SG Design in 2025: A leap with the arts & culture

While the setup of the DesignSingapore Council in 2003 has helped design grow in Singapore, what is less discussed is the role the arts and cultural policy has played. The 1989 Report of the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts set things in motion by establishing the hardware for a local arts and culture scene, and this was followed by the 1999 Renaissance City Report that gave it the necessary software. In the last two decades, designers have benefitted from the government’s cultural policy, growing closer to their cousins in the arts and culture scene, and allowing them to cross-pollinate ideas and foster a creative community  — or what has been once termed the ‘Singapore Supergarden‘. Of course, the loosening of censorship law over the decades has allowed more forms of expression and created more opportunities for designers to pursue creative excellence too.

Today’s report on the Straits Times about the recently setup Arts And Culture Strategic Review Steering Committee shows how much design has grown. Two of the 19 members in this committee that will “formulate concrete strategies to mould distinctive peaks of excellence that would differentiate and distinguish Singapore as a global city and nurture the creative capacity of people at all levels” are graphic designers: Chris Lee from Asylum and Theseus Chan of WORK. The rest of the committee is made up of members from the media, architecture, film, arts schools, and public service officers. Interestingly, there are no artists in this line-up to shape polices that will define Singapore’s arts and culture scene in 2025.

Could the favouring of designers over artists in the committee reflect an arts and cultural policy driven by economics? If it’s creative capacity we are seeking, shouldn’t artists be at the forefront of it and leading this committee? But if it’s artists grounded in a sense of economics we’re looking for, then a designer makes perfect sense — after all, in the past ‘graphic designers’ were known as ‘commercial artists’.


  1. R says:

    Justin, been reading your blog on and off for awhile.

    Interesting point about policy driven by economics. I might be slightly cynical, but I would question MICA’s intention of these policy making committees other than for economic gain. Progression through design has been a hot topic for quite sometime—and kudos to Singapore for finally catching up on it—but I wonder if the powers that be really understand the societal impact of Arts and Culture beyond financial rewards. Hopefully Chris and Theseus will put something right, because I am still rather insulted that the NHB thinks I would frequent museums because they are going to put on a couple of magic shows (

    Also, I think Graphic Design has revolved and reached a stage where it can start to look away from it’s previous title as a commercial artist… but that is opening a whole new can of worms.

    Good blog and insightful posts. Will definitely start visiting with more regularity.

  2. j u s t i n . z says:

    Hey R, thanks for the kinds words!

    I think the “hard truth” is almost nothing can escape the commercial imperative here. But this is also true of governments around the world too, what is politics but money and power? Once we see beyond this, I think it’s a matter of how can we steer politics to benefit society by the way, i.e. rob from the rich and help the poor. So now that the government sees design as a golden goose, it can lay it a few golden eggs to keep it happy and also lay a few other eggs that, hopefully, can help it design flourish here.

    I’m not sure how I would define Graphic Design at the moment, it’s bewildering! Currently, I find the term “commercial artist” very generic and useful because at the end of the day, what seems to distinguish a graphic designer from an artist is that part of his/her work serves commerce.

  3. R says:

    With regards to the idea of “naming” Graphic Design, Rick Poynor’s article ( had quite an effect on me when I read it some time back. Funny that for a such a young profession born out of the consequences of WWII, we see a need to refine/redefine ourselves so much—inferiority complex perhaps? But that’s a completely different and less important discourse.

    Moving on, I think the other question that needs to be posed is: help design flourish in which direction? Increasingly, I am starting to disagree with design’s role (especially Graphic Design) in wider society as being stripped down to “communication and problem solving”. As an extremely naval gazing profession, we still see the creation of artefacts as a linear “problem—solution” model, failing to understand/consider the “lifespan” of the created artefact, and how once being created will have its own being, and will start to act back and shape/design our own and other beings. Similarly, before a designer is even called forth, its eventual artefact has already been structured by multitudes of decisions, human or otherwise.

    I would love to see some discourse and critique of design’s role to “redirectively” shape our future. I see design as being an agent of which our made world can be rendered legible and open to critical engagement. A studio that does this brilliantly is Metahaven, IMHO one of the most progressive Graphic Design studios around.

    What I say is admittedly flawed and in need of critique, and perhaps going beyond the topic of MICA’s 2025 framework, it is still something I think needs an appreciation for—especially in a country like Singapore. The idea of “Ontological Designing” itself is relatively new concept and something I’ve come into contact with for about a year, mostly through my ex tutor Nic Hughes and he has too, written something about it oh his blog ( if you fancy giving it a read.

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