Category: Culture

What does Truth Look like Today?

Just hours after news broke about a cyberattack on the healthcare group SingHealth, a fake SMS was apparently sent out to people to trick them that personal data and medical records had been compromised. Can you tell the difference?


At a glance, I thought the message on the right was fake — turns out I was wrong! I’m sure I am not the only one. The image on the left is actually designed with consideration as the main points of the message are broken down into bullet points. With exclamation point icons, no less! Such a professional touch is what we typically “authenticity” and “corporations”.

But are such assumptions relevant in an age where information often needs to be quickly distributed, often on a variety of screen types and platforms? In the case of this SingHealth example, one can imagine how the problem is regarded as an engineering problem instead of a communication issue — a kind of thinking that dominates public service culture. Thus, sending the message took precedence, most likely without consulting any kind of designer or media personnel (i.e. “Just type a message and send lah!). Perhaps, technological considerations trumped whatever design considerations too.

We can go on and on about how graphic design is important in communicating such public messages, but what intrigues me more is the assumptions we hold about how “truth” looks like today. I’m reminded of a Radiolab episode, “The Ceremony“, which documents the launch of a new cryptocurrency, Zcash. As you’ll see in the explainer video, to create “trust” in this new currency, a group of scientists participate in ceremony that was broadcast live to initiate its birth.

Clearly, Zcash has put in a lot of effort to “visualise” trust. But is this enough in a post-truth era where we so easily brandish “fake news” on everything we choose not to believe?

Trust and truth are concepts that need to be “created” — just as “facts” need to be proved and discovered. I’m curious what are the ways of “designing” truth and trust today. What is the role of design in making us believe?

Questioning Conventions

Ang Jin Yong and Andy Ang of TrendLit.
Ang Jin Yong and Andy Ang of TrendLit. PHOTO: SAM CHIN

First started inside the Chinese Division of HASS, the Chinese literary society TrendLit has in a few years established itself as a contemporary champion of Chinese writing in Singapore. Founder Andy Ang and current editor Ang Jin Yong share their journey in breathing new life into language that many Singaporeans have come to regard as traditional, and how they have made new connections and convergences amidst the renewed interest in SingLit today.

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Into the Wild

For urban dwellers – and that’s over half of the world’s population, according to the United Nations – trekking in a nature reserve is a respite from the concrete jungle. Trees are unrestricted by regulations for height and gross floor area. The variety of species is not defined by land-use or conservation guidelines. Greenery is not a single shade, but a palette of textures and hues. Encountering this natural order of growth is a striking reminder (by way of comparison) of how much effort goes into designing, building and maintaining a city.

While city making has traditionally meant concreting over nature, this has given way in recent times to more environmentally friendly ideals. ‘Green buildings’, ‘sustainable architecture’ and entire ‘eco-cities’ are just some examples of how urban planners and architects have acknowledged and even embraced nature by planting more greenery, designing energy-efficient buildings, and investing in blue-green infrastructure. But beyond thinking for nature, cities can be like nature, and step into the wild.

➜ Read the full column in CUBES #88 (October/November 2017)