Die-hard Singapore football fans will proclaim the late 1970s and early 1980s as the best times for the national team. With the likes of “Gelek King” Dollah Kassim, the tough-tackling Samad Allapitchay, the Quah brothers and a then rising star in Fandi Ahmad, the team made it to seven consecutive Malaysia Cup finals and won twice. Their exhilarating performance on the pitch was captured in countless write-ups in the local newspapers, including a editorial cartoon in The Straits Times known as Sham’s Saturday Smile.
This creation of graphic artist Shamsuddin Haji Akib offered avid football fans fans like himself a punchline on Singapore football, bringing smiles to fans looking forward to Malaysia Cup matches every weekend. After a commentary on how the national team’s performance was being disrupted by coach Trevor Hartley’s ever-changing line-ups, Shamsuddin depicted him as a mad scientist who would not stop experimenting. Responding to various reported incidents of unruly behaviour amongst fans and players, he turned in cartoons with referees wearing helmets and Hartley learning the Malay art of self-defence, bersilat, to control his players.
Save precious water. Floss your teeth. Buckle up for safety. Those are just some of the truisms familiar to generations of Singaporeans. Since gaining independence five decades ago, the Southeast Asian city-state has seen countless government campaigns aimed to mold citizens who could live up to the nation’s leap from Third World to First. Design has played a central role in these efforts, as evident in the 6,000+ posters preserved in the National Archives of Singapore.
Since its establishment in 1968, this state institution has archived posters as part of its collection of material culture—including government records, maps, photographs, oral history interviews, audiovisual, and sound recordings—that are significant to Singapore’s history. Most of its posters come from government campaigns, with a small number created for cultural events, movies, and corporations.
Two of Singapore’s oldest existing national campaigns icons are no longer just carriers of messages but have now become canvases for engaging the public in the latest incarnations of these public education drives. For almost three decades, Singa, the Courtesy Lion has been championing courtesy wearing just a t-shirt, and more recently, a pair of shorts. However, the Singapore Kindness Movement latest Project Singa has transformed the mascot to become a superhero, a student, a cyborg, an employee, or an award statue. Like the designer toy Qee, how this national icon looks is now entirely up to your design.
For a start, an initial collection of 34 Singa figurines have been designed to reflect the campaign’s partners and core messages. A Design-A-Singa competition has also been launched and 13 local artists were invited to customise their own Singas that will be showcased from 12-15 November as part of World Kindness Day.
The other icon that is now open to public “doodling” is the litter bin as part of the Clean and Green Singapore 2011 Carnival, which originated from a campaign to keep Singapore clean since 1968. The public can now enter the virtual world of Litter Munchers to design their own litter bin and see what others have done in the gallery too.
Personally, I think the designs of the litter bins aren’t as lovable as or distinctive as the Singa figurines, and it’s probably because Singa itself is a well-designed icon. In contrast, the litter bin is rather generic-looking. Aesthetics-aside, both initiatives do give the public a sense of ownership over the campaign icons, and that’s a great way to better engage them. It’ll be interesting to see how the icons evolve as more people design their own Singas and litter bins. Will these campaign icons one day lose their original meaning and become just empty containers?