Self-Publishing: Graphic Design’s New Muse in Singapore?

Singapore graphic design studios like fFurious, PHUNK, Asylum, and Kinetic may have different styles and approaches, but there’s one thing that binds their practices: music.  The founders of these studios grew up listening to bands like New Order and Joy Division that had record and CD covers designed by the likes of Peter Saville and Vaughan Oliver. They also watched  animation graphics on television channel MTV and browsed magazines such as The Face and Ray Gun, which were designed by Neville Brody and David Carson respectively.

These studios, established in the late ’90s and early 2000s,  have acknowledged the influence of music on their designs, whether it was introducing them to the profession or inspiring them to work on music-related projects — PHUNK originally started as a music band and still refer to themselves as a ‘visual rock band’; one of Asylum’s goals was to design record covers such as 4AD, and they  started a music label; the founders of Kinetic were also in the band Concave Scream and work with local band The Observatory; while fFurious designed album covers for Singapore music bands and also worked on legendary local music magazine BigO.

But with the slow death of albums, the design scene today, however, seems to have found a new muse. In the last few years, many younger designers have gotten involved in self-publishing. Just this weekend, Galavant, an annual magazine focusing on collaborative and curated content from around the world, was founded by photographer Dilys Ng and designer Nathalia Kasman. The inaugural issue uses a mix of poems, short stories and images to explore the theme of “Absence”.

It is a familiar format found in UNDERSCORE MagazineCasual Days, Ceriph, kult, Bracketand Terroir Magazine — independent publications started in Singapore by designers or design-conscious founders over the last three years. By and large, these publications focus on literature as well as arts and culture from Singapore and around the world. And as I’ve written elsewhere, these magazines share a similar outlook and ethos.

Could self-published projects become the definitive element in the portfolio of Singapore’s future graphic designers? It fits into the global trend of designers becoming authors, and magazines have proven to be one of the best mediums for projecting a distinctive “voice” with images and text.

Two Singapore studios are already taking self-publishing further than just magazines. Epigram has been working on annual reports and occasionally published books since it founded in 1991, but last year in July, it started a separate entity Epigram Books to publish its own books, including literature, photography and children’s books.

A much younger entity is Studio Kaleido, which is behind Ceriph. The magazine preceded the studio’s founding last year, but since then, the founders Amanda Lee and Winnie Goh have gone on to initiate several publishing projects including GRAPHME, a zine lab, while busying themselves with design work too.

Of course, the one major difference with publishing a magazine as compared to designing a record is it is continuous. You got to regularly come up with the next issue. So it’s not very surprising that many of these magazines are annuals, and the most prolific is quarterly. Will these publishing efforts sustain in the following years? Read on.

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