All The Small Things

Designers are obsessed with the details. Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once remarked that “God is in the detail”. One of the ten principles of good design laid out by industrial designer Dieter Rams states that “Good design is thorough down to the last detail”. Furniture designer Charles Eames took this to its logical conclusion when he declared that “The details are not the details. They make the design.”

I first noticed a “detail” in design while  opening a pack of Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup packaging. Jutting out from its top was a triangular indicator of where I should tear open.

Instant Noodles

That got me thinking about other details in design, the little touches that make a huge impact. Here’s one that many must be familiar with: a bottle cap that also acts an opener. The pointy edge on one side of the cap is designed for piercing open the sealed bottle.

Bottle Cap

This next example is something many have encountered, but not necessarily understood. The little dimple on the keypad of ATMs help the visually impaired orientate themselves and figure out where the centre of the numbers is.

ATM Dimple

Sometimes, a detail in design gives the product an extra edge. In the case of this potato peeler, one side juts out to function as an extractor of “potato eyes”, a bud which some may find disconcerting to cook with.

Potato Peeler

Finally,  here’s a design detail that may seem unnecessary to some, but for me, shows the deep level of consideration MUJI gives to its products. This dimple protects its pen nibs so customers can be assured their pens are less likely to be damaged. It probably discourages shoppers from taking their pens on extensive test-runs too!

MUJI Pen CapHave you encountered details in a design? I’m looking to compile more for a possible showcase. Drop me a line!

May the Worst Politician Win

Entertaining as well as educational, this gently satirical card game inspired by the dirty politics of the Philippines hopes to open Filipinos’ eyes to the tricks their politicians play.

When he first moved to the Philippines for work two years ago, P. J. Lim encountered political campaigning in the unlikeliest of places—at funerals.

‘Some people are so poor that they can’t afford funerals, so politicians fund them, and you see their faces all over the condolence messages,’ says Lim, who hails from neighbouring Singapore. ‘It is ridiculous and it is real.’

That encounter sparked a conversation with his Filipino friend, R. B. Ting, about the crazy things that happen in that country’s politics. As the duo drew up a list that ran the gamut from marrying a celebrity to sex scandals, and even kidnapping opponents, they decided to create a game out of these examples in time for the Southeast Asian nation’s presidential elections in May 2016.

Read the full story in Works That Work No. 9

William S.W. Lim: A Poet of Cities

“The Future of Asian Cities”

An essay commissioned by the Goethe-Institut Singapore for the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore’s “IDEAS FEST 2016/17: CITIES FOR PEOPLE”.

Even before “creative”, “walkable”, “high-density”, and “liveable” became recent buzzwords for Singapore’s future as a city, architect William Lim Siew Wai had advocated for such a vision almost five decades ago.

As part of the Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group (SPUR), a non-governmental think-tank a young Lim co-founded with other architects in the 1960s, they laid out “The Future of Asian Cities”—a visionary 1966 essay which reads like how Singapore now envisions to become.

“Imagine a city where…” work, play and living is mixed and concentrated, everything is connected by an efficient rapid transport system, and clean parks as well as open spaces are abound. Concerned about Asia and Singapore’s then rapidly growing population and massive industrialisation in the 1960s, SPUR dreamt up such “radical transformations” to modernise the region, but in a manner sensitive to the local way of life.

This was not the development path the Singapore government eventually chose, however, a divergence we can see in the city today. With the help of the United National Development Programme, the resulting Concept Plan 1971 resettled the population across neatly divided areas of singular function, all served by an island wide system of expressways—a Western model that has since proven inadequate for the Singapore of tomorrow.

Despite the city’s rejection of his ideas (SPUR was dissolved in 1975 partly due to opposition from the government), Lim never stopped dreaming of a utopia of Cities for People, also the title of his 1990 book. As an architect, he helped design People’s Park Complex (1972) and Golden Mile Complex (known as Woh Hub Complex when it opened in 1974), two pioneering mixed-use developments where bustling street life defined its interiors. As an urban activist, Lim made a stand on the value of built heritage amidst a city then fervently razing everything old for the new. In 1982, he worked with poet and entrepreneur Goh Poh Seng to conceptualise Bu Ye Tian, a proposal for the conservation and adaptive reuse of Boat Quay. Two years later, he helped produce Pastel Portraits: Singapore’s Architectural Heritage, a book that sparked the city’s conservation movement.

Underpinning Lim’s architecture and advocacy are the many books he has authored and edited, an endeavour he is dedicated full-time to since retiring from practice in 2002. While his writings can be frustratingly broad, Lim has clearly and consistently built the modern Asian city with his words. Against the rise of starchitects and globalised architecture, he has preached for ethical urbanism and the contemporary vernacular. And while governments increasingly turn to corporations and consultants offering cookie-cutter urban solutions to build their cities, a then 70-year-old Lim started the Asian Urban Lab in 2003, which brings together artists and intellectuals to critically and creatively consider urban life in all its complexities.

Far from being prophetic, Lim has simply been poetic—like his generation of intellectuals in Singapore—in envisioning what their city can and should be. In 1968, Singapore’s then prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, declared in a address to university students that, “Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford”[1]. Only a year earlier, Lim had pleaded otherwise when outlining the future of tomorrow’s cities: “We must plan for people and not population, to create places with spatial relationships, not voids between buildings and achieve quality and sophistication, not just pure function,” he said.

“We need poets and visionaries. Poetic reality is all embracing. It takes into account the total personality of every individual.”[2]