It is the simplest of features found on many food packaging. A tear, a jagged edge, or a perforated line—a godsend to anyone who has struggled to open a packet of chips. These designs conveniently replace the need for brute force, and are considerate gestures from food manufacturers that have thought carefully about how we eat.
Eating, or the journey that food takes to get into our mouths (and even within our bodies), is a logistical issue many of us take for granted. This global movement of crops and livestock, from a farm through a processing facility, to a market, into a kitchen, on a dining table, and finally, entering as food inside our stomachs, is one facilitated by design at every turn. We don’t have to travel far to see examples: start with the plate, spoon, and fork, on the dining table, the most ubiquitous tools the world eats with today. They stand in for our bare hands and function in ways we cannot. Plates divide food into portions, spoons let us sip hot soup, while forks help us pick out the tiniest of ingredients.
“The presentation of specimens is invariably poor and the standard of work is no better than you would expect in a country where no formal training exists in the branches of Graphic Design related to Advertising,” wrote Brian Hoyle in the 1963 Annual Advertising Award. This was what led the creative director of Young Advertising and Marketing Ltd to establish this awards—one of Singapore’s earliest prize for creative work in advertising—together with a committee of expatriates from the city’s various advertising agencies. Known as the Creative Circle Singapore, this group of the Singapore Publicity Club, was founded in 1962 to “stimulate an awareness of and a keener appreciation of visual creative standards in advertising”, largely through the awards.
The inaugural award received over 100 advertisements of “local creative origin” used during 1962 to see which were the best colour advertisement, black and white advertisement, photograph, publicity, radio commercial, and cinema advertising. There was also an overall winner. This “favourable response” led to an expansion of categories the following year, adding on best packaging, calendars, posters, brochures (including direct mail) and leaflets. All the entries for this second edition of the awards were judged in Australia by the Federal Committee of the Australian Commercial and Industrial Arts Association (ACCIAA). Of the 12 categories available in 1963, the Singapore and Malaysia branches of UK-based S.H. Benson International (which later became part of Ogilvy & Mather) swept up most of the awards with Hoyle’s Young Advertising & Marketing Ltd (renamed in 1966 as London Press Exchange (LPE) Singapore) coming in runner-up.
All the entries for the 1963 award were captured in the black and white annual printed by Cheong Press. Inside are also valuable profiles on members of the creative industry then and also essays on the standards of creative advertising and copywriting in Singapore and Malaysia. Contrary to the popular notion in these regions that “white men” came here to unfairly dominate the advertising industry, there were written pleas in the annual for locals to eventually captain their own industry. As Hoyle noted in his foreword. “The need is for top creative people to originate and lead in this field—in their own country.” (Bold emphasis are his). This was of course not entirely selfless. In another essay, Allan J. Barry from another agency Papineau Advertising, noted that “advertisements prepared for other markets are being used in Malaysia” but the country was a unique market that needed its own approach to selling.
“If you are prepared to accept this proposition you must also be prepared to accept the corollary that the people best suited to created the most effective approach for this market are the creative staff of local advertising agencies.”
In the course of my research for my book, Independence: The history of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s, Brian Hoyle was kind enough to send over a copy of this historic annual advertising award. Thanks to designer Bernard Tan, a scanned copy of the annual is now freely available for download for research purposes. Do note that it is missing some blank pages and also one on the full list of winners.
It was a breakthrough project for both designer and client.
The 1973 Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games was the first time the young nation of Singapore held a major international sporting event. It also led to this ground-breaking poster by local design consultancy Hagley & Hoyle.
Splashed across a silver background were a boxing glove, a Sepak takraw ball, a weightlifter, and other elements from the 18 sports played at the games. This universe of beautiful illustrations and photo-imagery gravitated around an athlete in mid-stride to make a stunning introduction to this competition that featured over 1,600 athletes from Thailand, Malaysia, South Vietnam, Laos, Burma (now Myanmar), the Khmer Republic, and Singapore.
“It was quite a departure from what was acceptable at that point,” says then creative director Brian Hoyle. He had worked with his late art director Wong Mun Kin to conceptualise this 77-by-122 centimetres poster that listed out the week-long programme for the seventh edition of the games.
As the British expatriate recalls, design in Singapore was then thought of as just having images and text orderly lined up and “squared up in boxes”. Only a few years before, his studio had worked on a poster commemorating 150 years since the British founded modern Singapore which neatly listed out everything in two columns.
This 1973 SEAP Games poster, however, broke out of the box with its bold use of colour and imagery. It was a design that even Mr Hoyle thought was too “far out” for his clients, Mr Roy Daniels and Mr Alex Josey then working for the Ministry of Culture and National Sports Promotion Board respectively.
“The clients recognised what they thought was a good idea and a good style of presentation. I was quite pleased about it,” says the 80-year-old who is now retired in the UK.
Convincing the client was only half the battle won. In the days before computers were used in design, creating this complex design meant the use of many manual processes. Designer Peggy Tan, who had just joined the studio that year, explains how the illustrated photographs would have be converted into line prints before being stuck down piece by piece and the copy had to be pieced together separately by a typesetter before the poster was ready to be printed.
“As a montage it was quite bold. It generated buzz simple because the images were created through different methods,” said Miss Tan who took over the business from Mr Hoyle and continues to run it today.
This unconventional poster was eventually put up in schools, offices and even housing estates all across Singapore. Despite the significance of the event, Mr Hoyle says it was simply another job for his then four-year old studio to prove the effectiveness of good design to clients in Singapore. In 1969, Mr Hoyle and fellow British expatriate John Hagley had set up their pioneering graphic design consultancy in an industry dominated by advertising agencies. While agencies profited from booking advertising space in media outlets, the duo wanted to make a living from offering design solutions instead. Hagley & Hoyle was part of a handful of early studios who helped the graphic design industry take root in Singapore.
The successful hosting of the 1973 SEAP Games also led Singapore to host subsequent editions of the competition now know as the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games—most recently, the 2015 edition. Along with the games also came the National Stadium and the formation of the Singapore Sports Council, both of which laid the foundation for today’s Sports Hub, Sport Singapore and the country’s aspirations to become a sporting nation.