They were once found everywhere around the city. Tickets to the Singapore Sweep used to be strung across the counter of mamak shops (local convenience stores), neatly lined up on the tables of newspaper vendors and even peddled at the hawker centres by enterprising individuals. For a dollar, and eventually, three dollars, these slips of paper offered anyone a small chance to hit the jackpot. This monthly lottery, organised by the Singapore Pools since 1969, was one of the earliest forms of legalised gambling in the country. It was also its most visible—coming in eye- catching designs that even became a collector’s item.
This colourful chapter of the national lottery ended in July 2018, when the Singapore Pools began printing its tickets in the form of receipts like the company’s other popular lotteries, such as 4D and Toto. We look back at the Singapore Sweep’s design history to discover how its tickets were not just about form but function too.
1969: Singapore Sweep Goes National
Establishing a legalised national lottery was a controversial decision in 1960s Singapore as some feared it would encourage gambling. But the practical need to bring in revenue for the young nation and stamp out illegal gambling eventually outweighed this concern. In 1966, the Singapore Turf Club started a “Singapore Sweep” to raise funds for charitable causes. After the government established the Singapore Pools as its national lottery operator in 1968, the Singapore Sweep became part of this new organisation’s plan to raise funds for the construction of the country’s first national stadium. This is why a model of it featured prominently on this ticket printed for the lottery that was held on 28 February 1969.
In my early encounters with @participateindesign (P!D), I recalled thinking they were a cross between a “ground-up People’s Association” and a “21st century SPUR”. These were the polar opposite models of community engagement in Singapore: the former a top-down state apparatus while the latter was a citizen-led think tank in the 1960s and 1970s that frequently challenged state planners with its alternative proposals, much to their chagrin. Against this antagonistic legacy between state and civic society, meeting P!D founders @mizahrahman_ and @janhlim in the 2010s was a breath of fresh air. Their cheery dispositions, aptly captured in their bright yellow “brand” colour, were matched by a clear and simple mission to design with people (including the now more receptive state planners). Over the years, it has been inspiring to see their work grow and I even had the pleasure of editing their 2016 publication “Designing with People and Not Just for People”. It’s an important contribution for a new generation of “woke” Sinngapore designers keen to engage people in their work.
#ADesignLibrary spotlights lesser known design books, and invites public access to my personal collection of titles that focuses on Singapore architecture and design, Asian design, everyday design, critical and speculative design as well as design theory and philosophy. I welcome enquiries and physical loans.