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Creating a better world through design

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon8/30/2022 09:15 PM GMT+08  • 11 min read
Creating a better world through design
Creating a better world through design
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It is an understatement to say that Mark Wee lives and breathes design. Before his photoshoot, Wee had spent the day at the recently-concluded Smart Cities Expo. He arrives on time for his appointment at the National Design Centre, looking fresh and ready to face the camera and tell us more about his role as festival director for Singapore Design Week (SDW) from Sept 16–25.

He begins by sharing a new vision along with exploring design through three defining festival pillars: Design Futures, Design Marketplace and Design Impact. Wee says: “The three festival pillars align with Singapore’s critical design strengths and values, allowing us to carve a distinctive and enduring niche for SDW.”

Design Futures provides a glimpse into the design of the future and the future of design, through the lens of forward-looking Singapore — where a more positive future is prototyped for Singapore and the world. Design Marketplace reinforces Singapore’s position as a global-Asia hub and East-West connector by convening the latest design and lifestyle trends from across the globe. Design Impact is a way of championing innovative and impactful designs that tackle society’s biggest questions and create a better world by design.

Wee is in a good position to head SDW because of his impressive career background beginning with his role as executive director at the DesignSingapore Council. A position he has held since 2018, he recently passed on the baton and is now advisor and festival director for SDW. In his previous role, he led the council in driving and implementing national policies on design, growing the design industries, enabling design in business and government, fostering a design mindset for the workforce, and promoting the Singapore design brand.

In his role as advisor and festival director for SDW currently, he led the council in driving and implementing national policies on design, growing the design industries, enabling design in business and government, fostering a design mindset for the workforce, and promoting the Singapore design brand. He brought design closer to both SMEs and MNCs through the Design for Business initiatives and the Business Value of Design programme — this was especially timely as Singapore businesses had to brace themselves for rapid change and transformation during the pandemic.

Wee also launched the Good Design Research initiative to empower local designers and design enterprises to find their unique value proposition in designing for impact through research and experimentation. He oversaw the formation of the Design Education Advisory Committee to nurture the next generation of design talents, and the School of X to equip non-design professionals and citizens with collaborative design skills and design-led creative thinking to solve real-world social and business challenges.

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Picture by Albert Chua

How has SDW transformed over the years? What are some of the memorable moments in past editions of SDW and what are you looking forward to in this year’s installment?

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Historically, the primary objective of SDW was to raise awareness of the value of design among the domestic audience. The precursor to SDW was the Singapore Design Festival, which ran for three editions between 2005 and 2009 before we pivoted to Singapore Design Week in 2014. These early versions were very much a broad-based celebration of classical design until SDW introduced a strong Design x Business focus from 2017 to 2019.

Some memorable moments include the Brainstorm Design conference, Wallpaper* Handmade exhibition and the SingaPlural showcase. There were also vibrant district activities such as Street of Clans at Bukit Pasoh Road and the District Design Dialogue at Holland Village.

The brand-new SDW will be positioned as a premier regional design festival and global creative event with a distinctive Singapore design voice. I’m particularly excited by the inaugural Design Futures Symposium, developed under the curatorial direction of Paola Antonelli, one of the most influential curators in the design world.

Titled “Agency for the Future: Design and the Quest for a Better World”, the symposium will assemble a host of distinguished designers and thoughts leaders from Singapore and around the world including Lim Siong Guan, professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; Emi Kiyota, environment gerontologist and associate professor at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and College of Design and Engineering; and celebrated designer Thomas Heatherwick, founder and design director of Heatherwick Studio.

Together they will probe some of the critical ways in which design is fundamental to strategies for the future; how Singapore designs and demonstrates possible and preferable models for the future; why systems thinking and prototyping are needed the world over; and how design is an enzyme for progress.

This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to catch a fascinating glimpse of how the design will transform the future of the world; connect with our international guest speakers; as well as network with leaders and representatives from the public sector, MNCS, the local business and design community, and academia.

What is FIND? What is its role?

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FIND – Design Fair Asia is Asia’s newest and largest furniture, interiors and design fair that will convene the largest carefully selected collection of interior brands, key opinion leaders, designers and content from the East and West. The brainchild of Fiera Milano and dmg events, FIND will be the anchor event for SDW’s Design Marketplace pillar.

The three-day trade event will put Asia firmly on the global design circuit while providing a platform for Singapore design brands and designers to be showcased alongside leading global brands and manufacturers, as well as the region's most exciting talents in one holistic experience.

Design tastemakers Tony Chambers and Yoko Choy of Wallpaper* magazine fame will helm the FIND – Global Summit where they will initiate conversations with global design opinion leaders on key trends and topics such as the metaverse, wellbeing, biophilia and sustainability amongst others.

How will SDW benefit the design community, shining the spotlight on Singaporean and Southeast Asian designers who design for impact?

The President*s Design Award Tours is a new P*DA signature series that will be launched during Singapore Design Week 2022. Centered around architecture and place-making projects such as Enabling Village, SkyVille @ Dawson and Oasia Hotel Downtown, the P*DA Tours will provide a first-hand encounter of Singapore’s most outstanding and impactful designs through immersive tours and self-guided journeys.

SDW will also spotlight over 20 homegrown designers who are creating a positive impact through design research and experimentation. The Good Design Research pop-up at Bugis+ will feature GINLEE Studio, Wearable by Claudia Poh, Roger&Sons, Offcut Factory, NOST, and Forest & Whale amongst others.

EMERGE @ FIND will also have a dedicated pillar that showcases Southeast Asian designers working with waste materials, offcuts, and salvaged or recycled materials, such as Bandung-based Adhi Nugraha who works with reprocessed cow dung, and Filipino designer Stanley Ruiz who works with bio/agri-waste.

You joined Design Singapore Council (Dsg) as Executive Director in May 2018, given your background as a design thinking pioneer in Singapore, having designed award-winning innovative experiences for the public and private sector, how easy was it for you to step into this role as Festival Director of SDW 2022?

Having been involved with SDW’s strategic review over the last two years, it is especially meaningful to take on the role of Festival Director for the relaunch of SDW in 2022. It was easy to throw myself into the role as SDW is close to my heart and I had previously served as Chairman of Archifest 2012 as well as being part of the team that launched Creatory in 2015. It has been a privilege to work alongside my successor Dawn Lim and the Dsg team, as well as a host of local and international SDW partners and collaborators to bring to life the new festival vision.

SDW may be an event for designers but how can the public be part of it? What can or should we be looking at?

Through SDW, we hope that the public will come to celebrate Singapore as a city of design. Not many know that in 2015, Singapore was one of the first Southeast Asian cities to be designated a UNESCO Creative City of Design. Since independence, Singapore's design has been defined by our spirit of turning constraints into infinite possibilities, against all odds. Despite many challenges as a nation, from a lack of natural resources to a small economic market, Singapore has written its own playbook in almost every aspect of governance, be it in housing, education, healthcare, water management and transportation, while seeking to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

To quote Paola Antonelli, “The title of this year’s Design Futures Symposium, ‘Agency for the Future: Design and the Quest for a Better World’, points to a dual meaning. On the one hand, it highlights Singapore's unique approach, based on modelling, prototyping, testing, and perfecting solutions for preferable futures, as in a design process. On the other hand, it points to individual citizens and their abilities and responsibility. Who has the agency to determine and build the future? It is not only official bodies or corporations; agency lies in each of us, through the decisions we make and the actions we take every day.”

Aside from key events that I mentioned, there is also #FashTag at Raffles City Shopping Centre by Daniel Boey, Re-route at Little India by Plus Collaboratives and over 60 ground-up community programmes all across Singapore that we’d love for everyone to participate in.

You are passionate about how good design is key to shaping more desirable products, services, and places for people, and how it is increasingly being seen as an effective tool for social change. How?

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