By Omair Faizullah

“Let’s intelligently design our future using the gift of foresight, something that never existed before brains – and for practical purposes, that means human brains – evolved. The ability to design is one of the crowning glories of our species. Bridges, planes, buildings, all sorts of ingenious contraptions. The essence of design in this true sense of the word is deliberate foresight. Human designers can look into the future and see the possible mistakes, see the possible pitfalls, try things out in imagination.”

– Richard Dawkins     

Sitting around tables one always ends up with the conversation leading to the state of affairs in Pakistan with different point of views emerging on politics, economy and who should lead the country. The one thing that everyone ends up agreeing on is the state of education. Yes, it has been established that we need to be educated en masse in order to tackle all the challenges we are faced with.

But do we have enough institutions and qualified faculty to actually disseminate education? Do we have enough qualified faculty to teach all the post-modern professions that keep cropping up all the time?

Not so long ago, when I ended up in the business of communication design, people close to me – my family, friends, relatives – upon learning that I was going into the arts, questioned my decision. It was a time when the common understanding of design did not exist for the common man. Design was associated to the advertising industry and there was no further application. There were very limited options for higher education in design and even more limited faculty to actually teach. Things are not drastically different now; the number of institutions in the country that offer quality design and communication education can be counted on the fingertips of one hand.

Let’s assume for an arbitrary moment that there are 5 major institutions that provide higher education in Design and Communication in Pakistan. Let’s assume further that each of the 5 schools produces an average of 30 graduates each year, which gives us approximately 150 design graduates each year. For the sake of this argument, lets assume that the gender ratio for the profession is 1:1 i.e. 75 boys and 75 girls (in actuality, there are far more girls enrolled in design programs than boys). Bearing in our mind the fact of impending marriage for girls post graduation, let’s assume that 50 of the girls get married and in no way utilize their profession outside of their housewife lives. So that’s 50 designers victim to the chopping block right off the bat. Out of the 100 left, approximately (and this may be a gross exaggeration) around 15 leave the country to pursue higher education and another 20 leave for Dubai to do what they do best. So that leaves us with 60 to 65 designers ready to be assimilated in the country.

Since we are on the assumption train, out of the 15 that went abroad for higher education only 10 return having spent 4 years in foreign lands and that too because they absolutely have to. Not necessarily by choice, but because they either could not find work or the scholarship they availed bound them to return and serve their homeland. These end up leaving the country as soon as the term period of their mandatory return expires.

Basic math tells us that around 60 to 70 communication designers end up serving the communications needs of a country of 185.13293 million (per the World Bank – because we are absolutely swamped with fighting terrorism and making roads to focus on this thing called the census). Within the lot, around 10 actually end up making any difference as far as work is concerned. Others end up changing professions or eventually get assimilated into their family enterprises.

Allow me to repeat that, that is 60 to70 designers having an HEC certified degree per a population of 185.13293 million people. Let’s take a minute and allow that to sink in. With the amount of advertising and communication occurring in the country presently that is an extremely dismal figure. There are simply not enough communication designers in the country.

These dismal figures prompt further questions. Do we need more communications people/designers? Yes. Of course Mr. Sherlock! Absolutely!

But do we have enough designers to actually teach designers?

That’s where it gets even murkier. Most designers, upon graduation do not really feel the desire to either teach or expand on their own craft. And when they do teach, more often than not, it is simply to fulfil an economic need. Not that that’s a judgment in any way – everyone needs the moneys to survive, but perhaps along with financial gain, there must also be pedagogy.

In order to understand the problem, we must step back a bit. I’m on the hypothetical train so bear with me on this one. There is something inherently sweet about fables.

Once, there was the very first designer in Pakistan. The very first designer went to the very first design school and learnt to make design. They taught the designer the physical aspect of design to no end. They made the color wheel, did paper collages, typography, posters, logos, campaigns and all the good stuff that you can do with your hands. But they did not really focus all that much on the theory of it all. The designer was not asked to read all that much and even less so to write out the concepts that looked so pretty on paper. The designer graduated and immediately upon graduation, was invited to teach at the same institution. It was great. The designer loved teaching and making students make pretty pictures. But because the designer was not trained to read and write, the students never learnt to do it either.

The students would sit around tables and discuss these great thoughts to no end, but would have no idea on how to document their thoughts. Thus all their valuable thoughts turned into smoke and ran away with the wind.

In time, the students of the first designer graduated, they went on to teach at other design schools and their students too would sit around tables and talk these great concepts and their thoughts too would turn to smoke and run away with the wind. Over the years, all these thoughts kept being collected in the air until it formed a great dark black cloud that kept getting bigger and bigger.

One day all the designers decided to meet and gathered in an open ground for an award show. There was much merriness and talk of great concepts. The wind stole the concepts and carried them to the dark cloud. The cloud could not take the burden of so many great concepts all at once and it started moving and blinking with lightning. It flew over onto the open ground and rained down a barrage of lightning upon the designer collective. Defenseless and exposed, all the designers were burned to tinder in seconds and there was no real design left in Pakistan anymore.

As they say – well, that escalated quickly.

It had to happen sooner or later people. But that is essentially how the design education works in the country. Both writing and research are integral components of education and neither of those are emphasized in the art and design academia.

The point of the little story above was to illustrate how design academia really works. In order for any craft to evolve, there must be intellectual discourse. Pakistan does not have a single journal that addresses design specifically. We have award shows that hand out fancy trophies to essentially the same people every year but no journals.

There is an absolute lack of critical discourse on design. And its not there, not because it doesn’t exist, but because designers are absolutely unable to articulate their thoughts to paper. Sure, you can have an enlightening discussion about fine art vs. design that can last for hours (to absolutely no conclusion) but designers are inefficient at documenting their own efforts. Not because they can’t but because they simply don’t know how to articulate.

Omair Faizullah is an Assistant Professor and heading Marketing and Communication at Habib University. Omair is a designer and strategic communication specialist he can be reached at whomair@gmail.com

 

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