Independent Voices: Singapore's Unique Design Community

“Without a common written or spoken language then, graphic design became a means to communicate to this multiracial community,” writes Justin Zhuang in the introduction to Independence: The History of Graphic Design in Singapore Since the 1960s. The book, commissioned by the Design Society and published earlier this year, chronicles the rapid growth and evolution of a unique design community—from its high-stakes origins in 1965 to the independent studios operating today. Zhuang keeps his focus on the smaller shops, choosing to highlight projects that emphasize experimentation and change over the past five decades. Some are uniquely Singaporean, like Neighbor’s self-initiated “RESERVED: A Public (T)issue” (below), while others highlight the blurry boundaries between design and art, or design and commerce. The text can be slightly dry, but 300 pages of accompanying projects, and several notable Q&A’s from Zhuang’s research, provide natural breaks. The book itself, elegantly designed by H55, appropriately echoes the handy size and shape of a guidebook. Summer may be over, but there’s still time to travel.
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Singapore Bus Service guides by the Graphic Communication Group / Lok Lai, 1978 and 1979

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 Lunar New Year card by Crunch Communications, 1995

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Left: Cover for Skew Me, You Rebel Meh? by X’Ho fFurious, 1998. Right: While You Sleep exhibition poster by Phunk Studio, 2002

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Left: Asylum Shop shopping bag by Asylum, 2005. Right: Utterubbish books, for the exhibition Utterubbish: A Collection of UseLess Ideas, by Asylum, 2007

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Left: I Want The Title Of This Book To Be _____ by H55, 2001. Right: Identity for the Sandwich Shop by H55, 2003

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Inspired by Singaporeans’ practice of using tissue packets to reserve seats in food centers, Neighbor designed its own packets and distributed 30,000 of them in the city’s central business district.

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Kult was started in 2007 to break away from what its founders saw as “formulaic approaches to client briefs.” In 2009, the studio began publishing Kult magazine, inviting illustrators and designers from around the world to contribute visuals that explored societal issues such as AIDS and wealth distribution.
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2 thoughts on “Independent Voices: Singapore's Unique Design Community

  1. Madison

    @paper acrobat. what an egocentric and western viewpoint. asia has been doing unique design for decades. just because you see English words being used, it automatically becomes western?

  2. Paper Acrobat

    I guess it’s no suprise that as the East becomes more commercialised and Western in its outlook that they develop their own unique take on graphic design. China is beginning to show innovative home grown design when previously they were considered only as a nation of copiers and makers.

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