Brand guides have probably never appeared on a summer reading list, but after seeing Foreign Policy Design Group’s take on the genre, we’re telling everyone to move it to the top of their stack.
Brand Guide: Singapore Edition is the design studio’s 400-page dossier on the secrets to success of 17 contemporary brands from the Southeast Asian city-state. From boutique restauranteur and hotelier Unlisted Collection, to small independent bookstore BooksActually, this guide features a spectrum of Singapore lifestyle brands, including fashion, cultural, hospitality, retail, offices, and food and beverage.
Foreign Policy’s creative director Yu Yah-Leng dreamt up this guide two years ago after feeling “shortchanged” by existing books on branding that were heavy on images, but light on content. And unlike brand-focused publications such as local brand award catalogues and the popular B magazine, the aim was to create a series of city-focused guides that were well-designed, explains Foreign Policy’s co-founder, Arthur Chin.
Distilled brand insights are accompanied by interview excerpts and lush photography of its design elements. Three of the brands—coffee roasters Papa Palheta, food and beverage holdings The Lo & Behold Group, and Unlisted Collection—also have separate folders that dive deeper into the brand’s design through interviews with the architects and designers involved. Wrapping up the lusciously designed package are introductory essays written by UnderConsideration’s Armin Vit and myself, actually, plus a city map, a poster guide to classic local brands, and a pocket of printed matter from the featured companies that offer readers a tactile experience.
A tinge of patriotism led Yah-Leng to focus the first guide in the series on her hometown. “This couple of years we’ve been working on a lot of branding projects and witnessing what’s happening in Singapore. It’s really growing up in a sense, and we felt it’s a really good time to document the designs that are making the waves,” said the designer. Yah-Leng returned home in 2007 after spending nearly 15 years in the United States, graduating from the Art Institute of Boston and then working in various New York City studios, including her own digital agency, DoubleYolks.
While the guide features several of Foreign Policy’s clients, the studio also reached out to other brands that fulfilled the criteria of being visionary proponents good design and offering a new dimension to the profession in Singapore. They whittled their selection down to a list of the city’s hippest brands, pioneered by a new generation of entrepreneurs.
“I also hope that with this book people can see Singapore in a different light,” says Yah-Leng. “A couple of years ago, there weren’t many places to hang out at in Singapore. But within such a short time there are so many interesting things because these establishments came one after another. There’s this movement now.”
For the studio, working on the guide over a year while juggling projects was “a labor of love,” says Chin. He notes that this first print run of the guide won’t make money and that completing it literally required Yah-Leng to lock herself up with two designers in the meeting room. Each of the 2,500 guides being sold were also hand-assembled by Foreign Policy’s team and volunteers who were promised a copy of the guide in exchange for a day’s work. “If you really want to put out something, you really need some one to champion it,” said Chin. “Thankfully, Yah-Leng kept us focused.”
This same tenacity is one lesson she’s learned from the brands featured in the guide. “They don’t give up. No matter how long it takes for them to find something to work for them, they will take their time,” she says.