The Browsing Copy Project

A Beautiful Design

Not everyone is keen to take home a bookstore’s “browsing copy”. Despite being the most read, the fate of this book is to rest on the shelf never to be purchased nor loved. Inquisitive individuals may thumb through a “browsing copy” but only to return it to the shelf, then buy a mint-condition copy.

Every year, more than two billion books and magazines are unsold. That’s in America alone. For most major retail bookstores, unwanted publications are generally discarded rather than kept, as a more economical option.

So with a focus on unloved books from local bookstores, The Browsing Copy Project began in 2009. Creative individuals from around the world are invited to use these books as canvases for creative expressions, thus giving the books a lease of new life. The “before” and “after” impressions of the book are documented and uploaded online for display. Each edition of this on-going project attracts about 25 participating designers.

As an extension to the online exhibition, their work is also compiled into the publication For Browsing Only. So far, 45 contributors have participated in two editions. Only 300 copies are printed and circulated worldwide. They are found in bookstores, boutiques, cafés, libraries and design studios. The concept is to present a “mini exhibition” as a book for people to pick up, browse and read.

Both local and international designers share in equal parts to make For Browsing Only. All are well-known graphic designers, illustrators, product designers, fine art practitioners, graffiti artists as well as embroidery experts. This project creates opportunities for fellow local creatives as well as those from around the world to showcase their work side by side. It also allows for multi-disciplinary experimentation. The forthcoming third edition will feature a reputable local chef as well as an architect.

Each edition is 280 pages, in full-colour with a customised cover. Each edition also contains 18-layered pages made from the bark of a variety of trees. No one cover is the same as each is individually crafted with the access pages used as invitations or notes for participants, leaving nothing to waste. Minimum paper wastage is observed during the printing process. Rejected print copies are also used, giving the catalogues a unique and distinct disposition.

For Browsing Only has received international praise for its novel approach to saving unwanted books. It was featured in The Wall Street Journal, IDN’s post of the month, as well as in numerous design books and online news portals, and mentioned on the Graphics News Network in South America.



Roy Poh, creative director of design studio A Beautiful Design, has been nominated by the Institute of Advertising Singapore for four consecutive years, to be among the 15 most influential creative directors in Singapore. His projects have also garnered awards overseas. Mr Poh’s most recent successes are a Golden Pencil from the One Show awards, New York; two D&AD In Book awards from the United Kingdom; a bronze cube at the Art Director’s Club of New York; and a bronze lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Mr Poh also devotes his time to nurturing the Singapore design sector. He tutors students, contributes his services to councils and associations, sits on various advisory panels for art schools and supports the various design festivals. Last year, he presented a talk in London on the “Creativity in Singapore” together with former Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Lee Boon Yang.

As one of the co-founders of The Design Society — a Singapore registered, non-profit organisation — Mr Poh is dedicated to raising the standard of design in Singapore, and extending its reach globally. He continues to inspire commitment in local designers, and foster greater public awareness and appreciation for good design. His work has been featured in design annuals such as Creative Review and Communication Arts. Mr Poh has also been invited to judge at both international and local awards ceremonies such as the D&AD Global Awards, Cannes Lions Awards, YoungGuns and Spikes Asia awards.


A Beautiful Design
Roy Poh, Creative Director

VisualMind LLP

Studio Roots

‘‘Start a business of your own. And start when you are young. That is a very big plus point: starting young. You have nothing to lose, no car loans, no mortgage, and you still don’t have many commitments. What’s the worst that can happen? If you fail, you can always work for somebody else. That thought gives me courage and it has worked for me.’’
‘‘Practising design is now more acceptable than in the past. Gone are the days when children are expected to become only doctors or engineers. Owning something you have created is an achievement. The learning curve may be steep, but to make something from nothing is incredibly satisfying.’’

Insights from the Recipient

What was your main objective for the design?

Outofstock: The table was inspired by our childhood memories – when we were young and we used to play with fallen tree branches we found on the forest floor. The idea was to bring back this memory and to communicate the beauty of nature through a piece of furniture.


‘‘Start a business of your own. And start when you are young. That is a very big plus point: starting young. You have nothing to lose, no car loans, no mortgage, and you still don’t have many commitments. What’s the worst that can happen? If you fail, you can always work for somebody else. That thought gives me courage and it has worked for me.’’

Jury Citation

The Browsing Copy Project is an exceptional initiative, originally developed to save the books discarded by bookstores. Engaging other creative individuals to participate in the project is a part of its ingenuity.

More than simply an exercise in print design layout, the project pulls together and builds a global fraternity of designers, illustrators and artists. The Browsing Copy Project demonstrates design quality of the highest standard.


Nominator Citation


I love the simplicity of the project. In a time when we move and change rapidly with trends and technology, it is refreshing to use things that are old and give them a new life.

When Roy first told me about The Browsing Copy Project and that he would have to fund it for SGD40,000 (mostly on the cost of shipping) out of his own pocket, I thought him insane!

I am so proud of Roy for sticking to his guns, ignoring the cynics, and seeing the project to its completion. That he is able to secure world-class designers from across the globe to participate and contribute to the initiative shows the extent The Browsing Copy Project resonates with these people.

On a personal note, this project has demonstrated to our children that the new is not all that matters. With each book that Roy sends out, the children and I await its return with anticipation. We are surprised to see the book completely transformed! The whole process teaches our children in a visceral way, that one can take something old and turn it into something new.


Hans Tan


Founder, Hans Tan Studio; and Assistant Professor, Division of Industrial Design,
National University of Singapore
Hans Tan Studio