Featured: Team Manila’s Jowee Alviar discusses the rich history of Philippine graphic design in the first episode of Usapang Design

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — In the first episode of adobo Talks x Usapang Design, Team Manila Design Studio’s Co-Founder and Creative Director Jowee Alviar shares the history of Philippine graphic design and his insights on the influence of Spanish, American, and Japanese colonization on the modern way of designing.

Pre-colonial times – Revolution Era (Katipunan)


Looking back at pre-colonial times, Alviar said that Laguna Copperplate Inscription dated back in 822 A.D. and Butuan Ivory seal dated back in 1002 A.D., both products of mark-making, are some of the oldest living proofs of Philippine graphic design.

Alviar noted that before the Spanish era, the Philippines was already rich in writing systems such as Hanuo script, Tagbanwa, and Baybayin. Philippine graphic design can also be seen in tattoos and weave patterns like ikat, a Banton clothing that was used as a burial cloth.

Not until the Spanish era began that the Philippines was able to make a mark with Doctrina Cristiana as the first book locally published and Tomas Pinpin from Abucay, Bataan became the first publisher in the country, naming him the Prince of the Filipino printers.

Artes y reglas de lengua tagalo and Arte de la lengua Tagala, y Manual Tagalog, books that were published in 1610 and 1745 respectively, are also good resources of Spanish era-inspired graphic design.

Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay, a woodblock artist from Tambobong (now Malabon) is considered to be the first illustrator in the country as he illustrated Pedro Murillo Veralde’s Mapa de Filipinas in 1734.

Alviar states that Mapa de Filipinas is also a good reference of what Filipinos looked like in the Spanish era as the map consists of detailed illustrations of Filipino life and even proof that the Spratly Islands is a part of the Philippines archipelago.

When the revolution era came, a different take on Philippine graphic design was widely illustrated in the logo of freemasonry.

American Era – Modern day

There has been a huge difference in Philippine graphic illustrations during the American occupation compared to previous times, and art nouveau was the prominent art style used in business and advertising materials. A perfect reference showed by Jowee Alviar was the packaging designs of matchbox and Katialis, an ointment brand established in 1937 which still can be bought from any drugstores today.

Aside from business and advertising, art nouveau style of art brought by the Americans was heavily used in tourism materials such as brochures, posters, and travel maps/guides to attract foreigners to come to the Philippines. Most designs were tropical-based illustrations with coconut trees, islands, and sunsets, depicting the most common scenery in the Philippines.

Comics and movie posters during the American occupation were also influenced with art nouveau style but with a hint of the classic Philippine lettering. A perfect reference to it is The Manila Grand Opera House posters which, according to Alviar, contain ‘expressive fonts’.

With the surge of technology, a futuristic style of graphic design has emerged. Dalagang Bukid, the first Filipino silent and colored film, and Philippine comics Halakhak, Liwayway, and Hiwaga are the best examples of the futuristic style of Philippine graphic design.

During the post-war, document stamps and lottery tickets were highly illustrated. A perfect reference is the Philippine Lottery Sweepstakes lottery tickets from 1971 to 1974 that were illustrated by Mauro Magalang.

Some other references of Philippine graphic design from the 70s to 90s are vinyl covers and Ermita Magazine.

The Future of Philippine Graphic Design

Looking back, the history of graphic design in the Philippines can be traced starting from the pre-colonial period to the post-war era but there is currently limited to no collection of references about it. According to Jowee Alviar, one of his dreams for the future of Philippine graphic design is to publish a book about it.

“It’s always my dream to really collect all of these samples of graphic design and give it to the next generation. When I was in college, wala rin kaming books about Philippine design history or graphic design. Hopefully, in the future, it becomes a book. Like our neighbors in Japan and Singapore, they have books and database of their graphic design [history]”, Alviar said.

On the resurgence of pre-colonial writing system, he approved the reintroduction of Baybayin today but expounded that using it completely is complicated.

“[Baybayin] is a romantic way of expressing of being Filipino. It’s nice to use it para di siya mawala”, he said. Today, this pre-colonial writing system is being used in the business industry, making it aesthetically pleasing through t-shirts, jewelries, and decorations.

In his final message for graphic designers in taking inspiration from the past, he encouraged them to contribute to the history of Philippine graphic design. “If you see a particular design, share it on Facebook, share it with your fellow designers. Let’s show it to everyone because… It’s really important for us to study this, preserve this history, and share it to the next generation.”

Usapang Design is a series of insightful and inspiring sessions on visual communications organized by the Communication Design Association of the Philippines and adobo magazine.

Partner with adobo Magazine

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