With its rectangular and pocket-friendly form, a matchbox reminds one of a popular contemporary object: the smartphone. Apart from physical similarities, the two also have much in common in the world of advertising. Even before the proliferation of smartphones led to the popularity of “mobile advertising,” matchboxes plastered with advertisements once offered an affordable and portable means of marketing too.
Known as “advertising matches,” these petite boxes — which included matchbooks that flipped open from the top instead of sliding apart like a drawer in a matchbox — first and foremost provided a functional need. In a time when lighters and gas appliances had yet to become commonplace, they supplied an everyday necessity to light up a fire. Such was the case in Singapore prior to the 1980s, when households commonly used matches to light up oil lamps or charcoal stoves. The matchboxes that contained this essential good thus promised to reach a wide audience, and businesses eagerly advertised on boxes that were given away to potential customers.
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This book was born out of an observation. While reading a recent newspaper review of Antigen Rapid Test (ART) kits, this sentence jumped out at me:
“Aesthetics aside, all the kits were found to be very similar, with only slight differences in procedure.”
Aesthetics aside? In just two words, the reviewer dissected the kits’ design into form and function and so casually dismissed the former. At first, I was irritated by the assumption that form in design was mere styling, or even worse, a distraction. That quickly grew into an existential crisis: If aesthetics could be so conveniently cast aside, then why have I spent all of my adult life researching and writing about design?
So I decided to compile a decade’s worth of writings into a book. The 30 essays in Aesthetics Aside: Observations on Design in the Everyday come from various points in my career, including my very first story decoding a city’s identity by examining the typefaces on its streets to a recent reflection on the role of imitation in design and life. Each offers a journey beyond the stylish “designer” world, on to the designed graphics, environments and objects that we encounter daily.
Design never looked so ordinary, and extraordinary.
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Meeting the public all day. Admired, scrutinised and subjected to selfies. Hanging out with “colleagues” who don’t always agree with your style.
The life of an artwork can be tiresome. Thus, at the end of any exhibition, SAM sends its artworks for a well-deserved break at the Heritage Conservation Centre (HCC). The purpose-built facility in Jurong is where the museum’s collection of artworks is cared for and stored alongside over 200,000 heritage artefacts that make up Singapore’s National Collection.
➜ Read the full story on essay on the blog of the Singapore Art Museum