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Opening Remarks by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in The Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development, at The Singapore Interior Design Awards Gala Dinner 2020 on 3 December 2020, at Sands Expo & Convention Centre

03 Dec 2020
Professor Keat Ong, President of Society of Interior Designers Singapore (SIDS),

Ladies and gentlemen,



Thank you for inviting me to the 4th Singapore Interior Design Awards Gala Dinner 2020. 

2. 2020 has been an unprecedented year. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. It has caused tragic loss of lives and disrupted our social and economic order. COVID-19 has also impacted all sectors of our economy, including the design sector. Many of our design enterprises and professionals have been affected by project cancellation and postponement, arising from retail slow-down and shutdown of the construction sector. While we are re-opening our economy safely and gradually, the resurgence of second waves around the world have added more uncertainty to our road ahead.

3. But it is not all doom. Even in the storm, there is light ahead. Out of crisis arise opportunities. One of this is the power of digitalisation and transformation to improve wellbeing and inspire hope of what is to come. COVID-19 has been a tech catalyst. It will accelerate the growth of businesses, which can capitalise on the opportunity.  

a. Zoom Video Communication Inc. made as much money over three months from May to July this year as it did in all of 2019. It has become one of the biggest tech beneficiaries of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its name synonymous with video conferencing. So, many of us will now say “let’s Zoom” instead of “let’s meet”, when we want a meeting.

b. The COVID-19 pandemic has also spurred e-commerce growth. E-commerce is estimated to contribute USD $4.5 trillion in retail sales by 2021, twice the amount of 2017 numbers. Closer to home, we have all been sad to hear the announcement of the closure of retail giant Robinson. At the same time, we also see the rise of local online shopping site Shopee – Shopee’s parent company Sea Group is emerging as one of the best performing stocks in 2020. 

4. So if you draw insights from these two examples, we can see that the businesses that thrive in the crisis tend to be those that can transform and adapt well. Looking ahead, the only certainty is that we are not going to return to the pre-COVID normalcy. Thus, we need to see these challenges as an opportunity to rethink and reinvent, so that we can chart our new path to emerge stronger post-COVID. 

Support Local Design Industry to Emerge Stronger

5. The good news – you will not be alone in the journey. The Government remains committed to supporting you to tide over the crisis and to seize opportunities to transform, adapt, and emerge stronger from COVID-19. 

6. The Government has provided immediate income relief and mounted a strong support for jobs through our recent Budgets. I’m at MOF, and we usually have one Budget each year. But this year, we had four Budgets and two Ministerial Statements. For example, the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) provides self-employed individuals with three quarterly cash payouts of $3,000 each. I hope this was a timely income relief to our design freelancers. 

7. To create opportunities, the Job Growth Incentive supports firms in the growth sector to increase hiring of local workers. The interior design industry will stand to benefit from this, given its strong growth potential. New opportunities will also be made available through the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.

8. Beyond the immediate income relief and job support, we will also provide strong support for our workers and enterprises to transform and adapt to the “new normal” post-COVID. So for instance, SkillsFuture Study Award for Design supports design professionals who want to take this time to deepen their technical skills or to pick up new skills in adjacent domains. 

9. I’m happy to learn that Ms Kelly Chin, who is with us today, has benefited from the Award. Kelly is taking a 3-year Bachelor course in interior design at LASALLE College of the Arts, with the support of SkillsFuture Mid-Career and Design Study Award. Despite being an interior designer for 7 years, Kelly hopes to deepen her specialist skills and pick up new skills to stay relevant in the industry. This is an example of how SkillsFuture movement has supported individuals’ life-long learning aspiration. Beyond individuals, we also support the businesses to transform because we know that the workers will stand to benefit when the businesses prosper. The Design Singapore Council introduced the Good Design Research to support design enterprises to find their unique value proposition. 

10. The future will belong to those who learn fast, adapt well to disruption and think creatively. Our design professionals and enterprises have the advantage, being in the creative field. So please take the current downtime to upskill and transform. 

Emerge Stronger through Industry Transformation

11. The future design industry will likely be remarkably different from today. I spoke about the need to embrace technological disruptions and invest in human capital when I attended the Gala Dinner in 2018. But when I spoke about it, nobody would have thought about what would happen two years later this year. COVID-19 has now accentuated and accelerated the structural shifts facing us. I would like to pick three key trends that will have an impact on the design industry.  

12. First, the design needs of the “new normal” will transform. As the world becomes physically disconnected under safe distancing norms, it is also rapidly becoming a virtual neighbourhood supported by digital connectivity, communication, and collaboration. Remote working and virtual meetings will become commonplace post-COVID-19. In a survey by PwC, 68% of their respondents expect their future work to include flexible hours and remote working on schedule days. With fewer employees coming to office, designated desks may no longer be the norm. There may be demand for smaller conference rooms in exchange for larger breakout spaces. 

13. Second, designers and architects will be increasingly required to straddle the physical and virtual worlds. As the line blurs between the physical and virtual environment, omnichannel shopping will become more prevalent. Augmented reality technology has made it possible to seamlessly visualise design products in real life environments. In the decade to come, we will likely see retailers with fewer physical stores. Physical stores will increasingly be used to build relationships, rather than selling products. For architects and designers, this could potentially mean fewer, but more engaging and inventive retail commissions.

14. Third, there will be a greater call for design to meet new societal needs. For instance, it may not be intuitive to see how the design industry can support the nation’s fight against COVID-19. But one of our Singapore-based multidisciplinary creative agents – Stuck Design – has shown us how they have done so. They developed a lightweight and disposable face shield, the X-Hood, which will provide greater protection for our healthcare workers than a typical surgical mask. They are working with some dental clinics to adapt it for use with dental equipment. Beyond healthcare, the national drive towards climate adaptation in Singapore will give rise to a greater demand for green design. Smart design and automation to provide accessibility for people with disabilities will also be appreciated, as we build an inclusive society. 


15. SIDS and the DesignSingapore Council started developing the Transformation Roadmap for the interior design profession since 2018. With the support of the Board of Architects and the industry at large, SIDS will launch Singapore’s Interior Design Accreditation Programme by 2021. This will be a significant milestone in the transformation journey to enable the accredited design professionals to collaborate and build stronger trust with the clients.   

16. Transformation is not always easy. But I’m confident that so long as we work together and persevere in this journey, we can build a more vibrant interior design industry in Singapore. On this note, I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations to all the award winners. Thank you all very much and have a wonderful evening ahead.