Doing it their way

By ANITA MATTHEWS

THE ability to make ideas a reality has launched the careers of Penang-based graphic designers Chin Mun Woh and Adrian Cheah, and into inter(net)tional stardom.

The Net is instrumental in helping them, as they put it, "reach out and touch" their audience.

Check out Penang -- a 75-page dossier on Penang which was entirely written and illustrated by Chin and Cheah. The three-month long labour of love resulted in a delightfully written saga of Penang, filled with insights not commonly found in books. Subjects include Why Penang Sucks, Penang Drivers, and the usual food, shopping, lodging and places-to-go guides (see related story).

The site, updated monthly, is strewn with nuggets of information like not only what to eat, but where exactly to find it and when to dine.

The duo, both 30, also took a good humoured potshot at Penangites by promoting their golden rule: "Big, Cheap, Good" when it comes to shopping, or as the Hokkiens have it, tua-tay pang gee ko ho liau.

Penang-born artist Choo Beng Teong, whose works retail at Christie's Auction House in London, is also featured at this website.

The word is `design'

Articulate and enthusiastic, Chin and Cheah -- who became classmates when they were 16, and have been friends since -- know exactly where they are headed despite having been in business for barely a year.

Chin is confident that ambition and foresight will take them wherever they want to go.

"We just happen to be graphic designers who know HTML, and we understand the media and therefore are in a good position to exploit it.

"People used to say that desktop publishing and graphic designers will die when HTML arrives. Instead, we are thriving and doing better than ever," claims Chin.

He says that 60% of webpages are "badly built," and he puts the blame squarely on web developers or designers indulging themselves, with little or no thought given to their audience.

"When you design with your audience in mind, you do less to reach more people. Some webpages have impressive animation, but how far can you go with that," he argues.

Chin also questions the ability of the average Joe who may be able to design a homepage, but may not necessarily be able to attract the required attention.

"What sort of information do you have online that will keep the reader hooked? How do you maintain your reader's interest so they will move from one page to the other?" he asks.

Chin reckons he and his partner Cheah understand their medium very well, and can "build moods" to fit each design.

"Basically, graphic designers can do more than the average Joe. We have the basic design tools and we solve problems related to the design each and every homepage we work on," he claims.

Of course, Cheah adds that structure is very important, as is the duo's policy of working with, and not for their clients.

Certainly, the proof of this seems to be in the vast selection of work the duo has done for non-governmental organisations, companies dealing in stationery, electronics, property, education and lingerie.

"We have also designed pages for goldsmiths and architects, and that indicates our versatility," claims an immodest Cheah.

He says they prefer to work out packages that not only include homepage design but also newsletters, brochures and advertisements.

"The difference is our work is tailored to what the customer wants. For instance, the After Eden site is very feminine and descriptive, while the Disted College site is very informative," he says.

The duo also recently completed a United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) book called Puppets with a Purpose that uses puppetry for social change.

Of course, Chin concedes that they have been lucky to land international projects, and have had the good fortune of doing business with prompt paymasters.

The great equaliser Despite having tested the water and having had experienced projects in divergent areas, Chin says that their business comprise 50% print and 50% Internet design work.

He admits they ran into stiff competition with Kuala Lumpur-based designers, but says it did not take long for Northerners to realise their potential.

"We are 20% cheaper than the guys down south, but price is not the issue here. The issue is good design and the Web is a good tool for companies. There is no escaping it.

"Our personal experience shows that even if there is little money to be made, the potential is untapped. We have received e-mail from people in Australia and the United States who have stumbled across our pages through search engines.

"That is why the Net is a great equaliser. You don't need to be IBM to reach a global audience," Chin says.

He anticipates the company will continue its foray into the wired world as "they are still very fascinated" by the medium, and that it will move farther away from print media towards multimedia and the Net.

"The interactive element on the Net is getting better and that is important as it means being able to relate directly with your clients," says Cheah.


Check out these pages:

Mitd

Penang

PanAsia

After- eden

Southside

Asiatel

Asiatel 1

Asiatel 2

Disted


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