Patrick Chia

Squeeze Design

Patrick Chia studied industrial design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (1991–1993), Australia. His talent was discovered by the French designer Philippe Starck in 1997. Patrick has been appointed Jury member for various competitions and awards such as the Red Dot Design Awards, James Dyson Award and the Singapore Furniture Award. He is a member of the Design Advisory Panel as well as the International Advisory Committee for the Singapore Furniture Industries Council.

As a designer, Patrick is driven to create works that have resonance with the user. His works celebrate serendipity; are not always absolute in function; and appeal to the user’s senses in subtle ways.

Patrick collects commonplace things. The kitchen walls of his home are lined with Ziploc bags of scribbled notes and curios collected over the years. They are sources of ideas for him. Patrick is inspired by play. To him, design should address the emotion, rather than simply pragmatic, functional consideration. To him, design can sometimes be purely emotive in function.

Patrick has been the founding director of the Design Incubation Centre, National University of Singapore, since 2006. The Centre was recently voted by Surface Asia magazine as one of the most progressive design laboratories in Asia Pacific. Under his direction, the Centre has conducted design research and investigations into new tools and processes that explore and expand new possibilities for the design practice in Singapore.

While computers and cutting machines are essential to designers, the tools and processes should not replace craft. Patrick believes that the mastery of craft is still relevant. For example, he habitually works with blue foam, hand-sculpting the material to make prototypes. He is so accustomed to the medium that he instinctively “calibrates” his models to a scale of 1:10. This working method helps him give shape to his thoughts, allowing him to create forms that can be viewed from multiple perspectives.

Being an instructor at the University lets him explore new and emerging methods for research. To him, there are three stakeholders to consider at the start of a project: human needs, technology and social trends.

The narrative of a work is also important in creating a trigger for the user. One of the Centre’s interactive media projects emulates movements when a loved one (with similar device) moves. Apart from giving a sense of physical presence, the device also tells a story and engages the user to “complete” the story.

The Centre is currently focused on researching emerging social, economic and technological trends such as big data, teaming and nudge (behavioural science). It is developing new teaching programmes and frameworks so as to train the next generation of Singapore designers to be prepared for future challenges and opportunities.

‘‘Do not chase after reference. Trust your own judgement. Discover your own values. Master your craft. Embrace life, try everything. Don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere. Enjoy the journey. Embrace the non-absolute.’’

Insights from the Recipient

What does it mean to practise as a designer in Singapore?

It means you have to evolve constantly. How you practise, the domains in which you practise, the values you bring, your skill sets and their relevance are constantly being questioned and challenged.

What is the responsibility of a designer to the community or society?

Designers have a unique skills set: we can conceptualise, build, and communicate. Inherently, we are best equipped to make and affect changes. Our responsibility and challenge is to act on what we see is wrong, instead of leaving it to someone else.

Where do you want to see design in Singapore go?

Wide, deep and diverse. I would like design to be adopted and applied beyond its current domain to a larger part of our economy and society. I would like to see designers develop deep verticals and knowledge in their area of research and practice. I would also like the definition of design to be more fluid and diverse – meaning, design is not just a practice by designers, and the designer's role is not only to design.


‘‘Do not chase after reference. Trust your own judgement. Discover your own values. Master your craft. Embrace life, try everything. Don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere. Enjoy the journey. Embrace the non-absolute.’’

Jury Citation

Patrick Chia is a rare breed of designer. Rare because he not only creates his own wonderful, thought-provoking, cutting-edge design work, but also because he invests his time in inspiring future generations of designers to go beyond existing ideas and to continually push themselves in exploring the boundaries of design.

It is also rare indeed that a creative designer at the top of his game, exudes such warm and embracing humility which, the Jury felt, makes him such a great role model and inspirational figure for young people.

His broad spectrum of work, from product to furniture…and all of it beautifully crafted, sensitively realised and truly world-class. Patrick is also the founding director of the Design Incubation Centre (d.lab) at the National University of Singapore, a strategic centre working on projects in different disciplines encompassing human needs, social trends, emerging technologies and research.

Patrick has built an enviable reputation in the design world, evidenced by his awards and recognitions – easily enough to warrant this Award. But it is this, in combination with his inspiration to others, which makes Patrick such a special and deserving recipient of the President’s Design Award.


Nominator Citation


Patrick Chia has been described as “the artist who pursues an individual vision” and who “creates new forms of furniture that both exploit technology and defy convention” by none other than the renowned French designer Philippe Starck, in the 1997 edition of the International Design Yearbook.

Patrick is a pioneer in terms of the accomplishments achieved by a Singaporean designer. He was the first from Singapore to exhibit at the Milan Furniture Fair; and the first to have his work represented by top design galleries around the world. In 2006, he was awarded the Best Breakthrough Award by Wallpaper* magazine for his collection developed for the Japanese company Time and Style. The same collection was also voted by Intramuros, the authoritative French design journal, as the most accomplished collection of the Tokyo Design Festival 2004. The following year, Patrick was invited to present his work in the Issey Miyake flagship store at the Tokyo Design Festival.

In 2006, Patrick Chia joins the Design Incubation Centre, National University of Singapore, as its founding director. Under his leadership, the Centre investigates and develops new tools and processes to expand the possibility of future design practice. The areas of research include objects, automotive, play, learning, branding and strategy, interaction design, robotics, ageing, generative form, 3D printing, digital fabrication and medical devices.

Currently, the Centre is investigating into how design could be applied to emerging areas such as big data and behaviour nudging. Patrick’s research and projects in interaction design has won the Grand Prix at the Osaka International Design Award and the Red Dot Design Awards. The projects have also been showcased in ACM Siggraph. In 2011, two of the Centre’s projects, Touch Hear and Roly Poly, were featured in the Talk to Me Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. This is the first time any designer or artist from Singapore has had his work exhibited in the Museum.

Patrick has also created the d.lab brand as a commercial entity to communicate the Centre’s research through commercial channels. The range of table top objects has been warmly received both by the press and buyers when it exhibited at the Maison & Objects and at the Milan Furniture Fair. The work has been featured extensively in design magazines around the world and the collection has been represented by design galleries such as Spazio Rossanna Orlandi (Milan), Silvera B&B Italia (Paris), Le Bon Marché (Paris), Galleries Gosserez (Paris), Moss (New York), Thomas Goode (London) and many more. The Objects Around the Tablescape collection was awarded the President’s Design Award in 2010.

In his teaching, Patrick has developed new teaching studios on themes such as trend, generative design, hacking, coding and thinkering, data talking (big data) which explores and develops capabilities that extend beyond current industrial design practice while at the same time connecting and relating these themes to his own practice and research at the Centre.

Patrick Chia constantly pushes the boundary of design and consistently produces work at the highest level that are highly regarded by his peers as well as the international design community; while at the same time, being a strong source of inspiration to the current and next generation of Singaporean designers.


Hans Tan


Founder, Hans Tan Studio; and Assistant Professor, Division of Industrial Design,
National University of Singapore
Hans Tan Studio