Swapping Designs and Cultures

WebLiving up to its studio name, Foreign Policy Design Group, is helping promote Singapore graphic design by holding an exhibition exchange with design studios from around the world.

The first edition of The Swap Show will see the Singapore studio play host to the works of four design studios from Barcelona. Foreign Policy’s creative director Yu Yah-Leng had stumbled upon the works of Hey Studio, Mucho, LoSiento and TwoPoints.Net online, and was impressed enough by their work to approach them to do an exhibition exchange on a visit to Barcelona last year.

“Most these studios are not super super well-known, but they have wonderful body of works. We thought it’d be a good idea to let people know about them and their works, and not just by looking at them online but seeing the real piece of work up close,” she said in an e-mail interview.

Attendees who pay $15 (on sale for $10 until 1 March) for this month-long exhibition held in the offices of Foreign Policy can expect to see a variety of posters, publications, brand identity, packaging and typographical works from these studios. Yah-Leng says the exhibition, which is part of The Design Society Festival 2013, is not only about celebrating good works, but also a way for Singaporeans to see how design can be culturally, geographically or ideologically influenced.

Besides exhibiting the works of overseas studios, Yah-Leng was also interested in promoting Singapore graphic design to the world. So as part of the exchange, the works of Foreign Policy as well as fellow Singapore design studios Roots, Bureau and Anonymous will travel to Barcelona to be exhibited in June.

Explaining this policy, she said, “We’d think it should benefit both sides and for both cities to see what the other graphic designers’ works are. It’s not just a one-to-one but many-to-many concept.”

The Swap Show is just one programme that reflects the studio’s belief in staying connected with the rest of the world. In the middle of this year, Foreign Policy will swap designers with a studio in Oslo, Norway as part of its Design Diplomacy programme. This is to expose their staff to working in a foreign environment for a period of time and also a chance for Foreign Policy to work with overseas designers.

Said Yah-Leng, “We’d like to think it’s always great to be exposed to things new and alien, that which will open our eyes more, push us to think more/ think deeper/think wider, inspire us and elevate us to high grounds in the cognitive factor.”

Whose independence story do you want to hear?

Public voting is now underway for the speakers of The Design Society’s third annual conference. For the first time ever, you can decide the four Singapore graphic design studios that will be invited to share their tales in going on their own to practise design independently.

This is also the first time a list of Singapore studios that have come and gone since the 1960s has been compiled, all presented in a beautiful timeline designed by ROOTS. While most would be familiar with studios set up since the late 1990s, the earlier pioneer studios might be unknown to many. So here’s a short write-up of some of the studios I’ll like to hear from based on interviews I’ve conducted with them.

This is one of Singapore’s earliest graphic design houses set up by British creative directors John Hagley and Brian Hoyle. They were part of the first incarnation of the Creative Circle in the 1960s and set up their own design house to offer specialised graphic services in what was essentially a market made up only of advertising agencies. They gained a reputation for their print publications and typographic swashes, as seen in their logo. Amazingly, the studio is still alive today, now headed by Peggy Tan, who joined it in 1972.

Arguably the longest-existing design studio set up by a Singaporean,  Design Objectives was founded by Ronnie Tan over three decades ago and is still going strong. He was educated in Baharuddin Vocational Institute, Singapore’s first graphic design school, and worked briefly for all of the country’s big studios of the ’70s including Hagley & Hoyle and Central Design. The studio has done corporate identity work for Comfort Cab and EZ-Link card and has continued to work on major projects such as the signage of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, which won Design of the Year in last year’s President’s Design Award.

This studio was started by Sylvia Tan, who was probably the most educated designer in Singapore during the ’80s. She received a degree in typographic design from the London College of Printing and a Masters in Communication Design from Pratt Institute. Viscom’s speciality was in book design and the studio has worked on many “national” books and also regional publications like Mimar: Architecture in Development.

Another design studio set up by a female designer, Su Yeang is regarded as the most commercially successful designer of her times. She started her design career working in Cold Storage where she was the in-house designer for the corporate identities’ of the company’s various arms and the packaging of their products. In 1983, she formed her own studio and eventually sold it to a multi-national branding company. Her studio worked on the packaging of Tiger Beer for years, and also created the identities for The Esplanade and National Library Board. In 1997, the World Trade Organisation adopted the logo the studio designed as their official emblem.

The founders of Immortal broke out from Addison Design, Singapore’s biggest multi-national design company in the ’80s. These overseas-trained designers set up during a period when there was much discussion about Singapore’s national identity and seeing design and creativity from an Asian perspective. It’s an issue close to their heart and they’ve continued to grow in Asia while being rooted to it by being part of The Design Alliance, a network of design studios across this region.

This studio is fairly young but its founders Jackson Tan and Patrick Gan curated several design exhibitions that have helped establish the current network of Singapore designers from various disciplines by connecting them with one another and showcasing them to the world. Through their exhibitions 20/20, New Wave, UtterRubbish, UseLess and Shiok — Singapore designers had a platform to reach out to the world.