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Career Perspectives | Bringing Artistic Visions To Life: Donovan's Story

When he first started his career as a designer, Donovan Tan thought that it would be cool to create the next big thing in design.

The 28-year-old started out working on projects associated with luxury, such as clubs and show business.

However, a few years into the gate, he decided that advertising can be "much more than this". Instead of the usual sensationalized, “mad men” style advertising, Donovan wanted to promote advertising as a platform to give back to the community.

Realising that there was a gap in the design market that drives good social impact, Donovan took the plunge and set up LOUPE Singapore, a social design firm that aims to create a social change through their projects.

“I was drawn to move into this niche as a designer because I felt that there is so much more impact that design can do. Contrary to what people think that a designer's job is simply just beautifying things - Design is much, much more than this."

Donovan clarifies what social design means to him, where "it not only communicates, it also connects and changes one's perception".

He illustrates an example where proper branding amongst other things can 'make a $1.50 kopi-o feel like a $5.00 americano.'

"Why can't we do the same for things like kindness? We can use design to not only communicate this message, but to further build upon it."

With a shift of focus towards the education and government sectors, Donovan feels that it aligns both organisation's goals towards positive social impact.

"With design as our platform, we can make projects and their messages more exciting! We seek to find that connection where people can relate better and in turn, this creates more impact overall", he said, referring to some of LOUPE's corporate clients such as the Ministry of Education and National Environment Agency.

Other than taking on government projects, Donovan and his team have also designed collaterals for charity organisations such as the Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA). He professes that he first took on charity work because his mother was volunteering in AWWA and asked him if he could design a brochure for them.

"Apart from the design work, being involved with the charity community helps remind ourselves of our roots and, as naive as it may sound, that we are part of a bigger family and we should help each other where we can," he added.

Although Donovan found his purpose and has championed several community projects, his path to design was not always clear.

Donovan also credits Mr. Eugene Cheong from Ogilvy & Mather for his kind support. (Taken in 2015)

Donovan credits the support he received from his mother when he took an unconventional route to pursue a degree in Design Communications at LASALLE College of the Arts, in partnership with the acclaimed Goldsmiths' College.

The born and bred Singaporean cited how his mother asked if he was serious about his decision to go into design, given the traditional mindset that industries such as medicine and engineering see better prospects.

“She initially questioned whether I was sure about studying design, but eventually she was supportive and told me to be good at it,” said Donovan. “If it weren’t for my mother’s support, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Donovan at the DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Summit in 2016.

Despite how far he has come, Donovan cautions budding entrepreneurs that starting a company involves a lot of hard work and self-belief. A strong passion is also important, especially to overcome setbacks, which every entrepreneur will face.  “There’s a lot more losses than wins as an entrepreneur. More people need to realize that you need to continue to step past these failures before you can succeed,”he said.

Even till today, Donovan does not consider himself a success. He works at least 80 hours a week, sacrificing his weekends and family occasions to complete proposals or travelling to meet his clients overseas.

Instead of throwing in the towel, Donovan relishes the challenge that he faces each day, even though he acknowledges that starting a business involves a lot of risk.

"I still face a lot of disappointments. But life just isn't as fun if you don't take risks," he quipped.  

To tackle the obstacles at work, Donovan radiates a sanguine, jocund vibe by looking in the mirror before he goes to work and saying, “today is going to be a good day”.

Donovan’s resilience shines through when he talks about how he deals with failure.

“If it’s a failure, I just keep working at it until one day it becomes a success. A ‘no’ for now could be a ‘yes’ tomorrow,” he said.

Fueled by an unwavering resolve, Donovan hopes that more people will have the same fighting spirit to pursue their passion, regardless of the industry.

“If you know that you have what it takes, then go for it,”he said. “But don’t look back. Just don’t.”

This article was done in collaboration with Young NTUC.

Special thanks to contributing writer Emmanuel Phua.


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About Young NTUC

Largest and most Vibrant youth movement in Singapore, with youths who are ACTIVE in purposeful way. Young NTUC is concerned about the holistic development of Young working people of today and tomorrow for a sustainable future.



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