Two years into running his graphic design studio Liba, Aaron Wong hit rock bottom. “Business was so bad to the point that I started to doubt whether my beliefs made any sense,” he says. “I was looking at a project and wondering, does the aesthetic not fit? Is my way of working not valuable to clients? Or, is it that I’m just not good enough?”
It didn’t help that Wong was working solo for the first time and felt uncertain about practising in Singapore after returning from a two-week summer school in Europe. During the revelatory ISIA Urbino / Werkplaats Typografie course he’d seen a “different synergy” that he felt would be compromised back home. Liba’s financial struggle seemed only to confirm this: Wong’s dogged pursuit of process and having a point of view—key takeaways from his stopover in Europe—were not working out in what he saw as Singapore’s trends-driven, solutions-based market.
Around ten years ago, designer Dominic Hofstede witnessed the induction of veteran practitioners Alistair Morrison and Geoff Digby into the Australian Graphic Design Association’s Hall of Fame. He realized he knew next to nothing about the pair; then discovered there were very few resources around to change that.
That’s how Australian graphic design archive Re:collectionwas born. “I began a fruitless search for information on their careers. There was a dearth of research relating to not just them, but Australian graphic design history in general,” recalls Hofstede, now the design director of MAUD Melbourne, and who previously ran his own studio for almost two decades.
What started as a personal blog has since grown into a resource featuring more than 200 works including books, posters, album covers, stamps, and other miscellany painstakingly sourced from personal collections, secondhand shops, and eBay. These are displayed alongside biographies and articles focusing on Aus [pronounced “Oz”] graphic design from the years 1960-1990.
Everyone knows what design should aspire to: good design. It’s a catch-all phrase that rolls easy on the tongue and sounds pleasing to the ear. No wonder this has become the profession’s holy grail for all, from the consumer to the client, and even the critic. An industry of design awards have been created around it; Some even have it in their names.
But what exactly is “good design”? Probe deeper and it doesn’t sit so comfortably after all. What may be good design for a business may not be good for the environment. What looks good to you may not be to others. “Good design” turns out to be loaded with subjective values. No surprise then that what we consider “good” today emerged from a post-war movement led by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art to equate all things “modernist” as “Good Design”.