Interview with Onur Gökalp

When did you realise you wanted to get into the creative industry?

This goes back quite a bit. I had a great enthusiasm for writing and drawing during my primary school years, constantly doodling something. I vividly remember repeatedly drawing illustrations from encyclopaedias with carbon papers during my preschool years. As middle school ended, I saw a few departments of interest in high school entrance exams.

One of them was graphic design. Although rare in Turkey, you can receive graphic design education at the high school level. This was the most critical turning point. Afterwards, I prepared for university in this field without question, and I had already started working as a designer before entering university. Then I found myself here. Of course, I don’t know what would have happened if I had chosen Mechanical Drafting, another drawing-related department I saw during high school choice, instead of Graphic Design.

How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

Again, during my high school years, I worked on simple tasks in many small businesses, like printing and sign-making. Frankly, the definition of design hadn’t fully settled in my mind; I was either doing technical tasks or visualising anything. With university, I entered a giant world, and I believe I received a very intense and qualified education in contemporary art and design. And unfortunately, school took a bit longer because I found myself working again.

During my university years, I designed book covers and worked in publishing houses. I started working with my partner Hatice, with whom we founded Monroe, during those years, about 20 years ago. We worked together for a few years in the same publishing house, Hatice as an editor and I as a designer. We produced artistic projects together outside of work, but the idea of turning it into a business came much later. It’s been about 12 years since we established Monroe. Time flies, I guess. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the first years of Monroe were a bit challenging. Maintaining the motivation to produce good work consistently is one of the biggest hurdles. I believe we have overcome it.

What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

If you do good work, your business will probably go well. But if you strive to do very good work, people will want to work with you. At this point, it’s helpful to elaborate on what good work means.

First, you must produce the best result for your client, finding what is right for them without being caught up in their concerns.

Then, you need to produce the best work for yourself (directly you, your agency, or your team). Can you push yourself more in each project and renew yourself? Could this work be finalised a bit better?

These questions should become as natural as what to eat for dinner. Finally, you need to do what’s good for the creative industry you’re in. Can you enrich this field a bit more? Remember, your works will inspire someone; you can’t finish anything just like that.

How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

By moving away from the idea that they are the client and you are the agency. You are a team, and you can solve your client’s needs, sometimes even needs they can’t see, as a single team. You need to understand them very well, know their prejudices and limits, and positively challenge them. Because you are not a client and an agency moving towards different goals, you are one team. Especially if you can make this idea mutual, no one can stop you and your client.

Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

Over the long years in the profession and with experience, you start to sense earlier which client relationships might be problematic. Therefore, these kinds of problems also decrease. But apart from making contracts, it’s essential to be able to explain your process and financial and emotional needs very well.

Technically, receiving payment in 3-4 steps is always a solution that comforts both parties, such as an advance payment, interim payment, final payment. A payment schedule defined with both dates and entitlements protects both parties.

What does your typical workday look like?

As Monroe, we generally work in a hybrid manner. We have no rule about being in the office. Some team members are in London, and some are in Istanbul and other cities. Since I like going to the office, I usually start my day there. I listen to the news on the way and make a few phone calls. Then, it’s filled with meetings with the entire creative and project teams. There are a few client meetings, too. Both the Istanbul and London offices are shared offices. So, if we are in the office, we have a colourful work-office life.

Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

This is not advice, but I can share with you what I aim to do. Almost every day of mine is filled with the idea of how we can make this a little better. How can we do something new? Development and improvement are my driving forces. The job, myself, my team, my client, the processes, the way of thinking, my industry…

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Onur Gökalp

Onur Gökalp on LinkedIn

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Onur took an active role at GMK (Turkish Graphic Designers Association) between 2014 and 2021, first as a board member and then as the Chairman of the Board for 3 years.
He was also the creative director of ART BY CHANCE Ultra Short Film Festival, a public art event that took place in 20 countries around the world, from 2008 to 2015.

Interview published on: Dec 18, 2023

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