Singapore-based studio Swell explores the idea of the banished book

Singapore-based design studio Swell started off as a way for six old school friends to keep in touch after they graduated. “We like to joke that we have one partner too many,” laughs Felix, one of the six co-founders. Though each member has pointedly different interests, from surfing to developing photos, the unique collective prides itself on its diverse set of interests which led to the cultivation of a fully functioning design studio.

“The studio occasionally smells of photo chemicals when negatives are being developed,” Felix tells It’s Nice That. “It’s a messy studio because we have quite a bit going on and we kinda like it this way.” Though a young studio, Swell has received acclaim from the likes of D&AD, Type Directors Club New York and The Singapore Creative Circle Awards. Its most recent project Pulp was hailed with a D&AD wooden pencil, covering a short biography of the notion of the banished book.

In collaboration with artist Shubigi Rao, the book covers the history of book destruction, censorship and other forms of repression; not to mention the symbol of the book and its resistance. These notions are visually enhanced through the book’s design and typography, employing margins as a “profane space” to contrast against the “sanctified” text within the body copy.

“We, as designers, manifest research into the books physical form through our work,” states Swell on its conceptual book design. “The book, in this case, is an objet d’art and employs honest and traditional approaches in its design philosophy.” Handwritten text is scrawled in the margins hinting at the book’s contemporary themes while each unique spread has been thoughtfully crafted to highlight important details within the copy. “_Pulp_ is, and will be, the most extensive book project that we have ever worked on,” finally adds Felix.

In an earlier project Global!, the Singaporean studio documents the vernacular of Singaporean streets. Each issue focuses on a specific area, recording the graphic imprints made collectively over time with consideration to place, occasion and human interference which fundamentally, provides an insight and flavour to the locality of the area. “It’s a tongue-n-cheek attempt to express the social and cultural complexities of Singapore which is commonly seen as a ‘spotless’ city-state,” explains the founding designer. Kicking off the publication’s first issue by documenting Singapore’s red light district in which the studio resides, Geylang, the project eventually became a “self-initiated excuse to have fun together as a studio, juggling experimental ideas without the worry of it ‘not making sense’.” Finally, he goes on to say, “And now it’s something of an annual affair that we look forward to each year, nor do we see a reason to stop.”

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