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 1960swas 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.”
It’s a national icon that’s over 50 years old, yet few have seen this side of Singapore’s tourism mascot – a Merlion that looks straight at you.
This mythical creature’s side profile is typically the face of souvenirs from Singapore, but designer Donn Koh found this “stern and so stone-cold” that he gave the half-lion and half-fish a friendly makeover.
Imagine a child’s drawing of a fish with a lion mane. Add on lines for a smiley face, dots for pimples and eyes, and you have the smiley “Merlion Chouchou”. This is just one of three designs, including a cheeky and a sad-faced version, of a cute pillow-like Merlion plushie designed by Koh of industrial design consultancy STUCK.
“This is the first Merlion that looks at you. I think that gives it a bit of a friendly connection,” explains Koh who was also assisted by designer Ng Xin Nie. “It has that combination of innocence, a bit of silly and suddenly its approachable. In some ways, it also feels a bit Hello Kitty-ish because it’s got an unassuming face.”
The Merlion Chouchou is just one of 50 “Souvenirs From Singapore” STUCK designed in celebration of the nation’s golden jubilee. They had been approached by local design label Supermama to produce souvenirs based on the 50 national icons selected by the SG50 campaign.
Bars, charts, numbers, and a passport-size portrait of the chairman—annual reports are typically boring documents to read.
But in their staid state, Edmund Wee saw an opportunity. In 1991, he started creative agency Epigram to redesign these reports that all publicly listed companies and government agencies put out every year. Starting out from a spare bedroom with just a desktop computer, Wee turned annual reports into coffee table books, a novel and even a video games instruction manual, revolutionising their design in Singapore over the next two decades.
“You are legally required to do an annual report, but there is no rule that says an annual report must be A4 (in size),” says Wee.
These financial documents were then largely prepared in-house using word processors. For Wee, the one thing missing was a story to attract readers. His promise to potential clients was to create an annual report that was readable and would successfully market the company to shareholders and clients.