Cover Mark Wee, executive director of DesignSingapore Council

DesignSingapore Council executive director Mark Wee hopes to make Singapore a greener and more loveable city through good design

Most of us may think of design in relation to physical objects, such as the chairs in our homes or the clothes we wear. But the tenets of good design can go beyond that—it should also consider the importance of the user’s sensory experiences as well as other considerations unique to the local context.

This holistic approach to design is part of what the DesignSingapore Council (DSG) advocates. “At DSG, we drive the adoption of design and the value of design in transforming the economy in terms of what it means for innovation and also the loveability and identity of Singapore,” says Mark Wee, executive director of DSG. “We’re trying to define what good design means. Today, good design needs to be socially responsible and environmentally responsible.”

Founded in 2003, DSG has fostered homegrown talents and entrepreneurs with the goal of developing the design sector in Singapore; one of its key initiatives is the President*s Design Award (P*DA), a bi-annual award ceremony that recognises outstanding projects and leaders who have made a notable impact on the industry.

Wee, who is also a jury member for the Tatler Design Awards 2020, cites a collaborative collection between local firm Supermama and Touch Special Crafts as a notable example. The Supermama Social collection features the work of artists with disabilities, translated on the brand’s blue-and-white porcelain; part of the sale proceeds are given to the artist. “The products are aesthetically beautiful and they’re made by the hands of communities that we want to support,” he says.

See also: The Winners Of The Tatler Design Awards 2020

How would you describe the essence of Singapore design?
Mark Wee (MW) What Singapore design can be known for is something that is growing—it is multicultural and diverse, it’s an expression that’s also like our society. It’s modern and definitely contemporary; in some areas, you will see certain Asian references. And increasingly, you will see technology shaping and being part of those expressions.

One of the goals that DSG set for 2019 was to expand the definition of design beyond aesthetics; how has that been realised?
We’re recognising all areas of design. One way we’ve done that is through P*DA. We changed our criteria about two years ago to acknowledge design that is based on making a social impact and economic impact, as opposed to just aesthetics. The last P*DA (held in 2018) was awarded in light of these categories: transforming businesses, raising the quality of life, enhancing culture and community, and advancing the design industry.

So we had projects that typically wouldn’t have fit before, like Changi Airport Terminal 4, which won for the way it redesigned the entire passenger experience. Then there was a project by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) —they commissioned an experience design firm (Fuelfor) to redesign the experience for caregivers in Singapore.

There was also an architect who gave up his job to start Billion Bricks, a company that designed low-cost housing for the poor to give dignity to people who live on the streets. And so P*DA acknowledges someone like that and The Warehouse Hotel and WOHA’s Oasia Hotel Downtown as well, all within the same breadth.

What are some design trends that are making an impact in Singapore?
MW In the business world, companies are using design as a strategic enabler. Design is being defined as the ability to shape desirable products, services and experiences for people and companies are increasingly trying to build that ability, so that they can provide better products and services to the market for the customers and even to the staff.

This ability has taken the form of either how a company can track the use of design better and to be thinking internally more nimbly around what the customers’ needs are, what kind of experiences they desire, and how do we share products and services with them. This really gives companies who do this well a competitive edge. There’s a whole realm of design that’s now associated with the ability to provide superior, better business performance to companies.

What are your hopes for the future of Singapore design?
MW I hope to see designers working with the circular economy in mind, to think about the entire production line, value chain and where it’s going back to. That is something that we will be promoting, because we really see that happening in some work and it’s also what we want to champion as good design. That’s what we try to reflect in P*DA, and it’s also something that’s aligned with what people want to do.

See also: Meet The Jury Of The Tatler Design Awards 2020

Could you tell us more about some of your future plans?
This year, we started the Business of Design programme to help promote reputable, established designers who have already entered the international market to help them gain a stronger market presence, and also make stronger inroads into new markets. 

We had eight designers and Gabriel Tan Studio is one of them. We’re doing this for furniture designers this year, and we’re going to do one with fashion designers soon to support established and emerging talents. We also give out scholarships as well to build up the next generation of design talents. In February, we open the scholarship applications again. 

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