Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

Why some Ideas take a long time to be taken up?

In Beauty, Design, History, Leadership, Nature, Strategy, Vision on 2010/09/10 at 10:43 pm

I don’t know.

Roof gardens and “sky rise” landscaping is now a rage in many cities such as New York and Singapore.  It’s like, “why didn’t we think of this before?”

Le Corbusier in his 1926 manifesto, Five Points toward a New Architecture” said this:

“The roof gardens. The flat roof demands in the first place systematic utilization for domestic purposes: roof terrace, roof garden. On the other hand, the reinforced concrete demands protection against changing temperatures. Overactivity on the part of the reinforced concrete is prevented by the maintenance of a constant humidity on the roof concrete. The roof terrace satisfies both demands (a rain- dampened layer of sand covered with concrete slabs with lawns in the interstices; the earth of the flowerbeds in direct contact with the layer of sand). In this way the rain water will flow off extremely slowly. Waste pipes in the interior of the building. Thus a latent humidity will remain continually on the roof skin. The roof gardens will display highly luxuriant vegetation. Shrubs and even small trees up to 3 or 4 metres tall can be planted.

In this way the roof garden will become the most favoured place in the building. In general, roof gardens mean to a city the recovery of all the built- up area.”

[Le Corbusier/Pierre Jeanneret: Five Points towards a new architecture. Originally published in Almanach de l’Architecture moderne, Paris 1926.]

Almost 85 years ago, Le Corbusier had figured out, at least in part, the need for landscape to balance the harshness of the urban landscape of the high density “cities of tomorrow”, and had carefully argued for freeing up the ground plane by lifting all building on piloties (stilts) and maintaining ground footprint by cultivating vegetation on all rooftops.

This is a reminder to know our history, our pioneers and institutional memory.


Alternative Value Propositions

In adaptability, Change, Creativity, Design, Leadership, Process, Strategy, Technology, Value, Vision on 2010/05/11 at 2:06 pm

Designers can do better than offer “professional services for a fee”. They can lead by alternative value propositions.

Many creative projects get axed prematurely by key performance indicators (KPI). KPIs are typically controlled by ‘creative’ bean counters (oxymoron?) who are clients or their agents.  They typically shun change and collaboration. Their standard tool is divide-and-rule. eg train stations are transport engineering infrastructure, whilst art and sculpture is culture; therefore there is no budget for the arts as part of station development. That is somebody else’s core business. Familiar?

Designers are in a good position to propose alternative value propositions. But they need to be laterally creative and not be so naive about how bureaucrats and bean-counters work. A creative win-win is often the only way.

Take the task of designing an Expo exhibition pavilion. The no-brainer is to put up a building simply for the duration of the Expo — closing both eyes to what happens after the show is over, and visitor-ship KPI is history. Better still, have the pavilion built by somebody else and “leased back” for only the exhibition season; this way it shows up in the books as rental and not a capital-intensive inventory item!

What if the Expo building is designed in the first place for a permanent use, even if it means designing a kit of parts to have the pavilion become a school building or library where it is needed badly, say in an isolated rural location or disaster-relief area.

The challenge for designers is to find a way to collaborate with the initial client to include stakeholders who can take over the kit of parts. In return, the emotional and social benefits of the cause can be a powerful differentiating feature of the pavilion’s presentation. In Expos such as the one in Shanghai now concerned with “better cities, better life”, such an action will speak louder than the words and demos so typical of those who only think of the Expo as only a glorified sales pitch.

Emergent Subshapes

In Creative Culture, Creativity, Design, Emergence, No Readymade World, Strategy, Transformation on 2010/04/19 at 5:11 pm

Visual perception is a key to creative thinking. If there is a ‘correct’ way to see every thing, our world will be uninteresting. Gestalt Psychology tries to explain the perception of the “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form”. In creative thinking, this largely misses the point of discovering ‘hidden’ sub-shapes of the entity, many of which would be surprising and full of potential to develop new ideas.

Take the simple case of “two intersecting rectangles”. The interesting emergent subshapes do not come from a reductionist approach. My favourites are “four rotating chair”, and “four zig-zag paths”! (look for them in the selection of emergence below). There is nothing “correct” about discovering emergent subshapes, but they are hot houses of creativity.  The implications go beyond art and design. It is about profound thinking itself.

Emergent Subshapes

When Productivity is Nonsense

In Beating the Odds, Creative Culture, Creativity, Design, Productivity, Strategy, Value on 2010/03/05 at 11:37 am

The concept of “productivity” is a hangover from the industrial economy. Many try to ‘upgrade’ it to apply to the post industrial (knowledge and creative) economy but it is only as successful as putting aerofoil “spoilers” on a front-wheel-drive car — the downforce is on the wrong pair of wheels. Is the suggested obsolescence that bad?

In Singapore, the spotlight has swung on “Productivity” again. It was one of the most campaigned theme at one time (in the 70s) but has apparently lost it’s foothold despite decades of effort. The Economic Strategies Committee’s (ESC) report (see also my blog: “Design in Singapore’s Economic Strategies“) and the ensuing 2010 Budget and Parliament debate have resurrected the age-old issue again. But this is a different day and age.

The easy target of the productivity debate is cheap labour, usually synonymous with foreign workers, though not always. This is when the “less” in the classic productivity definition of “doing more with less” is achieved by lowering the cost of manpower. Never mind the headcount so long as we remain above the “bottom line”. Do or die. Technically, there is nothing wrong about lowering manpower costs, but, not surprisingly, this has social and political repercussions when the consequent of the ratio is foreigners.

But the antecedent of the productivity ratio is the more interesting. How can we increase the “more” in “doing more with less”? To some this simply means not being paid for overtime! To others it means increasing throughput by automation and info-comm; with or without reducing manpower. This, unfortunately, is what many think innovation is all about. Whether you factor in the overtime and the real (total) cost of automation, the balance-book productivity ratio must come up as a big number or you are still in trouble.

In the bigger scheme of things, productivity is a bit of a nonsense. Whilst it is important, and even crucial, to wring out of productivity all that it can yield in every way thinkable, there are aspects of the post-industrial economy that cannot be adequately addressed by the basic productivity equation.

First is the principle of “doing more with more”. The late Ng Teng Fong, a prominent real estate developer in Singapore and Hong Kong, said that he bided high for land because he could get even better returns from them later. Unlike a banker or trader who primarily depends on the market appreciation of value, the developer creates new demand and new value through intentionally good design.

Second is profitability. It is a different metric to productivity because it is no respecter of rules of the game. The competition for better profit margins and ROI goes beyond productivity, and has a life even after productivity levels off (which it always will). Through strategic design and innovation, the “rules of the game” can be changed to effectively eliminate competition. There are of course associated risks, but the potential opportunities of differentiation usually far exceeds the risks in slugging it out in the productivity battle arena.

Third is creative culture. Productivity is a particular nonsense in the heart of creative culture. It is unable to contribute to creative outcomes principally because it is calculative and pre-determined in nature, whereas basic creative culture tends to be speculative and qualitative. Productivity in architects’ and designers’ studios is limited to drawing and project management, and not anywhere near the critical design conceptualisation and design development stage (which wins the work in the first place). There will be an appropriate time for productivity issues to kick in when creative work are eventually executed in the ‘real’ world, but if the creative is not creatively competitive in the first place, productivity is nonsense.

We do not live in a ready-made world. It must be designed.*

In Creativity, Design, No Readymade World, Policy, Strategy on 2010/02/26 at 12:05 pm

“Designers are, one way or another, futurists” — Richard Seymour

Problem solving is to design, only as much as wheels are to cars. It is a given. The strategic value of design lies in a different dimension. While the context of problem sets and innovation are typically “industrial”, design creativity has the natural capacity to go “post-industrial”.

In the post-industrial world, the origin of creation — research and design — will be more important than the origin of manufacturing or assembly. Take Apple. Every Apple product has this declaration, “Designed by Apple in California”. Secondarily would be the ubiquitous words of the industrial world, “Made in China” or “Assembled in Singapore”.

It should not require a rocket scientist to figure out that Apple can choose to manufacture or assemble its products in any country that “makes sense”, but they will always be of California and Silicon Valley origin. Consumers already accept that global brands such as Nokia, Nike, Gap, Canon, HP, and even Toyota, outsource their production away from the home country of the company. The processes of global outsourcing are now so effective that it practically does not matter to most people where their things are made. So, in the industrial economy, place increasingly does not matter. But, does place matter in the post-industrial economy?

The environment to foster post-industrial creativity is very much harder to create and maintain than that for industrial manufacturing. Creative thinking, say, for design, is not just a production process (with all its connotations of optimisation, systems controls, parallel and distributed processing, analytics, etc.), but also needs vibrant social and cognitive milieus that are talent-centric. The recent financial recession has helped to expose the myth of “rational market-driven” (read: objective) decision-making. The key drivers of the post-industrial economy are no longer technology, finance, policies, or education. They come in warm bodies: talent. They may pursue their ideas in solo, but they cannot achieve creative status for themselves or their creations, without interacting with the wider local and international community of interested experts. Creativity is not defined by individuals.

* Forward in the Icsid World Design Congress 2009 handbook. Singapore: DesignSingapore Council.

The Writing on the Studio Wall

In Creative Culture, Creativity, Design, Policy, Strategy on 2010/02/23 at 10:27 pm

For a long time, I championed along with many the design studio as the heart of design culture. This was — and to a large extent, still is — the common wisdom of design and architecture schools the world over. No question. It is assumed that the studio is the best rehearsal of the “real world” of practice where the apprentice students were all headed in a beeline; it’s like the moot court to train lawyers. This is the logical “no-brainer” if (big if) practice is all that there is to design culture and design education. But the universe has changed.

Studio Drawings and Models -- means or ends?

In the post-industrial economy that we are arguably already in, the desired outcomes of markup from end-product cost, and fee for service are still relevant but seriously dated. The new value propositions and business models for design are subtlety shifting to a knowledge-based economy, where the value of design is in the intrinsic value of ideas rather than commodity pricing or professional fees. If, by contrast, the pursuit of design is in knowledge terms, what goes on in conventional design studios and practice is extremely wasteful: projects are done to clear hurdles rather than for collective knowledge. Studio projects have no value and are unceremoniously trashed at the end of each exercise. What an unsustainable shame.

A Schema of Strategic Design Culture Copyright 2010 Milton Tan.

The design studio is typically “active” and “propositional” in nature. For a more self-sustaining design culture of the 21C, these top-level attributes need to be augmented by the “reflective” and “representational”. This means that the venerable studio needs to be repositioned away from the spot light and re-grouped with 3 other key components in a 2-by-2 matrix of “Active- Reflective” and “Propositional-Representational” axes.

The Active-Propositional component is the Design Studio, the Active-Representational the Design Conference, the Reflective-Propositional the Design Museum, and the Reflective-Representational the Design Library. Collectively they form the “Strategic Design Culture” that I believe is the new structure for 21C design education, research, practice and culture.

The writing is on the wall for the standalone studio.

Not Just a Box of Crayons

In Policy, Strategy on 2010/02/20 at 11:11 am

Where is design? I wrote this paper — Not Just a Box of Crayons — on mapping the design sector in 2003. I share it here in response to regular requests over the years for something like this for those who, like me,  need a map to help explore uncharted territories such as the design sector. Enjoy.


Without a conceptual map of the design sector, identifying and understanding the interrelationships of its industries is like picking colours from a box of crayons. Individual industries appear stand-alone and often colourfully autonomous. And, like crayons, the means to mix industries are limited or arbitrary, at best. Outcomes are therefore dominated by the ‘forms’ of design, and miss the potency of the creative ‘substance’ which underpins all design practices.

This paper explores the use of a 3-dimensional Hue-Lightness-Saturation “colour wheel” to map the design sector. The key ‘hues’ of the sector are “Imagemaking”, “Objectmaking” and “Placemaking” to represent the key forms of practices on the wheel. The vertical ‘lightness’ axis represents “scale” — from the millimeter-scale of micro machines to the kilo-meter-scale of urban planning. The tangential ‘saturation’ axis represents “materiality” — the extent to which a design entity is abstract (at the common core) or concrete (embodied in tangible form at the outer reaches). The resulting Form-Scale-Materiality (FSM) model of the design sector positions all forms of design practice — advertising, fashion, industrial design, furniture, interiors, architecture, urban design, etc — within a scaleable and interactive conceptual framework for students, educators, researchers and practitioners of design to better navigate the parts and relations that should make up a vibrant design sector.

Know your Minimum Asian History

In History, No Readymade World, Strategy on 2010/02/17 at 12:18 pm

I complied this recently (from various sources) for a strategic planning exercise:

1788 – British Navy captain Arthur Phillip founds a penal settlement at Sydney. He had arrived with a fleet of 11 vessels, carrying nearly 800 convicts. The Aboriginal population numbers several hundred thousand.

1819 – Sir Stamford Raffles of British East India Company establishes trading post on Singapore island.

1826 – British settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore combine to form the Colony of Straits Settlements, from where the British extend their influence by establishing protectorates over the Malay sultanates of the peninsula.

1826 – Singapore, Malacca and Penang become British colony of the Straits Settlements.

1832 – Singapore becomes capital of Straits Settlements. The port attracts thousands of migrants from China, India and other parts of Asia.

1850s – Australia: Gold is found at several locations leading to gold rushes throughout the decade. The population increases three-fold in 10 years to pass the million mark. An influx of Chinese leads to restrictions on their entry. Aborigines are treated very badly and their numbers collapse.

1856 – Australia becomes the first country to introduce the secret ballot – or ‘Australian ballot’ – for elections.

1858 – India comes under direct rule of the British crown after failed Indian mutiny.

1867 – Straits Settlements become crown colony of British Empire.

1869 – Suez Canal opens, trade in Asia booms.

1894 – Japan goes to war with China. Japan’s better equipped forces win victory in just nine months.

1895 – China cedes Taiwan to Japan and permits Japan to trade in China.

1901 – The country is unified. The Commonwealth of Australia comes into being on 1st January.

1904 – Japan goes to war with Russia. Japanese victory in 1905.

1910 – Japan annexes Korea after three years of fighting. Japan is now one of the world’s great powers.

1911 – Canberra is founded and designated as the capital.

1914 – Japan joins World War I on the side of Britain and her allies. Japan has limited participation.

1914 – Outbreak of World War I. Australia commits hundreds of thousands of troops to the British war effort. Their participation – alongside New Zealanders – in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey in 1915 leads to heavy casualties. The Gallipoli landings help cement a sense of identity in the young nation.

1920s – Extreme nationalism begins to take hold in Japan. The emphasis is on a preservation of traditional Japanese values, and a rejection of “Western” influence.

1922 – Singapore becomes main British naval base in East Asia.

1923 – Earthquake in Tokyo region kills more than 100,000 people.

1929 – The Great Depression following the Wall Street Crash hits Australia hard. Recovery is uneven, and the Labor government is defeated in the election in 1931.

1931 – Japan invades Manchuria, renames it and installs a puppet regime.

1937 – Japan goes to war with China. By the end of the year, Japan has captured Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing. Japanese forces commit atrocities, including the “Rape of Nanjing”, in which up to 300,000 Chinese civilians are said to have been killed.

1939 – Australia follows Britain’s lead and declares war on Nazi Germany.

1939 – Outbreak of World War II in Europe. With the fall of France to Nazi Germany in 1940, Japan moves to occupy French Indo-China.

1941 – Japan launches a surprise attack on the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Twelve ships are sunk, with a further 9 damaged; nearly 2,500 people are killed. The US and its main allies declare war on Japan the following day.

1941 – The US declares war on Japan. Australia turns to the US for help in its defence after the Japanese take Singapore. Australia allows the US to base its supreme command for the Pacific war on its territory.

1941 – World War II. Japan bombs Singapore.

1942 – Japan occupies a succession of countries, including the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Burma and Malaya. In June, US aircraft carriers defeat the Japanese at the Battle of Midway.

1942 – Singapore falls to Japan, which renames it Syonan (Light of the South).

1942-45 – Japanese occupation of Malaya.

1945 – Japan defeated. Singapore under British military administration.

1945 – US planes drop two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima (6 August), the second on Nagasaki (9 August). Emperor Hirohito surrenders and relinquishes his divine status. Japan is placed under US military government. All Japanese military and naval forces are disbanded.

1946 – Singapore becomes separate crown colony.

1947 – A new constitution comes into force. It establishes a parliamentary system, with all adults eligible to vote. Japan renounces war and pledges not to maintain land, sea or air forces for that purpose. The emperor is granted ceremonial status.

1947 – End of British rule and partition of sub-continent into mainly Hindu India and Muslim-majority state of Pakistan.

1948 – Australia begins a scheme for immigration from Europe. Over the next 30 years, more than two million people arrive, about one-third of them from Britain.

1948 – British-ruled Malayan territories unified under Federation of Malaya.

1948 – Mahatma Gandhi assassinated by Hindu extremist.

1949 – 1 October – Mao Zedong, having led the Communists to victory against the Nationalists after more than 20 years of civil war, proclaims the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The Nationalists retreat to the island of Taiwan and set up a government there.

1956 – Japan joins United Nations.

1956 – Olympic Games held in Melbourne.

1957 – Federation of Malaya becomes independent from Britain with Tunku Abdul Rahman as prime minister.

1958 – Mao launches the “Great Leap Forward”, a five-year economic plan. Farming is collectivised and labour-intensive industry is introduced. The drive produces economic breakdown and is abandoned after two years. Disruption to agriculture is blamed for the deaths by starvation of millions of people following poor harvests.

1959 – Self-government attained with Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister.

1963 – British colonies of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore join Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia.

1963 – Singapore joins the Federation of Malaya, Sabah (North Borneo), and Sarawak in the Federation of Malaysia.

1964 – Olympic Games held in Tokyo.

1965 – Singapore pulls out of the Federation of Malaysia, at Malaysia’s invitation, amid political and ethnic tensions. The territory becomes an independent republic and joins the United Nations.

1965 – Singapore withdraws from Malaysia, which is reduced to 13 states; communist insurgency begins in Sarawak.

1966-76 – Chinese “Cultural Revolution”, Mao’s 10-year political and ideological campaign aimed at

1967 – Singapore founder member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

1969 – Malaysia: Malays stage anti-Chinese riots in the context of increasing frustration over the economic success of the ethnic Chinese.

1975 – Australia introduces new immigration laws, restricting the number of unskilled workers allowed into the country.

1976 – Mao dies. “Gang of Four”, including Mao’s widow, jockey for power but are arrested and convicted of crimes against the state. From 1977 Deng Xiaoping emerges as the dominant figure among pragmatists in the leadership. Under him, China undertakes far-reaching economic reforms.

1979 – Chinese Government imposes one-child policy in effort to curb population growth.

1982 – Japanese car firm Honda opens its first plant in the US.

1984 December – Gas leak at Union Carbide pesticides plant in Bhopal, India. Thousands are killed immediately; many more subsequently die or are left disabled.

1989 – Stockmarkets open in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

1989 – Chinese Troops open fire on demonstrators who have camped for weeks in Tiananmen Square initially to demand the posthumous rehabilitation of former CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who was forced to resign in 1987. The official death toll is 200. International outrage leads to sanctions.

1992 – The Citizenship Act is amended to remove swearing an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Prime Minister Paul Keating’s Labor government pledges to make Australia a republic and to concentrate on links with Asia.

1992 – The International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranks China’s economy as third largest in the world after the US and Japan.

1995 January – An earthquake hits central Japan, killing thousands and causing widespread damage. The city of Kobe is hardest hit.

1997 – Asian financial crisis spells end of decade of impressive economic growth.

1997 – Hong Kong reverts from British to Chinese control.

1997 – The Japanese economy enters a severe recession.

1998 – Singapore slips into recession for the first time in 13 years during Asian financial crisis.

1999 – Macao reverts from Portuguese to Chinese rule.

2000 – Australia hosts the Olympic Games in Sydney, the most popular ever.

2000 May – India marks the birth of its billionth citizen.

2001 February – Malaysian Government decides to proceed with construction of huge Bakun hydroelectric power project on island of Borneo despite serious environmental concerns.

2001 January – A pipeline feeding gas to Singapore from Indonesia’s Natuna field in the South China Sea opens.

2001 January – Australia celebrates 100 years since its inauguration as the Commonwealth of Australia.

2001 January – Massive earthquakes hit the western state of Gujarat, India, leaving at least 30,000 dead.

2001 March – Dozens arrested during Malaysia’s worst ethnic clashes in decades between Malays and ethnic Indians.

2001 November – China joins the World Trade Organisation.

2001 September – Malaysia, Singapore resolve long-standing disputes, ranging from water supplies to air space. They also agree to build a new bridge and tunnel.

2002 January – Japan, Singapore sign free trade agreement.

2002 October – Australia mourns as 88 of its citizens are killed in a night club bombing in Bali, Indonesia, which some call Australia’s September 11.

2003 April – Outbreak of pneumonia-like Sars virus

2003 June – Hong Kong is declared free of Sars. Days later the World Health Organization lifts its Sars-related travel warning for Beijing.

2003 March-April – China and Hong Kong are hit by the pneumonia-like Sars virus, thought to have originated in Guangdong province in November 2002. Strict quarantine measures are enforced to stop the disease spreading.

2003 May – Singapore becomes first Asian nation to sign free-trade deal with US.

2003 October – Launch of China’s first manned spacecraft: Astronaut Yang Liwei is sent into space by a Long March 2F rocket.

2004 December – Scores of people in Malaysia are killed in the Asian tsunami disaster. Malaysia delays planned deportations of many thousands of illegal immigrants, most of them from Indonesia.

2004 December – Thousands are killed when tidal waves, caused by a powerful undersea earthquake off the Indonesian coast, devastate coastal communities in the south and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

2004 November – China signs a landmark trade agreement with 10 south-east Asian countries; the accord could eventually unite 25% of the world’s population in a free-trade zone.

2005 October – China conducts its second manned space flight, with two astronauts circling Earth in the Shenzhou VI capsule.

2006 August – Official news agency says 18 million people are affected by what it describes as the country’s worst drought in 50 years.

2006 July – New China-Tibet railway line, the world’s highest train route, begins operating.

2006 May – Work on the structure of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower project, is completed.

2006 November – Government says pollution has degraded China’s environment to a critical level, threatening health and social stability.

2007 October – China launches its first moon orbiter.

2007 October – The world’s largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, flies from Singapore to Sydney on its first commercial flight run by state-controlled Singapore Airlines.

2007 September – A new Roman Catholic bishop of Beijing is consecrated – the first for over 50 years to have the tacit approval of the Pope.

2008 August – Beijing hosts Olympic Games.

2008 May – A massive earthquake hits Sichuan province, killing tens of thousands.

2008 November – Nearly 200 people are killed and hundreds injured in a series of co-ordinated attacks by gunmen on the main tourist and business area of India’s financial capital Mumbai. India blames militants from Pakistan for the attacks and demands that Islamabad take strong action against those responsible.

2008 September – Astronaut Zhai Zhigang completes China’s first spacewalk during the country’s third manned space mission, Shenzhou VII.

2008 September – early 53,000 Chinese children fall ill after drinking tainted milk, leading Premier Wen Jiabao to apologise for the scandal.

2009 July – Leaders of China and Taiwan exchange direct messages for the first time in more than 60 years.

2009 March – China’s central bank calls for new global reserve currency run by International Monetary Fund to replace the US dollar.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
George Santayana
Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1, (1863-1952)

Design in Singapore’s Economic Strategies

In Creativity, Design, Policy, Strategy, Transformation, Vision on 2010/02/02 at 6:38 pm

The Singapore government yesterday (1 Feb 2010) accepted and released the report of the high-powered Economic Strategies Committee (ESC). The report called for a “High-Skilled People, Innovative Economy, Distinctive Global City” — nothing particularly earth-shaking at this level, to be sure. Go deeper into the report, beyond the strangely-familiar call for improved productivity (a current embarrassment despite years of nagging) and you will not miss “design”. It is directly and indirectly at practically every turn. Here is a quick guide:

First the overt references. In the fourth Strategy to “make innovation pervasive, and strengthen commercialisation of R&D” (p28) a specific call was made to “leverage on design” and to “emphasise design-driven innovation” through the following action: “instil design thinking“, “intensifying industry collaboration on design innovation“, and “establish an accreditation system to raise professional design standards“. These, taken as a coordinated set of action, is potentially game changing. The last one mentions a “Designed in Singapore” mark. The time has come to prepare for a post-industrial economy when goods and services are proudly designed in Singapore, made in outsourced locations such as China, and sold globally. To get to that point, a creative and sustainable design and innovation culture needs to be in place.

But the ESC report seems to have most of the angles covered on cultivating this new culture. In Para 23, it identified “product development and design” as one of the sectors for retaining more good jobs. In the Priority to “make Singapore a distinctive global city and endearing home” (p11), the report recognised that “we must develop thriving creative and arts clusters” (read: design), and that “we should also develop distinct eco-towns and residential precincts…” (read: through design). The report also recognises a “vibrant climate of innovation…through design…” (Para 40); the need to “step up efforts in the education system to inculcate a mindset for innovation among young Singaporeans”, mentioning the recent establishment of the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) (p30); the “design and production of “mission-critical” components such as those in medical devices” (p21); and even the need for “creative incubators” to “provide affordable spaces and incentives for the creative industries” (p37).

But the trump card for design in the ESC report must go to plans to develop “a whole new waterfront city at Tanjong Pagar” (read: by very creative design — architecture, urban planning, landscape design, etc.) as a key strategy to develop Singapore into a “leading global city” distinctive for its clusters of artistic and creative energy, and for the high quality life (para43, p15). The symbolic significance of Tanjong Pagar (Malay: cape of fishing-stakes) is its current function as the great shipping port of Singapore — the lifeline and symbol of Singapore’s economic success for decades — and the world’s busiest port for many years. Until more recently with a more diversified economy, Singapore used to be branded by Tanjong Pagar port. In future the venerable port will be eclipsed by a post-industrial city which will be as different as flying into Changi airport today compared to sailing into Collier Quay in the past. See URA Masterplan.

Tanjong Pagar port (south-west) from the Pinnicle at Duxton

Tanjong Pagar port (north-west) from the Pinnicle at Duxton

Coincidentally, two of the Design2050 Studios who presented at the Icsid World Design Congress (23-25 Nov 2009) included visions for the Tanjong Pagar area in their 2050 propositions: Fosters and Partners, London, on “the sustainable city 2050” and WOHA Architects, Singapore, on “architects save the world and bring joy to millions. Singapore 2050”. See also my “Singapore Plans for 2050“.

A copy of the ESC Report can be found here: