As mentioned in my previous post, I met three young Singaporean product designers – initially for a cup of coffee in the afternoon but ended with dinner at a fantastic Japanese restaurant. We’re pictured here at the Esplanade, also known as "The Durian", for the new arts center in Singapore has spiky look reminiscent of this region’s particularly aromatic fruit.
Looming up behind us is Hilmir. He went straight to Singapore’s compulsory selective service on graduation two and half years ago, and will complete his stint in the armed forces in March 2006. With training in crisis management and emergency rescue, he tells me how he’s learnt not only to keep a cool head when others are ‘running around like chickens with there heads cut off’ but also observing users struggle to use products in an emergency triggering ideas for design improvements in his spare time.
Noreen, in the maroon sweater, on the left, worked as a designer for a while but felt unfulfilled by her job and frustrated with office politics. Now, she works for the Education Ministry, working with gifted children, developing their creativity.
Lynnette’s in the middle, and she insists that the word "single" on her t-shirt refers to the tennis term rather than any attempt on her part to advertise her social status 🙂
The hours flew by as they shared with me their thoughts and dreams as designers. They felt isolated they said, Singapore has no global voice in design. It’s nowhere on the map. China is a big giant, and all the action is up in Shanghai. All we’re taught is styling, they said, the technology has already been worked out, we can’t do anything but make it look good on the outside. That’s all we are, just stylists. And we read Core77 – there’s so much going on out there, it seems so remote from us.
But I don’t agree at all, I told them. Sure, nobody’s heard of Singapore as a design city YET but your government has a solid design policy in place that they are implementing very systematically. In 2005 alone, Singapore invested 9.6 million Singapore dollars in promoting design and arts related events culminating with the month long DesignSingapore festival. They nodded and added that soon there would be funding available for them to pursue higher education abroad, to learn new skills and return to raise their country’s design profile.
And, I added, sure China is looming up close by and tiny little Singapore feels a bit threatened, but unlike the majority of the designers in Shanghai, you’ve got valuable skills, when Lynnette, who is ethnically Chinese, added that she couldn’t read or write Mandarin, having studied in English all her life. Singapore is a multcultural multiracial society as our group photograph shows. And these youngsters grow up in a wired, tech savvy nation that is geographically the crossroads for trade, shipping and travel in the South China Sea. Just an hour’s flight from Hong Kong and a favourite destination for Australians, I for one watching Singapore’s progress from a "low cost" location for the semi conductor and consumer electronics industry to a ‘knowledge based creative economy’, just as her leaders intend.