Save precious water. Floss your teeth. Buckle up for safety. Those are just some of the truisms familiar to generations of Singaporeans. Since gaining independence five decades ago, the Southeast Asian city-state has seen countless government campaigns aimed to mold citizens who could live up to the nation’s leap from Third World to First. Design has played a central role in these efforts, as evident in the 6,000+ posters preserved in the National Archives of Singapore.
Since its establishment in 1968, this state institution has archived posters as part of its collection of material culture—including government records, maps, photographs, oral history interviews, audiovisual, and sound recordings—that are significant to Singapore’s history. Most of its posters come from government campaigns, with a small number created for cultural events, movies, and corporations.
Scrolling through the posters online via the National Archives website—the only way the public can access them—offers an illustrated history of Singapore’s development and the issues it’s faced. Campaigns came and went, but many were carried out annually for decades. Over the years, the poster collection has become a colorful historical resource referenced by television shows, books, and exhibitions to retell the development of national policies and the public service in Singapore. That the city has become a poster child for business and cleanliness, amongst other accolades today, is due, in no small part, to these posters.