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.
Around ten years ago, designer Dominic Hofstede witnessed the induction of veteran practitioners Alistair Morrison and Geoff Digby into the Australian Graphic Design Association’s Hall of Fame. He realized he knew next to nothing about the pair; then discovered there were very few resources around to change that.
That’s how Australian graphic design archive Re:collectionwas born. “I began a fruitless search for information on their careers. There was a dearth of research relating to not just them, but Australian graphic design history in general,” recalls Hofstede, now the design director of MAUD Melbourne, and who previously ran his own studio for almost two decades.
What started as a personal blog has since grown into a resource featuring more than 200 works including books, posters, album covers, stamps, and other miscellany painstakingly sourced from personal collections, secondhand shops, and eBay. These are displayed alongside biographies and articles focusing on Aus [pronounced “Oz”] graphic design from the years 1960-1990.
Coming after Singapore’s golden jubilee celebrations in 2015 is this Fifty Years of Singapore Design book that I got to work on for the DesignSingapore Council. For four months, beginning late last year, the team—including Dawn Lim and Sheere Ng—worked on turning the 2015 exhibition of the same name curated by WY-TO into this 333-page book.
Working with the existing selection of designs that were “iconic, popular and pivotal” to Singapore’s national history, we researched and wrote about the growth of the local design industry from independence in 1965 to 2015. Each decade has its own historical overview and selection of objects that are organised behind certain thematic developments that emerged during the period.
Of particular interest to those keen on Singapore’s design history is a timeline that actually traces back to 1932, when a seed of industrial design was sown with the formation of the Singapore Manufacturers’ Association (today known as the Singapore Manufacturing Federation). While the original timeline simply listed milestones in the development of architecture and design in Singapore—focusing on government design policies, design education and the founding of various design associations—we sought to elaborate on each to provide a bit more context. The timeline is a skeleton waiting to be fleshed out, and hopefully, more Singapore design histories will emerge from this.
From my understanding, this book is not for sale but will eventually be made available in Singapore design schools and the public libraries. More information can be found in this press release put out by the DesignSingapore Council.
This book follows a 2012 publication I wrote on the history of graphic design in Singapore. While Fifty Years of Singapore Design was commissioned by a government agency, Independence: The History of Graphic Design in Singapore Since the 1960swas a ground-up initiative by The Design Society. Both books are designed by H55 Studio. For me, the books nicely bookend a period when Singaporeans’ initial curiosity for identity turned into a nationalistic hunger for nostalgia, as witnessed by the many projects put out for the SG50 campaign to commemorate Singapore’s 50th anniversary.
As a designer who came up to me at the launch said, “Thank you for remembering me.”