The sum of your experiences will make you a unique designer, says Alvin Chia

27 Jan 2021  •  7 min read


Alvin graduated with a MA, Contemporary China from NTU and with support from the Skills Future Study Award (SFSA) for Design, is currently doing a PhD in the division of Industrial Design (Design Thinking) at NUS. In his present job at Bain & Company, he advises senior leaders on digital transformation, innovation and agile implementation to help them achieve their strategic ambition.  

His switch from an Arts background to Innovation Design was inspired by one book – find out which one in the interview below. He also published his own book in 2018, called Hackathon Unboxed that helps people understand the innovation process in a simple and concise way.  

Q: Tell us a bit about the work you do. 

I am currently Expert Senior Manager of Innovation at Bain and Company. I work with some of the most senior executives from the Fortune 500 companies to design digital business strategies, new products, services and experiences. More on Bain's design and build consulting practice here: https://www.bain.com/vector-digital/design-built-adapt/  

Q: What is the best thing about your job? 

Bringing products into the market! Being able to see how an idea moves through the creative process into implementation and receives validation from the market is hugely satisfying. I also enjoy the intellectual challenge of being able to work on some of the most pressing business challenges today and future-oriented solutions that are three to five years ahead of its curve.    

Q: Why did you apply for the SFSA for Design? How has it benefitted you? 

I applied for the SFSA for Design while I was starting my PhD in Design Thinking with the National University of Singapore. This award was one of the only options targeting working professionals like myself to support our ambition of continuous and life-long learning. The obvious benefit would be the support it provided to reduce my out-of-pocket expenditures. More importantly, the SFSA for Design helped me to be acquainted with a larger group of strategic designers working in Dsg and beyond.    

Q: What inspired you to embark on a career in design? 

I was inspired by the book Change by Design written by Tim Brown in 2009. In the book, he laid out how companies leveraged design thinking to reinvent their products and strategies based on customer insights. I never knew this side of "design" existed! When I joined DBS Bank in 2015, I was lucky to have witnessed how the best bank in the world leveraged design thinking in practice.   

Q: What do you think has changed since you started on your career in design? 

I think the understanding of what design means has shifted quite significantly since I started my career close to a decade ago. In recent years, design research and business design have gained traction outside of the design community. As more employers and organisations become more receptive to design research and business design, new awardees of SFSA for Design will be able to identify new jobs, and opportunities from the market to utilise their skillsets.  

You might only discover what you're passionate about after several attempts. But that is all going to go into your portfolio to make you a truly unique designer.  

Q: What do you think are some useful skills you’ve learnt that you think can be applied to jobs in other sectors? 

The foundation of design thinking is rooted in an intimate understanding of its users, and we call it empathy. Learning to be empathetic can be useful in whatever you do regardless of your sector and position.    

Q: What advice would you give to people considering a switch from a non-design job to one similar to yours? 

It is never too late to make the switch! Your previous functional experiences will be a valuable asset in what you choose to do. I'll add that you might only discover what you're passionate about after several attempts. But that is all going to go into your portfolio to make you a truly unique designer.   

Learning with the SkillsFuture Study Award for Design

The SFSA for Design, through a monetary award, encourages early- to mid-career Singaporeans to deepen both technical craft skills as well as broaden skillsets in adjacent domains such as business, innovation and technology to remain relevant and value-add to design and/or non-design sectors.

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