East and West: Graphic Design in Singapore Today

Since British advertising agencies brought modern graphic design into Singapore after the Second World War, a thriving community of independent studios has emerged in this former colony in Southeast Asia. Today, Singapore is a modern metropolis set to celebrate fifty years of independence in 2015, but the nation-state is still struggling to create a distinct local identity while earning global recognitionjust like its contemporary graphic design scene.

Two separate exhibitions held by Singapore’s top graphic designers in the 1990s and 2000s show how the profession had changed within a decade in the city-state. In 1994, Su Yeang paid her own way to hold “Breaking Barriers” in The Design Centre, an exhibition of Su Yeang Design’s work to educate the public and businesses on the importance of good design. It reflected a time when graphic design was seen as a problem-solving tool for businesses. Fast forward to 2005, :phunk Studio held “A Decade of Decadence”, a retrospective exhibition of their “Greatest Hits”. Besides the influence of music, this exhibition held in the Singapore History Museum was supported by entertainment establishments Zouk and MTV, as well as Tiger Beer. As William Chan of :phunk then said: “When we started, people thought all graphic designers could do were design ‘Big Sale’ flyers and lay out text on posters. But these days, we are viewed as trend-setters.”

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