Tag: Graphic Design

Empathy Doesn’t Mean “Cute,” the Design Ethos of Fellow, a New Singaporean Studio

Though the way Singaporean design studio Fellow describes itself on its website may beat around the bush a bit, the young practice is all about creating approachable work. In just the past year, founders Izyanti Asa’ari and Iffah Dahiyah have steadily built a reputation with projects like interactive exhibitions on lost Southeast Asian films, or a series of booklets showcasing the national library’s arts collection—just two examples of the bright, typographically sensitive designs that Fellow delivers to its mostly arts and cultural clients. Some have labeled Fellow’s designs “cute,” which Izyanti refutes outright. “I don’t wanna be cute!” She and Iffah prefer empathic.

Read the full story in AIGA’s Eye on Design

The Value of Design

Against a grey backdrop sits an object. A logo, a name card, a book, a T-shirt—every one of these graphic designs is presented as it is in a carefully framed photograph.

Such picture perfect depictions, however, belie the network of exchanges surrounding each piece of work. All of them have an origin and an end. A design typically begins as a conceptual response to a client’s brief. It is then assembled from a selection of raw materials and production methods. Finally, it is released into the market as a product that circulates through economies, cultures, and societies.

Throughout this journey, individual images, text and papers are transformed into a piece of graphic design in a process that defines the practice as a value-added service. For many, the value design brings to a book, for instance, is judged by its cover and page layout. A more discerning reader may evaluate the book’s typography and its readability too. A publisher, however, will also consider how cost-effective it is to produce and distribute the design.

Beauty, functionality and economics are just some of the different criteria for valuing design. In their nexus, we may find a kernel of an answer to the popular query of “What is good design?”. But a better question to ask is “What is good design for?”. Even as function is a defining aspect of the practice, it is rarely a universal term. A book design good for sales is not necessarily aesthetically good. What may be good for reading may not be good for the budget.

Whether a design is good or not is subject to who uses it, where it is used and what for. In comparing the multitude of judgements of a design, we begin to understand it is embedded in various contexts. Creative preferences, budgets, printing capabilities, and industry trends are just some of the personal, financial, technological, and social conditions that frame a design. They are independent and interdependent in shaping the form and function of a design.

Contrary to popular belief, a design rarely comes out of a stroke of creative inspiration. Instead, it is a methodical process of making informed choices and artful compromises to achieve a desired product. Even then, it doesn’t always work out as designed. The perennial questions on how to price a design and measure its impact hint at the subjective web of intentions and assumptions underneath the practice’s glossy and clean surfaces. Unlike the promise of design software that “What You See Is What You Get”, its products are enabled by hidden logics often left unexamined, overshadowed by romantic notions of design as a free and artistic endeavour burdened by commercialism.

But look closer and you’ll see design as a transistor wired up to a circuit of value systems. A design is a product arrived at by designers, producers and users negotiating their different beliefs, the same rules which will eventually amplify and regulate how a work is received. When a design works, it confirms values we hold deeply and justifies paying for. But when design fails, we can begin to consider how the dysfunction is a gap between our expectations of the world versus the reality.

This exchange of values is the value that design adds to the world. Through its practice and products, design creates, connects, challenges and demolishes value systems—making the world a richer and more valuable place to live in.

Fifty Years of Singapore Design Timeline

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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.

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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.

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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 1960s was 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.”