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The Intersection of Design, Business and Public Policy

Where will design take Singapore in the years ahead? The ‘Innovation by Design’ Conference, organised by the DesignSingapore Council, was an anchor event during Singapore Design Week 2017. We present some of the highlights.

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  • The Intersection of Design, Business and Public Policy

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At the outset, the new Executive Director of the DesignSingapore Council, Agnes Kwek, set the tone for the two-day conference at Hotel Fort Canning, when 35 speakers (local and international) from the worlds of design, business and public policy would take the stage. “This gathering is happening as we stare from the cusp at the fourth industrial revolution, powered by data, artificial intelligence and technology. We’re wondering, how do we respond to the future? This group [of speakers] is not interested in that question, but in how we create the future.” She added, “Design needs all of us to understand each others’ perspectives.”

It was fascinating to hear the first speaker, Dr Beh Swan Gin, Chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board, discuss why design matters to Singapore. Firstly, he said, the growth prospects of Asia will present a huge unmet demand. Secondly, the technological know-how that Singapore has built up over the last 20 years through targeted investment will allow us to innovate. And thirdly, there is a vibrant environment for entrepreneurship in Singapore, he said, with an influx of venture capital money. Design, he said, will translate technological know-how into entrepreneurial energy.

How will Singapore compete with established design centres in other parts of the world? Singapore has to identify a place to stand, suggested Dr Beh. The intersections between business, design and public policy are where Singapore can stand out, he said. And are there particular areas in which Singapore can excel? There is enormous potential to tap into the discretionary spending of Asia’s growing middle class, he said, and also in the provision of new infrastructure and increasing productivity in Asia’s rapidly urbanising areas.

Invariably, the famous 1969 quote from Lee Kuan Yew (“Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford”) would be raised during question time. We are a very pragmatic people, suggested Dr Beh in response, and poetry that can make a difference will be welcomed.

The two days provided the opportunity to hear multiple perspectives targeted at the three groups of designers, businesses and the public sector. The Indesignlive.sg team sat in for a good number of the presentations. Barry Wacksmann, the Executive Vice President and Global Chief Strategy Officer of digital agency R/GA spoke about ‘connected ecosystems’ as the first new business model since the industrial revolution. The old business formulas of horizontal integration and vertical integration have run out of steam, he said, pointing to the successful ecosystems developed by companies such as Apple and Nike.

In a panel discussion about breakthrough technologies, Patrick Chia (founder and Director of Squeeze Design and Founding Director of the Design Incubation Centre at NUS) responded to the question of whether artificial intelligence will make the role of the designer defunct: “It depends on the context,” he said. “The ability of a creative person is to make improbable connections that help you find something new… But AI may inform us.”

Mauro Porcini, Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo, suggested that people don’t buy products anymore; they buy meaningful experiences. PepsiCo’s challenge is to find a way to remain relevant, communicate and move quickly, and be authentic, he said.

Singaporean designer Gabriel Tan spoke about ‘designing for the world’ and his recent efforts as a ‘design producer’. Tan has brought together international designers to work on several projects. A furniture collection for new Japanese brand Ariake, for example, was the result of Tan’s invitation to international designers to collaborate with Saga craftspeople from the Saga prefecture. Look out for more on Ariake on Indesignlive.sg soon!


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