Perspective

What Is Singapore Design?

25 Jan 2021  •  10 min read

Orcadesign_portfolio_Straits-Reflection4-_201803_crop.jpg

We get insights from a group of Singaporeans, creatives and business leaders.

Text: Low Shi Ping
Image above: Straits Reflection collection, co-designed by Orcadesign and Ipse Ipsa Ipsum.

Porcelain plates decorated with our well-loved dragon playground; a children’s storytelling session at the National Museum of Singapore; an award-winning breast pump for Pigeon. These are just some of the many innovations by Singaporean designers that contribute to making the scene here colourful, multi-cultural and even customised.

Attempt to define Singapore design though, and things get slightly complicated.Mirroring the cosmopolitan, melting pot nature of the country, it is hardly discernible – yet that in itself makes it distinctive.

“Singapore design is a joyful celebration of its residents’ diverse backgrounds and ways of life,” affirms Rachel Poonsiriwong, a DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) scholar who is currently studying at the California College of the Arts.

She is not alone in this opinion. We took to quizzing a group of creatives involved in varied fields of design to seek more insights.



Singapore Icons - HDB by Supermama. 

Singapore Design Is Multi-Faceted

“Singapore design is a dichotomy of many things – past and present, inward and outward,” shares Mashizan Masjum, President and Creative Director of footwear brand MASHIZAN. “It's a mélange of all things unexpected, curious, strange and yet still magnificent.”

That it is able to achieve all this while being a small country with a short history is an achievement in itself.

“We take history, culture and technology to develop a design identity that is uniquely Singapore,” says Morgan Yeo, First Son and Director of carpentry studio Roger & Sons. He explains that it is derived from the journey the country has been on so far, created from a collection of experiences by individual Singaporeans.

Referencing the past is something Gin Lee, of the eponymous fashion label GINLEE Studio, notices too, “We strive to give a nod to our roots, while reaching for our future, but Singapore designs tend to have a sense of practicality [too].”

Orcadesign Consultants’ Director Jeremy Sun expands on Lee’s first point, saying it is “future-centric with an international outlook, although also rooted in Asian values and perspectives”. To him, it is equally efficient and smart, both functionally and aesthetically.
 

Attempt to define Singapore design though, and things get slightly complicated. Mirroring the cosmopolitan, melting pot nature of the country, it is hardly discernible – yet that in itself makes it distinctive.

Singapore Design Serves The Community

There is also a strong element of consideration for society. “To me, everyone has a part to play in designing Singapore – not just designers,” says lifestyle brand Supermama Store’s Edwin Low. “What is the Singapore we want to see? We [ask ourselves then] make it happen.”

Larry Yeung, Executive Director of the non-profit Participate in Design, feels that consequently, Singapore design “reflects the community’s aspirations and uniqueness”. 

“The design of spaces, things and processes are grounded in the community and guide people towards what they envision and aspire Singapore to become,” believes Weng Pei Yun, Resources Director of non-profit Climate Cardinals.

At the same time, it has a strong element of service – to help improve our lives and propel the economy towards recovery in challenging times.

“It’s indeed a collective working attitude of its resilient people,” says Mohammed Syafiq, President of the DesignSingapore Associates Network. “It means a spirit of doing rather than an aesthetical language/look; a verb more than a noun.”

Ryan and Shermeen Tan of creative agency OuterEdit surmise it as being innovative even as it is considerate to society, “It introduces new ways of thinking, seeing and doing, it uplifts spirits and looks out for the needs of others.”

Whether it is designing our transport system, housing a nation or innovating new technologies to make us a smart nation and loveable city, aspiring filmmaker Ziqq Rafit, Founder of Design Says Hello, feels that Singapore design “considers her people, her diversity, recognises her complexities but always strives and aspires to improve the lives of many”.

Singapore Design Is A Multi-Cultural Story

That it has so many sources of inspiration to tap from makes Singapore design an amalgamation of the numerous stories its people, history and culture have to share. “It’s about giving shape and form to current narratives so that stories can be told in the future,” says Kamini Ramachandran, who is behind professional storytelling service-provider Moonshadow Stories.

“It tends to be shiny, with edges and the surfaces reveal us within them and offer moments for reflection; it borrows from many muses and influences and this is what connects us to our roots as an immigrant community.”



Jewels Rock Sugar Sticks, developed by Cheng Yew Heng Candy Factory. Read the story of how they gained market share by innovating their business using design.

John Cheng, Director of Cheng Yew Heng Candy Factory, crystallises this imagery further, “To me, it captures our passion and progressive nature, similar to how our young nation has developed over the years through struggles, adaptation and sheer determination to be what it is today.” At the same time, it is highly adaptive and multi-cultural, describes Warren Liu, who runs architecture firm A D Lab.

Shannon Teoh, a Dsg scholar currently doing his Bachelor in Integrated Design at Tama Art University, adds that Singapore design is “sensitive towards different cultures and seems to make a good balance between different inclinations”.

All this results in Singapore design being less of a singular style or approach, and more of a patchwork of variegated ideas.

Jewellery designer Carolyn Kan who owns the label Carrie K., sums it up perfectly, “Design is a universal language that triggers emotions often through storytelling. “It should solve problems or add value to people’s lives and the way we approach design is as multi-faceted as our layered culture.”


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