Ethics Can Feed You Meh?

That the project “Ethics for the Starving Designer” is named as such challenges how most designers see ethics in their profession: a non-issue when you need to finish a project to earn your keep. That is the dilemma which got David Goh, a final-year design communication student at Lasalle, started on this final-year project. After months of research and interviews with students, lecturers and practitioners in Singapore’s design industry, he has come up with a 21-point code of ethics for designers that you can now view online and at his on-going exhibition at Lasalle till Friday.

I checked it out this afternoon and was surprised to find it less contentious that it sounds. To me, the word “ethics” connotes some kind of expectation of saint-like behaviour, but David’s code is open and allows a certain degree of interpretations on how ethical you want to be.

That is a realistic approach, considering how we each have different beliefs, but I was disturbed by point 13 of the manifesto:

“Where my financial, professional and personal commitments would allow it, I will say no to all projects that I deem to be overtly immoral and harmful to society.”

Such a clause almost allows one to get away with almost anything, and in my discussions with David, we concluded that this is a pragmatic response to surviving in the profession. But on second thoughts, I think it also sends the wrong message that ethics is a luxury designers can think of only they have made it financially and professionally.

It is exactly such thinking that probably explains why this project has received little attention from Singapore designers thus far — why rock the boat with ethics when you’re doing well as a designer? David said most responses he has gotten about his project have come from overseas thus far, although he hopes more Singapore designers will engage him on this issue.

But that said, I don’t think Singapore designers aren’t ethical. Many of the manifesto’s points are gut instinct decisions that designers often make, but it’s never been really framed here in the issue of ethics. However, I do agree with David that designers should start this discussion on ethics, and one reason is because it tacitly acknowledges what David points out in point two of his manifesto:

“I recognize that graphic design is a powerful tool… for communication, behavioural change and manipulation. As such, I will treat it with utmost respect and care.”

This validates David’s call for “Ethics for the Starving Designer”, keeping the profession ethical is how to ensure designers will continue to be trusted to solve problems and provide services for the world it operates in.

When Two Universes Collide In A City


eccentric city

Take some time out on Sunday to catch the last day of Eccentric City: Rise and Fall, a paper city created out of a collaboration between Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami and Singapore design collective :phunk studio. This “eccentric” city was built out of paper buildings created using the traditional Japanese paper craft of “Tatebanko”, and each one of the buildings brings together the distinctive illustrations of the two collaborators and their vastly different cultural upbringings. On one side is Tanammi’s psychedelic works that are heavily influenced by his traumatic childhood experiences of World War II and growing up as part of the countercultural movement in the 1960s. In stark contrast, is the black and white work of :phunk whom depicted the technological city of Singapore they grew up in. Though the exhibition is small, the paper city is quite a sight to marvel at.

TanaamiTimesABesides the paper city with :phunk, Tanammi has also worked with local design agency WORK to produce two free issues of The Tanaami Times, a beautifully crafted newspaper that profiles all three collaborators and some of their work. The agency’s latest issue of its limited run WERK magazine, issue number 18, also features the work Tanammi as well.

Finally, here’s a video shot by the team that shows how each of the buildings in Eccentric City was built using Tatebanko:

A TATEBANKO (ECCENTRIC CITY : RISE AND FALL) from ferdi trihadi on Vimeo.

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Eccentric City: Rise and Fall
19 Aug – 19 Sep, 10am – 6pm
ICA Gallery 1, #B1-04, LASALLE College of the Arts

Take that Helvetica! Battling Globalised Culture


Worried about how visual culture like Helvetica has become a “universal typeface” that is homogenising our environment, graphic designer Sanchita Jain decided to wage war against globalisation. For her final-year Masters project at the LASALLE College of Art, Sanchita embarked on Decoding Culture, a project that is a “reaction to that homogenity” caused by the easy spread of ideas globally that were replacing unique places and cultures with one that looked the same no matter how far apart they were physically.

The ammo for her battle was a series of signs that she designed that highlighted unique aspects of her hometown in Delhi. Sanchita then put up these signs in Delhi to catch the attention of those living in the city and hopefully, igniting a discussion. The aim: to bring Delhi’s culture out to the open in order to remind those living in it about how unique it was. “My project brings people back to the tangible environment and uses cultural idiosynracies as an inside joke,” says the 24-year-old. “For example, there are two Singaporeans, and you both know Singlish, then Singlish is what unites you. You won’t talk about it much or say it out loud, but it is like a knowledge that unites a culture.”



Some of her signboards did attract much attention. Meter or Cheater? for instance refers to Delhi’s popular form of public transport auto rickshaws that are infamous for overcharging as they don’t use their meters. “I almost got mobbed,” she said. Though the auto drivers weren’t very happy with the sign, she feels that it has become a unique aspect of Delhi. Some of her signs — Fee to Pee refers to the practice of urinating in public and Death Trap Corp refers to the how dangerous it is to take Delhi buses — do showcase the negative aspects of her city, but they are also what makes it unique.

But there were signs that hardly got a reaction, and this Sanchita says, shows how these aspects of Delhi culture were lost to globalisation. Family Reunion depicts the practice of families going out at night to eat ice cream from street hawkers. Today, these families head straight to global chains like Baskin Robbins instead.

The signs themselves are also reminders of a dying Delhi culture. They are based on public signs in Delhi and were all hand-painted by Delhi signmakers like in the past. Today, these signs are printed by machines instead.

As part of the project, Sanchita also created a series of signs for Singapore. These were based on discussions with her Singaporean friends about what was unique about this city. Unlike the colourful signs of Delhi, the Singapore ones look plain with just a hint of colour. This was a visual look she noticed in a lot of the advertisements found in our local newspapers. As it turned out, they must have looked right to Singaporeans. After putting up postcards of these Singapore signs at the LASALLE Show, they were all taken up in just 15 minutes!