Fifty Years of Singapore Design Timeline


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 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.”

Championing for a Singapore creative industry: The Creative Circle’s Annual Advertising Award



“The presentation of specimens is invariably poor and the standard of work is no better than you would expect in a country where no formal training exists in the branches of Graphic Design related to Advertising,” wrote Brian Hoyle in the 1963 Annual Advertising Award. This was what led the creative director of Young Advertising and Marketing Ltd to establish this awards—one of Singapore’s earliest prize for creative work in advertising—together with a committee of expatriates from the city’s various advertising agencies. Known as the Creative Circle Singapore, this group of the Singapore Publicity Club, was founded in 1962 to “stimulate an awareness of and a keener appreciation of visual creative standards in advertising”, largely through the awards.

The inaugural award received over 100 advertisements of “local creative origin” used during 1962  to see which were the best colour advertisement, black and white advertisement, photograph, publicity, radio commercial, and cinema advertising. There was also an overall winner. This “favourable response” led to an expansion of categories the following year, adding on best packaging, calendars, posters, brochures (including direct mail) and leaflets. All the entries for this second edition of the awards were judged in Australia by the Federal Committee of the Australian Commercial and Industrial Arts Association (ACCIAA). Of the 12 categories available in 1963, the Singapore and Malaysia branches of UK-based S.H. Benson International (which later became part of Ogilvy & Mather) swept up most of the awards with Hoyle’s Young Advertising & Marketing Ltd (renamed in 1966 as London Press Exchange (LPE) Singapore) coming in runner-up.


All the entries for the 1963 award were captured in the black and white annual printed by Cheong Press. Inside are also valuable profiles on members of the creative industry then and also essays on the standards of creative advertising and copywriting in Singapore and Malaysia. Contrary to the popular notion in these regions that “white men” came here to unfairly dominate the advertising industry, there were written pleas in the annual for locals to eventually captain their own industry. As Hoyle noted in his foreword. “The need is for top creative people to originate and lead in this field—in their own country.” (Bold emphasis are his). This was of course not entirely selfless. In another essay, Allan J. Barry from another agency Papineau Advertising, noted that “advertisements prepared for other markets are being used in Malaysia” but the country was a unique market that needed its own approach to selling.

“If you are prepared to accept this proposition you must also be prepared to accept the corollary that the people best suited to created the most effective approach for this market are the creative staff of local advertising agencies.”


In the course of my research for my book, Independence: The history of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s, Brian Hoyle was kind enough to send over a copy of this historic annual advertising award. Thanks to designer Bernard Tan, a scanned copy of the annual is now freely available for download for research purposes. Do note that it is missing some blank pages and also one on the full list of winners.


Architecture & Design Publishing from Singapore: Some Hard Truths

I was invited to speak on the topic of local publishing at Allscript x Comman Man Coffee Roaster’s “50 Titles” event last weekend. Yanda of Do Not Design selected for this event 50 examples of contemporary local books and magazines. Below is my response, a presentation on some of the titles and what we can learn about designers expanding their role in Singapore’s publishing scene.

I recently moved back to Singapore from New York. One of the things my girlfriend noticed was how difficult it was to pack my collection of architecture and design books into shipping boxes. Anyone who buys them knows how this genre of books come in all shapes and sizes, and seldom fit neatly into a box. In a sense, design books tend to emphasise a quality of difference, and I hope to explore this element in my presentation on contemporary architecture and design publishing from Singapore.

A few years ago, I fully immersed into the subject of Singapore design when I was commissioned to retrace the history of graphic design in this country. This resulted in my book, Independence: The history of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s, which chronicles the evolution of the profession over the last five decades.

As a journalism graduate, one thread that attracted me while researching for this book was the rise of independent publishing in Singapore. From the mid to late 2000s, designers were putting out a trickle of local books and magazines, including Underscore, Brckt, The Design Society Journal, and kult. The periodical Singapore Architect had also just undergone a revamp under Kelley Cheng of The Press Room. Incidentally, this issue (#287) is her last as there is a new team coming on.

Designers who traditionally came at the end to give form to a publication are now creating the content, either by themselves or commissioning writers. It isn’t entire new nor unique to Singapore, but there is certainly a new generation of local designers who are putting together niche books and magazines all by themselves instead of trying to convince big name publishers to do them. With designers expanding their roles, what differences have they brought to publishing in Singapore?

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