Tag: National Campaigns

How Singapore Became the Unlikely Poster Child for Good Government Design

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.

Read the rest at AIGA’s Eye on Design 

From Campaign Symbols To Campaign Containers

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?

Talking Back To The State

National campaigns are a big part of life in Singapore. Even before independence, the government had began using all sorts of campaigns to create model citizens and to shape the city to its vision.

In the 1960s, Singaporeans were exhorted to eat wheat when rice was in short supply. The 1970s a Speak Mandarin campaign was introduced to encourage the Chinese community to use Mandarin instead of dialects. This was then followed by the National Courtesy Campaign in the 1980s where Singaporeans were told to be courteous to one another. Campaigns died down a little from the 1990s, but a significant one in recent times was after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) when Singaporeans were encouraged to ‘Step Out’ and resume their daily lives.

A Straits Times article in 2003 counted some 200 documented campaigns between 1958 and 1995, and anyone in Singapore since the 1980s would have been exposed to an average of more than 10 national campaigns a year! But such campaigns have largely been a one-way communication from the state. A new exhibition, Campaign City: Life in Posters, finally gives voice to the target audience. Ten local artists were asked to re-interpret a national campaign that they remembered in the form of a poster, an essential marketing collateral before the day of television and the Internet.


Ian Woo’s response (left) to the 1970s campaign against the hippies culture (right) that even saw musician Kitaro sent home when he came to perform in Singapore with long hair.

While artists like Michelle Fun, :phunk studio, eeshaun, and Ian Woo re-appropriated old campaign posters, others like Messy Msxi, Zhao Renhui and Clare Ryan created new work in response to the original campaign slogans. The 1970s ‘Two is Enough’ campaign, which encouraged Singaporean families to stop at two babies, was the most popular campaign as Justin Lee, ampulets, and Randy Chan each did a poster for it. This campaign is arguably one of the nation’s few successes, so much so, that low fertility has become a problem for Singapore today.

While the posters are personal responses, when read as a collection, there seems to be an underlying sense of ambivalence and pessimism about these campaigns. Randy’s poster (below) was especially memorable, visualising the many campaigns in the form of a condom — a critique on how a protective nanny state not only denied fertility but life in this city too.


Campaign-city-RandyYet, one cannot deny the iconic value the old campaign posters have left in our visual culture. They may never have been very effective in moulding society and its people in the way it was meant to, but it has certainly helped shape how we see this city.

Campaign City: Life in Posters
9 Sep – 15 Oct
Tue-Sun, 2pm-8pm
Evil Empire, 48 Niven Road