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How did you get into the advertising business, and what does your job entail?
Mariko: Ever since I was a young child, I used to like drawing, so I went to a design school and studied graphic design. After graduating, I worked in the design department of a printing firm as a package designer for four years. There, I learned how to design based on the needs of the client, as well as the joy of putting ideas into shape. Currently, under the guidance of a trusted leader at an advertising agency, I do work that ranges from making posters and flyers for large businesses, electronic mail advertisements and magazine ads, to school brochures.
Hung-Cheng: I started to work in advertising after completing my military service, and applied for a position at a Taipei advertising company. Initially, I worked on jobs related to design, such as logos, packaging and exhibition venues. I would do anything related to advertising. I was promoted to art supervisor after a few years, and then to creative director. That position was equivalent to a team manager. I was responsible for leading the team members in commercial production, quality control, management of personnel and performance evaluation. I have now set up my own private studio, and take advertising jobs and design production on my own.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your work, and what are the most challenging?
Hung-Cheng: I feel most challenged when a client is dissatisfied with his current advertising company and expects me to do a better job. I am always very determined to meet the client’s expectations, and the most enjoyable thing is when both the client and I are happy with the outcome.
related article The Inoue Brothers—An Ethical Future for Style by Satoru and Kiyoshi Inoue, Denmark and UK “Style can’t be mass-produced.” The Inoue brothers discuss the ideas behind their brand and their vision for the future of fashion. Mariko: The most enjoyable aspects are having as many people as possible see my work or seeing something I have worked on printed. But the best thing is when the client really likes the work. The thing that’s most challenging is that I spend most of my day in front of a computer so I get eye-strain and stiff shoulders. I have to fulfill deadlines no matter what, so there are times when I work all night and then have to go to work the next day.
What are some of the most interesting projects you have been involved in?
Hung-Cheng: My biggest project was a campaign for a major company involved in baby products. I remember that the client demanded that the advertisement achieve two tasks: rejuvenate the brand name, and create a new image for the brand. The client was insistent that they wanted a total makeover. It so happened that my oldest daughter was just a few months old at the time, so I was able to draw on my experiences as a joyful first-time dad in creating the campaign. I threw myself into this project and wrote the copy on my own. The advertisement successfully illustrated the extraordinary connection between the brand and users, and was very popular among young mothers when it came out.
Mariko: The most interesting project I have had was the creation of a school brochure for a university’s economics department. It was a challenge to design a full-page spread especially with such a serious, dry subject as economics. In the end, I came up with an illustration showing a group of individuals who grow and develop over the four years of the course. The university’s chancellor liked the originality, and my design was the one chosen at the presentation. I was given full responsibility from planning to design, so it was a lot of pressure, but I had a lot of fun doing the work.
How does your Buddhist practice influence your approach to work?
Mariko: The work of being a graphic designer is about interweaving the client’s requirements with one’s own artistic instincts. As a Buddhist, through interacting with my fellow members, I feel I have been able to develop my communication skills. For a designer, cooperation is very important, and Soka Gakkai activities are always centered on the theme of how we can work for the sake of others.
related article Buddhism in Cuba by Joannet Delgado, general director, SGI-Cuba Joannet Delgado, general director of SGI-Cuba, shares her journey of discovering Nichiren Buddhism and how it took root in her country. I am naturally shy around people, but through my Buddhist practice I have been able to overcome this tendency.
Hung-Cheng: My practice has immense influence on my work. For people who work in the field of creativity, what’s essential is the ability to imagine and creatively convey something about the product. Buddhism teaches me to have the attitude of making the impossible possible, to promote things that reflect our Buddha nature and to realize the wisdom of the Buddha. SGI President Ikeda also points out that we will be able to call forth limitless potential as long as we try our hardest. These teachings influence my motivation to create consistently when I work.
How important are team dynamics in creating a successful ad campaign? What role does creativity play in this process?
Hung-Cheng: Teamwork is essential for successful advertising. Of course the most important part of advertising is creativity, but good creativity mostly comes from brainstorming. An advertisement is efficient if it is creative and it targets the right media. A good advertisement is one that possesses a single message, which means that it carries clear information about the product benefit.
In addition, two types of work are involved in advertising: images and text. An advertisement plan is handed to the creative director for editing and finalization after it has been discussed among art directors and copywriters. The account manager then has to examine the advertisement to ensure it meets its purpose. The whole process requires teamwork. The required outcome can’t be achieved if any one step is not well executed.
Mariko: When making even one poster, the photographer has to take the photo, the copywriter has to come up with the copy, and the illustrator draws the illustration. The work of a designer is to balance these parts and to ensure that all the elements work together. No matter how small the project may be, the designer alone cannot do the work.
I think what’s important is to take the client’s requests and conceptualize them, and design a layout that will convey the message to customers in an impactful way. I have to constantly reflect on whether I myself find the design attractive. I think that with creativity, no matter what the circumstances, you have to have a sense of curiosity and also the ability to seek out the true value of what you are doing.
Do you think advertising provides a service to the community?
Hung-Cheng: Advertising provides information about products and guides consumers’ purchases. Advertising is essential to the promotion of new products, new services and new government policies. As for its contribution to our society, advertising not only stimulates consumption but also boosts the economy. I think a thriving advertising sector is an indicator of a prospering society.
Mariko: I believe that advertising can bring happiness to people. I am trying to become a designer who can bring joy to as many people as possible, and I am determined to do my best!
[Adapted from the January 2012 issue of the SGI Quarterly]
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A Fierce Determination to Live
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