It is the simplest of features found on many food packaging. A tear, a jagged edge, or a perforated line—a godsend to anyone who has struggled to open a packet of chips. These designs conveniently replace the need for brute force, and are considerate gestures from food manufacturers that have thought carefully about how we eat.
Eating, or the journey that food takes to get into our mouths (and even within our bodies), is a logistical issue many of us take for granted. This global movement of crops and livestock, from a farm through a processing facility, to a market, into a kitchen, on a dining table, and finally, entering as food inside our stomachs, is one facilitated by design at every turn. We don’t have to travel far to see examples: start with the plate, spoon, and fork, on the dining table, the most ubiquitous tools the world eats with today. They stand in for our bare hands and function in ways we cannot. Plates divide food into portions, spoons let us sip hot soup, while forks help us pick out the tiniest of ingredients.
Looking back to see the future of Singapore design
Dragons, those harbingers of growth and vitality, are twisting through Singapore once again. A design icon once ubiquitous in this city, the “Singapore dragon” is an angular, pixelated head with one octagonal eye. The rudimentary logo was conceived in the late 1970s, when the former British colony, having gained independence in 1965, was still conjuring an identity.
The dragon was designer Ean Ghee Khor’s response. Tasked to create “Singapore playgrounds” for the government’s massive public housing program, Khor sought to imbue them with the nation’s personality by employing representations of local fruits and animals throughout them. Over the next two decades, across Singapore, it was the lively dragon of Chinese origin that became the playground model of choice. Since the 1990s, however, all but two of Khor’s playgrounds have been replaced by uninspiring, modular plastic units made by multinational playground companies. But of late his serpent is reappearing in a variety of forms.
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 recognition— just 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.”