- Ice cream trucks and vans were a common sight during the 80s to 90s (and even before then), but not as much now. It’s heartening to know that upcoming generations are realizing this. This topic was also listed in the Singapore Memory Project and it’s the absence of these that makes our culture seem like it’s fading away.
Jolyn Ong manages to bring light to this issue with her ice cream truck project, Commonfolk. We caught up with her to find out more about it as well as her reason for bringing up the lesser-seen trend.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
- Jolyn (J): I’m a graphic designer with a BFA in Visual Communication from NTU’s School of Art, Design & Media. I’m into design, illustrations and typography. I do both print and digital design but my heart lies in print.
How did Commonfolk start or come about? Was it because ice cream trucks are seen lesser these days?
- J: Commonfolk was a final project done for a packaging design module that I took in school. It was a funny story actually. This recount may be completely unnecessary but I’ll share it anyway.
I’m kind of indecisive by nature and I was having trouble trying to decide on a product/service I’d like to brand and package for.
I’m usually in school till late doing my projects as it was my last year in uni but one night, I happened to come home around 8pm and heard a really loud Hokkien song playing somewhere when I got out of my car. This has never happened before. After investigating where the sound was coming from, I stumbled upon a sight I’ve never seen in Singapore in all my years, and have never seen again after that night.
I saw this van parked right outside the multi-storey carpark I was in and it had its back opened, with an uncle making ice cream. The van was decorated with bright and colourful LED light blinking away, as a bubble machine on the top of the van steadily blew out tons of bubbles that floated everywhere like a dream.
The audio system from the van was turned up, playing strangely old Hokkien songs I’ve never heard before. It was such a sight. I’ve never seen anything like it. After that discovery, I decided to do a project about ice cream trucks. I’ve always been interested in the idea of ice cream trucks I see in movies but not in Singapore. I guess seeing the ice cream van reminded me of this interest and pushed me to work on it. This discovery came at such an uncanny time too, almost as if it was meant to inspire me, because I’ve never seen that van again. I’ve been looking out for it but it never came to our residential area again. It had a whimsical feel to it as it was pretty dark and all I could see, hear and feel from afar were colourful lights blinking, strange music sounding in the night, and bubbles covering the air and bursting against my skin at a usually unused and overlooked corner outside the carpark. I didn’t approach the van as I left everything in my car to investigate, so I didn’t have money on me to buy anything from them.
I’ve never seen ice cream trucks in Singapore. Maybe you have. (Yup, we have hahh.) I like the idea of the truck playing music and people queuing up in anticipation for good ice-cream. I want a more wholesome experience where the truck allows for a couple of people to enjoy their ice cream inside while the rest of the people will be provided with tables and chairs on the outside. That would set the difference between a truck and the usual ice cream vendors on motorbikes, which has become a common sight around Singapore.
I think the main selling point of Commonfolk is the idea of bringing expensive homemade ice cream that is usually only available in ice cream cafes, to only the residential areas in Singapore, packaged in a way that reminisces the 70s to 80s era in Singapore, bringing the young and old together.
Tell us more about Commonfolk?
- J: The logo looks like that because it’s the top view of HDB residential areas in Singapore, with the blue dot signifying the truck as it navigates around and stopping to serve. All the packaging attempts to bring back some form of nostalgia, like the potong ice cream, push-pop and coffee served in condensed milk cans. The design language I chose as seen with the simple prints and patterns is also an attempt to emulate the design language of the 70s to 80s.
- J: Personally, the colours blue, red and white give me a nostalgic and playful feeling, hence the reason I chose them. During my research of the 70s to 80s, I found out about Tikam which is when kids in those times would pay a few cents to get a mystery toy or figurine. This will be provided by the Commonfolk truck too. I hope that the old will be able to relate and take the opportunity to communicate with the young, and also educate them about the past. It would be a good chance for family bonding too.
Did you know from the start you wanted to use Chinese characters for the logo?
- J: Yes, I knew right from the start when I was deciding the name for this service that I was going to be using Chinese characters. Maybe it’s because I am a fan of Japanese design. I think the glyphs of Chinese and Japanese letterings just give so much character to a logo. Also, if I was going to be executing my plan of the logo to be like the top view of a map, using English letters would have been awkward and unreadable if arranged in the same manner.
I was also paying attention to how the majority of older Singaporeans are Chinese, and can relate to the Chinese characters. Another reason is that I’ve always believed that a lot of other languages speak more than English can. The Chinese language for one, can bring a lot of meaning with just a few words if you know how to use it. The Chinese name for this brand means ‘the commoners’, the working class. I want that to be the focus of the brand. The truck only goes to HDB areas in Singapore.
Were there other branding concepts you had for Commonfolk?
- J: No, there wasn’t any other branding concepts that I was seriously considering. From the get-go, I knew I wanted an ice cream truck that sold homemade ice cream, at an affordable price point that could appeal to people of all ages. Only after more research have I decided to include the element of nostalgia into the branding. I think it was because this was a project without any brief or requests, so it was entirely up to me to make up a brand. So I could choose the idea I like the most from the start and not waste time having to give myself options.
What are some of the difficulties in Branding? And do you have some advice for it?
- J: I do think the difficulty that comes with branding is in a league of its own. It is easy to come up with lousy branding, anyone can do it. But good branding takes so much research and good justification, and sometimes even surprises are involved. I think the most important thing, as what any good designer would tell you, is conceptualisation. Things like tones and colours come in the last stage of the design when you are executing your concept after you have decided on it.
Crucial part of Branding?
- J: The most crucial part of branding is the story behind the brand, the message you want to convey through your branding and your logo, and the concept of your execution which you have to be very clear and certain about, especially when presenting to others about your idea. After you have that foundation, I think everything else can be built upon it more easily, and it will be a lot more wholesome since everything can be better justified as opposed to simply wanting to do something because the colour looks good, or you feel like adding this for no reason at all.
Only after the concept is clear can you better explain to yourself and others why the method of execution best fits the concept. It’s like how I can tell you I want white, blue and red for this branding because I am clear that my concept is of nostalgia and playfulness, and those colours convey that message, as opposed to say, black and white.
- J: I think when you believe in your work and want to do it from the bottom of your heart, it shows.
Read on for more about Jolyn!
25 // Gemini
Creative Approach // Make something worth stealing.
Fact // I don’t like small talks and die a little bit inside during awkward situations.
Message // I always try to do what I love. I think it’s important to like what you’re doing/making. It’s so difficult to work on something when you don’t believe in it.
FUSSY // I don’t get on my bed until I’ve showered and am in completely clean clothes that haven’t been outside the house or touched any surface in the house besides my closet like the chairs, couch or floor. It applies to anybody else who pays me a visit. Very strict bed rules. I’m a germaphobe when it comes to the bed.