“Impact” was the word on everyone’s minds and mouths during the President’s Design Award (PDA) Design Panel jury session in November.
Over three days, as the 12-member Design Jury deliberated over which designers and projects deserved to win the nation’s most prestigious design accolade, they had spirited discussions over the outcomes of the shortlisted works
As part of a revamped award for the Design Panel this year, the multi-disciplinary panel comprising designers, engineers and consultants were tasked to pay special attention to assessing “impact” – this is a new criterion in addition to traditional ideas of design excellence, including design ethos, process and execution.
Having first reviewed a total of 96 eligible entries for the “Design” category online, the panel, consisting of Singapore and international leaders in design, reported for duty on November 21 eager to take a closer look at their shortlist. From 9am in the morning till dinner daily, the jury split into teams to interview candidates at the National Design Centre before shuttling across Singapore to visit selected shortlisted projects.
For the Designer of the Year category, the shortlisted six designers each put up a presentation, which was followed by a question-and-answer session with the panel of jurors. No question was too obscure for the jurors who sought to get to the heart of who the candidates were and their future plans. Juror and Dutch innovator Daan Roosegaarde even surprised a candidate—and fellow jurors—when he asked, “What kind of animal would you be?”. The answer, which drew smiles from all around, was “A unicorn.”
The judging for the 23 design projects for Design of the Year was even more animated. Divided into groups, the Design jurors welcomed the opportunity to interact with what they had only seen so far in pictures, meet the designers behind the projects and step outside the air-conditioned rooms to tour projects across the island.
There was no doubt in the judges’ minds that each project was a labour of love, but their scores were to be determined by putting the design through its paces. Details were scrutinised, concepts questioned and one design was literally broken apart (with the designer’s permission) to test if it lived up to its claims. Seeing the projects in real life dissolved some jurors’ initial reservations, while others rued missed opportunities. As Franklin Po, principal of Tierra Design, asked his fellow jurors: “What’s next? How large can you take this thing?”
Barely back from separate site visits on the final day, the Design jurors got together to determine the winners with a deadline of 6.30pm looming over their heads. Having already assessed each design twice—once online and in-person—they were presented with a list of the average scores of each design based on the jurors’ individual assessments. The final decision was to be made collectively, said jury chair of the Design Panel Dick Powell. Before kickstarting the third and final deliberation for the Design Panel, the chairman of the British Design & Art Direction (D&AD) awards reminded everyone that “impact” did not have to only benefit society, but also businesses and the design profession. “We’ve seen projects high on impact but fall[ing] short on design, and vice versa,” he said. “That is the balance we have to find.”
As each design and its score flashed up on screen, heated exchanges over its innovation, craft, and even what it represented for the future of design readily flew across the room. The jury was conscious that this was the first edition of a revamped awards, and what messages the selected winners would send to the design community.
Questioning how novel a project was, Mokena Makeka of Makeka Deisgn Lab said, “But this has existed since the 19th century!” Making a case for a potential winner by a group of young designers, Dr Hossein Rezai, director of Web Structures, said. “My fear is if you don’t give it to them, they will disappear.”
After close to two hours of debate, furrowed eyebrows and forceful interjections eventually gave way to nodding heads and sighs of relief. Not only had the Design jury finished on the dot, the final scores showed a class of projects that everyone agreed was a cut above the rest. As the jury chair of the Design Panel called the session to a close, the Design jurors spontaneously broke into a hurrah.
The Singapore design community will have to wait a little while longer to celebrate, as the winners will only be unveiled in May. If the rigorous debate and discussions over the three days are any indication, this upcoming slate of President’s Design Award winners is sure to make an impact on the design scene in Singapore and the world too.