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Piracy and Design: Re-thinking Intellectual Property in the Third Industrial Revolution

Piracy and Design: Re-thinking Intellectual Property in the Third Industrial Revolution

Knockoffs, fakes, and counterfeits are the bane of modern industrial design. They are unauthorized copies of designers’ intellectual property. They are the stolen profits of manufacturers. They are the products of piracy: a phenomenon wrecking an industry’s will to innovate and create “original” and “authentic” design. But to consumers, piracy offers affordable goods, diversity of options, and sometimes, even better design. Piracy isn’t black-and-white like a pirate flag, but a nebulous concept whose edges ebb and flow like the waves of the sea. What’s a copy to some is homage to another, what is original today is tomorrow’s evolution, what is piracy to the industry is competition to society.

How will we recognize piracy and intellectual property in industrial design with the rise of digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing? By democratizing access to the means of production, it will become easier for users to copy, remix, and self-repair objects in ways that traditionally infringe upon a designer’s intellectual property. This calls for a need to redefine what piracy means. In response to the digital revolution, some designers and manufacturers have strengthened protection over their designs via the law and technology, while others are opening up access to them, believing that design is a collaborative process that benefits from a community working on it together. Will the rise of open design see an end to piracy?

This thesis examines more closely the relationships between piracy, intellectual property, and industrial design by studying a variety of case studies and interviews with practitioners. Beyond just a legal and economic issue, piracy is a reflection of society’s assumptions about the design process, who a designer is, and what design is for. Piracy is a ghost that will always haunt the world of design.


By Justin Zhuang
Book Design by H55
Campaign Design by Melvin Tan and Darius Ou

79 pages
Soft cover
Published in 2015 as part of a thesis submitted to the School of Visual Arts in Partial Fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts in Design Criticism.

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INDEPENDENCE: The history of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s

INDEPENDENCE: The history of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s

The first-ever book tracing the evolution of the graphic design community in Singapore since it became an independent nation-state. Situating the emergence of modern design with the country’s desire to build as nation, the book examines the growth of independent graphic design studios against a backdrop of national policies and societal trends. The story is retold chronologically over five decades until the 2010s, and features interviews with pioneering designers as well as a compendium of their works.

By Justin Zhuang
Design by H55
Published by The Design Society

376 pages
Soft cover
Published in 2012
ISBN 978-201-27-8685-1

Read features about the book by Eye and Print

Singapore: The Design Society / Epigram Bookshop



What is design? This is a question that frequently popped up when putting together this publication. Many of our interviewees expressed (pleasant) surprise to be featured in a “design” publication, while some designers were sceptical about including less than professional work. Underlying these reactions is an assumption that “design” is extra (ordinary) and can only be created by those trained in it. This has led to the popular view that there are chairs, and then there are “designer” chairs—a binary view we seek to reframe with By Design: SINGAPORE.

Our compilation of 10 stories challenges the belief that design is only a stylish product and a tool for innovation. While such points of views have propelled its meteoric rise with industrialisation, design is ultimately a creative act necessary for living. We all carry this out when trying to overcome challenges in the environment. As the American design writer, Ralph Caplan, once wrote: “[D]esign is a process for making things right, for shaping what people need.” This was from his 1982 book, By Design, whose name we borrowed the name for our publication.

Another inspiration is from where we come from: the city-state of Singapore. In a speech to design students in 2018, its Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained that: “Singapore is a nation by design. Nothing we have today is natural, or happened by itself. Somebody thought about it, made it happen.” Designers in Singapore have no doubt contributed to this. We highlight some unexpected examples, including a prosthetic for a hornbill, several restored historic buildings and the effort to build high-tech “tropical” data centres. But we are also interested in how the rest of Singapore society has harnessed design as a process. For instance, local food hawkers have crafted new tools to prepare traditional delicacies for modern times, while its food technologists are inventing fresh ways of repackaging Singapore cuisine to the world.

In examining design as broadly as possible, By Design: Singapore shows how design is everywhere around us. It can be stylish. It can be innovative. But more than a consumer product or invention, design is an action each of us can take to make an impact on the world.


  1. A City for Nature by Justin Zhuang
  2. A Vernacular Sign Language by Vikas Kailankaje
  3. Huat Ah! by Justin Zhuang
  4. The Future of a City’s Past by Stephanie Peh
  5. New Ways, Familiar Tastes by Sheere Ng
  6. We Make This City by Don Wong
  7. Science of the Secondary: Rubber Band by Atelier HOKO
  8. Cooling Down This Hot Island by Timothy Misir
  9. Housing Singapore’s Smart Nation by Justin Zhuang
  10. Consider the Wok by Sheere Ng

The publication was supported by the DesignSingapore Council and first published for the Singapore Design Week 2019.

Concept by In Plain Words
Design by Modular Unit
230 x 125 x 9 mm
116 pages
Soft cover
Published in March 2019


Eating Together

Eating Together cover
Eating Together inside spread
Eating Together inside spread
Eating Together inside spread
Eating Together inside spread
Eating Together inside spread
Eating Together inside spread

Eating Together: The Design of Sharing Food in a Connected World

To eat together conjures up images of people gathered happily for a hearty meal. But sharing food is more than just that. A couple having lunch over a video conference call, residents dining at their neighbourhood kopitiam, and consumers across the globe eating and drinking from the same source countries are just some examples of how the world eats together today. These gatherings of people across differences—be it geographical, cultural, personal, among others—do not occur naturally, but are facilitated by design. Consisting of objects, systems, and spaces, design surrounds our food, meditating the relationships between people and their meals.

Eating Together examines these often overlooked designs to reflect upon what it means to share food as consumers, with family and friends, in the public, and even alone in this increasingly connected world. Through objects, speculative designs and installations, we invite you to look at eating beyond a mere delivery of food into our mouths, but as a consumption of values and cultures involving all our senses. Far from a state of bliss, eating together serves up issues that takes time to digest.

By Sheere Ng and Justin Zhuang
Design by Roots
Published by In Plain Words
Produced for

155 x 215 x 7 mm
57 pages
Soft cover
Published in May 2016
ISBN 978-981-09-9512-6

Read features about the book by art4d

Singapore: Objectifs

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When Cooking Was A Crime

When Cooking was a Crime

“Chamber pots as cooking pots. Blankets as fuel. Cooking was no easy task for those in prison. Moreover, it was illegal. But that did not stop male inmates in Singapore’s prisons and Drug Rehabilitation Centres (DRCs) during the 1970s and 1980s. Driven by the desires for a hot meal and a sense of freedom, they invented ways and means to “masak” with the little resources they had.

When Cooking Was A Crime offers a rare glimpse into the flavours of prison life based on the memories of eight former inmates. Through photographic recreations and interviews, it explores how food and cooking took on new meanings and tastes for those living behind bars.”

Research and Text by Sheere Ng
Photography by Don Wong
Design by Practice Theory
Published by In Plain Words

176 x 250 x 10 mm
128 pp, 300 g
French fold, OTA Bind
Soft cover with plastic sleeves
Published in November 2020
ISBN 978-981-14-8239-7

Read features about the book by The Straits Times and

Singapore: Kinokuniya / Basheer Graphic Books / Objectifs
South Korea: The Book Society
USA: Inga Bookshop / Kitchen Arts and Letters / Draw Down Books / Hennessey + Ingalls

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