everybody has a specific job to do and it was done professionally with passion. People were specialist in their own field.

Things were very precise that you can actually find (film) editors whose expertise is in automobiles – he specialize in car advertisements. You can find directors which is brilliant with happy, big and bright advertisements. You need an ‘expensive look’ there’s another guy.

Those were the days where you can find a production company that only produce, an equipment company, an editing company, a post production company and a sound studio. Which today, most company are able to do all under one roof.

So there was a time that people were specialist. And when the economic crisis hit, those specialist were forced to be a generalist. They learned new skills to survive. Especially those newly grads that came into the industry. They (we) have to be able to do anything from graphic to animation to editing and photography. We multitask. But as the saying goes, Jack of all trades is a master of none.

As from what I see, a generalist will suit a company nicely. You will be a great asset to a company if you are a generalist. But to survive as a freelancer, or to make a name for yourself, you need to be a specialist. I know somebody who refuse to do storyboarding job, although he can draw quick and precise. He wants to be known as an illustrator and a concept artist. Now, he even takes his trade internationally.

 

How has your industry incorporated ethical practices, if there are any? Do you think ethical responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the artist/designers or the client, or both?

In my industry, as an educator, ethical practice is of course a must. We do things according to rules, regulations and we have to be fair to all.

Ethical responsibility should be shouldered by both the artist and the clients. (By everybody actually) But the one who calls the shot should carry the bigger burden.

 

Are the nature of awards and competitions still relevant today and why?

Reality show was something being introduced early in the 2000s. It was designed so that audience can participate in the show. They could vote by sending in SMS. Producers make money and audience loves it. They play a part of selecting the winners.

By 2010s the social media skyrocketed in popularity. Competition held online includes netizens’ vote, which complements professional judges choice. Some will be 50-50 decided by judges and netizens. A few established awards joins in the bandwagon by having a people’s choice award added. Despite the popularity, experts points out that the winners are being voted out of popularity, not based on skills. No guided and formatted judging and they are being evaluate by audience of amateurs.

During the same time, online awards also started to become popular. Take a look at the film and animation awards. Hundreds of these kind of awards are there on-line. Some, almost begging for entries. I have even came across a monthly film award. Although these awards and competitions have a panel of juries and a proper judging guidelines, it lacks transparency. It has no physical event and could properly be organised by one person.

Both these formats, judged by jury and judged by audience, has it pro and cons. I am more incline to a competition judge by the mass audience. Although ‘unprofessional’ these are your actual audience. So going back to the question, yes, to me awards and competition is still relevant.

 

What do you think is important for the arts practitioners/designers of the future to think about and challenge?

Photographers are almost extinct today. With the advancement of mobile phone technology, photography is something everybody can do. Film is fast becoming more a ‘public property’ Animation should be next on the line.

In the digital world, skills being honed over the years could simply be taken over by a plug in, a 3rd party software or even a drop down menu. What was something delicate and skillful last year could be done with just a few clicks today.

Website designer is not a job anymore. It was lucrative at the start of the century. Within 10 years it was kicked out by a more efficient, user friendly drag and drop software. Things does not only more faster and cheaper, it is more user-friendly and easily accessible. The ever changing and fast moving world of digital design means society could end up with no professional designers in the future. Graphic design, desktop publishing, logo design could be easily done with algorithm and AI. AI is not a machine. It doesn’t do repetitive job, rather it thinks, innovates and adapts.

These challenges are not something to think about, rather it is already here. Art academy could be irrelevant in the near future. The way I see it, we designers, artists, lecturers have to stay relevant by not being monotonous. Keep moving. Be relevant. And you have got to keep learning. And what we are trading is our skills. We are doing business in some ways. And business is all about networking and marketing – a human factor that AI could not (or have not) develop. So, artist, designers and lecturers have to interact. Talk to people. Adapt to needs and requirements. A one size fits all degree is going to die soon.

However scary the changes may seems, we have to see it as something positive and embrace the technology instead of opposing it.