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The future of graphic design is Filipino

By Ephraim Dytianquin Published Feb 02, 2024 5:00 am

There’s more to graphic design than meets the eye. It’s an ever-present component in our day-to-day lives and a form of visual communication that affects the masses, as seen in social media posts, grocery items’ packaging, and so much more.

Graphic design is and continues to be a time capsule. From promotional materials in the 1900s showcasing the Philippines’ scenery to hand-painted signs decorating today’s jeepneys and sorbetes carts, this art form has been long woven into the country’s cultural fabric, and behind many designs you see, whether online or out in the streets, are Filipinos who have dedicated their lives to the craft. These creatives have had a hand in quietly impacting society, and more Filipinos are starting to their mark there.

Some of the faces behind this current wave are Jo Malinis (@aniciaclean), a graphic and type designer, UP Diliman educator, and founder of design initiative Type63; Ram Reyes (@oversettext), a Filipino-American graphic designer-turned-influencer who injects his thoughts, worldviews and humor into his designs; Jasmin Chavez (@kool.type), a Filipina raised in Singapore with custom typefaces and unique compositions; and Jena Tornea (@ar1sing), a local designer who uses graphic and type design as her creative playground.

Past: What led these designers to graphic design?

Pursuing graphic design seemed to be a gradual process for everyone. Having a graphic designer for a father, Jo saw this career path as the norm. “I would see my parents working on things, and I never questioned graphic design as a source of income because they were able to raise me.”

Type design, on the other hand, wasn’t as easy. It took Jo a while to realize that designers are behind typefaces, too. “I always just thought, They’re part of the computer. It’s such a stupid notion, now that I think about it. So, when I started learning more about type design, that’s when the interest started to grow.”

Ram Reyes

Ram’s passion was spurred by spite. When he joined his college newspaper, he wasn’t pleased with the publication’s layout. “I was like, ‘This looks like ass. I could do better,’ even though I didn’t have any proper graphic design education.” After getting reprimanded for sneakily trying to change the magazine’s layout as a photo editor, he eventually became the newsroom’s designer, armed with the knowledge from a magazine class he was simultaneously taking. “That was the first thing I ever designed: a whole magazine. No knowledge. I didn’t even know how to use (Adobe) InDesign. I went in there out of pure spite, and wanting to do it. Then I kept doing it and now I do it for fun.”

Jena’s journey to graphic design was fun, too, but also eye-opening. As the pandemic coincided with her six-month break before college, a lot of revelations came to her once she decided to upload her art online. One lesson was to shed her preconceived notions of art and surrender to the process. “I wanted to stop pressuring myself. There was a time when I just sat with my laptop and was like, ‘Okay. What do we feel like saying today?’ And that was it. I just worked with whatever I had. Whatever came up.”

Jena Tornea

Jas knew art was her calling since primary school, but she was stuck in the rigorous and competitive Singaporean education system that boxed her into an engineering degree. “I was learning, while in another course, that design could be applied in different places and was like, ‘Why didn’t I think of this earlier?’” After much deliberation, her parents’ blessing, and curating a portfolio out of thin air, Jas bit the bullet and successfully transferred to the LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. “That was the start. The defining point. I was like, ‘There’s actually so much I can do with design.’” 

Present: How does Filipino identity affect their approach to design?

Jo pauses. “It’s a conscious decision for me to label and present myself as Filipino, especially when presenting abroad or giving talks. But in my personal practice, it’s not something I try to incorporate. I feel like whatever I do, it’s always gonna be ‘Filipino design’ because a Filipino made it.”

Jena shares the same sentiment. “Being Filipino is like a question mark to me because I’m a creative who’s Filipina and everything I make is Filipino. Do we have a caricature of Filipino culture?” Inspired by everything, Jena believes that all it takes is to observe. “There’s so much you can gather from. Doon ko mas na-appreciate ‘yung craft found in the country. Habang nasa labas ako, I immerse myself kasi ang daming inspiration.

“I think it just affected my personality as a whole which, in turn, affects my art,” Ram answers after pondering for a minute. “Not like overt Filipino visual themes but what I care about has its roots in me being Filipino and an immigrant. It affects my worldview in a way that I have to be politically minded. Also, Filipinos are funny. So I feel like I get my humor from them.”

Jo Malinis

For Jas, being Filipino gives her hope. “Whenever I get into the Filipino art community on Twitter, I discover how much more fun we are. We’re so expressive. Seeing these designers, they have different perspectives, and I feel so lucky I can connect with that.”

Future: What does the future of graphic design look like?

“I’m excited because (we) Gen Z and Gen Alphas are crazy,” Jas says with much gusto. “I hope things aren’t as formulaic because, working with millennial or boomer bosses, they have this mindset that what isn’t broken shouldn’t be fixed. We’re always trying to give them a fresh perspective, but they’re not very open to that. Once we’re in charge, that’s gonna change.”

Jena sees positive change on the horizon as well. “I like that there’s this ongoing shift of using digital software to express ourselves, like through personal posters and artworks. ‘Di na siya kulong sa corporate, and I see ourselves continuing that.” She also notices the increasing value in graphic design and more doors being opened because of it.

Jas Chavez

Meanwhile, Ram, who lives in California, desires for more inclusivity. “I’m hoping the future is less white. Less straight. Less cis. I want it to be more expressive. Less design. More art.” He goes on to say that graphic design is fun and hopes more people get into it. “I think accessibility is great, and if everybody can do it, that’s awesome.” This derives from his own rise to fame. “I was thinking the other day, ‘I designed something a couple years ago and now that design is making me able to live on my own.’ It’s kind of insane to think about. Things that were just jumbling in my brain were put to paper and onscreen. I’m really grateful for where I’m at.”

Jo has taken part in fostering the future of Filipino design through Type63 (@type63_), a platform highlighting and celebrating Filipino typography, which, as the founder, she considers to be her baby. “The thing that made Type63 happen wasn’t me; it was everyone else who contributed to it and volunteered their time, voices and efforts. Seeing it suddenly have a life of its own makes me very happy. ‘Yun ang pinaka-rewarding sa akin: na may drive ng mga tao to claim it as their own community as well.”

With this unique perspective, Jo envisions the future to be intentional. “People are more conscious of the elements they use in their designs. I see it in my students, in the people who submit work to Type63, in the younger designers, (and) the designers of my generation. We are now not just using whatever we find online, but we’re actually more intentional with our choices. I hope it grows and develops more in that direction.”