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  • Ian Dan Mari

Why We Need More Diversity in Singapore's Design Industry



The work behind Singapore's 2016 Televised Rally


The date is August 22nd 2016, and the world is watching Singapore's Head Of State up on stage, preparing to make his annual address at The Institute of Technical Education in Ang Mo Kio, Singapore. Running a televised National Day rally isn't a one-man show. Lee Hsein Loong––Singapore's Prime Minister since 2004, has been hosting the Rally ever since and the exhaustion of his premiership seems to be getting the best of him this evening. The world watches as he stops himself during the speech, fixes his gaze onto the audience who draws a collective gasp as he faints right in front of them.


The crowd sits in a moment of uncomfortable silence as Singapore's Defence Minister, Ng Eng Hen, and 4 other reputable men rush onto the stage to attend to him. Unlike the crowd, Rachael Lum, a freshly new graduate from Nanyang Polytechnic School of Digital Media, watches the event unfold through a screen, in one of the green-rooms situated behind the principal stage the prime minister was making his speech from.


Rachael had received the prestigious Lee Hsien Loong Award the same year thus, worked on the PowerPoint slides for the Rally. However, she prefers to speak of the many other accomplishments she has achieved since then. As she sits backstage amid the peril, staff from the Prime Minister's office dash past her looking for a medical officer.


At every level of her career, she exceeds expectations. Despite graduating with a near-perfect GPA––placing first in her class and cohort–– Rachael gives the school-system, she describes as partially-flawed, credit to her academic success but also to the failures of her other peers.


"Schools focus on students who will improve the reputation of the school itself. Hence, all the energy is focused on better students while others who need help are occasionally neglected".


Though her opinions on the school system are not exclusively her own, she displays a heightened reluctance to challenge the bias. even as she matures into her career.


"The favouritism brought discomfort to me–– I just didn't know how to explain it," Rachael says as she reminisces her time in her alter matter.



However, she soon learned to reconcile with this missed opportunity by actively encouraging social diversity and equality in her team and through her work. The hegemonic disparity in the design community is indisputable and too blatant to ignore. Rachael speaks of a more inclusive community poignantly with intelligence, affirmation, and grit–– qualities likened to activists and optimists.


"It's important to have diverse perspectives—racially diverse teams. It is because as designers, we have a social responsibility to paint an accurate representation of our culture and society. When we leave them(minorities) out, whether consciously or unconsciously, we leave a whole part of our social fabric hence our true identity," she says.


Several months ago, working alongside other designers, Rachael felt uncomfortable with creative feedbacks by a client that demanded white skin-tones for the renders she was working on. The client sought a neutral stance on the matter, explaining that they do not see race. This has become the opprobrium of our national conversation.


She explains her grief while citing an article she has come to remember.


"Instead of dismissing them, it is paramount to not only recognize and accept but to also celebrate people of different cultures".



These are real problems

On March 27th 2019, Straits Times’ reports that a study by Glassdoor finds that Singapore women, participating in the workforce earn 13% less than their men counterparts. We live in a world where women are silenced by non-disclosure agreements; a world where, according to 2019 AIGA Design Census survey, 61% of designers working today are women. Still, despite the fact, women like Rachael finds herself in uncharted waters as a junior motion designer at a small studio.


"It's hard being the only female hire in the company; the dynamic is definitely different. But

I've always been strong-headed, especially after growing up with two brothers. I've learned and do strongly believe that women are as capable as men.”


Rachael is also deeply inspired by the people she has worked with, more prominently Tereza Tan –– co-founder and executive art director of Carbon Hong Kong & Singapore, who she describes as a strong leader. In 2015, Rachael packed her creative juices and ventured into the colourful city of Hong Kong where she interned for the juggernaut company that is most familiar amongst motionographers. It was during her time at the multi-award winning studio that she came into her own— more resourceful and independent.



Her creativity is not limited by any medium


Rachael, a trained motionographer, shows her competency in illustrations. Her prolific mural illustrations, plastered on the viewing gallery of Singapore’s F1 Race 2019, was in collaboration with design agency OuterEdit, Singapore Tourism Board, and Formula 1. The languid strokes of the city’s skyline reflect Rachael’s acute attention to detail and her audacious approach to compositions.


Rachael recognizes her privilege, which is a breath of fresh air. As she speaks humbly about the current social climate and the body of work she juggles during the Covid-19 pandemic, she reflects on the lessons she has learned ––specifically about being more empathetic during this crisis.


"The design industry tends to complain a lot about clients, and there can sometimes be an 'us vs them' mentality. It is a particularly hard time for everyone, and it helps to be more understanding. Also, it helps if we nurture our relationships with our clients instead" she explains.


Rachael wholeheartedly believes that there is more work to be done–– not just on the canvas of Adobe Illustrator but the social change that goes beyond the border of an artwork.


You can discover more of Rachael's work on www.rachaellum.com



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