Designing The Country

06 April 2016

Zachary Ong is a multi-disciplined designer currently helming wREGA, the Graphic Design Association of Malaysia. He shares his thoughts on graphic design as he prepares for the global stage.

The International Council of Design or ico-D is a world organization for design professionals founded in London in 1963. Often seen as the governing body when in comes to global design standards and initiatives, ico-D consists of members worldwide and is currently helmed by Israeli David Grossman. But did you know the current President Elect is a Malaysian? We talk to Zachary Ong, and find out his dreams and aspirations leading to his term as ico-D president in 2017.

How do you feel about being the first Malaysian and the first from an ASEAN country to be selected for this role? 

It is an immense and an incredible honour to be elected into this position. It has always been my mission to make Malaysia a design powerhouse. Being President Elect and later as President naturally comes with its responsibilities which I am delighted to take on as it is absolutely aligned with making design a central and integral to Malaysia and the world, its peoples, its infrastructure and its economies.  

What will be your first actions as President Elect, and ultimately as President of ico-D? What do you wish to achieve by being in this role?

The International Council of Design consists of members across the world which happens to be the largest member-based design body in the world. My contribution as President Elect is to lead and co-develop a robust and sophisticated resource on communicating the value of design, design policy, accreditation and certification in enabling design economies for developed and developing countries. These will not only be a major resource that act as a standard guide but also eliciting real collaboration and participation from members. These will culminate to the upcoming World Design Summit in Montreal, Canada in 2017  (official Facebook page)

What do you think are the main challenges faced by the current Malaysian designer and Malaysian design in general?

I happen to think that the design climate in Malaysia is incredibly promising and we tend to naturally produce very talented, world recognized designers. In the spirit of betterment, Malaysia needs a well thought out design infrastructure that supports the growth of the design ecosystem, from government policies to design education. There are several government-led design bodies such as Majlis Rekabentuk Malaysia under the auspices of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation that needs more focus and support from central government. As much as we are able to produce talented designers, the reality is, our best talents look for better opportunities elsewhere outside Malaysia. This is a shame as designers can bring about immense value for the better. 

In your opinion, is good design relevant and appreciated by the majority of Malaysians? Is there a market for it?

We need to look at the future of the next 10 to 20 years and ask ourselves this question. The precursor to the answer would be, what are the primary focus of developed countries in the world today? There has been a major trend in a concerted and deliberate effort from majority of developed countries in pushing the design agenda at a national scale. China is moving from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Designed in China.’ Singapore produced its robust national design blueprint which started in 2007. In all accounts, Malaysia is behind in this race. Aligned with achieving the developed status nation, design must play an integral role.

You are also currently the president for wREGA, the Graphic Design Association of Malaysia. What are some of the roles and challenges faced by wREGA today, and what are your plans for it?

I echo our first President of wREGA, William Harald-Wong in that the majority of Malaysian designers are not exposed internationally. It is wREGA’s duty as a national body to uplift the standards of graphic design of Malaysia and to better the industry in its relevant facets. in 2013, wREGA with the assistance of David Berman of RGD Ontario, Canada, launched wREGA’s Code of Professional Conduct for graphic designers. This Code acts as a guide for ethical professional practice and is available for download in wREGA’s website for free. In continuation to that, wREGA is now spearheading the certification of graphic designers. wREGA’s mission is to uplift the profession to become as relevant and as equal as accountants, engineers and lawyers. In 2015, we have successfully made an agreement with Ministry of Human Resources under the National Occupational Skills Standards to co-certify graphic designers in order to be certified to practice. We are at a very new and exciting intersection. We expect this effort to last for many years to come and I urge all Malaysian graphic designers to take part and be a member of wREGA and reap its full benefits.

Where does Malaysian design stand in relation to the fast-paced world of international design?

We must look at Malaysia beyond Vision 2020. Malaysia has many steps to take to be on par internationally. The good news is, the opportunity to begin is ready for Malaysia at any time. Ideally, we want to see Malaysia ranked in the top 5.

By Irman Hilmi
Photos by Irman Hilmi


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