Singapore Designers "lack identity"?

My father in law eagerly passed me a copy of the “Today” newspaper, pointed to the article and asked me “Is this true?”
After reading this, my immediate reaction was defensive. I wanted to protect my passion and my profession, but stop myself short. I grudgingly replied “Yes it is, but its out of context!”
Here is the article reprinted just incase it gets deleted from the archives.

S’pore designers ‘lack identity’
Friday • December 23, 2005
SINGAPORE’S ambition to be the design capital of Asia has suffered a dent with a recent survey that yielded less-than-optimistic views from industry players.
The 40 Singapore-based design professionals and experts surveyed rated Singapore’s design hub status as “fair”, and deemed Singapore design work to have “met the basic requirements”, according to the report by Spire Research and Consultancy.
Most cited Japan and Hong Kong as better locations for design.
“Some believed Singapore possessed a pool of design talent with potential for development. However, none of the respondents were optimistic about Singapore becoming a design hub in the short-term,” the report noted.
While more than half the respondents rated the quality of Singapore design work as reasonable and efficient, over 90 per cent believed that Singapore designers lack creativity and international exposure.
“A frequently-cited observation was that the work of Singapore designers reflected a lack of identity,” the report said.
On a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the best, Singapore design output was rated 3.6 in creativity and 3.7 in aesthetic sense.
In terms of the “pure quality” of design work, Singapore scored 3.6, after Japan at 1.7, Hong Kong at 2.7 and just above Thailand at 3.8.
Some 60 per cent believed that the local design sector was young and more development was needed before Singapore could aspire to be a design hub.
Half of the respondents felt that the current education system neglected the arts, particularly at the primary and secondary levels.
They also felt that the Government and several industries should lend greater financial support by awarding scholarships to young talents. — Tan Hui Leng

Ok I asked myself, well I’m an industry player, and nobody interviewed me? Who were this 40 people anyway? If it’s a general industry assessment, I must agree, but has the reporter not seen the recent International Architecture and Design awards Singaporean designers have won?
But jokes aside, I like to point out a couple of things that this article failed to indicate. Really this write up is very one sided, and out of context by the way Singapore was marked with other countries.
Singapore only started this design hub initiative in Aug 2003 with the launch of the Design Singapore Council by MICA (Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts). So looking at my calendar this initiative has only just turned 2 years old.
Japan on the other hand can trace its design roots all the way back to the 16th century. Japan as a culture is so much older compared to Singapore’s 40 years of independence. So considering that we have been doing this for only a short time, scoring and average mark on that 1 to 7 scale in creativity, aesthetic sense and quality is pretty damn good if you ask me. Honestly I wonder if these so call “experts” interview were misquoted?

“A frequently-cited observation was that the work of Singapore designers reflected a lack of identity,” the report said.

Again what is this article saying? Are we to run before we can even walk? I recently attended a meeting with Design Singapore Council advisors where we discussed this very topic of “Does Singapore need a design identity?” In many cases, a design identity reflected in products such as the ones found in German cars, Swiss watches, and Japanese electronics, are carefully crafted initiatives that are a reflection of a positive culture characteristic with a global appeal. In every case they were both nurtured and marketed but never created or induced artificially. We all agreed at the end of that day, a small group of people cannot create this identity; it is one of a collective cultural nature.
Hey some people had 400 years to develop their cultural identity, we had just 40 years. As Dr Evil always says “throw us a freaking bone, why don’t you?”
At least Singapore did not stop and are still looking for it. Every year at the Miss Universe pageant, I am always interested to see, no not Miss Singapore, but the Miss Singapore cultural dress. And every year we still have some atrocious design that is paraded around the floor. I’m glad as this means we are still looking for that illusive cultural identity and hence design identity.

Some 60 per cent believed that the local design sector was young and more development was needed before Singapore could aspire to be a design hub.

This is my biggest beef with a lot of the harshest critics of the local design scene. They always bitch and moan about how they can’t find any good local designers and must hire from overseas. Yet they don’t do anything to improve the local scene or foster local talents. And believe me I’ve seen many diamonds in the rough.
That is also my main worry when I hear all the big names such as Lucasarts or BMW Designworks coming to Singapore, will they actually hire any locals? Honestly, if they have the chance, I think not. I’ve work in MNCs before and that never is the case, unless you are truly an exceptional local talent. I’ve seen many local guys passed over for foreigners who are really no better except having better exposure. Some foreign designers I’ve worked with are down right crap, they just talk good.
This leads me to the final rant, exposure and the local education system. Well I’m not sure when these people were interviewed, but I have seen many native Singaporeans who graduate from overseas universities with overseas work experience applying for jobs in Singapore. How exposed to we need to be? We travel more now, and with the internet the world is a smaller place? Furthermore in the recent 3-4 years I have seen many people opting to do design when they could have been a doctor or lawyer because of their A level grades. Kudos to them!
Really, it’s a matter of time, and though we are not running, we are not walking as well.

  • Anynomos

    June 17, 2008 at 5:40 pm Reply

    Somehow i disagree that Singaporeans are not exposed enough. In fact I think we are exposed to too much things. We are afterall this melting pot of different cultures and people. We get so influenced and absorbed into the many other beautiful things we see everyday that we forget the norm that makes who we are, what we are. our identity. Heineken is greatly appreciated by us. But we all know the Dutch hates it. Why, perhaps its marketing, advertising. Or the basic fact that whatever foreign is better that local tiger beer. I disagree.
    Another factor, support and dedication. From the government and schools and employers. In the right direction that is. Support is not only about having events, competitions, exposure through advertising. We need to attack the root of the problem. I agree that we should start in the Primary and Secondary schools. Open the kids to design, not the skill but understanding of design. They must learn to appreciate design, before they become designers or consumers. Then we move on to the institutions. Now those who understand and appreciate design will come and learn and master the skills of a designer. And not those who want to be a design whore, carrying portfolios around. Then they go to work at a MNC or a local design firm. Places like Creative have lots of design talents and great designs. But I do feel they have a wrong direction. I feel their designs are not supported in terms of quality of material and engineering. Perhaps that’s how they earn. That’s how design can lack
    identity. I just feel decision makers make design in Singapore bad. And usually they are the ones with no design background. That’s how good design get left behind and left unnoticed.
    Well, to some of the masses out there, alot of designs are Singaporean. You just don’t know. The good ones are those you use so much and take for granted. In your mind everything stylo, cute and beautiful is done by the U.S., Jap or Korean. If you are one of them, you have no right to judge us, designers.
    *PS – And.. Salesman can’t do design, so interior firms, please.. don’t let your designers sit in office while the salesman get the commissions and make deals with templates.

  • Design Translator

    May 11, 2006 at 12:27 pm Reply

    Thanks for your comments, i’ll leave it on as your retraction makes good sense!

  • Anonymous

    February 6, 2006 at 12:01 pm Reply

    That is partly true – Singapore Design still has a long way to go. Soul less designs, i would say, sorry. Look at the designs that come out of Thailand, India, and the Philippines – most of them have character. Sorry, this is not meant to be a criticism, just an observation. Perhaps in the years to come, this will improve. Hopefully.

  • Anonymous

    January 2, 2006 at 1:17 pm Reply

    posted a comment days ago. On ready the rest of the blog, seemed like it have a potential to become an exchange of issues on ID in Sg.
    If you’re going to pst it, please delete my last comment – it’s mocking & not appropriate, at least not at this point.

  • Anonymous

    January 1, 2006 at 2:50 am Reply

    No details on whom did they and which area of design? What kind of garbage article is that?
    PissOffed Designer

  • Anonymous

    January 1, 2006 at 2:36 am Reply

    What are they talking about? There are quite a few IDs here in Sg that won major global design awards like G-Marks, iFs & Red Dots but were never mentioned in the media.
    I guess because they are local, so not news worthy.
    There are many products selling globally from Philips, Osim, HP, Creative & Motorola etc that are designed here.
    Looking at such a small population of 4M plus, isn’t that something to be proud of?
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with local designers – it’s just a Sg thing to look down on it’s own kind – whether in movies, music or fashion.
    So what if these big names setup shop here? These people are here because of massive grants from the tax payers!
    There were others here before like Frog & Fitch etc but all left after finishing their grants from our government.
    Noticed that the people complaining about local design are the non-professional designers – civil servants, media critics, academics or expert wannabes…
    If they have nothing to contribute, I rather they go fly kite or count sand…or just sit in the Red Dot building in Maxwell Rd and pretend they are real designers in a make believe design hub!

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