Design is everywhere around us. From the homes we live in to the clothes we wear, all these and more were made with deliberate thought that went into every decision. And as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong puts it: “Singapore is a nation by design. Nothing we have today is natural, or happened by itself. Somebody thought about it, made it happen.”
And now more than ever, the world needs design thinking if we are to thrive in the 21st century and beyond, coming up with innovative solutions to the ever growing slate of problems we face. How then do we promote design in Singapore? With the DesignSingapore Council of course, Singapore’s national agency for design championing design in growing businesses, spurring innovation, and improving lives.
Leading DesignSingapore Council is Executive Director Dawn Lim, who may only have been serving the position for the last five months, but already has big plans and big projects on her hands. And one of the biggest events on her plate is the highly anticipated Singapore Design Week (SDW), which returns for the first time in two years this September. “What a cool job to have. It’s been so much more than I thought it would be, and especially being someone who comes from a non-design background, I’ve been learning so much, and seeing so many different perspectives on the role design plays in Singapore,” says Dawn.
Prior to joining DesignSingapore, Dawn had spent 6 years at PSA Singapore, and then 10 years at EDB, giving her a firm background in business. “At PSA, my business acumen was honed, and I learnt to look out for how to price a product and service, and what makes a good deal. At EDB, I enjoyed a wide range of experiences across different industries, mostly in business fronting,” she explains. “It’s been a privilege to get to do projects like setting up the EDB office in Switzerland, and learn how to connect the dots at both the micro and macro level. DesignSingapore then brings all these things together, as we figure out strategy, business development, marketing and finance, and I am fortunate that the stars aligned to bring me here, where I believe I can add value to the council.”
“Our role is to see where design potential can be amplified, and how it can be applied to various companies and businesses in Singapore to help them grow.”Dawn Lim
“What DesignSingapore then hopes to do has evolved over the years – where it used to be more about culture and heritage, and building a national identity, we’ve gone beyond that to be housed under the economic umbrella, where we figure out how can design contribute to economic growth and innovation,” she adds. “There’s now a shift in expectations, and our role is to see where design potential can be amplified, and how it can be applied to various companies and businesses in Singapore to help them grow.”
And that is where SDW comes in. Marketed as “a fiesta of creativity that celebrates all things design-related”, the celebration of design comprises a series of workshops, activations, exhibitions, fairs, tours and more, with this smorgasbord of programmes intended at creatives in the design industry, as well as families, youngsters and students dipping their toes into the world of design. “In the past, SDW was just about raising design awareness in the broader community. But as time went by, we started to think about design in relation to what it can do for business,” says Dawn.
While it boasts an impressive lineup of programmes, planning for SDW 2022 has not been an easy affair, with the broader relaxation of restrictions only happening around April earlier this year, and multiple iterations of the festival planned for whatever circumstances Singapore might find itself in. “There were a lot of drawer plans in the mix, and so much uncertainty as we waited for updates,” says Dawn. “It feels like no one slept, and we worked on delivering what we could from the moment we got the green light. But in all honesty? We realised all the programmes we wanted to, and everyone came through.”
This year, the festival returns with a brand new vision, exploring design through three defining festival pillars: Design Futures, Design Marketplace and Design Impact. Design Futures focuses on the design of the future and the future of design, through the lens of forward-looking Singapore – where a more positive future is prototyped for Singapore and the world. Design Marketplace uncovers lifestyle trends from across the globe, with a spotlight on the fast-growing Southeast Asia region. Design Impact inspires with innovative and impactful design solutions that tackle society’s biggest questions and create a better world by design.
“It’s a chance to put Singapore on the world map and claim a seat the the table, to have people in powerful positions hear how the city of the future is being developed, and see where we are moving the needle.”Dawn Lim
“We split the festival across three main pillars with different target audiences in mind,” says Dawn. “Under Futures, we have events like the Design Futures Symposium, curated by the internationally renowned curator and author Paola Antonelli, which gathers and convenes thought leaders in design and how it will affect the future. It’s a chance to put Singapore on the world map and claim a seat the the table, to have people in powerful positions hear how the city of the future is being developed, and see where we are moving the needle. This will then hopefully create more access to bigger markets and networks so our own designers can further flourish.”
“Under Impact, we platform good design and research, and we’re reaching out to people who are champions for social causes, to show them how design has potential to be used for the greater good, like say for sustainability or the needy,” Dawn adds. “Some of the projects that stood out to me include lingerie for the disabled and clothing for the less mobile. These struck me because my own mother had a stroke some time back, and it’s clear that these people are struggling with certain things, but few people are designing a solution to help them and this demographic, which is even more important as we move towards greater inclusion and accessibility, in our intended city of design.”
“You want to connect even with people who may not know the jargon, and show them what impact it has on them, and make them realise everything in their life is by design.”Dawn Lim
“And under the Marketplace, well we’re hoping we have audiences like say, young couples hoping to furnish their BTOs, and some might see something of value in what the local designers are putting out, buy it and put it in their house, and maybe when friends come by and see it, they too will get to know and learn about local designers,” says Dawn. “You want to connect even with people who may not know the jargon, and show them what impact it has on them, and make them realise everything in their life is by design. That’s why I love the Singapore Story of how we’re a nation by design, where everything from the policies surrounding our HDBs to our water supply, all of that is relatable, and you don’t have to be a designer to appreciate how design is everywhere around us.”
Ultimately, the goal of SDW is to reach out to people and expand the notion of design, to present Singapore as a thought leader in design, connect creatives with businesses and engage the wider community on the value of design. What the SDW has is a showcase of the best of design from Singapore and beyond, with the impressive line-up of design and creative heavyweights intended to position SDW as a global creative event.
“What we’re doing is to look at Singapore design as more than just designers producing locally branded designs. It’s about looking at the full spectrum of ways Singapore design finds its way into the world.”Dawn Lim
“What we’re doing is to look at Singapore design as more than just designers producing locally branded designs. If you’re an entrepreneur who starts his own brand, sure, but we also appreciate say, a Singaporean who might be in the design team at an international company like Dyson. It’s about looking at the full spectrum of ways Singapore design finds its way into the world,” says Dawn. “Even from an education standpoint – the Ministry of Education is very open about developing critical and design thinking in students these days, which relates back to creative problem solving. They’ve been working hard to bring design into the education system, all the way from primary school. And essentially, we want to open students’ minds up to see its application in everything from architecture to fashion to business accounting.”
“Response to SDW this year has been great; the Design Futures Symposium for example, is sold out and has a long waiting list of people on it. It’s an indicator that we have a good product, and have reached our target end users we’re looking for,” Dawn concludes. “What we’re hoping visitors will come away with is that they had a great experience, and look forward to future iterations. And how we go about this is to find great partners to deliver that, with consistent messaging told through a narrative that makes sense.”
Singapore Design Week runs from 16th to 25th September 2022. Full line-up and events available here