Most Asian designers say industry is hard to crack

Asian designers struggle for recognition and the industry is missing out on business opportunities by not accessing multi-cultural creative talent, says Mayor Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Authority.

A report, released last week, describes the design community as ‘being very tight, with big designers invariably being white’. Aspiring Asian designers face real barriers in getting their ideas accepted in an industry which ‘appears slow to accept cultural diversity’, it adds.

According to the GLA, Asians comprise 12 per cent of London’s population, but only 6 per cent of employees in its creative industries.

Plus One Design founder and creative director Amulya Baruah agrees with the findings. He says 75 per cent of the group’s business is abroad and attributes this to several factors including limited sales and marketing resource and his reluctance to free pitch. But, he says, race is a consideration.

‘It can be difficult to find work in the UK and I’m not sure of all the reasons why. But sometimes the colour you are does play a part, although people don’t want to talk about it,’ says Baruah.

Fitch London business development manager Ruth Mark-Roland agrees race can be an issue. She says design is a ‘very closed market’ and this is reflected in ‘the limited number of Asian people in design’.

‘It’s a white corporate sector that does not regard Asians well and breaking into [the industry] is very hard,’ she says.

But Digit creative director Daljit Singh disagrees. ‘My own experience has been that it doesn’t make any difference. I’ve certainly not encountered prejudice based on colour.’

Both Singh and Mark-Roland attribute part of the problem to cultural norms and say Asian parents traditionally encourage their children to professional roles like doctors and accountants.

But Mark-Roland feels the industry and industry bodies could do more and advocates a more proactive approach, particularly by industry bodies.

‘There should be an Asian emphasis to [industry bodies’ work], to understand the issues and help communicate those issues to employers,’ she says.

The report also claims design groups are missing business opportunities because of a lack of multi-culturalism, particularly in countries like India and China.

‘Asian economies as a whole represent one of the most prosperous and exciting economic regions in the world [and] Asian communities have a direct link into the region,’ the report asserts.

Some groups have started to see the benefits of a multi-cultural approach. Product design group Frazer Designers is collaborating with Plus One Design on a project for the Indian market.

‘[Baruah] finds the business opportunities out there and understands clients and builds relationships. He also interprets the brief for us and we then design to that brief,’ explains Frazer Designers director Jonathan Knight.

Knight says the market offers real potential, but would have been difficult to penetrate without local knowledge and expertise.

‘We’re now working in market, which, if we’d gone out there on our own, would have been a long uphill struggle – getting that first job and building up trust,’ he says.

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