Meet Joshua Alpha Buana, an architecture graduate who has made a name for himself in graphic design that’s known in Surabaya and beyond. Through his graphic design consulting bureau Architec Graphic Boutique, Joshua has won various prestigious design awards and handled large projects across the archipelago – mostly due to his hard work, as well as a depth of understanding about the connections between design and art.
PHOTO by Architec Graphic Boutique Doc.
How did you grow interested in graphic design?
Design and drawing have been my passion since I was a kid. I graduated as an architect in 1996 and I have always known that I am not the 9-to-5 kind of person, so I chose to work on my own. I began as an assistant lecturer at my alma mater, Petra Christian University, for two years and worked freelance as a graphic design tutor for a short computer course, as an interior designer and a consulting illustrator for an architecture firm. It was during the monetary crisis and many property projects were halted because of it.
What was your first professional project?
An apartment in West Surabaya called The Premier in 1997. The manager was from Singapore. I didn’t know him before taking on the project. I created a mock-up of the design and he was happy about it, but when I printed out the design, it was damaged. That was understandable because I wasn’t familiar with printing techniques then. So I had to reprint the design. Strangely, after that, he commissioned me to do some promotional items. Although I didn’t know him that well, he was the person who paved the way for me to compose my portfolio. After that I handled several considerably larger projects, which I got from the recommendations of several satisfied clients.
What’s the story behind you getting “lost”?
A friend once made a remark that I was lost on the right track. When I was working for the computer course, the owner suggested that I take a job designing some brochures, and later taught me how to calculate production costs and introduced me to a friend who ran a printing company. At that time I was completely oblivious to graphic design. The typical clients in Surabaya, when they needed to make brochures, used to go straight to the printing company. There was no such thing as a design fee. So I took my portfolio, which at that time only consisted of a church bulletin, and went around to get orders. From the 20 proposals that I gave out, only one or two paid off, and it was probably because the owners were sorry to see me. Back then I did everything in my bedroom, so when it came to meetings, I always used to see clients at their offices.
When did you start to get serious about graphic design?
Architec Graphic Boutique was established in October 1997. I set up my office at home. The company started small, without a designer staff for over 11 years. I did all of the work, from copywriting, making illustrations to pre-press supervision by myself with the help of my printing and repro house partners. Since then, Architec has maintained a small-size graphic house character by only hiring graphic designers and sometimes doing some outsourcing for the photography, copywriting and illustration works. So far we have proudly produced over 8,500 design.
How are design and art connected?
At the moment, good design is the ultimate lever – a powerful lever that we all must have, including designers, companies and clients. From the point of view of the designer, design is an intangible asset, for which we don’t have to expend any capital, except our ideas and creativity, to create a quantum leap for our business. Try comparing this with a start-up business in the form of a factory or a restaurant. For a product, design is a means to “differentiate” it from other products – and also to hike up its price amidst the price war of other similar products.
What’s your opinion on the development of graphic design in Surabaya?
It’s far more exciting these days. There is an abundance of creative talent. In this era of the creative economy; the design world –including fashion, architecture and music– has been getting more appreciation from the public. The same can be said about graphic design. Our job is to keep educating clients and the market about designs that can change our visual surroundings for the better, as well as convey the messages and identities of our clients in an elegant way.
How is technology changing the field?
Success in the design world at the moment is a combination of creative design, the ability to translate the ideas with the help of various graphic software applications, the expertise to visually present output to the clients and brilliant execution of the results. Before, a designer had to multitask. Now the profession is more specialised, all in the name of quality. Before, printed materials were a must. Now, design is moving towards the mobile/ digital era. Maybe soon, the digital portion of the profession will dominate.
Has the market for design services been changing, as well?
Competition has been really tight. You have to have a unique character and the speed to learn and explore new things, especially in the digital era. Fees tend to be lower these days. Every year, thousands of DKV [visual communications and design] graduates look for work or start their own businesses. You have to do your own positioning at the level you desire. Let me put it in simpler words: Do you want to get paid cheaply and enslave yourself to finish countless projects? Or do you want to focus on design quality and raise your standard fee, then pick your clients and seize the premium market?
We have to be the motor for other designers to appreciate themselves more and encourage them to have the audacity to compete in a healthy and professional way – which includes refusing free pitching and disproportional budget pressure from clients. What we have built collectively today will change the face of the world of design in the future. You don’t have to resort to selling yourself.