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Print: Here to Stay

Designers, zinemakers and a magazine distributor share their love for print at the National Design Centre. Justin Zhuang reports.

Print: Here to Stay

That you are reading this report on a print design event online via a digital screen speaks volumes about the state of printed matter today. Once the default, print publishing has been challenged by the Internet and digital technology over the last decade – best summed up by the now cliché proclamation that “Print is Dead”.

Yet the medium has not just survived, but is enjoying a revival as witnessed by the well-attended “Print Design: Books, magazines, zines – here to stay!” event held recently at the National Design Centre. Veteran graphic designer Kelley Cheng of The Press Room, emerging design duo Sarah & Schooling, and magazine retailer Magpie’s founder Annabelle Fernandez were invited to make sense of print’s longevity. The quartet of print lovers offered a behind-the-scenes peek at how they produced and distributed printed publications before diving into a discussion moderated by Adib Jalal, director of Shophouse & Co, the organiser of this event.


The print industry today is clearly “slowing down” compared to some 16 years ago when Cheng started her now-defunct design magazine ish, and later, served as editorial director of local book publisher and distributor Page One. Since then, many publishers and bookstores have closed, including Borders and Page One in Singapore. While architecture monographs easily hit a print run of 10,000 copies then, one would be pleased selling just 3,000 copies today, says Cheng who continues designing books in her independent studio, The Press Room.


This drastic drop in numbers surprised Fernandez, but she read it as sign of revolution instead of death. The former writer for a women’s magazine said Magpie sells titles that publish less frequently than commercially-driven ones, but they have a “point of view”. Since starting in 2013, her company has received a steady stream of new publications run by individuals or small teams who publish out of passion instead of profit.


It is exactly this spirit that led Sarah Tang and Alison Schooling to form their practice focusing on book design in spite of concerns from peers that it was a sunset industry. In just two years, Sarah & Schooling have become the go to designers of Singapore’s literary community, particularly art directing many Math Paper Press publications, the imprint of local indie bookstore BooksActually. The budgets for working on literary books are tight, say the duo, but they do it for their love of literature.


In a sense, print has sustained despite the financial fallout because of a core group of believers like the four speakers. For them, print’s attraction is its physicality, which for Sarah & Schooling makes it a perfect medium for the things we wish to keep. It also allows for “textures” in reading, said Cheng, who shared how paper choice can dramatically change one’s encounter with a book (as well as its cost). Such technical knowledge, however, was lost amongst a younger generation of designers and readers who have grown up in a digital environment.


Perhaps spurred by these comments, the crowd stayed on after the talk and got their hands dirty learning to make zines at a booth set up by Squelch Zines, a local group that promotes self-publishing zine culture. The participants’ enthusiasm was a sure sign of the increasing democratisation of “print” from a commodity to an activity.

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