From Kaliabu village to global (digital) markets: a rural kampong of graphic designers

Urbanization has become a global phenomenon in the past few decades and pundits forecast that more than 70 percent of global population will be living in urban areas by 2035. 

Before that backdrop, a handful of Kaliabu villagers in Salaman district in Magelang, Central Java who have their ends meet by taking part in various digital design contests overseas, appears to be just a perfect anachronism.  

More than 250 residents see the dollar sign in every design competition organized by companies outside Indonesia looking for logo designs and placing prizes to the winners ranging from US$200-$900. 

"We are really focused on taking part in the contests. It's paid off as we see at least $1000 being wired to us every month through virtual payment Paypal," said one resident, Yunan Hamami, 37. 

According to Yunan, every year, there are 'thousands' of design contests with sectors vary from electromagnetic, automotive, spa, boutique companies, mostly from Australia, Europe and the United States. They cater different needs, including designs for brand, label and mobile app icons. 

The success story started out three years ago when one of the residents, Abdul Bar, 45, a former  inter-province bus driver,  won an international design contest and got $400.  

The good news spread like a wildfire as some other residents were interested to follow Abdul's footstep. 

"I was more than happy to teach them about the design [even though I've just learned it for three months], and it seems they later shared the skill to their neighbors," Abdul said. 

The residents also share information about the competitions they can sign in. Since then, other residents also managed to win cash prizes. 

Abdul and some other residents, even, decided to quit from their jobs to pursue this new promising venture. 

"I quit from my job at plywood workshop where I only earn Rp800,000 per month, or one tenth than my average earning from winning the competition reaching Rp8 million a month," said Muhammad Anwar, 25. 

The frequent participation in various competitions has broadened their perspective. With competitions' terms and conditions, information mostly available in English, they are forced to learn English.

"In the start, some use Google Translate service to translate the related information. However, since they found later that the translation sometimes were confusing, they tried to ask friends to do the translation," said Yunan, who himself an English teacher with state junior high school  SMPN2 Kajoran, Magelang. 

Fahmi Baehaqi said that the money he could earn as a graphic designer was 'beyond his imagination', citing that he could even send his both parents for hajj pilgrimage recently.

With the newly acquired skill plus English language, the residents-turn-web-designers also actively use social networks to gather information and learn about arts and cultures from other countries to enrich their designs. 

Source: Kompas daily,,

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