“I take issue with this because it is clearly a case of non-functional design.”

Singapore political party logos

After several weeks of gags about Walls Icecream (bottom left) and the Star Trek red shirts (top row, second from the right), Mothership has got some professional designers in to critique the various Singapore political parties’ logos.

You can read their conclusions here, including what I think is possibly the best piece of political commentary ever written, by Zed Tan on the subject of the Workers’ Party logo (top right):


The drawing of the hammer also raises a few questions for me. For instance, what sort of hammer is it? It is neither a claw hammer, nor does it seem like one for heavy duty use. I take issue with this because it is clearly a case of non-functional design.


Actually, the ruling PAP logo (bottom right) always looked like the sort of logo a writer inventing a fictional totalitarian state would give his omnipotent Party. It has a similar aesthetic – circle broken by a spiky graphic – to the logo of the Bordurian Taschist Party in the Tintin books:


Taschist Party logo


However, I the main point of interest here lies not in the difference between the logos but in their similarities.

In many countries each party will associate itself with a particular colour, to the extent that the two become inseparable. Think of the red Republicans vs. the blue Democrats. Even relatively new parties feel obliged to enter into the game: in Britian UKIP is purple largely because it was the only colour that was both a) sufficiently distinctive and b) not already in use. The links are so strong that they can even lead to diplomatic awkwardness if the “wrong” colour is given prominence.

The PAP’s strategic  decision to use red, white and blue in its logo (bottom right) was almost certainly intended to imply a broad appeal to all sides. Harry Lee spent several years in the UK, where red and blue were well established as the respective colours of the Labour and Conservative parties*, and the objective of the PAP was always to be a full-spectrum unifying political movement (the PAP was considered to be a left-wing party for about three and a half minutes in 1965 – it quickly moved right).

However, this also had the side effect of going a good way towards cornering the market in terms of party colours. The Workers’ Party was founded three years after the PAP, and began life as a much more socialist entity than it is today. It did not have a great deal of choice regarding its use of red, though it managed to soften this somewhat by including a high proportion of yellow (traditionally the colour of moderation in party politics).

What is really remarkable is the lack of differenciation between the other parties’ logos. No one has gone for green, purple, orange or any non-primary colour, and most of them have stuck to the original circle-with-pointy-bits concept.

However, this does not necessarily denote a lack of imagination. In general Singapore political parties do not try to emphasise ideological differences. As a Pakistani guy who was at one of the Workers’ Party rallies last night said to me: “In my country the parties all say how bad the others are. In Singapore they say how much they appreciate the PAP for bringing us this far, and that it has very good policies, but that they would just like to tweak one or two of them to make them better.”


*Interestingly, the Tory party had originally used red, white and blue as its colours, and only dropped the red after Labour started using it in the early 20th century.


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