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16 August 2012
The Graphic State of a Nation
Justin Zhuang traces the development of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s in a new book
Two years ago, Hanson Ho, an executive committee member from The Design Society (an independent graphic design body created to raise the standard of local graphic design), approached Justin Zhuang to write a book about the creative discipline’s history in Singapore.
“I felt this was an important document in giving the community an identity and understanding of Singapore though the visual materials created by graphic designers that surround us, so I agreed without realising the massive task I had on,” quips the writer who runs writing studio, In Plain Words.
The “massiveness” of the task relates not so much to its size – the 376-page tome features mostly visuals in a handy A5 size – but the ambition of covering a topic barely documented before.
With the support of the National Heritage Board under the Heritage Industry Incentive Programme (Hi2P), the book was completed in April this year. Entitled ‘Independence: The history of graphic design of Singapore since the 1960s’, it brings the memories of more than 100 graphic designs together while archival material chronicle the story of how modern graphic design came about in Singapore. The focus of the book is on independent graphic design studios for the innovative nature of their work.
But why start from the 1960s? “The birth of the nation [then] made sense because the designers saw their work as communicating this imagined community of Singaporeans. More importantly, there is historical evidence of the rise of modern graphic design in Singapore with the founding of the Creative Circle in 1962 (a design studio) by a group of creative directors based here who wanted to raise graphic design standards in Singapore,” shares Zhuang. “In the late 1960s, several of Singapore’s earliest consultancies that specialised in graphic designs were also founded in a creative industry dominated by advertising agencies.”
The text is separated into four parts, starting from the time of Singapore’s independence and industrialisation phase when graphic design as we know it today was non-existent, to the current time where independent graphic design studios weld influence both locally and abroad. Zhuang’s text is easily accessible while bite-sized interviews with pioneers such as Patrick Gan and Ronnie Tan, in the form of inserts, look into personal journeys as well as more practical topics such as wages and design education.
What makes the book a fulfilling read is the way it looks at the industry’s growth through the growth of the nation, technological advancements and global shifts in thinking, serving only to reinforce the importance of the discipline as influenced by and influencing everyday life through the products, media and culture it addresses. Most importantly, the book signals that graphic design in Singapore is still progressing but has arrived at a certain maturity.
William Chan’s (designer from PHUNK) quote only serves to reinforce this: “When we started out, people thought all graphic designers could do was design ‘big sales’ flyers and lay out texts on posters. But these days we are viewed as trend setters.”