Category: History

Working With, Not Working For Technology

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.

➜ Read the full column in CUBES #90 (February/March 2018)

Stamping History

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…”

➜ Read the rest of the essay in BiblioAsia (Vol 13, Issue 4) Jan-Mar 2018

Wordless Instructions

Whether it is a chair, a shelf, or bed frame, every IKEA knock-down product is sold around the world with a similar assembly instructions design meant to be understood regardless of language, culture or experience in building furniture.

No words are needed when it comes to assembling a piece of IKEA furniture. Accompanying the Swedish company’s knock-down wares is a set of assembly instructions that must guide Russians, Americans, Chinese, Egyptians, Dominicans and other nationalities to build their own IKEA products simply by following a series of line drawings.

Every IKEA assembly instructions begins with a promise: an image of what the product looks like when put together successfully. A comic strip comes next, as a cartoon character gives out general tips, including an assurance that any doubts can be addressed by calling the company — although no number is given. After running through a check-list of tools provided, the customer is ready to begin self-assembly. Step-by-step, the following pages illustrate how the dismantled pack of parts are assembled into the product when the instructions are carried out.

This formulaic instructions design is what IKEA has been developing since launching the LÖVET side table in 1956, the company’s first self-assembled product. While no instructions were needed to put together this simple three-legged leaf-shaped table, the product kickstarted IKEA’s expansion into knock-down furniture and led to the birth of its assembly instructions. Founder Invar Kampard started selling such furniture in his mail-order business after seeing company designer Gillis Lundgren saw off the legs of a table to transport in his car. The Swedish entrepreneur realized the sale of knockdown furniture meant the most expensive parts of his business — assembly and transportation — were shared with customers instead. Read more