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Speech By Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance At The Official Opening of National Design Centre And Launch of Singapore Design Week And Singaplural

12 Mar 2014

Minister for Communications and Information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim,


Chairman, DesignSingapore Council

Singapore Design Week Partners,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentleman,

1. It is a real pleasure for me to join you at this opening of the National Design Centre (NDC), and at the same time the launch of the Singapore Design Week and its anchor event, SingaPlural.

Design in Singapore

2. The design sector is coming alive in Singapore.

3. It is growing at quite a clip - in the last 10 years, an annual growth of more than 9%. Singapore designers have established a strong reputation in various fields. Several of them are here today. One of them is Simon Ong, who has grown Kingsmen Creatives from a small firm that built 1
exhibits to a 1,400-person company providing communication design and production services, and with major global brands among its clients. Chris Lee, is another example. He founded Asylum, which has evolved from a graphic design house to a multi-disciplinary, international practice.

4. The DesignSingapore Council has played an important role in supporting the industry’s growth, especially in developing capabilities and helping firms get onto the world stage. The Council has for instance helped emerging design companies to break into European markets, by supporting their participation at major shows such as the Milan Furniture Fair and Paris Fashion Week. These efforts are paying off. Nathan Yong and Outofstock have had their designs carried by European and American furniture brands. Fashion designer Max Tan’s creations are likewise now sold in Europe and the US.

Why it matters for business

5. However, the value design brings extends far beyond the design sector itself. Across a whole range of industries and sectors, design thinking, and attention to design, is becoming a decisive competitive advantage. And like in the advanced economies, businesses’ response to a world of low-cost, commoditised products and a higher cost operating environment has to lie in innovating, differentiating themselves, and offering higher value to their customers.
6. We know the most celebrated stories - like Apple, Samsung, Nespresso, Starbucks. But the point is a general one – that the combination of technological functionality and innovative design is increasingly a winning formula. Excelling in just one aspect or the other is no longer sufficient.

Promoting Design growth

7. Over the next three years, the Government will enhance design capabilities in three service sectors - Food Services, Retail and Infocomm. Businesses in these sectors will be supported with design adoption grants and tax incentives.

8. Support will also be extended to designers and design companies themselves - to cultivate design excellence, to develop capabilities in new and emerging areas of design such as service design, interaction design and design management, and to venture into overseas markets.

9. We are seeing many more examples of design thinking among local enterprises. Let me give just two examples, one in food services and the other in medical technology. Salad Stop is a local food chain, supported by the DesignSingapore Council, that has used design to develop a customer-centred model of service. It worked with design consultancy OX:D to use environmental graphic design to share the health benefits of its salad ingredients with customers in an engaging way, encouraging them to create their own salads. Shop assistants were trained as ‘Salad Artists’ to offer advice and ideas, while backend processes were streamlined and replicated across Salad Stop’s branches. Within three months of the changes, customer traffic increased, and the company has attracted franchisee interest from Indonesia and the Philippines.

10. Clearbridge VitalSigns, a medical technology company, worked with design consultant, Chemistry. Clearbridge VitalSigns has designed and developed CardioLeaf, a compact wireless heart monitor. The original design was bulky with multiple wires, whereas CardioLeaf is only 9 mm thick and also water-resistant. It can be worn on the chest like a plaster, allowing users to go about their daily lives with greater convenience and comfort. And apart from those with heart conditions, Cardioleaf can also be used by athletes for fitness training, opening a new market segment for the company. 4

11. In every industry, there is this potential - for local companies to use design to improve and expand their range of products and services.

12. The Singapore Good Design Mark or SG-Mark will recognize and champion local design excellence, and signal the value we see in design. Design Business Chamber Singapore had worked with the DesignSingapore Council to introduce this premier quality award six months ago, and I understand the pioneer batch of SG-Mark projects are on display here at the National Design Centre.

The National Design Centre and Singapore Design Week

13. The opening of the National Design Centre, or NDC, is a major milestone for the design community. The NDC will play three important roles.

14. First, the NDC will be a key node in our efforts to develop capabilities and drive design adoption. It will be home to both the Design Thinking and Innovation Academy, which will offer training, and the Design Advisory Centre.

15. Second, the NDC will support efforts to encourage and nurture a culture of creating and building in Singapore. We need that culture of 5
tinkering and continuously looking for a new or different way of doing things. Working in partnership, the DesignSingapore Council, SPRING Singapore and IDA will open the Prototyping Lab @ NDC and IDA Labs @ NDC in the second quarter of this year. To explain - IDA Labs @ NDC will bring together ICT and design professionals to develop innovative digital products, while designers and the public will be given access to cutting-edge tools and equipment to build models for themselves and test out ideas at the Prototyping Lab @ NDC. Courses and workshops will also be offered for users to learn how to make use of the Prototyping lab. I strongly encourage businesses to make the most of these opportunities.

16. Third, the NDC will also celebrate and showcase design in Singapore. Located at the heart of the arts and cultural district, members of the public and design students can easily visit the NDC’s galleries to learn more about design. The centre is also home to a cluster of both local and international design companies such as Jones Knowles Ritchie and Kapok, which has introduced emerging designers and brands in Singapore and Hong Kong.

17. Tonight, besides celebrating the opening of the National Design Centre, we also mark the launch of the Singapore Design Week and its 6
anchor event, SingaPlural. I would like to thank the Singapore Furniture Industries Council as well as the eight other design associations for actively contributing to making SingaPlural possible.

A Design Ecosytem for Better Urban Living

18. Each of these initiatives, whether in capability development, prototyping labs, innovation networks or events like SingaPlural, are important. But what matters most is how they add up into a whole ecosystem – an ecosystem that can spur the pervasive use of design in Singapore, both for business advantage and to make urban living better for everyone.

19. Pervasive design and innovation will surely yield economic advantage, but equally, it will surely make everyday life more inspiring for everyone, whether at the places we work, in getting to work, or at home and in the neighbourhood.

20. We are determined to build that broader ecosystem, and achieve that broader vibrance. We are not there yet, but we are getting there.


21. It gives me great pleasure now to declare the National Design Centre, Singapore Design Week and SingaPlural open.