Vote For Me! Singapore Elections Ephemera

TDSJ-Vote-For-Me

Singapore’s 11th General Elections since independence marks the beginning of a design-conscious politics—a 2011 essay I wrote for The Design Society Journal No. 03.

The day after Nicole Seah was officially presented as an election candidate for the National Solidarity Party (NSP), The New Paper asked on its cover: “Do looks matter in elections?” It was directed at the online buzz generated after the 24 year-old Seah first announced over Facebook that she was standing for elections. Netizens were clearly taken in by her profile picture—what the paper described as “lovely flowing hair, make-up and her good side showing”—so much so that nobody bothered who she was contesting with in Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC). Some even began dubbing NSP as the “Nicole Seah Party”. Soon, digitally edited pictures of her as Wonder Woman and Scarlett in the upcoming G.I. Joe movie also began making their rounds online.

However, Seah, in her own words, was not just “another pretty face”. She was confident and articulate, making astute remarks during her campaign trail. This, plus her good looks, projected the image of an attractive and credible candidate to voters. Just over a fortnight after starting her Facebook page, Seah received even more ‘Likes’ than the nation’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, earning her the title of Singapore’s most popular politician. Despite this, her NSP team did not win the election battle at Marine Parade. Yet, by garnering so much attention and winning 43.36 per cent of the votes against a People’s Action Party team led by former prime minister Goh Chok Tong, Seah’s campaign demonstrated how image played a part in helping a young unknown like her win votes.

This echoes the 2008 presidential election in the United States, when a relatively newcomer Barack Obama “crafted a meticulous visual strategy”, that helped propel him to victory. While Seah and the other candidates of Singapore’s 11th General Election did not display the sophistication of Obama’s visual campaign—right down to choosing an appropriate typeface—they produced one of the most visually-driven election in recent Singapore history, heralding the beginnings of Obama-style politics in the future.

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What Our Book Covers Reveal About Us

Whether you get all judgy about book covers or not, recently we’ve been wondering if book covers alone are enough to tell us something deeper about a culture. Then we discovered (and instantly began drooling over) some 1,000 vintage dust jackets and bindings in The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic (Taschen), a visually stunning catalogue of Berlin’s nascent book art culture between the world wars.

From illustrated works to typographic designs, and Art Deco to proto-modernist styles, the book is a library of eye-catching covers from some 250 Berlin-based publishers. Together, they show how book cover design from 1919–1933 in Berlin was influenced by the important movements of the period—Expressionism, Realism, New Objectivity, Constructivism, and photography—and retell how this young German republic was what the book’s editor Jürgen Holstein calls “a testing ground for modernity” until the second world war cruelly ended it all.

Read the rest at AIGA’s Eye on Design

Architecture & Design Publishing from Singapore: Some Hard Truths

I was invited to speak on the topic of local publishing at Allscript x Comman Man Coffee Roaster’s “50 Titles” event last weekend. Yanda of Do Not Design selected for this event 50 examples of contemporary local books and magazines. Below is my response, a presentation on some of the titles and what we can learn about designers expanding their role in Singapore’s publishing scene.

I recently moved back to Singapore from New York. One of the things my girlfriend noticed was how difficult it was to pack my collection of architecture and design books into shipping boxes. Anyone who buys them knows how this genre of books come in all shapes and sizes, and seldom fit neatly into a box. In a sense, design books tend to emphasise a quality of difference, and I hope to explore this element in my presentation on contemporary architecture and design publishing from Singapore.

A few years ago, I fully immersed into the subject of Singapore design when I was commissioned to retrace the history of graphic design in this country. This resulted in my book, Independence: The history of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s, which chronicles the evolution of the profession over the last five decades.

As a journalism graduate, one thread that attracted me while researching for this book was the rise of independent publishing in Singapore. From the mid to late 2000s, designers were putting out a trickle of local books and magazines, including Underscore, Brckt, The Design Society Journal, and kult. The periodical Singapore Architect had also just undergone a revamp under Kelley Cheng of The Press Room. Incidentally, this issue (#287) is her last as there is a new team coming on.

Designers who traditionally came at the end to give form to a publication are now creating the content, either by themselves or commissioning writers. It isn’t entire new nor unique to Singapore, but there is certainly a new generation of local designers who are putting together niche books and magazines all by themselves instead of trying to convince big name publishers to do them. With designers expanding their roles, what differences have they brought to publishing in Singapore?

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