Justin Zhuang has a little obsession with the past – our design past, specifically. The founder of the nascent Singapore Design Archives began collecting design objects and ephemera some years ago when he was commissioned to write a book on the history of graphic design in Singapore. He now continues to amass “treasures” found in second-hand book shops and junk stores, in his personal bid to tell a richer story of Singapore design history.
The Archives, a ground-up effort to document, research and present Singapore’s design history, are currently housed at the fifth floor of the National Design Centre. Justin shares why he is doing this, what he’s gained from it and how you could also contribute to the Archives.
Dsg: What is the Singapore Design Archives?
Justin Zhuang (JZ): The Archives is a platform to document, research and present Singapore design histories. We put up a monthly window display of local design objects and ephemera at the DesignSingapore Associates Network* office located at the National Design Centre (#05-04). This can be viewed any time, but the public is also welcome to come in and take a closer look at the objects during our open houses. This happens every two Saturdays in a month (our website and Instagram have the latest schedule). In addition, visitors can also browse our growing collection of books and artefacts related to Singapore design. If you are researching about Singapore design, we are also happy to see if we have resources that are of use!
*The Archives is supported by the DesignSingapore Associates Network (DAN), a network of current and former DesignSingapore scholars, and the DesignSingapore Council (Dsg). Justin Zhuang is one of 54 members of the DAN.
Before we all had smartphones in our pockets, some of us had a PDA. The Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) may no longer elicit any public displays of affection, but this handheld device was a trailblazer in the nineties and noughties. Designed for managing appointments, sending emails and even reading handwriting, PDAs emerged from the convergence of telecommunications and information technology, foreshadowing the world of tablets and smartphones that we live in today.
There was precious little to celebrate when the Singapore Stamp Club commemorated 100 years of postage stamps in 1967. The accompanying exhibition booklet was very blunt in describing the dismal state of Singapore’s philatelic scene:
“Against the increasing tendency of practically every other country in the world to issue more and more commemorative stamps each year, the conservative policy of Singapore must be almost without an equal.”
Between self-government in 1959 and merger with Malaysia in 1963, and independence in 1965, Singapore issued only eight commemorative stamp series to mark these historic occasions. Unlike definitive stamps that are meant for everyday use, commemorative stamps are issued to record national milestones and showcase Singapore’s culture, customs and identity to the world. This was a lost opportunity according to the booklet: “What other country can claim to have issued a total of only 21 commemorative stamps in the past 8 years!”
The paucity of such stamps was not the only issue plaguing the Singapore stamp scene at the time. Almost a year after the exhibition at the National Library at Stamford Road, then Minister for Communications Yong Nyuk Lin noted that local stamps were generally “dull” and suffered from “disappointingly low” sales.
To fix the situation, the government set up the Stamp Advisory Committee (SAC) in 1968. “This situation certainly calls for immediate remedial action and in line with present Government policy of increasing productivity and to raise additional revenue, wherever possible,” said Minister Yong at the inaugural meeting of the SAC, adding, “… there is no reason why we cannot use more imagination and drive in the creation of attractive designs for our postage stamps…”